PLOT: Guillermo del Toro curates eight short tales of supernatural horror, mostly from young directors.
COMMENTS: At the start of each episode, Guillermo del Toro waddles in from a pool of darkness and stands before his prop cabinet, pulling out a small item relevant to the plot of the upcoming feature and a figurine representing the episode’s director. In heavily-accented, hard-to-understand English, he chokes out a few stiff sentences about the story. Rod Serling or Alfred Hitchcock he is not; but fortunately, del Toro proves a much better curator than host.
Other than the esteemed Vincenzo Natali, del Toro and the producers choose mostly up-and-comers to script and direct the eight episodes. Although perhaps it shouldn’t, given del Toro’s Hollwyood pull, it comes as a small surprise that these short features are largely acting showcases. The series standout is Academy Award-winner F. Murray Abraham as a clever but understandably-weary coroner in “The Autopsy.” Tim Blake Nelson, lending an earthy believability and even a little sympathy to his bitter xenophobic caricature in “Lot 36,” is also worth a mention, while “The Outside” is entirely built around Kate Miccuci’s nerdy-but-secretly-sexy persona. Essie Davis, as a bereaved ornithologist, also carries “The Murmuring,” Jennifer Kent’s marital-drama-cum-ghost-story. Then, there are a couple of cameos to appeal to cult movie fans: Crispin Glover in “Pickman’s Model” and Peter Weller in “The Viewing.” The relative star power on display here lends respectability and brings in viewers from outside horror fandom: mainstream critics were particularly drawn to the “The Murmuring”‘s realistic depiction of a husband and wife tiptoeing around their issues while burying themselves in their studies of bird-flocking behaviors on a Bergmanesque island.
When we first saw the names attached to direct, we were salivating over the inclusion of Ana Lily Amirpour and (especially) Panos Cosmatos (as well as the prospect of Crispin Glover in an H.P. Lovecraft adaptation). Those two directors do deliver both weirdness and quality, but the other episodes are all worth watching. Even the least of them have something to offer, usually in the acting department. The Glover episode is “Pickman’s Muse.” As previously mentioned, it’s a Lovecraft adaptation of the “man is driven mad by peering into the Beyond” variety that is eerie and atmospheric, but Continue reading CHANNEL 366: GUILLERMO DEL TORO’S CABINET OF CURIOSITIES (2022)→
“Would a watermelon in the midst of a chase sequence not be, in its own organic way, emblematic of our entire misunderstood enterprise? At once totally logical and perfectly irrational?”–W.D. Richter, explaining why there is a watermelon inside the Banzai Institute
PLOT: We are first introduced to Buckaroo Banzai as he rushes by helicopter from completing a delicate neurosurgery to test-drive a trans-dimensional race car in the Nevada desert. Banzai successful breaches the Eighth Dimension with his oscillation overthruster, but the experiment attracts the attention of the mad Dr. Lizardo, as well as a gang of Lectroid aliens who also want the device. Between rock and roll gigs and particle physics press conferences, Buckaroo and his band of scientist/musician/adventurers, the Hong Kong Cavaliers, will uncover an alien conspiracy that (naturally) threatens the fate of the world.
This was writer W.D. Richter’s first directorial effort after having half-a-dozen screenplays produced (including the 1978 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers). Banzai eventually became a hit on VHS but was a huge flop in theaters, losing six million dollars and bankrupting the production studio. Richter only directed one other movie, the 1991 independent comedy Late for Dinner, although he continued to write screenplays (including Big Trouble in Little China). Richter did not write the script for Buckaroo Banzai, however; it was penned by his pal Earl Mac Rauch.
The name of the evil front corporation in Banzai, Yoyodyne, is a reference to a fictional corporation that appears in Thomas Pynchon’s novels.
The sequel promised by the end credits, Buckaroo Banzai vs. The World Crime League, was of course never made, although legend has it that Richter is still trying to get it produced to this day. In 1998 pre-production work was done on a Buckaroo television series for the Fox network, but the show was never picked up. The Buckaroo brand has persisted through the years with a novelization and comic book adaptations.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: We require a flashback to show how the Eighth Dimension was originally discovered by a then-sane Dr. Emilio Lizardo—but how to introduce it without disrupting the flow of the story? This movie believes the most natural way to incorporate the memory is to have a now-insane Dr. Lizardo hook electrodes onto his tongue and shock himself so that arcs of lightning fly out of his eardrums. We have to assume this bizarre home-electroshock therapy explains the perfect cinematic precision of the following flashback sequence, because no other sane theory is offered for Lizardo’s act of high-voltage masochism.
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Refer to the plot synopsis. Any movie that successfully incorporates a band of rock and roll scientists, an invasion by aliens uniformly named “John,” the Eighth Dimension, inexplicable watermelons, and Jeff Goldblum as a New Jersey neurosurgeon who dresses like a cowboy—while working inside the Hollywood system, with a $12 million dollar budget—has worked hard enough to deserve a space on the List of the Best Weird Movies ever made.
Original trailer for The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eight Dimension
PLOT: A portrait of the life of the literary outlaw told through archival footage, rare home
movies, and interviews with friends, admirers and followers.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Its subject is weird, but despite the brief avant-garde sequences used as buffers between the praising heads, its method isn’t.
COMMENTS: With his quick wit, cadaverous features, and patrician drawl, William S. Burroughs projected a mighty persona. His writings were full of ironic distance, parody and outlandish stream-of-consciousness surrealism, only occasionally punctured by confessional. The romantic myth that grew up about him—the artist tormented by guilt, addiction, and public ostracism, who strikes back at society by rejecting all forms of authority—was so powerful that it became far more influential than his actual writings. The subtitle of this documentary—A Man Within—suggests that we may get a peek under that dapper three-piece armor Burroughs wore in public and see the real, naked man underneath. Yony Leyser’s freshman documentary is partially successful at that task; he gives us unprecedented access to Burroughs’ home movies (showing him as an old man smoking a joint before going out to fire a shotgun) and reminiscences from those closest to him, including several former lovers. The portrait that emerges is of a man who may have suffered as much from loneliness as from drugs and remorse; the man we see here has difficulty forming relationships with men he’s attracted to, and prefers to seek the companionship of street hustlers and boys too young and foolish to break his heart. Topics covered, in jumbled order, include Burroughs’ upper class upbringing; his role as godfather of the Beats; his homosexuality and his refusal to join the “gay mainstream;” his lifelong relationship with heroin; his love of snakes and guns; the accidental killing of Joan Vollmer Continue reading CAPSULE: WILLIAM S. BURROUGHS: A MAN WITHIN (2010)→
“It’s impossible to make a movie out of ‘Naked Lunch.’ A literal translation just wouldn’t work. It would cost $400 million to make and would be banned in every country of the world.” –David Cronenberg
DIRECTED BY: David Cronenberg
FEATURING: Peter Weller, Judy Davis, Julian Sands
PLOT: Bill Lee is a writer/exterminator in New York City whose wife begins mainlining the bug powder he uses to kill roaches, and convinces him to try it as well. He becomes addicted to the powder, and one night shoots his wife dead while playing “William Tell.” Lee goes on the lam and lands in Interzone, an exotic free zone reminiscent of Tangier or Casablanca (but which may exist only in his mind), where he begins taking ever more powerful drugs and typing out “reports” partially dictated to him by his living, insectoid typewriter.
The novel was held not to be obscene by the Massachusetts Supreme Court in 1966. This was the final obscenity prosecution of a literary work in the United States; there would be no subsequent censorship of the written word (standing alone).
Several directors had considered filming the novel before David Cronenberg got the project. Avant-garde director Anthony Balch wanted to adapt it as a musical (with Burroughs’s blessing), and actually got as far as storyboarding the project and getting a commitment from Mick Jagger (who later backed out) to star. Among others briefly interested in adapting the novel in some form were Terry Southern, John Huston, Frank Zappa, and Terry Gilliam.
Because the novel was essentially a plotless series of hallucinatory vignettes (what Burroughs called “routines’), David Cronenberg chose to make the movie a thinly veiled tale about Burroughs’s writing of the novel, incorporating only a few of the actual characters and incidents from the book. Actors in the film portray real-life writers and Burroughs associates Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and Paul and Jane Bowles.
The episode in the film where Lee accidentally shoots his wife while performing the “William Tell routine” is taken from Burroughs real life: he actually shot his common law wife while performing a similar trick in a Mexican bar. Burroughs felt tremendous guilt through his life for the accident and has said “I would have never become a writer but for Joan’s death.”
Naked Lunch won seven awards at the Genie Awards (the Canadian equivalent of the Oscars), including Best Movie and Best Director.
Producer Jeremy Thomas has somewhat specialized in bringing weird and unusual fare to the largest possible audience, producing not only Naked Lunch but also Cronenberg’s Crash (1996) and Tideland (2005).
Following a definite theme for the year, Judy Davis also played an author’s muse and lover in another surrealistic 1991 movie about a tortured writer, Barton Fink.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: Clark Nova, Lee’s territorial, talking typewriter, who alternately guides and torments the writer. He’s a beetle who has somehow evolved a QWERTY keyboard as an organ. When he speaks, he lifts his wings to reveal a sphincter through which he dictates his directives.
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: It begins with an exterminator who does his rounds wearing a three piece suit and fedora. His philosophy is to “exterminate all rational thought.” His wife steals his insecticide and injects it into her breast to get high, and gets him hooked on the bug power, too. A pair of cops question him on suspicion of possessing dangerous narcotics, and leave him alone in the interrogation room with a huge talking “caseworker” bug who explains that his wife is an agent of Interzone, Incorporated, and is not even human. And this is just the setup, before the film turns really weird.