Archive for Weird-O-Ween

Weird-O-Ween 2017

Andy Kaufman in "God Told Me To" (1976)

Better Late Than Never

Sadly, we missed 2016, but last week marked the end of Weird-O-Ween 2017 here at WeirdFlix.

My wife (“J-Dogg”) and I each picked four selections for our Halloween stay-cation, for a total of eight films to screen over the four days. Some are films we hadn’t seen before, others are beloved classics. In the end, we had a few surprises from both categories. Seen any of these or have recommendations of your own? Please leave a comment. We’d love to hear from you.

Here is a quick rundown of the films and pairings:

Tuesday, Oct. 31 – Forced Isolation

The Belko Experiment (2016) – selected by J-Dogg

Movie Poster for "The Belko Experiment" (2016)

Movie Poster for The Belko Experiment (2016)

Having had plans for Halloween night, we got started earlier in the day with a pair of more modern horror films, ones that wouldn’t be as impaired by the autumn sunshine and noise of city workers tearing up the neighborhood. Our first two films were both new to us, but selected because of our shared admiration of the filmmakers, Greg McLean and James Gunn and Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, respectively.

The Belko Experiment manages to nail both corporate culture and the frailty of human civilization quite well, but its unrelenting cynicism may be too much for some viewers. It is fairly well constructed and doesn’t waste a lot of time on unnecessary why’s and wherefores, but these concessions also expose some shortcomings in story structure. For example, there are a few scenes where decisions seem to be made “because protagonist” rather than for a narrative or character-based purpose. Overall, though, if Battle Royale meets Office Space is your particular cup of tea (or company coffee, natch), this film delivers on its singular premise.

Resolution (2012) – selected by J-Dogg

Movie Poster for "Resolution" (2012)

Movie Poster for Resolution (2012)

After digging The Endless at Fantastic Fest this past year, my wife and I thought it would be groovy to catch up on the films of Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead. Resolution is their first feature, and it is a trippy little bit of sci-fi horror that keeps you off balance with twists and laughs in equal measure.

The cast is limited but solid, and the film primarily focuses on drug addict Chris (Vinny Curran) and his well-meaning best friend Mike (Peter Cilella) who handcuffs him to a pipe in a half-finished shack in order to help get him clean cold turkey. Zahn McClarnon (Bone Tomahawk) also stands out as the menacing Charles.

This is definitely a more psychological and thought-provoking film than scary or action-oriented, but for those who appreciate the work of Nacho Vigalondo, Adam Wingard, or Ti West, this is indie genre fare at its finest.

Wednesday, Nov. 1 – Aliens Do What?

Lifeforce (1985) – selected by RayRay

Movie Poster for "Lifeforce" (1985)

Movie Poster for Lifeforce (1985)

The kinkiest Quatermass Experiment ever.

It’s easy to see why Lifeforce wasn’t more successful. It’s a distinctly British, very old-fashioned sci-fi/horror film, but with copious nudity, violence, and some deeply anti-Thatcher political themes. This limited its target audience to a seriously narrow niche, but we are admittedly very much a part of that niche.

Dan O’Bannon and Don Jakoby’s adaptation of Colin Wilson’s 1976 novel The Space Vampires covers a lot of the same ground as O’Bannon’s Alien screenplay in its first act. Once we return to Earth, however, the movie takes a dramatically different turn and leans hard into its Dracula inspiration. As it goes along, Lifeforce does feel like three films smashed together in an homage-a-trois, but the whole is largely successful outside of some questionable effects and awkward exposition. As far as vampire apocalypse movies go, you could do far worse.

God Told Me To (1976) – selected by RayRay

Movie Poster for "God Told Me To" (1976)

Movie Poster for God Told Me To (1976)

Writer/Director Larry Cohen doesn’t hedge, and he doesn’t compromise. I can only imagine some of the conversations during the production of God Told Me To, a film that couldn’t care less about your views on humanity, authority, and faith. Cohen delivers a transgressive gut-punch with spree killers, alien abductions, and virgin births, and yet, it all somehow hangs together for one of the tighter takes on this sort of material.

All of the performances sing, and Cohen’s guerrilla style of film-making gets some wonderful reactions from unsuspecting New Yorkers. An emotionally-charged scene between star Tony Lo Bianco and Sylvia Sidney (Beetlejuice) certainly stands out. God Told Me To is not a happy-go-lucky bit of b-movie cheese, and it’s likely to upset or offend some viewers, but if you’re willing to be challenged and made uncomfortable, it’s a thoughtful and interesting film. Highly recommended.

Musical Interlude – Better Than Babs

“Gold Dust” – Tori Amos

Thursday, Nov. 2 – Giallo

Eyes of Laura Mars (1978) – selected by J-Dogg

Movie Poster for "Eyes of Laura Mars" (1978)

Movie Poster for Eyes of Laura Mars (1978)

Hard to believe it’s been over five years since we last took a look at this film.

Controversial but celebrated fashion photographer Laura Mars (Faye Dunaway) is having visions of murder, seen from the eyes of the killer himself. This, of course, makes her the prime suspect. Thankfully, smitten police detective John Neville (Tommy Lee Jones) believes her inexplicable story.

Whodunit? Is it the ex-con chauffeur played by the incomparable Brad Dourif? Or her flamboyant agent played with aplomb by René Auberjonois? Or is it her trophy ex-husband who followed her from San Francisco (Raúl Juliá at his slimiest)?

I’ll never tell, but with a supporting cast stacked with such genre heavyweights, John Carpenter’s ode to Dario Argento as directed by Irvin Kershner (The Empire Strikes Back) is a shamelessly sleazy but stylish 42nd Street treat.

Suspiria (1977) – selected by RayRay

Movie Poster for "Suspiria" (1977)

Movie Poster for Suspiria (1977)

We’ve sustained our Dario Argento kick through the last two years and have caught up on quite a few of his early films. I was disappointed then that we didn’t get to catch the 4K restoration of Suspiria as it made the rounds of the festival circuit, so I thought it’d make a good revisit during Weird-O-Ween this year. Sadly, my disappointment was only beginning.

I realize I haven’t seen what is largely considered Argento’s masterpiece in over twenty years, since back in the VHS era. And, I have to admit, there was an obvious reason I hadn’t revisited it in all that time since I found I didn’t enjoy the rewatch as much as I had hoped.

Sure, it’s often visually stunning and the score by Goblin is iconic, but Suspiria is full of embarrassing indulgences as well. Monster effects (dog and bat puppets) are subpar and more reminiscent of Lucio Fulci’s work than Argento’s typically tight staging. In fact, the whole film feels like a Mario Bava tribute by way of Fulci. Udo Kier is wasted in an unnecessary exposition dump scene. The dance academy setting doesn’t really figure into the proceedings and never feels truly authentic. It could’ve been a convent or an opera house or whatever.

There are also some digs at Eastern Europeans that narrowly avoid overt antisemitism or pejorative treatment of Romani people. These bits get under my skin more than any of the imagery. It would be easier to overlook if any of the witchcraft material had any depth, but it doesn’t. It’s just lip service, and from a director that helmed some of the more tightly constructed giallo murder mysteries, it seems unconscionable to just phone in this Alice in Wonderland plot.

In the end, we can’t say we hated Suspiria. It was an okay highlight reel of directorial tricks, lighting effects, and set design. It’s certainly not Argento’s best by our reckoning. We can’t really recommend it, since, if this is your jam, we’d likely be preaching to the choir at this point.

Friday, Nov. 3 – Kid or Ghost?

A Dark Song (2016) – selected by RayRay

Movie Poster for "A Dark Song" (2016)

Movie Poster for A Dark Song (2016)

A Dark Song quickly sets up a wonderful premise. A mother enlists an occultist to help her contact her dead son and ask a favor of her guardian angel. The occultist, in turn, will also get the opportunity to request a favor. The rite, held in a sprawling rural manor without heat, will be grueling, dangerous, and sacrifices will have to be made along the way.

Unfortunately, all of this is squandered in the middle act as Sophia Howard (Catherine Walker) vacillates between impatience, doubt, resignation, and rage without a clear arc. It’s almost as if these scenes are just thrown in with a random sequence. This could play into the film’s idea that time has lost its linearity, but they are sprinkled in amongst scenes of cliche and tired lo-fi spookies (a spectral barking dog, “bumps in the night”, finding a sentimental object in inexplicable places, a voice on the other side of the door that clearly is not her son, trying to just literally walk away from the house only to end up coming back up the walk in a truly derivative riff, etc.).

The film doesn’t seem to so much build and escalate as run out of ideas until it delivers on its promise of angels and demons in underwhelming fashion. It’s probably best to leave the unimaginable as just that. The CGI divine just doesn’t cut it. Another disappointment, sadly.

The Innocents (1961) – selected by J-Dogg

Movie Poster for "The Innocents" (1961)

Movie Poster for The Innocents (1961)

The Innocents is an adaptation of the gothic ghost story The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. Deborah Kerr plays governess Miss Giddens, hired to care for little Flora and her brother Miles at the rambling English country estate of Bly. There, amongst its countless empty rooms and seemingly endless gardens, she becomes convinced that a pair of dead lovers are possessing the siblings, and she will do whatever it takes to save them.

This is dark, disturbing, even transgressive material for a black-and-white studio film from 1961, let alone a Victorian novella, but despite its embarrassingly sensationalized trailer, The Innocents handles the tale with an artistry that strands the viewer in Bly along with Kerr. Director Jack Clayton and legendary Hammer cinematographer Freddie Francis manage to make the wide aspect ratio (filmed in Cinemascope) and elaborate sets still feel claustrophobic with shadows or foliage obscuring the boundaries.

I loved The Innocents when I first saw it on TCM several years ago, and I liked it even more this time around on Criterion Collection DVD. It’s a chilling story well told and a fitting close to this year’s Weird-O-Ween.

Hopefully, we’ll get back on track and do this again next year (and manage to post the results more timely). Any suggestions? Let us know! Until then, “sights and sounds… pull me back down… another year.”

Weird-O-Ween 2015

Brad Schacter in "Halloween III: Season of the Witch" (1982)

Tonight marks the end of the first annual Weird-O-Ween here at WeirdFlix. My wife and I each picked one selection per day for our four-day weekend. Some are new selections for one or both of us, others are beloved classics. Here is a quick rundown of the films and pairings:

Saturday, Oct. 31 – Portmanteau Deux

Movie Poster for "Creepshow" (1982)

Movie Poster for Creepshow (1982)

Creepshow (RayRay)

We kicked things off with a pair of portmanteau horror films. While I’m a huge fan of the classic Amicus anthology films (Tales from the Crypt, Vault of Horror, etc.), Stephen King’s loving tribute to the horror comics of his childhood and mine will always hold a special place in my heart. I can’t quite recall if I saw the film first on HBO or if I convinced my mother to order me the gorgeous Berni Wrightson comic book adaptation from the Doubleday Book Club first, but both made a lasting impression on my young mind. I spent countless hours trying to compose my own horror comics as a kid, with laughable results.

Once I had my own VHS copy of the film, recorded off of HBO, I practically wore the tape out trying to locate the marble ashtray from “Father’s Day” in each of the subsequent segments. This viewing was the first time we noticed it makes an appearance in the framing sequence as well, during the epilogue. Give Creepshow a gander, and see if you can find it yourself.

Movie Poster for "Trick 'r Treat" (2007)

Movie Poster for Trick ‘r Treat (2007)

Trick ‘r Treat (J-Dogg)

Trick ‘r Treat is a more modern take on the horror anthology. Rather than a set of self-contained stories, Trick ‘r Treat presents four overlapping tales that occur concurrently a la Frank Miller’s Sin City. It’s a fun gimmick that has you noticing little background details all the way through and on repeated viewings.

Though still clearly influenced by the stories and visual style of horror comics, Trick ‘r Treat abandons a host character like The Creep or the Crypt Keeper for a signature character in Sam, the spirit of Halloween. Sam appears sporadically throughout the film, but he makes his fullest appearance in the last tale, bedeviling the cantankerous Kreeg (played with grumpy relish by Brian Cox). Trick ‘r Treat boasts some great performances all around, including a rare appearance by Anna Paquin that doesn’t make me cringe.

Sunday, Nov. 1 – Creepy Kids

Movie Poster for "Here Comes the Devil" (2012)

Movie Poster for Here Comes the Devil (2012)

Here Comes the Devil (RayRay)

This was a blind pick, based largely on a strong showing at Fantastic Fest 2012. Writer-director Adrián García Bogliano’s supernatural thriller gets your attention early with a graphic lesbian sex scene and vicious machete attack that sets a grindhouse tone that unfortunately jars with the rest of the film. Not to say that it isn’t interesting the whole way through.

The film centers on a pair of children who are left unattended to explore a hill. When they do not return on time, their parents begin to panic. At first relieved to have their son and daughter returned by the police, their mother begins to develop doubts that it is her children who have returned and not… something else. As she probes further, the difficult questions and uncomfortable answers make for a disturbing but engaging experience. This is not a date movie and not for the easily offended, with a fair share of nudity, sexual content, and brief but vicious bursts of violence.

Movie Poster for "The Ring" (2002)

Movie Poster for The Ring (2002)

The Ring (J-Dogg)

We purposefully selected the remake over the Japanese original Ringu (1998). While the original black-and-white film certainly has a lot to offer, the American version tones back some of the more surreal elements in favor of a child ghost mystery in the vein of the spooky classic The Changeling (1980). Add on a chain letter curse for the digital age, and you have enough material to build an intricate and entertaining plot.

Performances are solid all around, with an often imitated but never duplicated performance by Daveigh Chase as Samara. This marks the second appearance of Brian Cox in our line-up, and he delivers some of his lines with such pathos that they still give me goosebumps. The film’s success helped pave the way for a wave of J-Horror films and imitators, but few manage to capture the bleak resonance of The Ring.

Monday, Nov. 2 – Words and Pictures

Thai Movie Poster for "Shutter" (2004)

Thai Movie Poster for Shutter (2004)

Shutter (J-Dogg)

Unlike The Ring, we haven’t bothered with the American remake of this Thai horror classic. J-Horror influences from The Ring and The Grudge are readily apparent in Shutter, but it offers a fresh take on the material with a cleverly constructed mystery whose revelations are unflinching. Without giving away spoilers, this is a dark film dealing with deeply disturbing subject matter outside of the routine supernatural aspects.

Spirit photography is the gimmick at the heart of Shutter, and the film does a good job of playing with that concept in its own cinematography. (Drink every time a speaking character is purposefully cropped out of frame). Despite employing tropes that have sadly become cliché, Shutter remains effectively scary even during a mid-morning screening on a rainy day.

Crescent Fresh Musical Interlude

“Fake Blood” – Sifl and Olly

Italian Movie Poster for "Tenebrae" (1982)

Italian Movie Poster for Tenebrae (1982)

Tenebrae (RayRay)

We’ve been on a bit of a Dario Argento kick lately, and since J-Dogg had not yet seen Tenebrae, it felt like an obvious pick for Weird-O-Ween 2015. This is perhaps the most meta of Argento’s films, and it toys with the expectations of viewers already familiar with his earlier works. I could write an article a day for a week on the subtext, symbolism, and nuance of Tenebrae, and perhaps someday I will, but not today.

It would be very difficult to do so without spoiling the twists and surprises in the plot, so instead, I’ll simply give it the highest possible recommendation. This is easily one of Argento’s best, and well worth your time. We’d likely look to pick it up on HD DVD for additional viewings and analysis, but it looks to be sadly out of print. A collector’s edition DVD box set of Argento’s early films is long overdue.

Tuesday, Nov. 3 – No More Room in Hell

Movie Poster for "Dawn of the Dead" (1978)

Movie Poster for Dawn of the Dead (1978)

Dawn of the Dead (J-Dogg)

Dawn is easily one of my favorite films of all time and set the standard by which all subsequent depictions of the zombie apocalypse (in any medium) will be judged. This is the second film on our list directed by George A. Romero and starring Gaylen Ross, Tom Savini, and John Amplas (after Creepshow). It is also the second to involve Dario Argento (script consultant here) and a score by Goblin (after Tenebrae).

Hopefully, you don’t need a plot synopsis, even if you haven’t seen this particular version (I like Zack Snyder’s 2004 remake as well). A mixed group of survivors take refuge in a shopping mall in the wake of a zombie apocalypse. There’s more to it than that, obviously, and Romero’s script says more about politics (gender and otherwise) and soulless consumerism than most other zombie movies would ever bother to attempt. Dawn of the Dead is a surprisingly deep film that still holds up even if the garish red blood and cadaverous blue makeup don’t.

Spanish Movie Poster for "Horror Rises from the Tomb" (1973)

Spanish Movie Poster for
Horror Rises from the Tomb (1973)

Horror Rises from the Tomb (RayRay)

This was the second blind pick of the eight films screened, though it is widely regarded as one of star Paul Naschy’s best. For the uninitiated, Naschy, aka Jacinto Molina, was a prolific Spanish actor, writer, and director. Perhaps his best-known work is the “Hombre Lobo” series. Though not intended as a series in the traditional sense, Naschy played tragic werewolf Waldemar Daninsky in eleven or twelve films, depending upon whether you consider the second lost film to have actually existed in any tangible form other than Naschy’s recollections.

I’m probably going to catch some heat for this, especially from Naschy loyalists, but I was disappointed in Horror Rises. It’s got plenty of gore and nudity, including full frontal Helga Liné, and heck knows I love me some Helga Liné, but the whole film felt flat and lifeless. Some unintentional humor kept our interest, mostly from awkward dubbing, ham-handed plotting, the melodramatic score, and overzealous foley. Still, it doesn’t come close to capturing the style and fun of our first Naschy, The Werewolf vs. The Vampire Woman (1971). Ah well, we’ve seen worse.

What did you watch this Halloween season? Seen any of these flix? Tell us about it! We’re already looking forward to doing this again next year. Have any suggestions? Let us know! Hasta la Lobo!