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27*. MAD GOD (2021)

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“If in spite of this you still do not listen to me but continue to be hostile toward me, then in my anger I will be hostile toward you, and I myself will punish you for your sins seven times over. You will eat the flesh of your sons and the flesh of your daughters. I will destroy your high places, cut down your incense altars and pile your dead bodies on the lifeless forms of your idols, and I will abhor you.” -God, Leviticus 26:27–30

DIRECTED BY: Phil Tippett

FEATURING: Alex Cox

PLOT: Condemned by God, Humankind yet survives. In an effort to destroy the deity, a lone explorer laden with explosives is sent to unfathomable depths. The assassin must survive Hell on Earth to complete his mission.

Mad God (2021)
– Mad God – Photo Credit: Shudder

BACKGROUND:

  • Phil Tippett is a sought-after effects man who’s worked on multiple Hollywood blockbusters. He began his career with the original Star Wars film in the “Miniatures and Optical Effects” unit, and was possibly the first-ever credited “Dinosaur Supervisor” for his work on Jurassic Park.
  • Mad God was three decades in the making, crafted by Tippett and his workshop between paid projects.
  • With the advent of CGI, Tippett nearly abandoned his hopes of completing his stop-motion opus. A KickStarter campaign helped to fund the film’s completion. He also received assistance from film students he met giving guest lectures.
  • Mad God premiered at Locarno on August 5th, 2021, garnering Tippett the festival’s Vision Award Ticinomoda, which “highlights and pays tribute to someone whose creative work has contributed to renew the cinematographic imaginary.” The film also won the Audience Choice Award at the 2021 L’Étrange Festival, which as its name suggests is no stranger to weird cinema, as well as the “Most Groundbreaking Film” and “Best Animated Feature” trophies at the Fantasia International Film Festival.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Putting the viewer through a viscerally agonizing and philosophically despairing grinder for eighty-three minutes, Mad God is wholly indelible. It is a harsh viewing experience, and so its few moments of tenderness stand out like flowers atop a mound of sullied corpses. When the unnamed explorer has a fleeting moment of connection with a doomed fiber-man, Mad God reminds the viewer that in life, there is hope—perhaps even in Hell.

TWO WEIRD THINGS: Toothy baby-talk overseer; Day-Glo death garden

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Stop-motion, theological nihilism, and a panorama of horrid wonder in every frame make Mad God one of the most visually intense experiences ever to be unleashed in cinema. Phil Tippett’s dedication to the craft, coupled with his deep knowledge of ecumenical imagery and fearless depiction of despair, makes his deeply personal movie a non-stop spectacle of exquisite hideousness.


Trailer for Mad God

COMMENTS: This mad God is the incarnation of sadistic capriciousness—a giggling, infantile entity, seen only via display screens: babbling mouth with stained teeth, and blood-shot eyes. Fibrous humanoids, forged from the defecation of bound and tortured creatures, operate a horrific machine. Exhausted upon creation, they Continue reading 27*. MAD GOD (2021)

*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)

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.)

CAPSULE: GUTBOY: A BADTIME STORY (2017)

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DIRECTED BY: Nick Grant

FEATURING: David Homyk, MaryBeth Schroeder, voices of Will Cooper, Nick Reed, Misty Foster, Megan Rosen, Anthony Herrera

PLOT: Goot is tricked into selling his skin to Besto, and seeks revenge with the help of a similarly skinless “mermaid.”

Still from Gutboy: a Badtime Story (2017)

COMMENTS: Gutboy is a strange little creature, and the star of a strange little movie that occupies an odd niche on this site’s recommendation spectrum. The movie is slight and casual and doesn’t feel weighty or significant enough to challenge for a spot on our list of the weirdest films ever; and yet, it’s so darn weird that nearly every serious reader of this site will find something to enjoy in it. The “” tag affixed here is, therefore, an attempt to bring attention to this worthy amateur effort, while acknowledging that it doesn’t fit alongside some of the more serious or professional titles honored here.

Not that the movie doesn’t actually earn that “weirdest!” designation. (In fact, some argue that it works too hard for it.) Framed as a story told by an emcee to a sick boy who’s wheeled out before an audience of insects, the plot involves a fisherman tricked into selling his skin, who then immediately hooks a “mermaid” (a similarly skinless woman given to lines like “you learn a lot of things on the ocean floor… like how to please a man”) who tires to seduce him, and also grants him a wish. Gutboy doesn’t think to ask for his skin back, but instead asks to marry the policeman’s daughter. And the story just keeps getting odder when skin-merchant Besto breaks out his giants (portrayed by a well-toned couple of real live humans spray-painted gold) to wrestle for his amusement. Oh yes, and there are also musical numbers, ranging from show tunes to rockabilly and lo-fi punk and pop.

So yeah, it’s pretty strange. The marionettes are appropriately crude and grotesque: Gutboy and his paramour (who, after a brain-swapping mishap, becomes known as “Sophieguts Prettybutts”) look genuinely bloody, and for some reason have exposed brains. The other puppets are all quite ugly, too, bulbous and vaguely resembling antique Eastern European dolls, with sunken wooden eyes covered in black mold. The puppeteering is not particularly accomplished, but it doesn’t matter, given the project’s insouciant attitude. Any movie in which a wooden hooker on strings sings the line “porking me ain’t easy, and diddling me ain’t fun” isn’t aiming for much beyond cheap amusement.

The kitchen sink approach often turns a would-be weird movie into a unwatchable mess, but here it works to Gutboy‘s advantage, with each new quirk catching your attention, but not completely derailing the loose worldbuilding efforts. The movie is also helped immensely by its economical runtime: take out the four-minute introduction and the ten-minute post-credits “Titus Andronicus”-themed bonus short, and it runs just under an hour. Any longer, and it might have started to try your patience.

It might not surprise you to learn that Gutboy was a crowdfunded project. It played well enough in limited screenings that picked it up for distribution. It can now be seen free on Amazon Prime for subscribers.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a triplike piece of weirdness that defies all sorts of logic – and that’s exactly why it works so well…”–Mike Haberfelner, (re) Search My Trash

FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL 2021: MAD GOD

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Mad God has been promoted to Apocryphally Weird status. Please visit the official Apocryphally Weird entry.

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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)

13*. PROMETHEUS’ GARDEN (1988)

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“I guess danger and weirdness have always been the main features in most of my stories.”–Bruce Bickford

Weirdest!

DIRECTED BY: Bruce Bickford

FEATURING: Bruce Bickford’s handmade clay models

PLOT: A man discovers a garden and figures oozing out of a hole, who he fashions into miniature people who then begin multiplying on their own. The man is then sucked into a planet which he has created, and chased first by vikings, then centurions. There is no coherent start-to-end plot, but some segments of the film enact mini-stories.

Still from Prometheus' Garden (1988) 

BACKGROUND:

  • Animator Brice Bickford gained modest underground fame when his animations graced ‘s concert film Baby Snakes (1979) and The Dub Room Special (1982). Prometheus’ Garden is the only film Bickford made over which he had complete control, however.
  • Prometheus’ Garden was completed in 1988, but rarely seen until a 2008 DVD release.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: We’ll go with the gang of newly-minted werewolves enjoying slices of pizza; an octopus lies on the pie along with the other toppings. Don’t like that pick? Skip to any random point in the movie and you’ll see something just as weird.

TWO WEIRD THINGS: Werewolf paint; monster pizza

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Human heads grow in a field. Imps and demons spontaneously generate from the soil. Clay figures disembowel each other. Nude Viking women slather themselves with Vaseline in the sauna. Every element of the movie is in constant motion for thirty minutes. Weird hardly even begins to cover it.


Original trailer for Prometheus’ Garden

COMMENTS: Flesh-colored flowers grow out of a green field, turning into big-headed monsters as cotton ball smoke wafts across the Continue reading 13*. PROMETHEUS’ GARDEN (1988)

12*. JESUS SHOWS YOU THE WAY TO THE HIGHWAY (2019)

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“I think we’re living in a world that in fifty years we’re not going to recognize, because now we produce real objects. But with augmented reality… we’re going to transform the world.” -Miguel Llansó

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DIRECTED BY: Miguel Llansó

FEATURING: Daniel Tadesse, Guillermo Llansó, Gerda-Annette Allikas, Solomon Tashe,  Lauri Lagle

PLOT: Agents D.T. Gagano and Palmer Eldritch must enter the CIA-created alternate reality, “PsychoBook”, in order to investigate a sentient computer virus, Soviet Union. Abandoned within the virtual reality, Gagano finds himself in _Beta Ethiopia, where strongman/president/superhero-villain BatFro conspires with Soviet Union to distribute a VR byproduct known as “the substance.” Gagano’s reality-side fiancée, who hopes to open a kick-boxing academy, must now live with the prospect of him being trapped in a portable television display.

BACKGROUND:

  • An Estonian computer museum provided inspiration for the hardware aethestic in Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway, but the machines on screen were mostly Apple products from the early 1990s.
  • Solomon Tashe,  who plays the African strongman dictator “Batfro,” , is a much-loved Ethiopian media personality.
  • The unusual name “Mister Sophistication” was lifted from John Cassavetes’ The Killing of a Chinese Bookie. However, like other characters in Llansó’s films, he was based on a regular at the Club Juventus, a gathering spot in Addis Ababa for Italian ex-pats and other larger-than-life clientèle.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Take your pick. Perhaps it’s stop-motion Richard Pryor and Robert Redford investigating a house infiltrated by a computer virus assassin. Perhaps it’s the “Jiminy Cricket” CIA AI spouting knee-high advice to Agents Gagano and Eldritch. And perhaps it’s the melodramatic conversation between a super-sweetie BBW kick-boxer and her television-bound lover. For the record, however, the official “Indelible Image” is cross-dressing super-spy, Captain Lagucci, sprinting off a roof to save a portable television. Much like Miguel Llansó, Lagucci just… runs with it.

TWO WEIRD THINGS: Coked-up Batfro to the rescue!; CIA Man trapped in a TV

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Llansó manages to make an “anything and everything” approach to imagery, symbolism, dialogue, and scenario gel into a unified whole. Obviously the plot for JSYtWttH is bonkers, and that’d be enough, but its mountain of antiquated tech, dizzying opening credits, vibrant colors, bug aliens, MIT conspiracizing, Cold War derring-do, and… You get the picture; just about everything in this movie makes it weird.

Trailer for Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway

COMMENTS: “Loading. Please wait.” Not a typical beginning for a Continue reading 12*. JESUS SHOWS YOU THE WAY TO THE HIGHWAY (2019)