Tag Archives: Todd Rohal


Weirdest!(segment D)

DIRECTED BY: , Julian Barratt, Robert Boocheck, Alejandro Brugués, , , , Julian Gilbey, Jim Hosking, Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen, E.L. Katz, Aharon Keshales, Steven Kostanski, Marvin Kren, Juan Martínez Moreno, Erik Matti, , , Chris Nash, , Hajime Ohata, Navot Papushado, , Dennison Ramalho, , Jerome Sable, Bruno Samper, Jen Soska, Sylvia Soska, Sôichi Umezawa

FEATURING: Too many actors to list individually, and no one appears onscreen for long enough to qualify as “featured”

PLOT: 26 more short horror films about death, each inspired by an assigned letter of the alphabet.

Still from The ABCs of Death 2 (2014)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Only one out of these 26 films might qualify on its own merits as a candidate for the List of the Weirdest Movies Ever Made, which is not a favorable enough ratio to consider this anthology a contender.

COMMENTS: The original ABCs of Death was a somewhat successful reinvigoration of the horror anthology genre, benefiting from the novelty of the ultra-short short format. The sequel is more of the same, with a mostly second-tier (in terms of name recognition, not talent) slate of directors alphabetizing horror’s latest cemetery. One obvious improvement from the previous installment; there are hardly any toilet-themed scares here (the scat-horror fad thankfully played out in 2013). Fewer of the episodes qualify as astoundingly weird, but we’ll give you the rundown on what to watch out for.

First off, in the not-so-weird category, we have to mention neophyte director Rob Boochek’s “M is for Masticate,” winner of the fan-submission contest, whose entry (featuring a paunchy rampaging madman in stained underwear) amounts to a dumb and arguably dated joke—but one that made me laugh out loud at its perfectly-timed, abrupt punchline. Even better is Hajime Ohata’s “O is for Ochlocracy,” a clever Japanese entry which actually finds a new spin on the vastly overdone zomcom genre.

On to the weird scorecard. ‘s “P is for P-P-P Scary!,”  is a tribute to early talkies, with three hillbilly Bowery Boys in absurd makeup and stereotypical striped prison garb cowering their way through a nameless void. It’s probably the most universally loathed segment of the film, and it’s easy to see why; Rohal’s highly personal and peculiar brand of awkward surreal comedy is an acquired taste that has yet to be acquired by almost anyone. It certainly won’t appeal to the average horror fan. The anthology ends with a weird, if relatively weak, flurry, with the action-figure inspired “W is for Wish,” the strange but inconsequential “X is for Xylophone” (which at least features Béatrice Dalle, ABC2‘s biggest star), the surreal special effects spectacle “Y is for Youth,” and the absurd pregnancy fable “Z is for Zygote.” There are a few other bizarre entries scattered about the alphabet. and Bruno Samper’s “K is for Knell” is audiovisually apocalyptic but abstract and hard to connect with.  ‘s much anticipated (by us) entry is quality, but nothing unexpected. Two scribbly lovers kiss each other to death, like a gorier version of one of his 1980s MTV shorts. “G is for Grandad” is an unclassifiable surprise tale of bizarre inter-generational rivalry from the previously unknown Jim Hosking. “Grandad” was noteworthy enough that the director parlayed this calling card into a feature film (titled The Greasy Strangler), to be released by cult-film specialist Drafthouse Films next year.

The most noteworthy episode—weird or not—is stop-motion specialist ‘s “D is for Deloused.” Technically impressive, it is also thoroughly surreal, taking place in a dirty lilac operating room full of bleeding men, scurrying cockroaches, and arm-sucking larvae with dual-headed clowns inside them. Nightmares don’t come much more terrifyingly irrational than this one, with a protagonist birthed from a corpse and commanded to “pay for life.” “Deloused” is the best thing in ABCs of Death 2, and it makes us long to see what the slow-working Morgan would do with a long-form project.

Overall, my judgment is that this sequel is less essential than the interesting-but-inessential original. Only Morgan’s segment rates as a must-catch for weirdophiles, while the first collection had three exceedingly bizarre entries to catch your eye. Overall, the uneven effect is about the same (although full disclosure requires me to report that most critics preferred this second installment, concluding that this crop of directors learned from the mistakes of their trailblazing predecessors).

and were announced as directors for this project, but pulled out before completing their shorts. There are currently no active plans for a third installment (the makers say that rampant piracy makes it difficult to recoup their investment).


“There are a few standouts, though viewers’ appetites will differ enough that it’s unlikely any sort of consensus will form on which two or three make the entire experience worthwhile. From a critical standpoint, Robert Morgan’s stop-motion ‘Deloused’ does Kafka proud, commercial director Jim Hosking’s ‘Granddad’ wins the weirdness prize, Vincenzo Natali’s ‘Utopia’ proves hauntingly evocative, and Jerome Sable’s sick p.o.v.-style ‘Vacation’ would be right at home in one of the ‘V/H/S’ horror anthologies.”–Peter Debruge, Variety (contemporaneous)


Sundance Film Festival has a knack for featuring shorts that test how much our stomachs can tolerate, and how absurd a storyline can get while still drawing in our empathy. Rat Pack Rat left me with a discomfort not dissimilar to Bobby Miller’s Tub, that premiered at Sundance in 2010. I probably won’t put myself through watching it twice, but I’m very glad I watched it once.

Content Warning: This short contains strong adult situations.



FEATURING: Katy Haywood, Sheila Scullin, , Rich Schreiber, Ken Byrnes, Kathleen Kennedy, Ivan Dimitrov,

PLOT: After her boyfriend goes missing a pregnant woman with dozens of sisters (all from

Still from The Guatemalan Handshake (2011)

different mothers) enters a demolition derby against her Guatemalan father… and that’s just one of many plot lines running concurrently in this bizarre rural community.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Although a Guatemalan Handshake sounds like something you’d have to pay extra for at a massage parlor, it’s actually a strange little indie movie that takes the concept of ‘quirky and stretches it way past the breaking point.  Think what would happen if Napoleon Dynamite’s had been hired to remake Gummo as a comedy and you’ll be somewhere in the stylistic neighborhood of this oddly conceived debut.

COMMENTS:  Though things sort themselves out in the end, there’s an excellent chance you’ll be totally lost within the first ten minutes of The Guatemalan Handshake.  The narrator, a spindly young girl named Turkeylegs, explains that her best friend, nerdy turtle-loving Donald, has gone missing, and introduces us to his father (who, like almost everyone else in town, doesn’t much care about his son’s disappearance) and his pregnant girlfriend Sadie, the daughter of a Guatemalan demolition-derby Lothario with dozens of (all-female) illegitimate children he drives around in a school bus.  While you’re still trying to wrap our minds around those details, all of which and more are delivered before the film’s title rolls, you see Donald’s last known appearance, watch a lapdog get electrocuted, and learn of a mysterious power failure whose aftermath is explained in spooky overlapping voiceovers.  More crazy characters appear, including a depressed older woman who wanders around in the background asking if anyone’s seen her missing dog, and Stool, a loser with a bowl haircut and a crustache who can’t hold down a job but nevertheless decides to romance Sadie.  And, as if Handshake‘s capriciously quirky characterizations and the way the story dips in and out of their lives weren’t disorienting enough, the film’s style also changes every few minutes.  Sequences are sped up, and we may suddenly find ourselves inside an unannounced flashback or watching an earnest freak-folk music video or taking in one of the many magical realist digressions, such as TV-personality Spank Williams’ unsuccessful public suicide or the tale of the woman who reads her own obituary in the morning paper.  Even dinner (which for Turkeylegs consists of a chocolate bunny filled with chocolate milk and covered in whipped cream) is an experiment in fast-cutting montage.  It’s winsome, it’s twee, and it annoyed the hell out of a lot of moviegoers who considered it pretentious hipster twaddle with no “real” characters; yet, it’s only fair to point out that all of the indie movie clichés Handshake displays are pushed so far that they become parody, and the film’s detractors may be missing part of the joke.  How seriously can we be intended to take a film that gives its characters with names like Turkeylegs, Stool, Ethel Firecracker and Donald Turnupseed?  Handshake works perfectly in its own conceptual stratosphere, but at ground level things sometimes falter: you can seldom relate to the bizarre characters, and the jokes are more awkward than funny.  And although the film is loosely tied together by the theme of loss—missing persons, lost dogs, and stolen cars—it doesn’t have much to say about its subject.  Handshake‘s only real passions are experimentation and eccentricity.  Whether that’s enough to carry the film is up to the viewer to judge.

The Guatemalan Handshake won the Slamdance special jury prize in 2006.  It didn’t receive theatrical distribution, but the DVD release was surprisingly elaborate: a two disc edition complete with commentary track, numerous behind the scenes features and six short films featuring Handshake‘s cast and crew.


“An understated, surrealist comedy that is more successful at being weird than funny, the film seeks to capture the ‘Napoleon Dynamite’-influenced tone of bizarre small-town quirkiness. It falls short of the mark, but not by much.”–Phil Villareal, Arizona Daily Star (contemporaneous)

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



FEATURING: , Robert Longstreet

PLOT: A goofy priest who seems more concerned with funny stories and YouTube videos than Jesus Christ sets out on a canoe trip with his childhood icon Robbie, a musician who dated his sister in high school.  As they paddle down the river, more details about their history are revealed, and things get really weird when they meet fellow travelers posing as characters from Huckleberry Finn.

Still from The Catechism Cataclysm

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: It starts off as a funny, somewhat quirky canoe trip, relying on dialogue and a few offbeat stories to entertain its audience. But then it gets weird. Really weird. I’d say the last 20 minutes are weird enough to make up for the comparative normalcy of the preceding 50.

COMMENTS: When the effervescent Father Billy first meets up with his middle school idol at a roadside diner, he accidentally drops his bible (which he gets autographed by musicians) in a diarrhea-filled toilet bowl. This sets the stage for a story that is deceptively average on the surface, but delightfully deranged underneath, finally showing its true colors during the final sequence. Their journey is peppered with some strange side-stories, from a heat-packing granny to a suicidal businessman who can’t die, along with some effectively ominous filming techniques and a heavy metal soundtrack that humorously clashes with the bucolic river landscape. While there are flashes of weirdness throughout, nothing truly prepares the viewer for the big Weird payoff at the end, which I will not spoil for you.

Father Billy is a well-meaning goofball with an oblivious, clingy personality, and it’s never actually clear why he would become a priest—an occupation that takes remarkable dedication and sacrifice—in the first place. He seems perfectly content to sit around listening to 80’s metal and drinking milk. His dips into unpriestly behavior (lying to his superior, drinking beer, etc) coincide with dire circumstances that should be enough to completely shake his faith. Steve Little puts in an offbeat performance, making Father Billy just slightly creepy enough for viewers to question exactly what is going on here. In contrast, Longstreet’s portrayal of Robbie is so open and believable, he stands as a pillar of ordinariness and often represents the audience’s own reactions to Billy’s off-putting characteristics.

The Catechism Cataclysm is a difficult film to encapsulate. It’s a mish-mash of high school reunion-esque reflection, Catholic introspection, fascinating urban legend storytelling, and off-the-walls absurdity that winds its way into an enjoyable, funny, decidedly memorable experience. Overall, it’s an impressive show of irreverence and eccentricity from a director with a foundation in mumblecore.


A dryly absurd road comedy with the caveat being that they core duo are floating down a river rather than driving along a road… This is down home Americana re-imagined as gradually escalating dementia with a dark yet still sweetly naive edge.”–Todd Brown, Twitch