Tag Archives: Surrealism

*25. SAINT BERNARD (2013)

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“I proudly slam my flag in the sand that Saint Bernard is not for ‘them’— whoever ‘them’ is, but you and I know who ‘them’ are— and I don’t want ‘them’ seeing the film.” —Gabriel Bartalos

DIRECTED BY: Gabriel Bartalos

FEATURING: Jason Dugre

PLOT: An orchestra conductor travels through an increasingly bizarre milieux while carrying a dog’s severed head in a bag.

BACKGROUND:

  • Gabriel Bartalos only directed two features, the bizarro slasher film Skinned Deep (2004) and this one. He was, however, much in demand as a practical special effects and makeup expert, working on many popular horror movies (including several projects). He also provided effects and makeup ‘sCremaster” films (2, 3, and 4).
  • The film is dedicated to Benoît LeStang, a French make-up/special effects artist involved in, among many other projects, Brotherhood of the Wolf.
  • Saint Bernard was shot on 35mm film over the course of 10 days in a screen ratio of 1.78:1; standard dimensions in France—a country somehow on the hook for producing this.
  • The movie is only known to have screened once—at the San Sebastian Horror and Fantasy Film Festival—before being released to Blu-ray in 2019.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Seeing as this story is chock-full of unsettling and grotesque sequences, the whimsical emergence of young conductor Bernard from a sweet-dreams variant of the Něco z Alenky mansion stands out for its sunny magical surrealism. The smiling lad in a crisp white suit and bow-tie ably batons through a classical performance amplified from an iPod for a receptive audience of his peers.

TWO WEIRD THINGS: Doggie bag; Uncle Ed the Music Monster

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRDSaint Bernard is intensely cryptic, but always engaging—even as the symbolism (or, perhaps mere randomness) is slapped on without mercy. Our cursèd conductor endures the unfathomable: liberation by chainsaw-wielding Frenchman; a run-in with a deformed wino police chief; a would-be escape through a fecal puddle emitted by Static Boy. Is it all meaningless? Perhaps; but this is Goremeister Arthäus . It may waste your time, but it does so with gooey gusto.

Original trailer for Saint Bernard

COMMENTS: “Hey, um, I need help,” admits the film’s protagonist at Continue reading *25. SAINT BERNARD (2013)

*24. KEEP AN EYE OUT (2018)

Au Poste!

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DIRECTED BY: Quentin Dupieux

FEATURING: , , Marc Fraize, Anaïs Demoustier

PLOT: Having discovered a dead body under not-very suspicious circumstances, Louis is brought in by the police for questioning. His account of the event arouses the suspicions of police commissioner Buron, but Louis is even more suspicious of the police because of their circular arguments, penchant for distraction, and curious behavior. Louis becomes concerned that he will bear the responsibility for an increasing number of unlucky events, and must recount his actions in fine detail in an effort to affirm his innocence.

Still from Keep an Eye Out [Au Poste!] (2018)

BACKGROUND:

  • This was native Frenchman Dupieux’s first feature actually produced in his home country.
  • The film’s original French title translates as “To the police station!” It can also be translated to mean “at the office.” It can also be interpreted to mean someone who is at their assigned spot (“at one’s post”), in much the way a call of “Places!” summons the actors to their marks at the start of a play.
  • Scenes at the police station were filmed in the headquarters of the French Communist Party, designed by acclaimed architect Oscar Niemeyer.
  • Alain Chabat is credited with providing “screams of pain.” Chabat appeared in Reality as a film director attempting to win an Oscar for the best wail of pain.
  • The film’s poster parodies that of the significantly more action-oriented Jean-Paul Belmondo crime thriller Peur sur la Ville (Fear over the City).

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Philippe, a hapless cop-wannabe, suffers from an unfortunate condition, and its reveal is a genuine shock. It’s not merely that he has only one eye. It’s that the whole upper quadrant of his face is smoothed over, as though the mere idea of an eye socket never existed. And once he begins espousing his hyper-preparedness for even the most surreal of accidents, it is absolutely inevitable that Chekhov’s Plastic Angle Square will fulfill its destiny.

TWO WEIRD THINGS: Near nude conductor; crunchy oyster

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: by way of with a healthy layer of Douglas Adams and a final punch of Sartre, Keep an Eye Out is a fantasia of absurdism. Dupieux and his actors seem to be engaged in a contest to see who can be the most deadpan, and the tone never wavers, neither in the face of escalating ridiculousness nor an unexpected and tragic conclusion.

Original trailer for Au Poste!

COMMENTS: We begin with an orchestra in a meadow, accompanying the opening credits under the baton of a mustachioed man clad Continue reading *24. KEEP AN EYE OUT (2018)

CAPSULE: PERIOD PIECE (2006)

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DIRECTED BY: Giuseppe Andrews

FEATURING: Bill Tyree, Giuseppe Andrews

PLOT: Intertwined stories of a number of absurd characters including a French dwarf who has rough sex with a teddy bear and a perpetually naked old man who has sex with an imaginary woman.

Still from period piece (2006)

COMMENTS: “WARNING: This film contains senior citizen nudity and dead pigs.”

Now, geriatric nudity is no big thing (although when the octogenarian attempts to holds pork rinds between his buttcheeks, you may disagree). That dead pig, though… we’ll get to it.

Period Piece is a series of absurdist sketches that rarely rise to the level of jokes, and never to the level of insights. They aren’t planned out, they are just passing spurts from the brain of director Giuseppe Andrews, whose mind is not filled with classical allusions like a or scathing anti-bourgeois fantasies like a , but mostly with dirty words, bodily function imagery, and trailer park culture. The result is arrested development surrealism, like something made by if he were a complete psychopath.

You get segments about two guys who siphon gas to get money to shoot heroin in a car wash. Two other guys mime eating each others’ farts (which they slice with a plastic knife and eat with a fork, in about the closest the film comes to eliciting a chuckle.) Stop-motion tater tots have sex in front of a shrine to Charles Manson. A guy eats raw hamburger. That kind of stuff. It’s shot in camcorder glare, and the editing is deliberately bad, as if a few “good” fifteen second takes were assembled to make a scene. Sometimes the same line repeats with slightly different inflection. It’s unpleasantly disorienting and visually unflattering, so Andrews does achieve the Americana nightmare feel he’s going for. And just so you won’t be fooled into thinking you’re watching something with socially redeeming value, it opens with a bit where a guy wearing a fake mustache and speaking in a Pepe le Pew accent sodomizes a teddy bear with an industrial sized can of calm chowder. (The repeated, graphic molestation of the stuffed sex slave is an ongoing motif.) Also, a lot of people shoot themselves in ineffective mock suicides. It’s as disgusting as it sounds, and much of the time, it’s repetitive and tedious, but it’s capable of holding your interest—against your better judgement.

Although the climactic dead pig is explicitly named “Society,” the main target of the film’s ongoing and pervasive anger has been women and scarcity of sex. The teddy bear who “likes it rough” seems to stand in for woman as sexual objects. In one vignette a man threatens to kill a “whore” for cheating on him. A father and son leaf through the gynecological displays in well-worn stroke mags, and the son dreams of scoring someday. The naked old man delivers obscene, scatological monologues about vaginas. Although Andrews had  a girlfriend at the time, and there is a woman in the cast, the whole project gives off the vibe of something conceived by poor white guys who’ve lost all hope of ever getting laid. Therefore, when Andrews’ attempt to top Pink Flamingos in the grossout department has the naked old man hack at the pig’s head with a hatchet while screaming insults at it, I was put more in mind of incels releasing sexual frustration than outsiders taking revenge against a system that has marginalized them.

The ending of the film disclaims that “no animals were hurt in the making of this film… they were already dead!” This is not strictly true. What about the human animals in the audience who had to watch it?

proudly (?) picked up Period Piece (and some other Andrews movies) for distribution, despite the fact that it’s much darker (and even cheaper) than their usual fare. The DVD features an incongruously cheerful introduction by , a Kaufman interview with Andrews, trailers for other Andrews movies, an obscene misogynist poem written by Andrews and read bumblingly by Tyree, and the entire 70-minute bonus feature Jacuzzi Rooms— which is literally just an unscripted chronicle of four rednecks drinking heavily in a motel room. Fun stuff, for people for whom nothing matters.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Take John Waters at his shock heights, a sizable helping of Harmony Korine’s Gummo, and a completely amateur visual aesthetic you have a vague idea as to what kind of film your in store for… From frame one you are forced into its full tilt bizarro world. You either get on for the ride or reject it completely.”–Infini-Tropolis (DVD)

(This movie was nominated for review by Tally Isham, who said “Not sure if I recommend seeing it, but it’s zero-budget weirdness.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

*22. A SNAKE OF JUNE (2002)

 Rokugatsu no hebi

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DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Yûji Kôtari, Shinya Tsukamoto

PLOT: Rinko is a shy and inhibited woman working as a counselor at a suicide hotline. One day, a photographer she previously helped sends her compromising photos of herself. The stalking turns into blackmail when he forces her to live out her erotic fantasies, which take on an increasingly hallucinatory character.

Still from A Snake of June (2002)

BACKGROUND:

  • Shinya Tsukamoto’s seventh film, after Gemini (1999).
  • A Snake of June debuted at the 59th Venice International Film Festival (2002), where it won a special award (the Kinematrix Film Award, which does not appear to have been awarded before or since).
  • Tsukamoto and main actress Asuka Kurosawa were respectively awarded the Special Jury Award and Best Actress Award at 2003’s edition of Fantasporto (Porto International Film Festival).

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The unusual garb of the erotic cabaret’s patrons, who sport funnel masks as they watch an equally offbeat performance.

TWO WEIRD THINGS: Erotic drowning performance; corrugated pipe assault

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Although modest by the director’s standards, A Snake of June stands out by all other measures of weirdness through its gradual abandonment of conventional narrative logic to indulge in surreal displays of interlacing horror, desire and sadism.


Restoration trailer for A Snake of June (2002)

COMMENTS: A Snake of June starts off surprisingly restrained for a Continue reading *22. A SNAKE OF JUNE (2002)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: I MARRIED A STRANGE PERSON! (1997)

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Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Voices of Tom Larson, Charis Michelsen, Richard Spore

PLOT: Mid-orgasm, two birds crash into Grant’s satellite receiver, whose redirected beam gives him super powers.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE APOCRYPHA: When the line, “Have you ever tried to tell a 50-ton tank to stop having sex?” makes perfect sense in context, it stands to reason the surrounding film is peculiar. Plympton’s surrealist animated comedy is fit to burst with caterpillar daydreams, organ juggling, and boobs big enough to fill the house.

COMMENTS: The word “strange” is right in the title, along with an appropriate exclamation mark. The film opens with a bit of duck sex, replete with tongue-chomping, teeth-shattering lust (literally, figuratively speaking). And as a flight-of-fantasy indictment of network television’s pervasive malignancy, it’s somewhat ironic that the hero—Grant, the “strange person” of the title—received his phenomenal powers from that very danger. But perhaps it’s not ironic so much as appropriate. If this movie is at all suggestive of Bill Plympton’s views, he finds the human mind far more nonsensical than any invention yet made manifest.

On the topic of manifesting, that is just the power our hero develops. After the amorous anatidaean opener, we meet Grant, an accountant (or something) with the squarest jaw and doublest chin this side of Hollywood’s heroic age. With a pulsating boil on the back of his neck, his day-dreamy outlook changes his reality: the insects his mother-in-law fears appear from her clothes and swarm into her mouth; his chirpy, lawn-mowing neighbor ends up pursued by a giant, psychotic blade of grass with a vendetta; and mid-coitus his wife’s boobs grow to ginormous size, crashing through rooms and smashing through windows. All this does not go unnoticed, neither by the witnesses of his visions-made-real, nor by SmileCorp studio’s Machiavellian overlord, Larson P. Giles.

But back to the sex. It is with a modicum of surprise that I found this film to be R-rated. Granted, it’s animation: a medium in which one can get away with a lot more than any live action equivalent. Bodily explosions, a man hog-tied with another’s intestines, and so on: these are kinds of things that could not get a live action theatrical release, R-rated or otherwise. And there are plenty of “these kinds of things” in Strange Person. In one long-form example, Grant’s friend Solly, a comedian on the cusp of failure, saves his act through sheer force of showmanship by self-dismantling in front of a live studio audience.

But back to the sex. I have seen few non-pornographic films with more sex than I found in I Married a Strange Person! That is not to say any of it was erotic. Plympton’s style doesn’t bend that way; instead, it bends as far away as possible from mundane concerns—like sex. It’s there, but presented on the very edges of acceptable taste (much less “good taste”, a concept decried in an opening quotation from Picasso), smashing like a pastel hammer into the viewer’s consciousness. What truly tips the scale, with weirdo-violent aplomb, is the film’s sweetness. The musical interludes (“Would You Love Me If…?” and “How’d You Get So Cute?” among them) and the overarching theme of love and forgiveness add a saccharine spike of whimsy to the absurd and violent reverie. Rest assured, I Married a Strange Person! ends on a happy note… of sex.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“[Plympton] is head and shoulders above Spumco, Spike and Mike, and yes, even hometown boy Mike Judge when it comes to creating the weirdest, wildest, most sublimely outré cartoons in the world… Absurdist comedy of this sort is rarely seen these days…”–Marc Savlov, The Austin Chronicle (contemporaneous)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: THE SHOW (2020)

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DIRECTED BY: Mitch Jenkins

FEATURING: Tom Burke, , Ellie Bamber, Christopher Fairbank, Alan Moore

PLOT: Fletcher Dennis is a hitman an “exit technician” posing as a private detective posing as an antiques dealer in search of a stolen Rosicrucian necklace.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE APOCRYPHA LIST: Sometimes “weird” leaves you overthinking; in this case, I suffered the reverse. While watching The Show, it occurred to me that perhaps it wasn’t weird, because it’s exactly the kind of movie Alan Moore would make. Having pondered a few minutes following the spectacle’s completion, it became apparent that this was indeed something weird. Jenkins’ and Moore’s movie blends reality and dreams, and life and death, in a manner that would make 366’s poster-boy Dave Lynch smirk in satisfaction.

COMMENTS: Please forgive this reviewer’s gushing, but in the hopes of getting it out of my system let me begin with, “This… this is the Alan Moore film I’ve been waiting for!” Mr. Moore, as some of you may know, has had a long history of disappointment with studio executives when it comes to his innumerable works and their adaptations. Some of this is warranted (League of Extraordinary Gentlemen), some of it not (Watchmen). Regardless, The Show pulls off a very-Moore experience—more so than any other adaptation of his oeuvre.

Because it immediately pulls the viewer into a cryptic facsimile of Northampton UK, it’s helpful that the film pulls its protagonists from the “straight man” bucket. Steven Lipman (later, and earlier, Fletcher Dennis, ever-clad in black and red striped shirt, presumably with sling-shot) has been hired by Patsy Bleaker to retrieve a family heirloom that went missing after his daughter (not quite) was murdered (definitely). Faith Harrington, a briefly comatose journalist, arrives at the local hospital the same night the murderer is carted in following a tragic accident involving a pineapple and a nightclub stairwell. Faith begins suffering from carnivalesque nightmares featuring Matchbright & Metterton, a comedy duo who perished in a 1970s fire. While the plot thickens reality-side (Bleaker’s daughter was not his daughter), it positively coagulates in the subconscious world, as both Dennis and Harrington confront an agenda hatched within dreams and beyond the grave.

Those familiar with Alan Moore’s world(s) know that no detail is to be ignored, whether from the perspective of plot or to appreciate an erudite slight-of-hand. When subcontracting his search to the “Michelson & Morley Detective Agency”, Dennis finds himself in front of a backyard clubhouse whose entrance opens up into an improbably large office, where he converses with two Tims around the age of ten. (“We don’t handle messy divorces, and we have to be in bed at 9:30.”) They speak in a ’40s film noir narration style, and take payment in either cash or energy drinks.

The paragraphs I could burn with such regalement could take up an entire movie, surprise surprise, so consider that just a taste of the fun-time genre stroking herein. Stylistically, it is apparent that The Show was created by a comics man. Every shot and sequence will be familiar to readers of that medium, and it stands as a stark reminder that for whatever reason, virtually no filmmaker seems to fully embrace the aesthetic: an aesthetic you’d think would make the cinematographer’s job that much simpler. Just. Follow. The. Storyboards.

But I’m in fan-boy mode again; I didn’t think I’d be able to shake it. This acts as a companion piece to Under the Silver Lake, another film that got me gushing. Alan Moore’s hometown of Northampton is deeply unreal and fully realized; his characters are unreasonably eccentric individuals who interlock seamlessly with their peers and milieu; and his film has enough smoke and mirrors for a late night cocaine and dance party at the Black Lodge.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Jenkins’ surreal city symphony transforms Little England into an overlooked site of invention, resistance and revenge, while the erudite poetic wit of Moore’s script is a dizzying blend of high and low, the profane and the occult, funny-haha and funny-weird.”–Anton Bitel, VODzilla (VOD)

FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL 2021: MAD GOD

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RecommendedWeirdest!

DIRECTED BY: Phil Tippett

FEATURING: Niketa Roman,

PLOT: An explorer descends into the depths with the mission to destroy God.

WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: Drawing inspiration from Ray Harryhausen and the Brothers Quay, as well as siphoning the theological-cinematic marrow of E. Elias Merhige, Phil Tippett has created a stop-motion nightmare of such scale and unrelenting viciousness that it turns the corner into the darkly poetic.

COMMENTS: Words nearly fail me. I could go on at length about Mad God‘s technical wizardry and the staggering horror of  its vision. The soundscape is calculated for maximum unpleasantness. The entities populating the Hellish layers are the nastiest collection of putrescent malevolence this side of the imagination. Whatever message there may be here is of the utmost nihilistic hideousness. Myriad paragraphs could be spun going over all the elements Phil Tippett has created for this trial of a film, but mere text cannot convey the goings-on in Mad God. I’ve seen torture porn; this movie is nothing short of torment porn.

Babel is destroyed, and what follows is a vision of mankind, had he defied the warnings of Leviticus 26: 27-33. Man survives, as he must and as he can. An explorer in a capsule descends past a skyscraper guarded by flak cannons. He is armored and equipped with a map and a briefcase. And he witnesses Hell on Earth as he travels, passing defecating guardian beasts. Wispy humanoids are stamped in a press and sent off to labor on a giant apparatus, burnt to crisps, crushed under steam-rollers, and splattered by the dark monoliths they have been tasked to create. Down and further down continues the explorer, map disintegrating, briefcase clutched in hand. Inside is a bomb, and with it the hope of destroying this God and what he has wrought. He reaches the bottom, on which rest innumerable heaps of other briefcases. And he sets the timer…

It may be best for me to describe the few moments of comparative ease on display. A doll-like human woman passes her time masturbating; a nurse has the luxury of a pillow to lay upon; and somewhere in God’s alchemical laboratory there exists a carefree group of DayGlo beings who sup daintily on maggots. And that is all I can think of. Of course, each instance has caveats: the doll-like woman is imprisoned; the nurse must facilitate a ghastly human-emptying surgery for each delivery of an ungainly foetus to be handed unto God; and the DayGlo cavorters are intermittently snatched up and eaten by beasts for the alchemist’s amusement.

There is a timelessness to Mad God, explained not just by its lack of dialogue and grandness of the vision. This project took Tippett thirty-three years to complete. Every crushed human, every organ tossed idly aside, and every burst of goo and shit—it all leads to a dispiriting rejoinder to 2001: A Space Odyssey. When God is fed the dust of the infant, he spews forth black monoliths into the cosmos, infecting neighboring worlds. The abominations on display here are beyond most people’s utterance, and you may be tempted to flee, but Mad God ends on an odd note that ever-so-slightly tempers the despair: another explorer, with another briefcase, is sent down for another attempt.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Tippett’s odyssey, equally compelling and off-putting, enmeshes the viewer in a maximalist excess not too formally different from the likes of Flying Lotus’ trippily mutated Kuso, abetting its dream logic with lurid visions of the scatological and profane.”–Morris Yang, In Review Online (festival screening)