WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 5/22/2018

Our weekly look at what’s weird in theaters, on hot-off-the-presses DVDs and Blu-rays (and hot off the server VODs), and on more distant horizons…

Trailers of new release movies are generally available at the official site links.

IN THEATERS (LIMITED RELEASE):

Damsel (2018): A cowboy () journeys across the frontier, miniature horse in tow, to join his strong-willed bride-to-be (). Dana Schwartz of “Entertainment Weekly” raves that this Western comedy is “bizarre… and weird in the best ways,” although we suspect that assessment is aimed at a less jaded audience than this one. Damsel official site.

FILM FESTIVALS – Cinepocalypse (Chicago, IL, 6/21-6/28):

This Chicago festival, which mixes genre pictures with offbeat indies, is in it’s second year, and could grow into something special. We noted a couple of fest stalwarts in a pair of black comedies first seen at Sundance and Tribeca respectively, Clara’s Ghost and 7 Stages to Achieve Eternal Bliss by Passing Through the Gateway Chosen by the Holy Storsh. Among listings with titles like Cop Baby, this new-to-us movie stood out:

  • The Secret Poppo – A paranoid eccentric hunts for the granddaughter he never knew in a comedy described as “THE PINK PANTHER crossed with an acid trip.” playing 6/28 only.

The fest closes on June 28 with  a screening of crowd fave Killer Klowns from Outer Space.

Cinepocalypse official site.

IN DEVELOPMENT (upcoming):

“A Love Story” (2017): Instagram is promoting its new video platform (IGTV) with a surreal short horror film from Petra Collins, starring Selena Gomez. Uncanny half-face masks, eyeballs in mouths, and finger-headed monsters co-star. First Spring Breakers, now this: no wonder Justin Bieber dumped her (that’s a shot at JB, not Ms. Gomez). ET Online has stills and a short clip to freak you out.

BOOKS:

“Room to Dream”: The biography/memoir we’ve been dreaming of. Kristine McKenna wrote the biographical sections, with Lynch himself dropping in to comment in a stream-of-consciousness style. A major event in weird movie literature. Buy “Room to Dream”.

NEW ON HOME VIDEO:

Double Lover (2017): Read our review. A strange, erotic psychological thriller from . DVD and Blu-ray. Buy Double Lover.

Night of the Lepus (1972): Read Alfred Eaker’s review. The infamous badfilm about giant killer rabbits gets a Blu-ray release with commentary (!) from Shout! Factory; make of that what you will. Buy Night of the Lepus.

Zen Dog (2016): A young virtual reality entrepreneur explores exotic herbs and lucid dreaming in an attempt to shake himself out of his rut, and hears the voice of Zen apostle Alan Watts. We’ll review this Buddhist parable/hippie-revivalist indie next week. On video-on-demand, or you can get a signed Blu-ray directly from the distributor.

CERTIFIED WEIRD (AND OTHER) REPERTORY SCREENINGS:

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975). We won’t list all the screenings of this audience-participation classic separately. You can use this page to find a screening near you.

FREE (LEGITIMATE RELEASE) MOVIES ON TUBI.TV:

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (1990): Read the Certified Weird entry! Two minor characters from “Hamlet” pass the time with intellectual games while awaiting their big moment. Currently listed as “leaving soon” (with no departure date given). Watch Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead free on Tubi.tv.

What are you looking forward to? If you have any weird movie leads that I have overlooked, feel free to leave them in the COMMENTS section.

337. STREET OF CROCODILES (1986)

Must See

Weirdest!

“Late one night, down in my parents’ split level suburban basement, channel-surfing the old-fashioned way, I hit my first taste of Quay— like an electric shock—like nothing I’d ever seen. The mystery of the Quay Brothers got its hooks into me. I spent two years wondering what the hell I’d seen.”–Christopher Nolan on his first viewing of “Street of Crocodiles”

DIRECTED BY: Stephen Quay, Timothy Quay

FEATURING: Feliks Stawinski

PLOT: Eerie reminiscences unfold when a gaunt man is brought to life after a globule of spittle activates a machine. He explores dusty, encrusted back streets and shop fronts teeming with rusted machines while being followed by a young boy. At length, a quartet of funereal tailors offers him a refashioning of uncertain merit.

Still from Street of Crocodiles (1986)

BACKGROUND:

  • “Street of Crocodiles” is inspired by a short story (and story collection of the same name) by Bruno Schulz. It was financed by the British Film Institute, which produced and distributed the Quay’s early works. The BFI insisted that the film be based on a literary source as a condition for funding.
  • The final (and only) narration in “Street of Crocodiles” is voiced by Leszek Jankowski, the film’s composer and a collaborator of the Quays.
  • Film-maker Terry Gilliam regards “Crocodiles” as one of the ten best animated films of all time; film critic Jonathan Romney one ups him, saying it’s one of the ten best films of all time.[1]
  • The Quay Brothers style in general, and “Street of Crocodiles” in particular, influenced many music videos; for example, Nine Inch Nails’ Closer (directed by ).

INDELIBLE IMAGE: During the twenty-one minutes of the film, the only “disposable” image is perhaps that of the live actor entering the opening frame and counting some unseen items on the ceiling. Virtually everything else sticks out like a rusty thumb. Forced as I am to choose, I’ll plump for the “memory inducement” sequence during which everything goes backwards as the protagonist (played by a marionette) peers through a square peephole. Ice cubes rise from a trapdoor, having un-melted; whispering seeds of a ripe dandelion reassemble into their fragile orb; and even the pointless workings of the rubber-band “Bachelor Machine”[2] flip into reverse.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Life-giving luminescence; skittering screws; meat map, mapped meat

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRDStreet of Crocodiles checks off a lot of boxes for a general “weird” survey: creepy visuals, stop-motion, dissonant score, defiantly vague plot-line, and pirouetting tailors. It’s hard to put it in words, as you might have guessed, but this is a Weird one. If you’ve seen anything like it since you first watched it, it’s probably because you just re-watched it.

Brief clip from Street of Crocodiles

COMMENTS: The difficult task of capturing a memory becomes Continue reading 337. STREET OF CROCODILES (1986)

  1. By complete coincidence, last week’s Certified Weird choice, Hellzapoppin’ (1941), also made Romney’s top ten all-time list. []
  2. The Quay Brothers employed many futilely active machines in their short films; the term stems from Duchamp’s sculpture, The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even. []

LIST CANDIDATE: HEREDITARY (2018)

DIRECTED BY: Ari Aster

FEATURING: , Milly Shapiro,

PLOT: Disturbing events unfold after the death of a family matriarch, culminating in a bizarrely violent pagan ritual infused with supernatural occurrences.

Still from Hereditary (2018)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Hereditary equals or surpasses already Certified Weird films The Wicker Man, Repulsion, and Don’t Look Now with creepy cult imagery, tightly wound drama, and an effective and disturbing finale. The heavily-researched occult details makes the material surrounding guilt and loss linger. The exceptional effectiveness of Hereditary‘s unique brand of personal tragedy transformed into cult devilry means it should be considered for the list.

COMMENTS: Like a coffin desending into a fresh grave, Hereditary sinks into a subconscious nightmare that feels extremely real. The supernatural mystery at the core of the story (derived from a host of influences) is amplified by raw emotions surrounding bereavement and guilt. Hereditary doesn’t hold back when the catharsis comes. While Colin Stetson’s score highlights the creepy occult details to an oppressive effect, the characters mechanize into functional roles of which they are unaware. Represented in miniature models built by lead character Annie (Toni Collette), they ultimately fall prey to a bizarre set of spiritual encounters which, given the slow drip of small clues along the way, makes for an affecting, unforgettable experience.

Cluck

The anxious and paranoid plot structure is highlighted by a web of sensory mechanics, like clicks and shimmers. It’s not surprising that theatergoers already engage in “clucking” during viewings, embracing the sensory details of the plot in real time. Much like ‘s Repulsion, which is also laden with sensory triggers and sharp invasions, Hereditary is often dour and unpleasant; but this allows more fun to be had with its exciting plot development focusing on the invocation of an ancient pagan lord. Hereditary doesn’t merely bludgeon the audience with pop-psychology myths; it amplifies its plot revelations with painstakingly researched detail and pitch-perfect acting. The haunting images, abrupt sounds, and Toni Collette’s riveting acting combine with the sensory flourishes to create a seamless whole with an unusually oppressive mood.

Feels/Mechanics

The audience shares Annie’s emotions. Her retreat and avoidance of pain explodes into violent death and disorientation, kick-started in an early scenes when Annie asks her husband, “Should I be sadder?” after her mother’s funeral. Her focus on crafting miniature replicas grounds and distracts her, but perhaps only furthers her destructive tendencies.

The mechanics of the wider plot make the atmosphere even more compelling. Words in a bizarre language—“Satony,” “Zazam,” “Liftoach Pandemonium”—scribbled onto a bedroom wall neatly divide the narrative. Meant as invocations, the words (Aster did some Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: HEREDITARY (2018)

CAPSULE: INHERITANCE (2017)

DIRECTED BY: Tyler Savage

FEATURING: Chase Joliet, Sara Montez

PLOT: A carpenter inherits a northern California villa from the biological father he never knew; the place is haunted by family secrets.

Still from Inheritance (2017)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: This indie psychological horror has only a few bare scraps of weirdness scattered throughout infrequent dream sequences.

COMMENTS: When carpenter Ryan is told his biological father has died, his expression is detached and brooding. It won’t change much throughout the rest of the movie. That’s not to say Chase Joliet’s performance is bad; it’s just one-note, by design. Inheritance starts in a  solemn mood and keeps it consistently gloomy from beginning to end. The movie barely cracks a smile, and never tells a joke. The emotions simmer, never quite boiling over into catharsis. Even the sex is serious. The tone is meant to convey a mix of subtle melancholy and lurking menace, but it often skirts too close to the borders of ennui.

The titular inheritance is a 2.5 million dollar villa on the northern California coast. The property is a windfall whose sale would supply a great nest egg for him and his fiancée Isi (Sara Montez) to start their life together; but the husband-to-be feels the need to linger in the home while silently working out his feelings about his biological heritage through a series of obliquely symbolic dreams of about his ill-fated parents and other ancestors. Ryan’s psychology revolves around fear that he will turn out like his biological father—although we get few meaningful hints what dad was like—but he also his has issues with jealousy, and hints of ambivalence about fatherhood. He struggles as much with accepting his upcoming responsibilities as a family man as he obsesses over his biological heritage; Isi suspects the latter is distraction from the former. With our main character so closed off, it falls on Montez to provide some the movie with some life. This she does, literally and figuratively. Hers is the more appealing, and stronger, character.

The cinematography, courtesy of Drew Daniels (It Comes at Night), is the film’s best asset, alternating bright beach scenes with well-lit nighttime dreamscapes. (In contrast to Ryan’s clouded psyche, his home is about the sunniest haunted house you’ll ever see.) Isolated shots are poetic; whiskey cascades over ice in slow motion, scored to the sound of ocean surf. Inheritance is well-crafted, but it’s too slow and monotone for most audiences, with too little dramatic payoff. About one hour into the movie, when a ghostly figure tells Ryan “I trust you know what to do now,” I caught dim echoes of The Shining. Then, I realized that by this point in ‘s ghost story, we’d already seen the blood in the elevator, the spooky twins, a foreboding Room 237, and starting to lose both his temper and his mind. Inheritance had yet to really get into gear, and although it tries to cram a lot of action into an effective final fifteen minutes, it isn’t quite worth the leisurely trip it takes to get there. The movie has a sophisticated psychology and there’s a lot of talent involved on both sides of the camera, but it doesn’t quite achieve its ambitions.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…the movie’s last 20 minutes are a deftly woven, completely beguiling amalgamation of surrealist nightmare and pure state-of-nature human dread.”–Shawn Macomber, Rue Morgue (festival screening)

BATMAN NINJA (2018)

Batman Ninja (2018, directed by Junpei Mizusaki) is an utterly bizarre hoot; the most refreshing take on the Batman character since 2014’s The Lego Movie. It’s about time that the Dark Knight got a face lift. Reportedly, fanboys are heading to drugstores by the busload, buying out all the Preparation H. From the reactions I scanned on IMDB, the general consensus is “Batman can’t be in Feudal Japan!” Uh, boys, do you remember the day mummy told you that the Jolly Green Giant wasn’t real? Ditto.

However, it’s more than concept alone that makes Batman Ninja a thoroughly enjoyable, off-kilter adventure. It’s also one of the most visually dazzling animation efforts I’ve seen (famed anime designer Takashi Okazaki practically has a kaleidoscopic, calligraphic watercolor orgasm onscreen, and its gorgeous). Additionally, Batman Ninja takes a nothing-is-sacred approach, which undoubtedly is the inspiration for the sound of exploding, angst-ridden batfundie heads heard all over social media.

Batman and Catwoman are having a  bit of a tiff with Gorilla Grodd (the old Flash nemesis) who has a time-teleporting thingamajig . Lo and behold; Batman is in feudal Japan. The film is hyper-kinetically paced. Within seconds, he is dueling with a small gang of Joker-faced samurai, which of course leads him to Lord Joker himself as well as Harley Quinn.

Catwoman arrives, too. She is a geisha with a kitty puppet, and she makes Dolly Parton look like an A cup. Oh, and she bought Alfred (not me, Bruce Wayne’s butler), too, and the Batmobile. Smartly, Misuski and company resist the boring temptations of Batman traditions. They get a new use out of the Batcycle, turning it into a suit of armor. When the battle begins, Batman has an arsenal of batninjas backing him up. Grodd, the Penguin, Poison Ivy, Two-Face, Deathstroke, and sumo wrestler Bane (!) all exist in feudal Japan; each has his or her own territory, and they are fighting for control—a bit like the mafia in Godfather.

Batman needs all the help he can get, so several Robins come to save the day, including a red Robin, and one with a green mohawk who has a chimpanzee for a sidekick! Robin himself is no longer Robin: he’s lost his primary colors and become a gray clad-ninja called Nightwing.

The battles come fast and furious, including one in Joker’s castle, one at sea with a Joker clipper ship, metallic simians, magic bats, and Bane mantling George “Watch Out for That Tree” of the Jungle.

In addition to the anime style (which suits Batman well), Batman Ninja has its tongue-firmly-in cheek with purple dialogue: “I am no longer the Batman. I will be what the bat clan calls me. I will be their prophecy. I will be Sengoku Batman.” Batman as a samurai isn’t even half of it. He disguises himself as a monk and gets a tonsure hairdo—in the shape of the bat signal. Harley Quinn and Catwoman engine in pseudo-lesbian combat (busty lesbians, with groan-inducing dialogue, of course). In-jokes are aplenty, with wacky nods to Transformers, Planet of the Apes, War of the Gargantuas, For a Few Dollars More, Legend of the Seven Golden VampiresPower Rangers, and The Empire Strikes Back, to name a few.

This is the opposite of ‘s white trash take on super people, and of all the Freudian Batmans we’ve been inundated with since Frank Miller. Thankfully,  unnecessary character development  and formulaic writing go the way of the dinosaur, and with all that out of the way, Batman Ninja is a creative and surreal romp. After seeing a 70-year-old plus character go from camp to dystopian, and to just plain godawful, Mizusaki actually does something new with it. Sure, Hamburger Helper-variety batfans will probably keel over from seeing their pedestaled funny paper deity put through the wringer and their formula diet challenged, but the rest of us can invite our weirdest friends over for one helluva extra anchovy pizza party and Batman Ninja.

P.S.  Stay put for the credits.

WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

Only 30 movies left to Certify Weird

Having finished with his Batman TV miniseries, Alfred Eaker turns his attention to the latest offbeat iteration of the Caped Crusader: the 2018 superhero/anime crossover Batman Ninja. Sticking with recent releases, G. Smalley will discuss the new-on-video-on-demand psychological horror Inheritance, while Ryan Aarset surveys the incendiary Heredity. Then, Giles Edwards re-works entry on the stop-motion nightmare “Street of Crocodiles” (regular readers can probably guess why).

Now is the time when we highlight the weirdest search terms that brought visitors to this site (with our usual disclaimer that this survey is a shadow of what it once was thanks to privacy filters blocking search terms). First, we have to mention the search for “billy cook saddles.” These are real things, but they have absolutely no relevance to us whatsoever—what’s weird about it is the thought that some searcher looking for horsewear passed over all the relevant Google results on the first page, and decided to visit a weird movie site instead. More typical of the type of searches we see nowadays is “i’m looking for a horror movie that was made in the 80s it have indians in it and have an alien having sex with a woman”. A bizarre request by normal people’s standards, sure, but we’ve gotten used to seeing weirder. Since we have nothing better to spotlight, we’ll go with the moderately amusing “movie with bad guy getting punched in the face with a puppet” as our Weirdest Search Term of the Week. But try to do better in the future, Googlers!

Before reprinting the ridiculously-long -and-still-growing reader-suggested review queue, let’s point out something that may seem obvious in retrospect: with only 30 movies left to Certify Weird, all of the hundreds of suggestions listed below can’t possibly make it, or even receive a fair hearing. These movies are currently listed in order of submission, but at this point we are ignoring that order and reaching deeper into the queue for the few films we feel, for one reason or another, merit coverage. So, Genius Party has been sitting in the first position for quite a while; but as it’s an anthology film that’s not easily accessible in the U.S., we keep passing it over—and will probably continue to. In other words, you can’t trust this queue for insights into what will be reviewed in the immediate future. That’s bad if you are rooting for something near the front of the queue to see its day in 366 court, but good if you’re a fan of a film buried deeper in the list.

With that out of the way, here’s how the ridiculously-long -and-still-growing reader-suggested review queue now stands: Genius Party; The Idiots; “Premium” (depending on availability); Spermula; Killer Continue reading WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 6/15/2018

Our weekly look at what’s weird in theaters, on hot-off-the-presses DVDs and Blu-rays (and hot off the server VODs), and on more distant horizons…

Trailers of new release movies are generally available at the official site links.

NEW ON HOME VIDEO:

“Akio Jissoji: The Buddhist Trilogy”: Three rare films of the late Japanese New Wave: This Transient Life (1970) involves brother/sister incest, Mandara (1971) concerns a pro-rape cult, and Poem (1972) stars a young boy caught up in a plot to sell his ancestral home. Arrow Academy promises that these little-seen films are all stylized, experimental, erotic and spiritual. Blu-ray set only. Buy “Akio Jissoji: The Buddhist Trilogy”.

Curse of the Cat People (1944): Read Alfred Eaker’s review. A strange childhood fantasy film with little relation to its Cat People ancestor; a few people prefer it to the horrific original, though. Out on Blu-ray for the first time from Shout! Factory. Buy Curse of the Cat People.

Edward II (1991): ‘s experimental, queered-up version of Christopher Marlowe’s play. It’s in our reader-suggested queue, and now out on DVD, VOD and Blu-ray (for the first time) from Film Movement. Buy Edward II.

Inheritance (2017): A carpenter inherits a northern California villa from the biological father he never knew; the place is haunted by family secrets. Not to be confused with Hereditary; review (of both?) coming next week. VOD only. Buy or rent Inheritance.

King of Hearts (1966): In World War I, a private is mistaken for a bomb expert and sent to a French town deserted by the locals, but now occupied by the escaped inmates from a local mental asylum. This British anti-war cult favorite has long been hard to see in the U.S.; the Cohen Film Collection releases it on DVD, Blu-ray and VOD. Buy King of Hearts.

Vidar the Vampire (2017): A Norwegian farmer is vampirized by a bloodsucker claiming to be Jesus Christ. Debuts in the U.S. on various streaming and on-demand outlets; check the official site for details.

CERTIFIED WEIRD (AND OTHER) REPERTORY SCREENINGS:

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975). We won’t list all the screenings of this audience-participation classic separately. You can use this page to find a screening near you.

What are you looking forward to? If you have any weird movie leads that I have overlooked, feel free to leave them in the COMMENTS section.

336. HELLZAPOPPIN’ (1941)

“The expanse of humour in American life has historically shown the health of the democratic system in its ability to absorb criticism and analysis, even in their most pointed, satiric, sardonic, or absurdist forms, or when cast solely as entertainment.”–Russel Carmony, “The rise of American fascism — and what humour can do to stop it”

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Ole Olsen, Chic Johnson, Martha Raye, Hugh Herbert, Mischa Auer, Jane Frazee, Robert Paige, Lewis Howard, Shemp Howard, Richard Lane, Elisha Cook Jr.

PLOT: The film begins with the projectionist (who will play an active role in the story) loading a reel of film: a musical number set in Hell. That scene ends with the arrival of “our prize guests,” Olsen and Johnson, who are in turn interrupted by the director who objects to their series of gags and demands that they have a story “because every picture has one.” The director presents them with a script for “a picture about a picture about ‘Hellzapoppin”, which loosely revolves a love triangle among socialites who are also staging a play (with disastrous results).

Still from Hellzapoppin' (1941)

BACKGROUND:

  • Hellzapoppin’ was the film version of Ole Olsen and Chic Johnson’s stage variety show, which opened on Broadway in 1938. The show had no running plot, but consisted of a collection of comedy sketches, musical numbers, and audience participation routines that played off current events and would change from performance to performance. Olsen and Johnson often improvised their routines. With 1,404 performances, it was the longest-running show on Broadway up until that time.
  • The original show closed on December 18, 1941; the film debuted on December 26, 1941. Olsen and Johnson revived the show many times, and it went on road tours (with rotating casts, often without Olsen and Johnson) throughout the 1940s.
  • One of the few bits that was recycled from the play for the movie is the man who wanders through the scenes carrying a potted tree, which grows bigger as the production progresses.
  • Hellzapoppin’ received an Oscar nomination for “Best Original Song” for “Pig Foot Pete.” The song “Pig Foot Pete,” however, doesn’t appear in Hellzapoppin’.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The rapid pace of the visual gags makes this one almost impossible to pick. The opening seven minutes in Hell alone could probably yield half a dozen respectable candidates. We’ll go with the moment that Olsen (I think) blows on his diminutive taxi driver, transforming him in a flash of smoke into a jockey on a horse (with, for some reason, a tic-tac-toe game stenciled on its side). The fella is immediately launched from his saddle on a trip into Hell’s sulfurous stratosphere—but that’s already another image altogether.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Canned guys and gals; Frankenstein’s monster hurls ballerina; invisible comedian hemispheres

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: A staircase collapses, dumping socialites into Hell where devils with pitchforks do somersaults off trampolines and juggle flaming torches. Women are roasted on spits. Farm animals tumble out of a taxicab like it was a clown car. The projectionist runs the film back and plays a scene again, to a different conclusion. And that’s just the first five minutes! “This is Hellzapoppin’!”


Fan-made trailer for Hellzapoppin’

COMMENTS: I can’t tell which one is Olsen and which one is Johnson. This may seem like a small point of confusion in a movie in which Continue reading 336. HELLZAPOPPIN’ (1941)

Celebrating the cinematically surreal, bizarre, cult, oddball, fantastique, strange, psychedelic, and the just plain WEIRD!