Tag Archives: Psychedelic

CAPSULE: GODZILLA VS. HEDORAH (1971) AND THE “GODZILLA: THE SHOWA-ERA FILMS, 1954–1975” BOX SET

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DIRECTED BY: Yoshimitsu Banno

FEATURING: Akira Yamauchi, Toshie Kimura, Hiroyuki Kawase, Toshio Shiba, Keiko Mari

PLOT: Hedorah, a monster created from earth’s excessive pollution, wreaks havoc on Japan.

Still from Godzilla vs. Hedorah (1971)
COMMENTS: “Hedorah is a monster of our own making.” In the intro we see Hedorah rise from some sludgy gloop floating in the ocean. The creature attacks freighters and factories and at the same time inhales the pollution they emit to grow larger and more powerful. A young boy and his marine biologist father are on the case, and soon discover the origins of the creature and why and how it is evolving.

The child is the film’s protagonist. He seems to have a connection with Godzilla. He knows Godzilla is coming before he appears. Like the original 1954 Godzilla, Godzilla vs. Hedorah comes with a strong message about the harm man can do: Godzilla was awoken by hydrogen bomb tests, Hedorah is an alien being made massive and powerful by pollution.

At this point in the Godzilla series, the King of the Monsters has been both an enemy of mankind, and sometimes somewhat of a hero. At the story’s climax walls of electricity are set up in hopes of frying Hedorah. When the generator fails, Godzilla lends man a hand with his breath. As a child, I loved Godzilla as the hero; it’s something I’ve never grown out of.

There is, of course, also a final battle between the two creatures. If you come to Godzilla flicks for the creature fights, you will be rather disappointed here. This Godzilla reminds me a little of one of the Three Stooges putting on goofy moves, shrugging and shuffling about. And Godzilla flying through the air?! What was that? I suppose Hedorah would be a slippery sucker to grab at, being a pollution monster. He starts out looking like a giant sperm, but evolves into a flying saucer shape, and eventually takes an upright form. Hedorah is not one of Toho’s more effective monsters, visually, but he does more damage than most.

Godzilla vs. Hedorah is a unique entry among the Godzilla Showa era films. It is the only film in the series that I am aware of that includes psychedelic imagery and animated sequences. These elements are unusual for Godzilla, but there is nothing particularly weird about them for a film from the late 1960s or early 1970s.

Godzilla vs. Hedorah has its goofy moments, but at times is actually quite grim. The poisonous toxin emitted by Hedorah kills instantly and the film has a significant body count . The harsh message of the animated sequences gives the pleasing and colorful animation a disturbing quality. I loved the addition of animation.  I also loved the attractive young couple they added in as secondary characters. All the Continue reading CAPSULE: GODZILLA VS. HEDORAH (1971) AND THE “GODZILLA: THE SHOWA-ERA FILMS, 1954–1975” BOX SET

CAPSULE: THE WAVE (2019)

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DIRECTED BY: Gille Klabin

FEATURING: , , Donald Faison, Tommy Flanagan, Ronnie Gene Blevins

PLOT: A corporate lawyer decides to cut loose one night, but regrets it when a strange drug dealer convinces him to try an exotic hallucinogen whose effects last several days and make him randomly skip forward in time.

Still from The Wave (2019)

COMMENTS: I was confused as to what genre to place The Wave. It’s not reality-based enough to be science fiction, and nor is it divorced enough from reality to be fantasy. It’s not magical realism, either. The issues it explores are more philosophical than dramatic.  Psychological thriller kind of works, but the film is not nearly as dark as that term usually implies. The pacing (and the occasional light mugging from the leads) suggests that the movie wants to be taken as a comedy. Indeed, the setup, with straight-laced corporate lawyer Frank sneaking out for a night on the town with his more adventurous (and nigh-irresponisible) buddy suggest suits-cut-loose shenanigans a la Something Wild are coming. But the movie also takes itself kind of seriously, and lacks moments that play for big laughs.

The mongrel term “dramedy” is a possibility, but in the end I think The Wave really belongs to that rare and disreputable subgenre, the “trip movie.” It’s not an exploitation piece—although there are drug porn moments, like when we see a heaping mound of hundreds of thousands of dollars of uppers, downers, pills and powders spread across a grinning dealer’s table. The Wave‘s money shots are its wavery lysergic visions—especially when one of the mystery drug’s waves kicks in at a corporate board meeting, turning the executives into a bunch of Mammon-channeling demons. (The visuals here are simple but effective—it looks like they digitally painted over every frame of film, an effect that looks like rotoscoping done in MS Paint). At its core, the script posits that psychedelic drugs have legitimate spiritual healing qualities—that all that most self-centered lawyer needs is a high enough dose to turn himself on, grok karma, and become a self-sacrificing hippie.

The script may be naive at heart, but it hides it well. After Frank takes the mystery drug, the plot barrels along, lurching forward in time. Frank might suddenly find himself in a deserted house, or in the middle of a car chase, without explanation. Blackouts may be a side effect of the drug, but there’s something mystical about the process, too. By the end, the plot points snap into place nicely. The leads are all pro. Donald Faison provides good buddy support, playing the bad angel or good angel as needed; Sheila Vand, the mystic pixie dream girl, is luminous in her dream sequences; and Ronnie Gene Blevins overacts quite appropriately as the hellbent drug dealer antagonist. Justin Long makes a great Frank. He has a pleasant John Krasinski-meets-Fred Armisen quality here; you can’t stay mad at him, even when blind ambition is leading him to screw the beneficiaries of a dead firefighter out of their rightful proceeds. The screenplay hates the game, not the player, and redemption is just a trip away. Everything doesn’t quite work as it should: some characters, like the shrewish wife and the ruthless CEO, are cardboard caricatures; the score adds little; and, since the mystery drug comes at you in waves, the movie probably should have been titled in the plural. But if a mysterious Scotsman in a fur coat offers you The Wave, consider taking it. Rough patches aside, the crisp acting, inventive visuals, and speedy pace make it a trip you probably won’t regret taking.

The Wave shows up in selected cinemas, and more widely on video-on-demand, this Friday, January 17.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a fairly clever, trippy saga with its heart in the right place.”–Chris Evangelista, Slashfilm (festival screening)

 

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: CLIMAX (2018)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: About two dozen dancers, all of approximately equal importance

PLOT: A modern dance troupe goes crazy when someone spikes their rehearsal party sangria with a heavy dose of LSD.

Still from Climax (2018)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Literal LSD trip movies don’t come along that often. Ones made with this much skill and care are even rarer. Climax is messy and flawed, but impossible (for us) to overlook. And Gaspar Noé is probably the only master of world cinema who regularly contributes trip reports to Erowid.

COMMENTS: Near the beginning of Climax, we watch interviews, presumably from the audition process, playing on a TV screen. Attractive young people are asked about their philosophy of life, their drug use, their greatest fear. We get to know them a little, but what might be more important are the names of the books and VHS tape boxes flanking the TV screen: Possession, “Un Chien Andalou,” Salo, Suspiria, “Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome”, Zombie. While none of these (except perhaps Suspiria) have much real thematic relationship to Climax, Gaspar Noé’s roll call of influences at least puts the well-traveled weirdophile on notice that they’ve bought the right ticket.

The movie is not one long, unrelieved freakout; it does build to a, well, Climax. After those preliminary interviews and some preliminary structural foolishness (the end titles play first, and the opening credits are delivered in the middle of the film), we start with a long, energetic, contortionist techno dance number, a real wower for fans of intricate choreography. (It must have been quite a challenge for the casting director to find top-notch professional dancers who were also capable of overacting to Noé’s demanding specifications). After they’re done rehearsing, the troupe choose to unwind by… dancing, but now lubricated by a punchbowl of sangria. At this point several of the dancers break off into pairs and we watch a series of conversations that further introduce us to the sprawling cast of characters. While everyone is bisexual and can think of few topics of conversation besides who wants to screw whom, it’s remarkable how efficiently this dialogue establishes a recognizable look and narrative hook for each of the dancers so that we seldom accidentally confuse them when the trip proper begins. It’s character differentiation more than character development, but it works very precisely in this context. Next up is another long dance scene, this one shot from above, as the dancers form a circle and each takes his or her turn freestyling in the center of the mob. After this diversion the party breaks apart and people start to notice that they’re feeling weird, leading them to wonder just what was in the sangria. When one dazed dancer suddenly starts urinating on the floor, they realize they’ve definitely been dosed, and paranoia starts to rise as the mob throw accusations at first one suspect, then another.

After the LSD kicks in the film adopts a Slacker strategy, with the camera following a single dancer around, watching the mini-drama as he or she copes with the situation, then peeling off to follow another. Sexual jealousies and suppressed perversions are, naturally, the main demons that the tripping hoofers battle, but there are also violent beatings, suicidal impulses, and a child wandering around the premises to be dealt with. Some simply succumb to the terror of being on an unknown, but high, dose of an intense psychotropic drug with no preparation. Each dancer gets a chance to freak out, with some spotlight solos. At the movie’s peak—which perhaps goes on uncomfortably long—everything is light in a hellish red with upside down and spinning cameras, as the party dissolves into an indistinct orgy of sex and violence. The denouement is grim, but we do actually find out who was responsible for all the carnage.

What does it all mean? The author offers us a couple of pretentious epigrams. “Love is a collective impossibility.” “Death is an extraordinary experience.” Not really helpful. More than anything, the drug trip is a convenient excuse for Noé to indulge in melodramatics that would otherwise be implausible. His characters howl, writhe, and piss themselves in animalistic degradation. It’s equally an excuse for him to indulge his melodramatic style. Is Climax a satire? Perhaps, since everyone is ultimately so unlikable, but if so it is a very dry and unfunny one. Is it a metaphor for our chaotic, backbiting modern times? Maybe. France is described as hell (specifically by the minority members of the troupe), and yet the titles announce (ironically?) that Climax is “a French film and proud of it.” I don’t think Noé commits himself to any particular interpretation; he’s simply interested in choreographing as much misanthropic excess as possible. With Climax, I’m more convinced than ever that Gaspar Noé has no idea what he wants to say with his art—but is nevertheless supremely confident about how he wants to say it.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“… the nuttiest, trippiest dance party you’ll ever attend.”–Brian Truitt, USA Today (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: LUCIFERINA (2018)

DIRECTED BY: Gonzalo Calzada

FEATURING: Sofía Del Tuffo, Pedro Merlo, Malena Sánchez

PLOT: When Natalia is informed of her mother’s dramatic death, she abandons her life at a convent to help her sister at home, and joins her sister and a group of her psychology class buddies in visiting an out-of-town shaman for some soul-cleansing, where things get darkly religious.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The culminating “sexorcism” aside, Luciferina is as by-the-numbers as a young-people-make-bad-decisions-with-theological-overtones horror movie could be. It was only halfway through, during an intense birthing/exorcism set-piece, that I was even reminded that there was something “bigger” going on than a gaggle of college kids getting high on an ancient weed.

COMMENTS: I will make no secret of the apprehension I felt before watching this movie. It had been kicking around 366’s internal review wish-list for about three weeks before I finally stepped forward to get it out of the way, and then it lingered in my DVD player for another week and a half before I finally dove into this 1-hour, 53-minute, 4.5-IMDB rated slice of feminist-Catholo-pagan horror. The good news is that it is actually an okay movie. The less-good news is that it never really rises above that level.

Natalia happily busies herself as a novice in an Argentinian convent that doubles as an outreach/care clinic for young drug (?) offenders. Her little world of religion and routine is scotched when the mother superior informs Natalia that her mother has died in some not-terribly-well-explained accident. Home she goes to find her father somewhat vegetative in the attic and her sister hooking up with one of those inexplicably angry young men that always seem to get the pretty girls. But there is some bonding, some bugs, and a party during which a trip to a shaman is discussed. Off they go into the outskirts of the nearby jungle and knock back some stuff that… makes the whole thing the Catholo-pagan-horror movie that it is.

Like Baskin and Session 9 before it, Luciferina makes the unfortunate mistake of thinking it’s a horror movie when actually it should have been a melodrama. I liked the college party people, other than the angry young man (and even his back-story, were it ever to be revealed, could have interested me). Instead, we get some hyper-religious imagery of various flavors, young people getting killed off in unpleasant ways, and some CGI fetus oddness bookending the movie. (That perhaps merits some clarification: from what I was able to decipher from the movie, the credits,1 and some research, the opening fetus is Natalia, a child of Satan, and the closing fetus sets up the sequel[?], and may also be a child of Satan, as conceived, perhaps, with his own child. I know, I know, but the Lord of Darkness is unlikely bound by human socio-sexual norms.)

And all this adds up to what? Like I said, this really should have been a story about an abused young woman (Natalia’s sister) as she tries to work through her issues (and hopefully ditch her boyfriend) in the company of her charismatic psych-student buddies. Instead, we have Luciferina, a title that hits one over the head with its pretensions. The horror doesn’t work (though thankfully the jump scares are few and far between), the religious angle is muddled at best (Natalia’s ability to see a “glow” around people – or not – seems to accomplish little), and the less said about the possessed boy named Abel, the better. It was competent. It was well acted. It was well researched. It was also a waste of time and talent.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Gonzalo Calzada’s vividly atmospheric film is itself a space in which reality and dreams overlap, in which formal narrative structures break down as our heroine strives to gain control of her identity and destiny…. The delirious style of the film lends itself to high drama.” –Jennie Kermode, Eye for Film

358. MANDY (2018)

“And now was acknowledged the presence of the Red Death. He had come like a thief in the night. And one by one dropped the revelers in the blood-bedewed halls of their revel, and died each in the despairing posture of his fall … and Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.” –Edgar Allan Poe, “The Masque of the Red Death

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Panos Cosmatos

FEATURING: Nicolas Cage, Andrea Riseborough, Linus Roache, Ned Dennehy, Olwen Fouéré

PLOT: A cult is passing through the forested countryside in 1980s Pacific Northwest where Red Miller, a lumberjack, lives peaceably with his love, Mandy. When she catches the cult leader’s eye, dark beings descend upon her and Red, robbing Mandy of her life and Red of his sanity. Red mercilessly exacts vengeance upon all who wronged him.

Still from Mandy (2018)

BACKGROUND:

  • Mandy is Panos Cosmatos’ second feature film, and his second film to be Certified Weird. So far, all of his movies have been set in 1983.
  • Cosmatos originally wanted Nicolas Cage to play Jeremiah Sand, but Cage preferred the role of Red. Co-producer smoothed things out and got the two to work out their disagreements, resulting in Cage playing the protagonist.
  • The character of Jeremiah Sand was based on cult-leader Charles Manson, another failed musician and acid head. Linus Roache, shortly before being cast as Jeremiah Sand, had dropped out of a cult after its leader had a meltdown.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Mandy provides a full menu for this indeed—even if you winnow your options down to just Nicolas Cage looking crazy-go-nuts. However, the choice becomes clear upon reflection of whom this movie is actually about: Mandy and Jeremiah Sand. Mid-acid-trip-speech, Jeremiah’s and Mandy’s faces fade in and out of each other, capturing both of their haunting visages in continuous oscillation between the poles of Mandy’s mystical innocence and Jeremiah’s mystical evil.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Demonic apocalypse bikers; The Cheddar Goblin; Heavy Metal death axe

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Described by the director himself as “melancholic and barbaric”, Mandy plays like a Romantic era poem that collides violently with one helluva nightmare. Mandy‘s signposts of color saturation guide the eye along the paths of love, wrong, and vengeance while the dirgy soundtrack cues the ear like a Greek Chorus. Mandy is almost a movie to be felt more than watched. And even putting aside all the artistry, a cursory look at its basic ingredients screams “weird” as forcefully as Red screams “You ripped my shirt!”

Original trailer for Mandy

COMMENTSMandy, in perhaps its only convergence with convention, follows the three-act structure to a “T”, going so far as to designate each act with a title card. The opening, “the Shadow Continue reading 358. MANDY (2018)

CAPSULE: ZEN DOG (2016)

DIRECTED BY: Rick Darge

FEATURING: , Adam Hershman, Celia Diane

PLOT: A young virtual reality entrepreneur explores strange herbs and lucid dreaming in an attempt to shake himself out of his rut.

Still from Zen Dog (2016)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Zen Dog is an earnest, low budget curiosity that dreams big, but doesn’t dial up the weird as much as it might—for fear of drowning out its message.

COMMENTS: I read Allan Watts’ classic “The Way of Zen” when I was eighteen, then promptly forgot about him. That’s not a knock on Watts, but a testament to how good a communicator he was: read one book, listen to one of his lectures, and you feel enlightened, as if you know everything there is to know about Buddhism.

Zen Dog is structured around one of Watts’ thought experiment/parables, which begins “I wonder what you would do, if you had the power to dream at night any dream you wanted to dream…” Kyle Gallner’s “Mud” (!) is a twentysomething virtual-reality entrepreneur pushing headsets that will allow users to tour Hawaii or Paris without ever leaving their living rooms. He’s also having a recurring nightmare about slaving in a corporate office building where one of his co-workers commits suicide. Cue dorky cousin Dwayne, a professional student who arrives on spring break to crash on Mud’s couch and introduce him to the idea of lucid dreaming (aided by an exotic Chinese herb/drug nicknamed “maya”) as a way to resolve his psychological issues. Though purportedly a harmless natural sleep aid, the maya sure acts like a powerful hallucinogen—plus, it’s addictive. But it does enable Mud to enter his lucid dreamspace, where he begins to live the life he’s secretly always wanted—one where he’s a vagabond wandering around America in a VW bug borrowed from Ken Kesey and a jacket on loan from ‘s “Captain America,” meeting and romancing a (literal!) manic pixie dream girl while listening to a Allan Watts lectures on cassette tape.

The scenario sounds like a groovy neo-hippie fantasia, and without Watts’ calm, authoritative voice to guide us, it probably would play out as a naive goof. But Watts’ ruminations, though simplified and popularized, are legitimately profound nuggets of ancient wisdom: the idea that our entire ego-structure—our understanding of ourselves as a person with a name and a job and a desire for advancement—is an elaborate facade built up over the years, which (by design) inhibits our ability to be in the here and now, as a simple expression of reality. We must unlearn what we’ve been taught to know what we are. Compressed into several nights of dreaming, Mud travels through stages of enlightenment, from flirtations with simple hedonism to romantic attachment to elaborate mindblowing cosmic journeys—but ends up with the wisdom that, although his ego is a real and vital part of him, he does not have to allow its demands to make him miserable.

Despite its low budget, the acting and technical aspects of the film are serviceable to good. Zen Dog puts today’s democratizing computer technology to excellent use, achieving psychedelic effects—double images, pinpoint editing, rainbow saturation—with ease and facility. This is how would do it today, if he were still making acid movies aimed at the tune-in drop-out crowd. Scenes shot in San Francisco, Reno, Chicago, and the flat prairies of middle America add additional production value. Allan Watts’ son Mark served as an executive producer and licensed his father’s extensive audio archives for the film, and Zen Dog works best as an introduction to Watts’ philosophy—a noble purpose for a budget effort. It’s not every movie in which the characters drop acid while inside a lucid dream itself induced by a hallucinogenic herb—and where that far-out, Inceptiony scenario actually makes sense as part of a sophisticated theme positing that life itself is a dream which we can take control of, if we only realize we’re dreaming. Zen Dog isn’t ashamed to let its freak flag fly, and, like a guileless puppy, its enthusiasm can lighten a stern heart.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“It’s all too easy to write off films like this as hippy fluff, and all too often they suffer from being made by people who are not entirely sober – a stranger’s trip usually being about as interesting as a stranger’s role-playing character – but Zen Dog is something different. There’s real craftsmanship on display here, tight editing and a laudably balanced approach that invites us to wonder without drowning us in excess.”–Jennie Kermode, Eye on Film (contemporaneous)