Tag: 1973

Top 5 Weird Movies of Fantastic Fest

Note: This article was original posted on 366 Weird Movies.

Dedicated to films from all over the world of the horror, thriller, sci-fi, action, experimental, and/or mash-up persuasions, Fantastic Fest is the perfect place to discover all-new weird movies of various origins. I tried to take in a little bit of everything, and I’ve come out with a list of the Top 5 Weird Movies of Fantastic Fest for 2015. Note: Due to scheduling conflicts I missed Yakuza Apocalypse, which I suspect would have made this list. I also missed Anomalisa. Oh well.

belladonna of sadness

5) Belladonna of Sadness (1973, Japan)
This was the most significant repertory screening for weird-movie lovers: a long-lost anime acid trip directed by Eiichi Yamamoto that never received a proper release in the US, but has been restored and re-released by Cinelicious Pics for 2015. Known to some for its use as a backdrop for musicians, the film’s visuals are without par, composed primarily of sprawling watercolor paintings that the camera pans across like an unraveling scroll. The art style is complex and elegant, with detailed linework and selective color, a kind of animated Art Nouveau, and the soundtrack is a thumping psychedelic score that pairs perfectly with the hallucinogenic imagery onscreen. As a purely sensory experience, the film is remarkable. The script and themes are less so. Hailed by some as a feminist statement, the story (inspired by Jules Michelet’s 19th-century nonfiction book Satanism and Witchcraft) follows Jeanne, a peasant woman in feudal France who is publicly raped on her wedding night by a skeletal baron and his courtiers. Physically and emotionally shattered, she turns to a demon spirit who offers her revenge in exchange for sexual devotion, and eventually she becomes a powerful sorceress who controls her whole town. On paper it sounds empowering, but in action it tends to stray far more into pornographic objectification of Jeanne, and the script is so bare-bones it would be about half the length without all the sex scenes. Narrative issues aside, this is definitely a must-see for anyone interested in experimental animation or weird stuff from Japan.

men & chicken

4) Men & Chicken (2015, Denmark/Germany)
My first foray into the wacky world of Danish filmmaker Anders Thomas Jensen, Men & Chicken is a sick, strange, and funny family drama about 5 brothers and their enigmatic scientist father. Mads Mikkelsen plays Elias, a chronic masturbator who, upon his father’s death, discovers that he and his brother were both adopted, and that they come from different mothers. The two go on a quest to find their biological dad and end up gaining three more brothers they never knew existed, all with odd habits and a decidedly anti-social bent. The five men try to make it as a family, to mixed success and much hilarity, while digging into the mystery of their brilliant-but-abusive father’s experiments. The narrative is meandering to say the least, but so incredibly enjoyable it doesn’t matter, with a perfect comedic cast, ridiculous dialogue, downright silly situational humor, and a unique story tinged with darkness. The result is an unexpected mix of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and The Island of Dr Moreau, and if that doesn’t appeal to you then you might be beyond saving.

high-rise

3) High-Rise (2015, UK)
Ben Wheatley engages a little with his inner Cronenberg in this adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s 1975 novel, crafting an unsettling class satire set almost entirely within an ultra-lux high-rise apartment building. Thanks to a built-in grocery store, pool, gardens, and school, the tenants are provided with everything they might need, but after a prolonged power failure the lower (and, naturally, lower-class) floors grow restless and rebellious. The situation quickly escalates into an all-out war between floors, with frequent breaks for parties, drugs, orgies, and redecorating. Through the eyes of popular new resident Dr. Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston), we see the penthouse-dwelling Architect (Jeremy Irons) delving into the depths of vulgarity while an irascible documentarian (Luke Evans) tries to make his way to the top to expose the wealthy businessmen living there. Alliances are forged and broken, and money becomes meaningless. One of the more polarizing films at the fest, High-Rise is jarring in its strange pacing decisions, uneven tone, and extreme visuals, but Wheatley’s unexpected choices make for the most brilliant moments. An incisive and grim social commentary, it is also bitingly funny and irreverent in that droll, British kind of way. The 1970s setting allows for fun retro-futuristic visuals and copious sideburns, but its themes of societal collapse and barbaric classism are timeless.

The Lobster

2) The Lobster (2015, Ireland/UK/Greece)
Dogtooth-helmer Giorgos Lanthimos’s first English-language feature, The Lobster is set in a magical realist dystopia in which everyone must be in a government-mandated two-person romantic relationship. Singletons are sent to a special hotel where they must find a mate within 45 days or else they will be turned into an animal of their choosing. The plot follows a dumpy divorcé (Colin Farrell) as he settles into the hotel, taking part in bizarre rituals and social events designed to teach guests the importance of codependency, and going on regular stints into the wilderness where he and his cohorts are tasked with shooting down escaped rebels who believe in independent lifestyles. The premise is fascinating, set in a world of extremes, of shallow ideals and confused emotion, with offbeat characters and deadpan narration that propel the story through quite a few twists and turns. It is marked by a warped sense of humor, with comedic moments found in nosebleeds, attempted suicide, and heartless violence, but there is also a surprisingly poignant thread running throughout in its understanding of loneliness. Elements of Logan’s Run and The Apple inform its science-fiction setting, while the romantic satire and flippant nihilism give the story a compelling angle, blending together into a totally strange and wonderful film with a knock-out ambiguous ending.

love-and-peace2

1) Love & Peace (2015, Japan)
The weirdness inherent in Shion Sono‘s newest bit of madness is encapsulated within its plot summary: a sniveling wannabe songwriter dreams of leaving his miserable office job and becoming a star. After his best friend/pet turtle Pikadon is flushed down the toilet, his luck suddenly changes when he writes a hit song and finds himself signed to a major label with a punk backing band. Pikadon ends up with a herd of toys and small animals who had all been thrown away and given magical speech candies by a kindly old man who lives with them all in the sewer. The old man accidentally gives Pikadon a wish candy, which allows the turtle to wish for his owner’s success. But things go awry due to magical mishaps and big egos, and eventually the city has a Gamera situation on its hands. Though the Ratatouille-meets-“Island-of-Misfit-Toys” story sounds convoluted, Love & Peace works thanks to Sono’s masterful juggling of various interconnected ideas. It is equal parts adorable and hilarious, with the familiar rags-to-riches structure completely upended by the bizarre circumstances surrounding it. With its sweetness, this film wraps its audience in a big, crazy hug and charms us into hugging right back, while always maintaining its essential Weirdness. Bonus: The title song is catchy as hell, and you will definitely have it caught in your head for a very long time. I am currently singing it as I write this, and probably still as you read it.

Honorable Mentions
Liza the Fox-Fairy (2015, Hungary): For those who liked Amelie but wish it had more deaths, this Hungarian fantasy about a lonely woman who believes she is cursed due to her suitors consistently dying around her is an absolute delight. Its saturated palette, Soviet settings, endearing performances, and biting humor won me over completely, and the Japanese classic rock soundtrack made me want to dance the night away. The only thing keeping it out of this top 5 is that it’s more quirky than weird, but it was probably my overall favorite film of the fest.

Der Bunker (2015, Germany): This off-kilter domestic comedy about a family who willingly shut themselves up in a secluded bunker features a 31-year-old actor playing an 8-year-old boy and a strange disembodied presence that instructs the mother in all things. I knew this movie would be weird, but it got weird in a way I didn’t expect and I really respect that.

Evolution (2015, France/Spain): Lucile Hadžihalilović’s quiet, subtle sci-fi mystery about an island of pale-faced women who have found a way to propagate without men definitely isn’t for everyone. However, its meditative air and rich visuals have stuck with me days after viewing, and its approach to gender is thought-provoking and different, especially for the genre.

Stand By for Tape Back-up (2015, UK): The most emotionally affecting film I saw at the fest, I consider this weird not for its content but for its style, which amounts to a kind of analog performance art as filmmaker Ross Sutherland narrates a spoken-word autobiographical poem over tv clips recorded onto a worn VHS tape during his childhood. It’s an experimental form of memoir that effectively blends pop culture nostalgia, freestyle rap, and forthright honesty, and I’ve never seen anything like it before. And it made me cry. Like, a lot.

Movie Review: Ganja & Hess (1973)

ganja & hess

Seen: On dvd on our projector set-up, rented from Hollywood Express in Cambridge.

When quiet, respectable anthropologist Dr Hess Green (Duane Jones) takes on a new assistant, George Meda (Bill Gun), he unwittingly changes the course of their lives. Though amiable and talkative, Meda is neurotic and suicidal, and prone to violent moods. One night, he accidentally attacks Green, stabbing him with an ancient dagger taken from the (fictional) Mythrian tribe. Meda soon after kills himself, while Green is left cursed with a hunger for blood and apparent immortality. Fearful of persecution (he’s the only black person in his wealthy neighborhood), he hides Meda’s body and claims his assistant ran away. But when Meda’s long-suffering wife, Ganja (Marlene Clark) shows up looking for him, Green’s secrets can’t help but tumble out. They embark on a steamy affair that eventually leads to multiple deaths in their now-mutual hunt for blood.

Pieced together in a disjointed, nonlinear fashion, Ganja & Hess is a strange, heady blend of grindhouse horror and avant-garde experimentation. Writer/director Bill Gunn was apparently tasked with creating a blaxploitation vampire movie in the vein of Blacula, but he instead managed to make something that feels wholly separate from any one genre- something bizarre and beautiful and horrible and totally unexpected. It is not an easy film to follow, with its story jumping back and forth, seemingly unfinished scenes, and unstable characters, but its imagery is so potent I found myself transfixed. Green’s curse is revealed through distorted chanting and flashes of a “Queen of Myrthia” moving in slow motion, paired with quick cuts and transposed faces. There are also moments of seedy exploitation cliches- as when Green dives into a brothel in his search for fresh blood- but even they are treated with an eerie ambivalence. A sense of Christian morality hangs over the whole proceedings, as gospel choirs sing out gaily and crosses swing from necks, but there is also a subversion of that morality, a hint of how thin the line between supposed “right” and “wrong” really is.

So many of the conversations and interactions feel staged, theatrical. The dialogue is often delivered in this distanced, rehearsed fashion, adding another layer of superficiality to this already surreal story. And yet, though unreal, the characters are ultimately sympathetic, with the fiery Ganja working tirelessly to secure her own independence and the reserved Hess hoping desperately to be saved, and of course the brief but memorable appearance from Bill Gunn as a kind of suicidal Woody Allen stand-in. I found the second half of the film far more interesting than the first, mainly because of the arrival of Ganja. Marlene Clark is haughty and moody and sexy in the role, all of which I dug, but she won me over completely with this amazing monologue about her mother. It’s this very melodramatic, stagey moment, and it’s absolutely perfect, a commentary on teenage rebellion and self-determination and perceptions of black women’s sexuality.

I admit I found Ganja & Hess too confusing at times, especially at the beginning, as it was hard to find a footing within the nonlinear and erratic narrative, and the low-budget quality made some scenes hard to read (low lighting, off-sync vocals, etc). I felt there was a clear-cut story being told but it was hidden within these dreamlike contraptions and experimental filmmaking techniques. But, once I settled into the flow of things I found myself absorbed and impressed, curious as to how such an ambitious and original film hasn’t become a larger part of the film-viewing public consciousness. I have seen it called a landmark black independent film, and know it was screened at Cannes in 1973, where it was well-received, but I rarely see anyone writing or talking about it. Apparently lack of distribution tact and a terrible cut-down version on VHS led to it being forgotten or ignored by many, which is too bad. To me it feels ahead of its time, transforming a “black vampire” exploitation framework into a complex examination of addiction, sexuality, colonialism, and racial stereotyping.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: I found myself drawing frenzied connections to other vampire films, just so I could feel a little more grounded as the dreamy weirdness of Ganja & Hess pulled me from all sides. I think something like Thirst (my forever-favorite vampire film) would be good, since it deals with some similar themes. For a pairing that ties more into Ganja‘s experimental leanings, I heartily recommend Czech New Wave oddity Valerie and Her Week of Wonders. And, of course, if you just want another movie about black male vampires there’s Blade, Blade II, and Blacula.

The 2014 Boston Science-Fiction Marathon, Part I

Every year the Somerville Theatre hosts the Boston Science-Fiction marathon: 24 hours of straight sci-fi, including films, shorts, trailers, contests, and tv episodes. It’s one of my favorite times of year (this was my sixth in a row!) and I was happy to not have schoolwork hanging over me this time around. The line-up was about half and half films I’d seen and films I hadn’t, but there were some festival films and shorts concurrently screening in the basement micro-theater, so I had a place to hang out during films I didn’t feel like re-watching. It was a pretty solid selection of movies, some good classics along with lesser-known gems, and I stayed awake through all but one!

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1 First Men in the Moon (1964)

I knew very little about this one, aside from the Ray Harryhausen effects, and expected a passable space adventure with a crappy script but cool effects. Turns out, it’s a pretty fun film all together! Based on a story by HG Wells, it follows the unlikely adventures of a wacky British scientist, Dr Cavor (Lionel Jeffries), his irresponsible business partner (Edward Judd), and the latter’s perky American fiance (Martha Hyer). Dr Cavor has invented an anti-gravity substance that allows him to build a spacecraft and travel to the moon in 1899, with the other two somewhat accidentally in tow. They discover strange creatures living there and in true human fashion wreak havoc on their civilization before returning to earth. It’s a rather silly movie, made sillier by Jeffries’s hilarious and adorable performance, where he is basically his Chitty Chitty Bang Bang character. All in all it was a really pleasant surprise: I loved the weird visuals, the period setting, and the awesome effects, though I felt the frame story set in the 1960s was completely unnecessary. Most significantly for the Thon itself, it launched the most long-running joke for the night, involving CLOSING THE FUCKING DOOR!… which only makes sense in context.

 

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2 Westworld (1973)

They played this at the Terrorthon in October and honestly I was sort of annoyed they would show it again just a few months later, when I assume some of the audience was the same. I like it but did not feel the need to watch it again so soon so I popped out to look at some short films, read some Ray Bradbury, and waltz back in just in time for the final big chase, which is the main reason to watch the movie anyway. The title links to my original review.

 

coherence

3 Coherence (2014)

All I really knew about this movie is it was one of the festival films and it featured Nicholas Brendan (aka Xander on Buffy, who attended the Thon for a Q&A). It starts out as a bunch of thirtysomething white people having a really boring white people party, and I was like ugh whatever, but then it gets so good! It’s about parallel universes and these awful people keep finding alternate versions of themselves and suddenly they don’t know how to handle anything and they start turning on each other and the main lady (Emily Foxler) has to decide how far she’ll go to regain normalcy. Though it was very gradual it turned into a pretty solid psychological thriller and I was very into it by the end. Also Lorene Scafaria, writer/director of Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, was in it! Which is kind of neat since I just watched that movie. And I loved that Nicholas Brendan kind of played a version of himself, an actor known primarily for a lead role on a 90s sci-fi show, though in this he claims to be from Roswell (possibly a dig at similarly-positioned Jason Behr?). Anyway, pretty good movie, with shades of Primer but more romantic melodrama.

 

the power

4 The Power (1968)

This one sounds better than it actually is, but I can’t say I didn’t find it fairly enjoyable. George Hamilton stars as a scientist who comes to the realization that someone on the board of his organization is a homicidal psychic out to kill him and his coworkers. He and his girlfriend, fellow scientist Margery (Suzanne Pleshette), attempt to outsmart their mystery assailant, narrowly avoiding some telekinetic attacks while their peers are mowed down left and right. And of course the police suspect Hamilton in the whole thing since he always seems to be around their deaths. It’s a sensationalistic thriller with a few hammy performances and a very 60s aesthetic, and I found it interesting enough. It drags at parts but picks up for some exciting and slightly weird sequences, plus George Hamilton is needlessly shirtless a lot. There was a moment towards the end when I thought there’d be an awesome reveal involving Margery, but then it didn’t happen, so I was actually totally disappointed with the actual ending. I need more twisted female villains, please. Also I guess this movie is pretty rare so I’m glad I got to see it at all.

 

Europa-Report-Cockpit-Cam

5 Europa Report (2013)

Admittedly we missed the first 10-15 minutes of this to go get dinner but I don’t think I missed anything terribly important. Basically the plot follows an international group of astronaut scientists sent to study Jupiter’s moon Europa, looking for possible signs of life. They discover a lot more than they expected, including weird underwater creatures, but their research comes with the price of several lives. The whole film is patched together from video diaries taken on the ship, so it’s got a found footage horror element to it. I liked that aspect of its storytelling but also saw holes in its construction, which was frustrating. It was also a bit slow for me, with its somewhat clinical approach and “tell, don’t show” kind of style. It had a good cast, though, including two badass lady astronauts played by Anamaria Marinca and Karolina Wydra, and strong tension.

 

Senn-bed-shot-1

6 Senn (2014)

The main theater actually showed Silent Running during this block, but I decided to check out a screening of independent festival film Senn instead. I like Silent Running a lot, but I’d watched it recently and just felt like watching something new. Plus its co-writer, Britton Watkins, a linguist who consulted on alien dialect in Star Trek: Into Darkness, was there, which was neat. The film is set in a distant future where whole worlds are turned into factories, worked by people sold into indentured servitude, who spend years making knickknacks for the rich, day in, day out. Senn (Zach Eulberg) is just such a worker, but when he begins experiencing strange visions of a complex structure in space, he realizes he is meant for greater things. He and his girlfriend Kana (Lauren Taylor) take an intergalactic journey with a kind but closed-off alien (Wylie Herman) in an effort to unlock the structure’s mysterious phenomena. It’s a pretty good indie: nice production values but middling CG graphics, some good and some not-so-good acting, and an intriguing script. I liked the world-building and the characters, but am just bored of the idea that a generically handsome white dude is the chosen savior or whatever. Also I’m sick of futures with only white people ESPECIALLY since this movie actually takes the time to talk about class- like how the fuck can that discussion not also include race? There’s a cute gay character as Senn’s best friend, though, so at least there’s a little more representation than usual in sci-fi.

Alright, after this I popped out for more food and then moved back into the main theater for the next batch of Thon films. I think the second half was stronger than the first half, but I’ll talk about them in the next post!

Movie Review: The Wicker Man (1973)

wicker-man-1973-4
Seen: On dvd on my tv, rented from netflix.

It was hard for me to believe that something as ridiculous and terrible as The Wicker Man remake came out of what many considered to be a top-notch horror film, but nevertheless I had high hopes for the original Wicker Man. Set entirely on a remote Scottish island, the film follows police detective Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward) as he looks into the disappearance of a young girl. He finds the small island community of Summerisle to be a weird, weird place, where everyone is constantly getting naked for no reason and singing all the time and committing blasphemy or whatever, plus they all lie blatantly about the missing girl. Within a few days Sgt Howie is no further along in his investigation and essentially trapped there, gradually becoming convinced the islanders are planning a human sacrifice as part of their May Day pagan rituals.

This film is pretty bizarre, mostly in how it merges various genre elements into a somewhat mis-matched whole, but for the most part it works as an oddball thriller. It is very much a product of its time, a blatant commentary on the danger of cults when they had a much stronger presence in the mainstream consciousness. It is a dark but almost quaint story today, with Howie’s exaggerated morality and blustering religious outrage making him a ridiculous figure, and certainly not a sympathetic one. He’s also not a very good detective, never stopping to ponder why a letter was sent to him about a missing girl whose mother denies her existence. What makes The Wicker Man stand out is its memorably strange imagery and nihilistic plotting, and the charismatic performance of Christopher Lee as the devious Lord Summerisle. Also the music, since this is almost a musical and that was just not expected! Folksy tunes and ancient ballads and such.

This is an example of expectations vs reality, a common problem I experience when viewing acclaimed films. This is billed as a horror movie, and I was excited to see yet another highly-recommended horror film I’d missed, but I honestly don’t see what makes this horror. It’s not just that it’s not scary, but it doesn’t try to be scary. I viewed it as a straight mystery/thriller with some surreal visuals but no supernatural or slasher or other horror-type elements. I kept expecting something scary or truly horrific to happen and so I was kind of underwhelmed, but maybe I’m just not shocked by an asshole being burned alive by hippie pagans. It didn’t bother me. Also I know there are different versions of this movie and I don’t think I saw the full cut, it’s whatever netflix sent me. Anyway I did like The Wicker Man, but I to sort of had to change how I was watching it when I realized it wasn’t what I’d anticipated. It’s a wonderfully eccentric film and I loved how unapologetic it was in its weirdness. Howie has no idea what’s going on, and I didn’t have much of a better idea, but for the most part the movie didn’t really care anyway.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: Umm another movie about cults, I guess? I haven’t seen too many, but can recommend Martha Marcy May Marlene, The Master, and Suspiria.

Movie Review: Sisters (1973)

still-of-margot-kidder-in-sisters-(1973)-large-picture

Seen: On dvd on my tv, rented from netflix.

Aw dang you guys, I am totally riding the De Palma train, like all the way to DePalmaville, which is I assume some sort of gritty utopia where Bill Finley is enjoying the afterlife and every major moment plays out in split screen. After Phantom of the Paradise and Carrie, I wanted more 70s De Palma, and Sisters pretty much met all of my wants, no… needs. Margot Kidder stars as Danielle, a French-Canadian model whose date with the handsome Philip turns sour when her deranged twin sister arrives and murders him. The event is witnessed by Grace (Jennifer Salt), a journalist neighbor who dedicates herself to finding out the truth behind the strange situation after Danielle and her creepy ex-husband Emil (William Finley) cover it up sufficiently to fool the police.

Aw man, AW MAN. I’m such a sucker for weird pulpy mysteries involving secret pasts and/or personalities, I don’t know what it is. I like stories that go in unexpected directions, that dwell within the seedier edge of things. Sisters is exactly that type of film, but elevates itself from that sort of low-brow foundation through its strong cast, emotional score, and dynamic visual techniques. I loved watching this strange tale unfold through a series of half-ambiguous, half-expository conversations and tightly-controlled interior shots. Margot Kidder is great in this confused dual role, with a beautifully innocent face that made me completely unsure of her motivations or capabilities. Jennifer Salt’s Grace Collier was of course my favorite character, as her outspoken journalist blatantly accuses Staten Island’s racist, unthinking cops and fearlessly snoops around herself, ultimately stumbling upon a wholly unexpected situation. Bill Finley was nigh-unrecognizable to me (having only seen him in Phantom) as the super intense and skeevy Emil, but he’s sooooo good once you realize his importance to the story. He’s somehow both sinister and kind of sympathetic, and his climactic scene is brilliant.

I know it’s kind of exploitative in its subject matter but I can’t say that bothered me too much, because everything felt so removed from reality. I loved the almost extreme presence of the camera, punching up the grungy aesthetic. I am completely enamored of De Palma’s split screen, and here it’s used to great effect as both the discovery and the cleaning up of a murder take place simultaneously. It’s gorgeous stuff, really. Honestly this is the kind of movie I’ve wanted when I’ve tried out Dario Argento- all hyper-stylization and bright red blood and 70s fashion and eeriness. Sisters is slick and dark and weird and I LOVED IT OK.

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: I feel like this movie is a spiritual prequel to Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers, which would be a great double feature. There are also some parallels to A Tale of Two Sisters, if you want a more straight-up horror pairing.