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16. CARNIVAL OF SOULS (1962) March 31, 2009

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“We hoped for the look of a Bergman film and the feel of Cocteau.”–variously attributed to screenwriter John Clifford or director Herk Harvey

fivestar

DIRECTED BY: Herk Harvey

FEATURING: Candace Hilligoss, Sidney Berger

PLOT:  Mary Henry, a church organist, is the lone survivor of an accident when the car she’s riding in plunges over the side of an old wooden bridge.  Looking to start over, she takes a job as an organist at a new church in a town where she knows no one.  She finds herself haunted by the sight of a pale grinning man who appears to her when she is alone, and fascinated by an old abandoned carnival pavilion visible from the window of her boarding house that she senses hold a mysterious significance.

carnival_of_souls

BACKGROUND:

  • Carnival of Souls was made in three weeks for less than $100,000 (figures on the budget vary, but some place it as low as $33,000) .  The film was a flop on its initial release, but gained a cult following through late night television showings.  The film was restored and re-released in 1989 to overwhelmingly positive reviews.
  • Director Herk Harvey, screenwriter John Clifford and composer Gene Moore worked together at Centron Corporation, an industrial film company, creating short safety documentaries such as Shake Hands with Danger and high-school propaganda/hygiene films such as What About Juvenile Delinquency?  None were ever involved with a feature film again.
  • Mesmerizing star Candace Hilligoss acted in only one other feature film, 1964’s The Curse of the Living Corpse, before retiring to raise a family.
  • The movie has been very influential on other films, particularly low-budget horror films.  Director George Romero has said that the ghostly figures in Carnival of Souls inspired the look and feel of the zombies in The Night of the Living Dead (1968).  Other writers see a Carnival of Souls influence on films such as Eraserhead (in regards to its ability to evoke the nightmarish quality of everyday objects), Repulsion (disintegration of the mind of a sexually repressed woman), and even Apocalypse Now (the shot of Martin Sheen rising from the water mimics a similar scene involving The Man–thanks to Matthew Dessem of “The Criterion Collection” for the catch).
  • Carnival of Souls was “remade” in 1998, although the plot (about a clown killer and rapist) shared nothing with the original except the name and the final twist.  Wes Craven produced.  The remake went direct to DVD and was savaged by critics and audiences alike. 

INDELIBLE IMAGE:  What else, but the titular carnival?  Ghostly figures waltz to an eerie, deranged organ score on what appears to be an old merry-go-round at the abandoned amusement park.  The tableau recurs twice in the film: once clearly in a dream, and once near the end as a scene that may also be a dream, but may be another state of being entirely. 

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRDCarnival of Souls is set in the ordinary, everyday

8 minute clip from Carnival of Souls (with annotations supplied by a youtube user)

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WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE March 30, 2009

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A full review of the classic 1962 microbudget horror, Carnival of Souls, should post tomorrow.

Next in the review queue is Terry Gilliam’s 2005 offering, Tideland.

Alfred Eaker has agreed to provide writing for the site on a weekly basis.  We’re looking forward to his critical re-evaluation of Tod Browning’s Dracula on Thursday.

In addition, we are working on moving the entire site to new hosting as soon as possible.  WordPress free hosting has been truly wonderful and we recommend it wholeheartedly to anyone looking to start a free blog.  We can offer more content and hopefully deliver some improvements to the site by moving it to our own domain, however.  This website will remain here indefinitely, but new content will be posted at the new domain once it’s up and running.

WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 3/27/09 March 27, 2009

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A look at what’s weird in theaters, on hot-off-the-presses DVDs, and on more distant horizons…

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

IN THEATERS (WIDE RELEASE):

Monsters vs. Aliens (2009):  A DreamWorks 3-D adventure for children about a group of mutated monsters fighting an alien invasion.  The trailer begin with the phrase “The weird will save the world.”  Moderately interesting possibility to introduce kids to old b-movie tropes. Also screening in IMAX.  Featuring the voice of Reese Witherspoon.    Monsters vs. Aliens Official Site

That’s it this week!  Remarkably slim pickings for fans of the offbeat…

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.

STANLEY KUBRICK, CULTURAL OMNIVORE March 26, 2009

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This guest essay is by Alfred Eaker, director of Jesus and Her Gospel of Yes!, which was voted Best Experimental Film in the 2004 New York International Film and Video Festival, and the feature W the Movie.

“We must be cultural omnivores and raid all the art forms to enhance our own art”Pierre Boulez; Modernist French composer.

Although, the meaning of postmodernism is replete with vagaries, one prominent characteristic of the so-called movement is that it abounds in eclecticism.  Pierre Boulez’s advice for artists to mantle a mental state of being cultural omnivores seems tailor made for much that is pronounced in postmodernism.  In that light, the movement had one of it’s most well-known, brilliantly driven, unofficial spokespersons in the late Stanley Kubrick.kubrick1

Kubrick, of course, patterned his body of film work after a Beethoven aesthetic.  Each of Beethoven’s nine symphonies had an individual theme.  The Eroica was Beethoven’s initial support, later renounced, bio-portrait of Napoleon.  The 4th, according to Robert Schumann, was a Greek maiden between two Norse gods.  The immortal fifth was THE anti-war statement.  The 6th ; a pastorale, the 7th; a series of  rhythmic movements, the 8th, more abstract, is a favorite among modernist conductors, and, of course, the mighty Ode to Joy.

Kubrick wanted to create a work in each of the genres and it’s unfortunate he never got to make his western (Marlon Brando foolishly took over directing One Eyed Jacks, after having Kubrick sacked).  Regardless of genre, each Kubrick film is filtered through his own unique sensibilities (ie; the dehumanization of man), thus rendering the idea of applying something as superfluous as a genre to something akin as hopelessly trivial labeling.  When it comes to Kubrick, the genre/subject is almost incidental.  Kubrick defiantly stamped his personal vision onto everything he approached (as author Stephen King would discover, to his complete dismay, when Kubrick took on The Shining. Kubrick was no assignment director).

Volumes have been written about Kubrick’s body of work with wildly varying and opposing opinions, but the almost unanimous conclusion that can be drawn is that Kubrick’s films are not designed for casual viewing.

Indeed, upon repeated absorption, Kubrick’s films reveal the degree to which Kubrick was a cultural omnivore.

Kubrick’s rep as being a “supremely controlled” artist is a misnomer.  He was just as apt for experimentation, improvisation, and utilizing ideas from actors, etc.  Hence, Kubrick’s reason for disallowing the publishing of his scripts (which he often deviated from) and ordering the destruction of all unused footage.  In it’s rough cut, Clockwork Orange was originally a four hour film.

One of Kubrick’s most compelling scenes in Clockwork Orange was, by turns, supremely controlled and experimental, yet gives compelling insight into Kubrick’s multi-hued layering and eclectic aesthetics.

Alex and the droogs appear at an ultra modernist home, which welcomes visitors with a lit sign, marked simply “Home.”   Kubrick’s customary symbolic red and white design work is as heavy laden here as it is throughout the rest of the film.

Husband Patrick Magee types away at his typewrite when the doorbell rings.  The doorbell sounds of the overly familiar first four notes of Beethoven’s Fifth; Fate knocking at the door.  However, those four notes sound deceptively innocuous here, almost tinkling.

The camera pans across the room revealing Magee’s red head wife, Adrienne Corri, dressed in red pajamas, sitting comfortably in a white, plastic chair in the next room.  Husband and wife are detached from one another, echoing the barrenness of the house.  Corri answers the door to hear Alex proclaim “there has been an accident outside” and his request to use the telephone.  Corri is reluctant, but Magee instructs her to let the visitors in.  With the unlocking of door, Fate enters in like a Beethovenian storm.

The “Singing in the Rain” beating/dance was not scripted and was improvised, worked, and re-worked until Kubrick was satisfied with the flowing tone.  Adding this element was a brilliant instinct on Kubrick’s part.  Without it, the breaking-in would have felt more like a tempest than a storm.

After Magee is tied up and beaten, Alex and the droogs turn to Corri.  They take her in front of painting on the wall and begin to rape her.  The visuals in this vignette reveal a homage narrative, akin to developing patterns in an unfolding puzzle.  The design of the painting on the wall has a pronounced familiarity.  In it’s colors and forms, it is a homage to Gustav Klimt and bears striking resemblance to Klimt works like “Farmhouse with Birch Trees”.  Corri appears as a Klimt model personified.  She is Klimt’s mysterious red head, pale and thin (ie; ‘Hope 1’).  She and the scene call to mind imagery from Klimt’s “The Beethoven Frieze” (especially in the sections, ‘The Longing for Happiness Finds Repose in Poetry’ and ‘Hostile Powers’).  In essence, Kubrick is paying homage to Klimt paying homage to Beethoven.

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CAPSULE: THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES (2002) March 25, 2009

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fourstar

DIRECTED BY: Mark Pellington

FEATURING: Richard Gere

PLOT:  A Washington Post reporter loses his wife in an automobile accident,

mothman_prophecies

then finds himself spirited away to a West Virgina town where the residents are spotting monsters and undergoing horrifying precognitive hallucinations.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  Not weird enough.  Taking its cues from parapsychology and cryptozoology, and positioning itself as a “true story,” The Mothman Prophecies paranoidly posits a world where omniscient Mothmen are simply a part of the natural order.  I wouldn’t want to dishonor the producer’s sincere “the truth is out there” vision by suggesting there’s something a little weird about it.  On a more serious note, The Mothman Prophecies is an effective chiller with a mildly unique spin on a conventional horror yarn that generates enough unease to make it worth checking out for fans of the eerie side of the weird, but it’s ultimately too lightweight and conventional to be more than a passing diversion.

COMMENTS:

Director Mark Pellington, who previously explored themes of conspiracy and paranoia in the thriller Arlington Road, translates his talents to horror well and does a very fine job of pleasantly chilling the viewer’s blood through the early segments of the Mothman Prophecies.  Unexplained occurrences, from an impossible car detour that lands our protagonist on the Ohio border with West Virginia to a yokel who swears he’s been visited by Richard Gere before, pile on top of each other until the viewer is pleasantly on edge and disoriented.  When the antagonist is eventually revealed, his powers verge on the omnipotent and his motives lie firmly in the realm of the inscrutable.  The conclusion ties things up in a nice little bow–sort of, because all the pieces resolved belong to subplots.  The central mystery of  the Mothman is never even touched, which frustrated viewers who crave nothing more than narrative cohesion but shouldn’t bother weirdophiles a bit.  Despite its silly premise, Mothman is a highly effective unease-generating machine, which is (or at least, should have been) its only aspiration. 

The “based on a true story” angle is patently a scam.  Although it’s true that there were “Mothman” sightings in West Virginia in the 1960s and a bridge collapsed soon thereafter, anyone who doesn’t recognize the convenient presence of an attractive romantic foil for Richard Gere and the archetypal visit to the reclusive old wizard for a bit of exposition and dire warnings as the work of a screenwriter rather than a documentarian probably should be permanently ineligible for jury duty.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…thriller that purports to be based on true events but operates in that bombastic plane of reality reserved for the apocalyptic horror movie.”–Jan Stuart, Los Angeles Times (contemporaneous)

15. STEPPENWOLF (1974) March 24, 2009

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“…it seems to me that of all my books Steppenwolf is the one that was more often and more violently misunderstood than any other, and frequently it is actually the affirmative and enthusiastic readers, rather than those who rejected the book, who have reacted to it oddly… “–Hermann Hesse in the 1961 prologue to Steppenwolf

threestar

DIRECTED BY:  Fred Haines

FEATURING: Max von Sydow, Dominique Sanda, Alfred Baillou

PLOT:  Harry Haller is a world-weary writer and intellectual in the Weimar Republic who is considering committing suicide soon.  One night he meets Hermine, a beautiful young woman, who shows unusual interest in him and makes him pledge obedience to her as she initiates him into the pleasures of the flesh, including jazz, drugs, and sex.  Eventually Hermine leads Harry to the Magic Theater, where a deleirous dream about some aspect of his personality lurks behind every door–including, perhaps, his homicidal side.  

steppenwolf

BACKGROUND:

  • The movie was adapted from Nobel laureate Hermann Hesse’s classic 1927 novel Steppenwolf, which had been rediscovered and adopted by the 1960s counterculture because of it’s perceived revolutionary vision and it’s apparent endorsement of free love and psychedelic drugs.
  • This was the only film directed by Fred Haines.  He had previously been co-nominated for an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for Ulysses (1967)
  • The Czech artist Jaroslav Bradac created the wonderful animated sequence, “The Tractate on the Steppenwolf”; the artist Mati Klarwein (who was also responsible for classic album covers for Miles Davis and Santana) created the fascinating paintings that line the corridors of the Magic Theater.

INDELIBLE IMAGE:  For a movie that is so deliberately visionary, there’s not one single image that sticks out far above the others.  The most obvious choices are the images which show Harry simultaneously as a wolf and a man, a concept that is often chosen in numerous variations for covers of paperback editions of the novel.  

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD:  The heavy symbolism and feverish imagery of

Original trailer for Steppenwolf (1974)

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FREE ONLINE WEIRD MOVIE ALERT: COMING SOON (2008) March 23, 2009

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coming_soon

I’ve just been alerted to the presence of a recent surrealist Czech film that is available for viewing for free (with the permission of its owners, of course) online.  The operators of the webiste say the film will be available for online streaming for a limited time only, but don’t give a date for it to be removed.

I have only briefly glanced at it, but it looks like genuine, certified weirdstuff.  A full review in the near future is probable.

WARNING TO VIEWERS:  Although the film does not appear to be explicit, it deals with controversial subjects that may upset some people: bestiality and religion.

The film is called Coming Soon (2008) (not to be confused with the 1999 sex comedy of the same name!), and can be accessed at:

http://www.comingsoon.cz/

In case the server load is too high at the official site, it’s also available in a lower resolution on Google Video:

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-152460894465175765&hl=en

The film is in Czech, but with English voiceovers.

From the filmmakers’ synopsis:

COMING SOON can be seen as a documentary about our civilization’s eternal quest for “the perfect balance” between love, tolerance, morality, censorship, tradition, experimentation, etc. COMING SOON can be seen as a futuristic tragi-comedy about civilization’s next “Great Debate”. COMING SOON can be seen as a fantastic adventure through world philosophies – both past, present and future. COMING SOON can be seen as championing the rights of animals and zoophiles.

Inspired by Nietzsche, Svankmajer and Pasolini, Sir Tijn Po and dozens of friends have created a challenging journey for the experimental mind.

The film is also being sold on DVD through the site and through Amazon.com.  If you enjoy the online version, I encourage you to buy the DVD.

WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 3/20/09 March 20, 2009

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A look at what’s weird in theaters, on hot-off-the-presses DVDs, and on more distant horizons…

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

IN THEATERS (WIDE RELEASE)

Knowing (2009):  Alex Proyas (Dark City) brings us this “Twilight Zone” style tale with Nicolas Cage about a time capsule that contains coded prophecies for the future.  Generally panned, but curiosity rises with descriptions of a conclusion described as “ridiculous” and “ludicrous” that dropped critics jaws.  It may be unintentional comedy in the vein of Cage’s recent The Wicker Man remake flop.  Knowing Official Site.

FILM FESTIVALS:

The New York International Film and Video Festival begins tonight in Manhattan and runs through Thursday, March 27th, showcasing underground and experimental shorts along with documentaries and feature films.  Movies of potential weird interest include the Indian comedy I Am a Love Addict,  W the MovieThe Gingerbread House (an Italian retelling of Hansel and Gretel), Let Me Out, Heaven Earth (an “experimental documentary” about hallucinogenic South American plants),  Sacred Game, and the violent Malaysian comedy The Dogs.

NEW ON DVD:

The Murnau Collection:  From the archivists at Kino comes this essential set of restored classics, containing Nosferatu (1922), the weirdest and scariest Dracula adaptation, and the expressionist masterpiece The Last Laugh (1924), along with the essential historical films The Haunted Castle (1921), The Finances of the Grand Duke (1924), Tartuffe (1925), and Faust (1926).  Each disc comes with extensive extras, and The Haunted Castle,  The Finances of the Grand Duke and Faust also receive separate special edition releases.  A nice catch for lovers of early cinema, although four of these six films were already available, along with the documentary Tabu (1931), on Kino’s earlier box set, “The F.W. Murnau Collection”.

NEW ON BLU-RAY:

Sleepy Hollow (1999)/Sweeny Todd (2007):  A double feature release of two Gothic Tim Burton/Johhny Depp collaborations is always worth a mention.

CAPSULE: W THE MOVIE (2008) March 19, 2009

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twostar

DIRECTED BY: Alfred Eaker & Ross St. Just

FEATURING: Alfred Eaker, PinkFreud

PLOT: “W” appears in a meteorite in the Arizona desert, steals the election for  

wthemovie

the party of No, and becomes a tyrant opposed by liberal reporter BlueMahler.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  With half the characters distinguished by facepaint that makes them look like either World Wrestling Federation rejects or members of a failed 70s revival glam band, acting in front of shifting psychedelic computer-generated backdrops, this surrealist satire of George W. Bush’s presidency is definitely weird enough to make the list.  The problem is that, as a polemic against the 43rd President of the United States, it comes with an expiration date.  It’s too particular and too parochial, both in terms of subject matter and target audience, to earn a final place on a list of 366 representative weird movies. 

COMMENTS:  Because it is a vehemently partisan mockery of a former President, as opposed to a generic political satire, W the Movie is difficult to review.  Your reaction may depend on your politics; the far left might applaud it as a hilarious send-up of a dangerous political hack, those on the right may be outraged (and personally insulted), or simply dismiss it as liberal piffle.  Moderates and fence-sitters are unlikely to be swayed.  All sides will recognize it as deliberately unfair; Bush’s foibles are exaggerated past the point of absurdity.  W is cruel, crude and stupid, and at his most decisive when he demands his pancakes with “lots of syrup”; his foil, Blue Mahler, is brave and righteous, and his only character flaw is neglecting his wife and son as he devotes his life to exposing the truth about the alien demagogue and his infernal war.  W the Movie makes the work of Michael Moore (who himself makes as appearance as a ghostlike, babbling puppet) look fair and balanced.  There’s a place in the film world for narrowly political art and clever character assassination, and in this sense the producers are to be commended for not fearing to enter the fray, take sides, and name names.   

But, polarizing political content aside, there’s quite a bit to be admired in the low-budget production.  It’s an excellent example of how a unique, almost mesmerizing visual style can be forged through CGI on the cheap, when artistic effect and atmosphere is placed above the fetish for strict realism.  About 90% of the film was shot in front of a green-screen, and memorable virtual sets include W riding on a missile against a cloudscape (a la Dr. Strangelove), W worshipping at an altar of giant gold coins, and an amusing black and white parody sequence with W in Ford’s Theater.  The effect is a bit like the old studio-bound pictures of the 30s and 40s, where the backgrounds were matte paintings, but modern technology combined with a hallucinogenic vision makes these brightly colored living mattes slip, morph and shift before the viewer’s eye.  Therefore, the film is constantly interesting to the eye, even when the plot gets difficult to follow.   Furthermore, Eaker does quite well in multiple roles, including W and his nemesis BlueMahler.  Actors cast in smaller roles range from adequate to distracting.  The humor is also uneven, from the highly effective (the Ford’s Theater scene) to the painfully embarassing (the 9/11 tragedy is used as an excuse for cheap jokes about W’s pro-life stance lack of geographical acumen).  More genuine funny and fewer pointed potshots would have made it a happier movie experience.  All in all, W‘s well worth checking out, but if you’re to the right of Obama politically, you may want to check your party of No pin at the door.   

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…this is one seriously messed up flick and… I mean that in the best possible way… wild and wonderful, weird and whacked out.”–Richard Propes, The Independent Critic

W the Movie premiers tomorrow, Friday March 20th, at at Village East Cinema, Manhattan as part of the New York International Independent Film and Video Festival.

14. BLOOD DINER (1987) March 16, 2009

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“I mean, I don’t know how to describe it.  But I just did.  It’s just an insane f***in’ movie with insane parts.  You’re watching it, it gives these curves that you didn’t see coming, until probably I just told you and showed you in the review.  But it’s just I don’t even know how else to review it, you know, the, it’s just insane.  It’s an insane f****in’ movie.  Uncle Bill, you’re insane for liking it, and I’m insane for liking it too.  It’s just insanity incarnate.  But it’s a lot of fun.”–youtube fan review of Blood Diner

twostar

DIRECTED BY: Jackie Kong

FEATURING:  Rick Burks, Carl Crew

PLOT:  At the direction of their uncle Anwar, a talking brain in a jar, two restaurateur brothers assemble a vessel composed of various parts harvested from immoral women to receive the spirit of the ancient Egyptian goddess Sheetar.  They are opposed by a pair of mismatched cops and the owner of a rival vegetarian restaurant intent on stealing their secret recipe.  After many bloody murders, they must complete only the last ritual, a “Lumerian feast” where Sheetar will take the life of a virgin, along with the attendees at the feast. 

blood_diner

BACKGROUND:

  • Blood Diner was originally intended to be a sequel to Herschell Gordon Lewis’ transcendently bad Blood Feast (1963), but when the collaborators could not agree on a scenario the project was changed to a black comedy tribute to the spirit of Lewis’ movie
  • Blood Diner was originally banned in some Canadian provinces and in Iceland, and was heavily cut for release in other countries.

INDELIBLE IMAGE:  As drug-zombies rave and cultists in Egyptian dress attempt to channel the goddess into a stitched-together corpse, a punk band (composed of a singer in a Roman helmet, two backup singers in blue wigs, four sidemen dressed as Hitler and a pantomime horse roaming the stage) plays in the background. 

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD:  Most movies featuring talking brains in a jar (as

Original trailer for Blood Diner

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