A rare (our first, in fact) video review. If these prove popular we’ll make more! For hilariously campy viewing at your next Halloween party, please ask for Legacy of Satan (1974), a low-budget devil cult movie adapted by Deep Throat‘s Pete Trbovich, narrated by Giles Edwards.from a script originally intended for a hardcore porn production. Review by “Penguin”
DIRECTED BY: Sergio Martino
FEATURING: , George Hilton, Ivan Rassimov, Nieves Navarro, Dominique Boschero, Carla Mancini
PLOT: Jane, a young lady haunted by her mother’s murder and her own traumatic miscarriage, seeks solace but ends up being sucked into a local Satanic cult; her problems then worsen.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: While All the Colors of the Dark is a tasty ham of a thriller and peer to the top films in that genre, it doesn’t get any weirder than it has to be to tell its story—which is actually a straightforward story, right down to its dream sequences and some comparatively tame Satanic rituals. Other reviews of this movie confuse “psychedelic” with “using a diffraction camera filter for a couple scenes.” If anything, Colors apes Alfred Hitchcock at his most spartan. A great thriller, but we watch weirder Italian movies around here before our first Chianti of the day.
COMMENTS: Hi, I’m Giallo Man! I saw the Giallo Signal in the sky and got here as soon as I could. Gotta tell you, I am so heavy into the giallo, I mainline it off the nightstand. If one of those Twilight Zone episodes came along where a character gets to wish themselves into a movie forever, I’d probably pick a giallo. And what a choice plum we have here! All the Colors of the Dark comes with a keen pedigree, directed by Sergio Martino, whose name you may recognize from The Mountain of the Cannibal God (1978) or perhaps Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (1972)(#WhatATitle). That latter movie also shares the lead actress Edwige Fenech, whom you might recognize from Strip Nude for Your Killer (1975). That’s before we get to garlic-bread-and-spaghetti western star George Hilton, a supporting cast which reads like a compilation of names from the best of Italian genre films, and filmed-in-England cinematography that could make the cover of an early Black Sabbath album. But best of all is the vintage year of 1972. The Exorcist came out in 1973, so that makes this one occult Euro-horror movie that’s guaranteed not to be a cheap Exorcist knockoff—because it wasn’t even released yet! It doesn’t even kiss much of the dirt that Rosemary’s Baby (1968) trod. I’m almost too excited to watch this.
After a lurid opening nightmare sequence with a blue-eyed stabbing killer in a beige trenchcoat—what, no black gloves?—we meet Jane, who has recently suffered a prematurely terminated pregnancy in a car crash. She lives in a London flat with her boyfriend Richard, who fusses over her while she is plagued by trauma from both this event and nightmares of her mother’s death when she was a child. Jane’s sister Barbara urges her to see a shrink, who is, you guessed it, not much help. The blue-eyed stabber from her nightmares stalks her every waking moment—but is she hallucinating? Jane, towing this head full of psychological baggage, meets her new neighbor, Mary, and the two become fast friends, while Richard and Barbara meet Continue reading CAPSULE: ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK (1972)
DIRECTED BY: P. David Ebersole, Todd Hughes
FEATURING: Ann Magnuson, Richmond Arquette, John Waters, , A. J. Benza
PLOT: The final years of the life of perhaps the “Bomb”-est of the Blonde ((Despite being a natural brunette.)) Bombshells is explored through talking heads, archival footage, animation, and a smattering of interpretive dance.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The day may come that someone makes a biographical documentary that is as much of a hyperactive whirlwind of strangeness as was the life of Jayne Mansfield, but today is not that day. Directors Ebersole and Hughes provide instead a rather informative and rather typical movie, albeit one with some eccentric interludes.
COMMENTS: I found it impossible to walk away from a chance to see a movie about the wild final days of Jayne Mansfield, the mega-starlet who was nearly decapitated in a car accident. Her involvement with a local Satanic cult puts her in a category in which few other distinguished Hollywood personages can be found. Opening with an odd choral scene of four singing Mansfield impersonators (of both genders), P. David Ebersole’s and Todd Hughes’ Mansfield 66/67 makes a promise of weird delivery for this weird story. Aside from the singing and dancing scattered throughout the movie, though, the documentary fails on the “weird” side of things.
In the late ’50s through the early ’60s, Mansfield had a string of successes that highlighted her knowingly kitsch persona. With measurements of 44-23-37, it’s somewhat obvious why producers felt at ease putting her on screen: her presence guaranteed, at least, a particular kind of audience. That she was a good actress was all the better, costarring at one point with Hollywood’s primo charmer, Cary Grant. However, she had a problem with saying “yes” too often. She shuffled through husbands and lovers with considerable speed, needing constant attention. This predilection eventually led her into the orbit of the notorious California eccentric, Anton LaVey, founder of the Church of Satan. However, it wasn’t his theatrical occultism that broke her down, but her affair with her slimy lawyer, Sam Brody, that did the trick. As her film career collapsed, things got worse and worse, until the ill-fated car ride that killed her.
In its attempt to capture the madcap tragedy that ensued from 1966 through 1967, Mansfield 66/67 approaches the documentary genre from left field. Scattered among the talking heads (John Waters being a particular highlight) are performances by a dance troupe enacting, among other events, a damaging romance and her veer toward Satanism. The movie undercuts claims almost as soon as it makes them. Normally, this would be problematic, but it seems that most of Mansfield’s life— both on record and from anecdote—was a bulletin of conflicting information. The rapid pace of her life catches up with her, culminating in the film’s stylistic choice to use cartoons to enact a couple important events. What better way to show how her son got mauled by a lion, or how the mystic Anton LaVey convened with the elements atop a mountain to cast a spell to save the boy?
Shackled to the norms of documentary more than it might care to admit, Mansfield 66/67 isn’t so much weird as endearing. It succeeds famously in its telling of the mad life of Mansfield, but it is anchored far too much in the realism of friend’s reminiscences, academic interpretation, and archival footage. Having to deal with all its factual (if ambiguous) situations, there is little license for flights of fantasy. The oddest thing about Mansfield 66/67 isn’t its intentional delivery, but how it’s so caught up in the whirlwind of its subject’s life that at times it derails itself with narrative detours. Though it does tie in the “66/67” motif of the title, at one point the movie seems to want to be about Anton LaVey. In a way, his story would be a more uplifting one.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“… an oddball hybrid that’s part documentary, part stylistic mish-mash, but wholly celebratory of Mansfield’s often derided ‘blonde bombshell’ image.”–Jonathan Romney, Screen Daily (festival screening)
DIRECTED BY: Kevin Kolsch, Dennis Widmyer
FEATURING: Alexandra Essoe, Lou Deszeran
PLOT: A struggling young L.A. actress finally gets a callback, but the auditions are increasingly humiliating, and the casting director wears a pentagram…
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s got a little bit of backloaded weirdness in its final act, but mostly, it’s just a clever but minor indie horror whose primary impact will be as a calling card for lead actress Alexandra Essoe.
COMMENTS: Starry Eyes‘ script was obviously written by people who have stood up and read lines from an unfamiliar script in an attempt to impress poker-faced executives who silently assess their appearance, talent and general suitability as a human being. The movie makes auditioning feel (at times literally) nightmarish. Starry Eyes really makes you feel Sarah’s objectification as a struggling L.A. actress, and not only in the obvious ways. In fact, her daytime stint in hot pants and cutoff t-shirt at “Big Taters Family Restaurant” is less humiliating than the auditions she attends. The “Big Taters” subplot is interesting, because breastaurant waitressing is presented as a more honest and, in a way, honorable line of work than acting; her boss may ogle her, but he actually gives her good advice, whereas the casting agents are arrogant procurers who shamelessly leverage her starlet ambitions. Food service just wants her for body, but the movie industry wants her soul.
Astraeus Pictures not only makes B-movies, but they are staffed entirely by renegades from a low budget horror set. The bow-tied assistant casting director is fey and over-enunciates; his female superior is severe and androgynous, like a patrician riding instructor or a warden at a women’s prison. The producer himself has the studied smile, raised eyebrows and smarmy positivity of an overeager motivational speaker, or a hammy horror movie villain. Essoe’s performance, by contrast, is totally naturalistic, and extremely intense when anxiety attacks make her tear the hair out of her head in bloody clumps. The campiness of the moguls’ portrayals is a deliberate attempt to make them seem strange and artificial (and even hypocritical, since they demand authenticity from the auditionees they torment).
Sill, reasonable aesthetic choice though it may be, I think the hammy performances from the Hollywood phonies are a bit overplayed. The other major detractor from a generally solid horror outing is the weak second act, where Sarah spends too much time hanging out with her indie filmmaking friends. These digressions set up a necessary contrast between the creative freedom of the poor artsy types and the corporate bondage offered by Astraeus, but they don’t do favors for the pacing. Fortunately, the final act takes a turn into Cronenbergian body horror, as Sarah transforms from a nobody wannabe into one of Hollywood’s merciless bloodthirsty elites. “Dreams require sacrifice,” taunts the producer. The idea of selling your soul for a starring role isn’t a new or original one, but Starry Eyes is effective because it’s made by people who understand the agony and temptation of the quest for stardom from the inside.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
Peter Allison: “Sounds like a lot of supernatural baloney to me.”
Dr. Vitus Werdegast: “Supernatural, perhaps. Baloney, perhaps not.”–The Black Cat
DIRECTED BY: Edgar G. Ulmer
PLOT: A rainy night and roadside accident lands WWI veteran Dr. Vitus Werdegast and a honeymooning couple at the old dark house of Satanist Hjalmar Poelzig. Poelzig, a mass murderer guilty of war crimes, is also Werdegast’s longtime nemesis. Werdegast is sworn to revenge, but must also protect the couple from being sacrificed at a Black Mass.
- In his native Hungary, Lugosi had often played romantic leads. Typecast since Dracula (1931), Lugosi was initially enthusiastic about taking on the role of Werdegast. However, upon seeing the script and discovering that his beloved “protagonist” raped the heroine, The Black Cat became a career nightmare for the actor. Adding to the onset tension was Lugosi’s increasing jealousy of Karloff. In an interview with author Gregory Mank, Ulmer’s widow, Shirley Ulmer, related that Karloff and her late husband were kindred, erudite spirits. The two often engaged in discussions ranging from art to philosophy and film aesthetics. Lugosi, who was no intellectual heavyweight, felt the odd man out. Threatened by his genre rival, Lugosi resorted to lurid anecdotes for attention, even claiming that he had once been a Hungarian hangman. Naturally, such yarn spinning only served to further distance Lugosi from his peers.
- According to Mank, Lugosi got increasingly excited at the prospect of “skinning” his rival. Multiple takes were required and, in each take, Lugosi’s English became even more rushed and indecipherable. Many years later, Karloff advised impressionist Rich Little to watch the skinning scene from The Black Cat, in order to mimic Lugosi’s idiosyncratic vocalizations: “Did you ever seen an animal skinned, Hjalmar? That’sh what I’m going to do to you now. Vear the skin from your body, shlowly, bit by bit.” Karloff’s infamous lisp, at its most pronounced here, parallels Lugosi’s language mangling. Reportedly, Lugosi, of all people, consistently ridiculed Karloff’s speech impediment.
- Among the excised scenes were the afore mentioned rape, a scene of Joan Allison actually transforming into a black cat, and shots of Karloff’s skinned Poelzig, crawling on the floor with bloodied, flayed flesh hanging off his frame. Awkward comedy relief and embarrassing scenes depicting Werdegast’s fear of black cats were added, along with a slightly more traditionally heroic shaping of Lugosi’s character.
- Ulmer drew his inspiration for Poelzig from two sources: first, the German architect and leading member of the avant garde architectural society “Der Ring,” Hans Poelzig. Polezig’s work was an eccentric mix of Gothic and Noveua, filtered through very personal sensibilities. Second was the infamous Satanist and misogynist Aleister Crowley, whose concupiscent philosophy is expressed by his motto “I rave and I rape and I rip and I rend.” Ulmer grafts those two identification points into a First World War backstory. Ulmer had additional influence here as well: his father was one of the countless European victims in the Great War.
- Ulmer doubled as set designer and imbued the film with Bauhaus sensibilities.
- Ulmer should have been Universal’s third iconic horror director, directly behind James Whale and Tod Browning. Like those contemporaries, Ulmer had enough personal vision to elevate a pedestrian seed into something unique. Unfortunately, Ulmer broke a basic rule: He had an affair with his boss’ wife, which lead to his being fired and blacklisted by major studios. Although Ulmer was offered a chance to direct a big budget Shirley Temple musical for Fox, he turned down the offer, choosing instead to makepoverty row quickies for PRC, where he languished for the rest of his career. Most of his films are saddled with execrable scripts, and despite a cult following in France, Ulmer’s ultimate artistic merit is speculative.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: After the roadside accident, Vitus Werdegast and company arrive at Hjalmar Poelzig’s mansion. Ulmer’s camera jerkily climbs the deco stairs. The light from a radio blinks. Through cracks and clicks, Poelzig’s manservant announces: “Dr. Werdegast has arrived.” Poelzig’s wife lies asleep in bed; a half nude vision of purest white. Next to her lies the blackened silhouette of Polezig. Upon hearing the voice of his servant, Poelzig awakes, clicks on a light, and sits straight up. It doesn’t take a Freudian to see the image for what it is; a blatantly erect phallus. Polezig rises and walks menacingly toward the bedroom door, seen through the sheer curtain of a canopy bed. He is a phallic symbol as harbinger of death. Sex and death awash in starkly cubist black and white, and dramatic classical music. Poelzig’s wife is also his step-daughter, and Werdegast’ daughter. Werdegast waits below, suspicious but not completely aware of the incestuous milieu permeating Polezig’s fortress.
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Despite a checklist of outré taboos, The Black Cat, partly due to studio tampering, is characterized by subdued aesthetics. Rather than conveying grotesquerie and perversity through blood-soaked Poe-like dungeons, which would be the pedestrian route, Ulmer crafts a very personal restlessness through the icy tents of modernism, futurism, highly stylized acting, and artistic music. While this may make it a challenge for contemporary viewers, it renders this tale of revenge, lust and paranoia even weirder.
Fan made trailer for The Black Cat (by David Smith)
COMMENTS: For the first team-up of Universal’s horror stars, Karloff and Lugosi, uncredited producer Carl Laemmle Jr. virtually gave director Edgar G. Continue reading 178. THE BLACK CAT (1934)
DIRECTED BY: Rob Zombie
PLOT: An overnight DJ is drawn into a web of witchcraft when she plays a mysterious record.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s weird, to be sure, but it’s not weird enough to make us forgive all of the script’s missteps. I saw Salem in a theater with a quartet of teenagers as the only other patrons in the audience. They were far more thrilled by the Iron Man 3 trailer, which made the girls and boys alike squeal with delight. They were less impressed by this movie: one of them complained afterwards that it wasn’t even a “horror movie” (what kind of movie she thought it was, if not horror, I didn’t overhear). Yet, they stayed through the entire thing. If you can’t get teenagers who think Iron Man 3 looks awesome to walk out on your movie, then I’m afraid you haven’t made it weird enough to make the List.
COMMENTS: The Lords of Salem wants to be a rock and roll Rosemary’s Baby, but most of the time it’s just a bunch of dream sequences floating around in space, looking for a movie to latch on to. Of course, 366 Weird Movies doesn’t object to the use of dream sequences—hell, make your entire movie one long dream sequence and we’ll eat it up—but we do object to the clumsy, clichéd fashion in which they are handled here. If you’ve seen a horror movie before, you know the kind we’re talking about: everything seems normal and then suddenly the protagonist sees some dreadful apparition, bony fingers reach towards her neck, and then—poof!—she wakes up, it was all a dream. Do it once, and you’re just relying on a genre convention. Do it twice, and the audience may start to get annoyed. But play this trick three times or more, as Salem does, and you’ve broken a bond of trust between viewer and director. But let’s back up for a moment. These recurring hallucinations take up most of the pictures second act. The first act sets up the essential story: DJ Heidi lives alone with a dog in a Salem, Massachusetts apartment. Played by Sheri Moon Zombie, Heidi is unglamorous: skinny like a junkie, with bad tattoos, blond dreadlocks and hipster glasses. (Despite what you may have heard, her acting is not bad; the character is just underdeveloped. It was created in makeup and wardrobe, not in the script). Heidi interviews an expert on the Salem witch trials (for some reason, the late night classic rock show she co-hosts invites only Satanism-related guests) who provides historical background on local witchcraft cults. Then she receives a mysterious LP record, plays it on the air, and we drift into that seemingly never-ending series of dreams inside dreams which serve no plot purpose, but only showcase the director’s ability to construct a fake scare scene. Although it turns out all those second-act hallucinations (including a nasty bit involving a priest) were just padding, the story starts to improve in the third act, when three villainous witches start actively corrupting events. As the end draws near, the hallucination sequences become both more intense and more meaningful. Directed by the delightfully nasty and foul-mouthed hag trio, they take on a purposeful ritualistic character that makes it clear (well, somewhat clear) what’s going on with Heidi. The scenes turn operatic as Heidi’s efficiency apartment transforms into a grand ballroom. We meet a wonderfully creepy fetus-looking demon with a bifurcated umbilical cord who’s up to no good. And Rob Zombie goes all-out crazy in the final moments, creating a grand surrealistic horror montage that’s reminiscent of the kind of psychedelic apocalypses Ken Russell was putting up on big screens in the 1980s. The bottom line is I can’t recommend, or recommend avoiding, watching Lords of Salem. If you go you’ll see a fairly standard horror movie setup, a muddled middle, and an ambitious ending; you’ll see demons of every shape and size (including one looks like Chewbacca), corpses and rats and goats, psychedelic effects, blasphemous Satanic sex rituals, nude hags, cameos by minor genre icons like Dee Wallace and Patricia Quinn (the credits say Michael Berryman and Sid Haig are in there somewhere too, though I didn’t spot them), and Sheri Moon’s skinny butt. If that kind of hodgepodge sounds it worth it to you, and you don’t need a coherent story or artistic vision to tie it all together, than by all means have at it.
Rob Zombie is a difficult director to get a handle on. On the one hand, he is almost certainly the most talented director to ever bear the name “Zombie.” On the other hand, each of his movies contain moments of visionary inspiration marred by deep flaws and missteps. He displays the aesthetic sensibilities of an Iron Maiden album cover combined with an overweening sense of self-importance (his rambling, half-mad director’s statement claims that “only the goat knows free will” and warns against some “dangerous old conceptual fiction so near to the silver screen”). He’s a true American weirdo for our sick times.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
DIRECTED BY: Allan Moyle
FEATURING: Scott Speedman, Wes Bentley, Greg Bryk, Maggie Castle, Taryn Manning, Jordan Prentice
PLOT: Two junkies, who are planning a heist to pay off a mobster, clash with Satanists when they interrupt a ritual while burying an overdosed friend.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Despite sucking up to us by putting “weird” right there in the title, Weirdsville isn’t strange enough to belong on a list of the weirdest movies of all time. There are a few very mild drug trip sequences, but the rest of the film never rises above the level of aggressively quirky.
COMMENTS: A stoned caper comedy starring two (relatively) lovable polydrug abusers, Weirdsville wants to be the second coming of The Big Lebowski. And while it’s great for a screenwriter to set his sights high, Weirdsville ultimately tries too hard, forcing the quirk; it’s still a fun ride, but it overplays its bid for classic status. Speedman (playing Dexter, the “quiet, introspective one”) and Bentley (as Royce, “the ideas man”—i.e. the village idiot) share a believable buddy chemistry, based on in-jokes and stories they’ve been repeating to each other in the endless lazy, hazy days since high school. No matter how much Royce annoys the more cerebral Dexter, he’s devoted to his drug-dazed pal, despite the fact that Royce’s blunders keep complicating the plot and frustrating his own plans to kick junk. (Despite being prominently billed, Taryn Manning’s part-time hooker Mattie is little more than a third wheel and a plot point). The movie builds well for the first two acts. The twin storylines of drug debt owed to vicious mobster Omar and an accidental overdose that leads to an encounter with preppy Satanists entwine to create a desperate situation for our two unlikely heroes. This in turn leads to an ill-advised burglary, complicated when its interrupted by a teenage housesitter and by the constant pursuit of the duo by angry drug dealers and Satanists. So far, so good; Weirdsville is building a crazy tension, relieving it with bouts of goofy hipster dialogue and indie rock interludes, then ramping it up again. But Weirdsville steps over the line from pleasantly quirky to desperate to be different with the introduction of a new character, a dwarf security guard. Now, the judicious use of dwarfs and midgets is one of the most difficult calls for a director to make. On the one hand there’s a long and distinguished tradition of using dwarfs in comedy, dating all the way back to the days of medieval jesters. But putting a “little person” in an unexpected role—like a security guard—is by now almost a cliché, and the gambit risks looking gimmicky and exploitative. Here, the dwarf is not only a mall cop, but also a medieval re-enactor with a gang of chainmailed cronies who are all also of sub-average stature; for me, when these guys show up swinging mini-morningstars, the movie, which had been toying with greatness, jumps the quirky shark. It’s still fun right up to the end, but any shot at greatness has been botched. In the end, the most memorable bits go to the well-heeled, straight-edge Satanists, who end up whining “Lucifer is supposed to be helping us, not plaguing us with midgets and junkies!” That line pretty much sums up the movie; if Satanists plagued by midgets and junkies sounds like your kind of scene, you’ll probably enjoy Weirdsville.
Director Allan Moyle is best known for Pump Up the Volume (1990), a cult hit among 90s teens starring Christian Slater as a high school pirate radio operator.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
(This movie was nominated for review by “Billy,” who argued that this “movie has zombies, drugs and midgets in it. Can’t get much weirder than that.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)