Tag Archives: Religious cult

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: THE PASSION OF DARKLY NOON (1995)

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DIRECTED BY: Philip Ridley

FEATURING: , Ashley Judd, Viggo Mortensen

PLOT: Darkly Noon, a young member of a fringe religious sect, barely escapes a massacre and stumbles through the nearby woods to find an isolated woman in an isolated home; his confusion—and rumors that the woman is a witch—causes his fragile mind to unravel.

Still from The Passion of Darkly Noon (1995)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE APOCRYPHA LIST: Depending upon how you sliced this one, it could have turned out normal. But Philip Ridley (who both wrote and directed) slices it so that The Passion of Darkly Noon is an ambiguous morality tale, a “Lifetime”-style melodrama, and a hellfire vengeance tract. Seeing a young Viggo Mortensen as a mute carpenter is odd; seeing a young Brendan Fraser as a meek religious zealot is odder; but by the time I saw the magical silver shoe encore at the finale, it was a done deal.

COMMENTS: A word of warning about this review: as I type this, I am not sure where I’m headed. This handily conveys the feelings I had throughout The Passion of Darkly Noon, which defies any easy categorization other than it could only have been made in the 1990s. I grew up with ’90s cinema on rented VHS cassettes, and there is a tone that’s there, if you’re looking for it: the inarticulate subversion of the 1980s morphed into something with a strange sheen that, while smoothing the effect, somehow also made it much more exaggerated. By the time the ’00s rolled around, the modern B- and cult-film visual vocabulary had been sorted out. Philip Ridley’s religious thriller is smooth and polished, but there’s a primordial heart beating savagely through the veneer.

The Passion of Darkly Noon concerns the titular character, “Darkly Noon” (Brendan Fraser), and his spiritual trials after escaping an implied massacre. From the few details provided, his family, and the other members of the sect, had their compound raided by the FBI, National Guard, or some such outfit, with the young man barely escaping, and then nearly being run over. Like many of the film’s lines, its opening one is portentous: “God, help me!,” Darkly mutters, before being carried off to a nearby homestead. What follows, over the course of twelve days, is best captured by Darkly’s confession to his dead parents, “…it’s just that it’s very difficult here. And there are a lot of things I don’t understand.”

This passion play is populated by a small group of allegorical characters. The man who finds Darkly, and who ultimately betrays him, is “Jude” (bringing to mind either Judas, or, also appropriately, the patron saint of hopeless causes). The woman who inadvertently seduces Darkly—and who is dubbed a “witch” by an embittered neighbor—is named “Callie,” traditionally short for “Caroline”, a name meaning free or happy; she represents the unreserved pursuit of joy that Darkly has been denied his entire life.

It wasn’t until the last five minutes that I felt Darkly had a shot at being named one of the weirdest movies of all time. Of course, there was that giant, glittering, red-soled shoe floating incongruously down the river. And there was the up-tempo plague and pestilence preach-ifying undertaker who seemed lifted straight from a 19th-century Revival tent. And there was Viggo Mortensen’s mute carpenter, Callie’s bae, who can’t talk so instead has developed an impressive sleight-of-hand repertoire. A final oddity emerged in the closing credits when I learned that this was a German production. Obviously this is only a minor point, but I wondered: is The Passion of Darkly Noon a European view of American religious fanaticism colliding with rugged individualism, exploding in a Hell-sent electrical fire of extermination?

Arrow Video’s “Special Edition” marks the first time Darkly Noon has graced Blu-ray. It’s a director-approved 2K restoration and it includes a new commentary track from Ridley among its many special features. First-pressing orders come with a commemorative booklet.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“… 1990’s The Reflecting Skin [was] the oddest, most obsessive and morbid rural fantasia ever made, at least until The Passion of Darkly Noon…  As in The Reflecting Skin, Ridley keeps tight control[;] it’s never just weirdness for its own sake.”–Rob Gonsalves, EFilmCritic

(This movie was nominated for review by “Mike.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

LIST CANDIDATE: KABOOM (2010)

DIRECTED BY: Gregg Araki

FEATURING: Thomas Dekker, Haley Bennett, , Chris Zylka, James Duval

PLOT: A sensitive college freshman experiences sexual awakening, stumbles upon a murder mystery, and uncovers secrets about his family while once in a while working on his film studies major, all set amidst scores of colorful visions, voodoo hallucinations, and sexy encounters.

Still from Kaboom

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Kaboom is a tough one to pin down.  It takes a while to get a handle on itself, combining a wealth of different ideas and subplots that don’t quite add up, but it does command my respect with its delightfully trippy visual approach and boldly unhinged ending.  It must be said: this movie is definitely weird.  But is it List-worthy?

COMMENTS: Enrolled in a clean and modern college replete with impossibly beautiful, voraciously horny undergrads, Smith (Dekker) has plenty of free time to sleep with or fantasize about most of the people he comes across.  While he becomes a surprise sex-buddy for the blunt and sexy London (Temple), his best friend Stella (Bennett) begins dating a real-life witch with a clingy personality.  Through many sexual escapades and relationship woes, a lingering murder mystery involving a scantily-clad redhead and some creepy men in animal masks worries Smith for months.  The more he delves into the puzzle, the more he seems to get konked on the head or chased by mysterious figures no one else sees.  And it all seems to tie into his recurring dream featuring those closest to him and a bright red dumpster.

With its over-exposed, over-saturated cinematography and frequent use of dreams and hallucinations, Kaboom definitely finds its way into “surreal” territory.  The vibrant color schemes, kooky mod fashion, slightly pornographic sex scenes, and sarcastic one-liners belie the dark undertones involving mysterious killings and abductions, masked men, witchcraft, and a sinister doomsday cult.  This dichotomy can work against the film as a whole; the tone is uneven and the script flits back and forth with awkward attempts at cohesion.  However, seeing these distinct narrative halves somehow come together in a completely unexpected way makes for an admittedly compelling and memorable viewing.

Kaboom has its drawbacks—dialogue that tries too hard to be funny, a few too many sex scenes (which I didn’t think was possible), some stilted performances—but I can’t say I didn’t enjoy myself.  Everything (and everyone) was just so pretty!  It gets weirder as it progresses, and it’s better for it, and the brash, unexpected ending definitely has a special effect on audiences (there was a good mix of “Huh…”, “Ha!”, and “What the hell?!” at my screening).  It is riddled with twists and turns, and is sure to keep anyone with a libido somewhat interested, but I’m still not quite sure just what to make of it.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Araki lets his absurdist imagination run wild, and ‘Kaboom’ takes the time-honored gambit of gradually revealing that nothing is as it seems to delightfully cockamamie extremes.”–Kevin Thomas, The LA Times (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: YOUNG SHERLOCK HOLMES (1985)

AKA Young Sherlock Holmes and the Pyramid of Fear

DIRECTED BY: Barry Levinson

FEATURING: Alan Cox, Nicholas Rowe, Sophie Ward

PLOT: Young Watson meets prodigy schoolboy Sherlock at a British boarding school; together with Holmes’ girlfriend, they solve a mysterious rash of bizarre murders plaguing London.

Still from Young Sherlock Holmes (1985)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  Noteworthy for some dark and intense hallucinatory scenes, but basically it’s a rollicking Spielberg-produced action-adventure a la the Indiana Jones series.

COMMENTS: Directed by Barry Levinson but bearing executive producer Steven Spielberg’s stamp all over it (much like “Tobe Hooper” ‘s 1982 Poltergeist), Young Sherlock Holmes was an unexpected box office flop in 1985, but has since garnered a minor cult film reputation among nostalgic post-boomers. There are a few exhibitions of Holmesian deduction in the early reels to establish the prodigal intelligence of the adolescent Holmes, but the main mystery, involving an ancient Egyptian cult in Victorian London, isn’t quite up to Arthur Conan Doyle’s intricate standards. The reason to watch it is for the special effects in the fanciful hallucination sequences, which hold up excellently today, and can still be intense and scary for younger viewers. The most memorable of these is a stained-glass knight who jumps down of a cathedral wall and menaces a cleric; a more whimsical example is the sinister cupcakes that menace chubby young Watson in a graveyard. Leaving aside the objection that shooting your victims full of hallucinogenic drugs and hoping that they commit suicide while battling phantasms in their delirium isn’t the most fail-proof of techniques for a professional assassin to employ, these scenes are mildly weird and enjoyable enough in themselves to make this flick worth catching for weirdophiles. The hallucinations cease in the second half, as the film becomes more concerned with solving the mystery and restoring the status quo; inevitably Holmes, the apex of rationality, is able to defeat the dark occult specters from the ancient unconscious and reestablish the Age of Enlightenment.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…things take a turn towards the predictable thanks to Chris Columbus’s script ignoring all the things that made the duo so dynamic and instead cobbling together some nonsense about Eastern cults and hallucinogenic drugs that more readily recalls the work of Sax Rohmer (Fu Manchu) than Conan Doyle.”–Richard Luck, Channel 4 Film