Dead Mountaineer’s Hotel

It’s the best Soviet-era Estonian sci-fi detective story you’ve never seen – The Reptile House on why you should book some time at “Hukkunud Alpinisti” hotell

There was a time when aliens weren’t cult.

Before the greatest show on earth (The X-Files), aliens were a personal invasion of mortal safety. They signified everything wrong with the universe we inhabited and implicated a mortal terror of the unknown we barely perceived as anything other than an “it’s fine, we’ll be fine” sipped through denied lips. As metaphors, sure, as physical entities, no fucking thanks.

Estonian folklore leans a lot into the idea of host-taking and shapeshifting. The Kratt for instance, is a creature borne of hay and tools, brought to life by blood to work for its master. A Sentient used to dig, run chores, exist as a slave. Imitating human life, but being only a homunculus to the will of whoever would deal with the devil to will it into existence. Pitchforks and sinew, trowels and skulls, bread and ladder. A hollow being desperate to work, pretending its existence isn’t an abomination of magic, thirsty for work or else it would turn on its owner.  For some, the Kratt was a helper, turned into a nightmare. Given tasks so dangerous that the owner would actively seek to give it work that would knowingly kill it to save themselves the agony of its hand in death. A bite too much of Satan’s hand.

Dead Mountaineer’s Hotel (“Hukkunud Alpinisti” hotell, Grigori Kromanov, 1979) leans hard into its native folklore stories of host-taking but gives it a newly found sci-fi bent, mimicking Soviet-era ideas of internal invasion, gender non-conformity and country (if not world) changing ideas of appropriation and accidental exposure to life beyond comprehension.

In the snow-capped high-altitude nowheresville of mountainous Europe, Inspector Glebsky (Uldis Pūcītis) is anonymously called in to investigate a murder pertaining to a mountaineer and his dog. His location is that of a gorgeously nestled wooden hotel on what feels like the crown of earth and its inhabitants. They’re odd, one sentence sideways, unhelpful and too helpful. As labyrinthine as the hotel itself, which is itself questionable in its intent. An oblique, neo-noir Bauhaus building left to percolate and evolve on its own, becoming puzzling and obsidian. An impenetrable tableau for a mystery that the physical world can’t comprehend: aliens exist.

As an audience, we’re given the exact same amount of work that the inspector is given but with extra detail once he’s left the room. Making us more equipped to exact ourselves on what’s happening but also, somehow, feeling even more confused with what’s happening and who these people are. Why were we shown that extra eyeline? Who is whispering? What is GOING on in these mountains?

The soviet “alien” and “robots” idea is less hammy western ideals of spooky wee guys from beyond but more ideas of assimilation and folklore-bred notions of humans not as humans. Robots aren’t mechanic techno-menaces but rather fleshy familiar. The aliens are shapeshifters making us feel accidentally comfortable while they find safe passage. Their gender and sexuality are fluid, almost androgynous, to the point that their misunderstanding of the concept of biology and sexuality are critiquing our own confusingly rigid viewpoints on both.

In the hotel, it feels like tenants are both arguing with each other and harmoniously disrupting your work at decoding, so that when the reveal hits, you feel astounded at its meaning. Especially with how the film chooses to frame its core end message: if aliens exist on earth, what would it mean to the integrity of human life? And if you kill one, what kind of corruption would that cause to the human soul knowing you killed possibly the greatest discovery of Man’s existence? Is it duty of fear?

It’s extremely hard to spoil Dead Mountaineer’s Hotel, because almost everything in its filmmaking relies on your experience of its atmosphere and pace. Glacial, soothing, weird, quixotic. The first time I ever watched it, I knew it was my favourite foreign film. How could I not? Written by the legendary sci-fi math-brains Strugatsky brothers who (in the same year) had their novel Roadside Picnic turned into cult classic Stalker by Andrei Tarkovsky and later Hard To Be A God adapted twice into messianic epics, Grigori Kromanov-directed Dead Mountaineer’s Hotel has their heady, huge themes built into it, but it’s minimalistic and restrained. Enjoying every second, it teases you into each gentle unzip. Don’t ask, don’t tell, just watch.

 There’s a weird essence about the whole thing that feels like it was a sci-fi noir film made for aliens BY aliens and their secret existence on Earth, but we just accidentally found it. A true, bonafide classic.

Findlay (@antibloom)

Dead Mountaineer’s Hotel screens in association with The Reptile House at Matchbox Cineclub’s Weird Weekend on Sunday, 01/09/2019 at CCA, Glasgow

The Reptile House is a cult movie/music/art/weerd/oddball zine full of articles, film comparisons, poems, short stories and other lost and found miscellaneous junk. Everyone is welcome, because everyone belongs. Its print it out on shitty work printers at 6am when no one is in because I want it to be affordable for everyone! Any money made goes directly to local charities. Please do not tap the glass.

Buy tickets here

Weird Weekend 2019

Scotland’s cult film festival returns to CCA Glasgow this month, with three days of strange and unseen cinema from around the world.

Weird Weekend, Scotland’s cult film festival returns to CCA Glasgow this month with three days of strange and unseen cinema from around the world, beginning Friday 30th August and ending Sunday 1st September.

Weird Weekend 2019 features extremely rare screenings of lost masterpieces, brand-new restorations and UK premieres of future classics. 13 films and events over three days include a 35th anniversary, 35mm screening of the long unavailable Bill Murray sci-fi comedy Nothing Lost Forever (Tom Schiller, 1984), a rare outing for Tilda Swinton’s quadruple-role tour-de-force Teknolust (2002) and a 30th anniversary outing for the workprint cut of The ’Burbs (Joe Dante, 1989), with extended scenes and an alternative ending. Joe Dante will join the audience via Skype for a post-screening Q&A.

The film programme also includes: Brand-new 2K preservations of I Was A Teenage Serial Killer (1993) and Mary Jane’s Not A Virgin Anymore (1997) from the sadly departed “Queen of Underground Film” Sarah Jacobson, in association with Pity Party Film Club; Vibrations (Mike Paseornek, 1996); Freak Orlando (Ulrike Ottinger, 1981) in association with Scottish Queer International Film Festival; The UK premiere of AGFA and Bleeding Skull’s The Neon Slime Mixtape; Jane Arden and Jack Bond’s Anti-Clock (1979); Věra Chytilová’s Wolf’s Hole (1987); Dead Mountaineer’s Hotel (Grigori Kromanov, 1979) in association with The Reptile House; and the 2K-restored, extended cut of Chris Shaw’s Split (1989).

GIF of Christian Bale in American Psycho alongside a Deepfaked version featuring Tom Cruise, and the overlaid text "ctrl shift face"

Matchbox Cineclub also welcome prominent Deepfake creator Ctrl Shift Face in person for the panel event, Weird World of Deepfakes in association with Trasho Biblio. A specially-curated feature length programme of Deepfakes will play on a loop in CCA’s cinema throughout the festival weekend. Finally, The Arrow Video Cult Film Quiz returns for the second year, with much swag up for grabs.

All films screen with open captions for the deaf and hard of hearing, and tickets are priced on a sliding scale, from £0-8. You judge for yourself what you should pay, with reference to our sliding scale guide.

Black text on yellow - "Sliding Scale: What Should I Pay", followed by three columns of text

You can browse the full Weird Weekend programme on Issuu, and all tickets and passes are on sale exclusively in our online shop.

The Crazy Family | Weird Weekend

The Crazy Family, Sogo Ishii’s provocative, oddball satire, hasn’t screened in Scotland for 30 years

The Crazy Family 1

Having just relocated to a comfortable new home in suburbia, the Kobayashi family – Katsuhiko, his wife, Saeko, and their two children, Masaki and Erika – appear to be the picture of middle-class success. But the family’s comfortable bourgeois veneer begins disintegrating when grandfather Yasukuni and white ants infest their home, eating away at the woodwork. As the Kobayashis’ house begins to crumble, so does the sanity of its inhabitants. Katsuhiko takes it upon himself to keep them from the asylum…at any cost.

The Crazy Family (逆噴射家族, Gyakufunsha Kazoku) Sogo Ishii’s provocative, oddball satire, hasn’t screened in Scotland for at least 30 years. Born Toshihiro Ishii, now known as Gakuryū Ishii, the avant garde filmmaker spearheaded the Japanese New Wave with his early punk features Panic In High School (1978), Crazy Thunder Road (1980) and Burst City (1982). Ishii’s reputation arguably rests on these early films, although he’s still active and his influence can been seen in the filmmakers whose international success has surpassed his own.

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Described as “one of the most genuinely demented movies to ever emerge from Japan,” The Crazy Family‘s original title (literally “The Back-Jet Family”) was a reference to an incident at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport in the early 1980s. The pilot of a short, internal flight fired the plane’s back-jet just before landing, crashing the plane and killing many of its passengers. Pressure of work was blamed for the pilot’s action. “With Crazy Family,” Ishii later claimed, “I wanted to show the Japanese family as I saw it.” Co-writer and manga artist Yoshinori Kobayashi, now a controversial, conservative figure in Japan, told Monthly Film Bulletin in 1986:

Kramer vs Kramer, Ordinary People and The Family Game are all admirable films dealing with family problems. They are serious films, much praised by critics, and some people regard them as masterpieces. But some of us think differently. We consider them timid films, more or less like the TV family dramas made for middle-aged audiences, and the critics like them more than we do. And so Sogo Ishii and I decided to make a more radical  film on the same subject. We wanted film about the family that would be filled with fun and poison… There are four things that traditionally frighten the Japanese: earthquakes, thunder, fire and fathers. This list is as valid now as it ever was.

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Though it didn’t lose money, The Crazy Family was, perhaps unsurprisingly, not hugely popular domestically. “Everyone in Japan just complained that they didn’t understand my films,” Ishii later reflected. Though the film made a bigger impact abroad, according to writer David Cairns, “Most western critics found it wearisome and baffling”. As related by Shock Cinema’s Steven Puchalski, “its New York City engagement consisted of a one-week run at an upscale arthouse theatre, and a sparse, thoroughly confused audience of blue-haired Upper West Siders.”

In the UK, however, critic Tony Rayns saw its value immediately, noting “a major step forward for Sogo Ishii”. Writing in early 1986, Rayns observed that The Crazy Family “is a live action comic strip, each sequence shattered into component images like panels on a page and edited to rock rhythms.” Rayns continued:

The stylistic attack is matched, blow by blow, by the ruthlessness and cruelty of the humour: satire, slapstick, pain and black comedy are primary elements, but the film goes beyond them all into an area harder and more vicious than anything seen on screen since the early days of Monty Python. Its triumph is that it is (a) consistently funny, and (b) sustained as a narrative, rather than collapsing into a series of sketches.

if…. director Lindsay Anderson was also a fan. As recorded in Michael Palin’s diaries, Anderson preferred it to the then-recent A Room With A ViewAn Englishman Abroad, and even the Python’s own Private Function. Ishii’s film was the only one he’d liked recently, Anderson told Palin, since “the violence is so productive!”

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Though it’s never been released on DVD in the UK, The Crazy Family is a landmark in Ishii’s ouevre and Japanese cinema. It was his first commercial work, following the trio of dystopian punk films that made his name, but was immediately followed by an almost 10-year gap before his next feature, the thriller Angel Dust (1994). Thwarted from making the films he wanted to make, Ishii concentrated on experimental short films,  music documentaries (notably Half Human, with Einstuerzende Neubauten) and TV movies. The next phase of his work would be his self-proclaimed psychedelic years, before a slight return to his roots with Electric Dragon 80.000 V (2000). In 2010, he announced his “artistic rebirth”, Bowie-style, as Gakuryū Ishii, before returning to features once more with 2012’s Isn’t Anyone Alive? With his latest, Punk Samurai Slash Down, due this year, it’s the perfect time to (re)discover his weirdest.

Sean Welsh


The Crazy Family screens at Matchbox Cineclub’s Weird Weekend on Sunday 3rd June. Tickets from £5, day and weekend passes are available. All tickets available from CCA’s box office, 0141 352 4900, or online: bit.ly/weirdweekend.

 

Weird Weekend brochure online

spreads

The brochure for Weird Weekend 2018 is not online over at Issuu. You can also pick up a print copy across Glasgow this weekend.

Tickets are on sale now from £5, day and weekend passes are available. All tickets available from CCA’s box office, 0141 352 4900, or online: bit.ly/weirdweekend.

Arrow Video Cult Film Quiz

Facebook_quiz

Think you know cult film? Matchbox Cineclub, with the kind assistance of Arrow Video, are giving you the chance to test your mettle at Weird Weekend, with quizmaster Claire Biddles.

Prizes include an incredible array of Arrow Video blu rays, free entry into future Matchbox Cineclub events + lots more.

Our pals at Nice N Sleazy are opening two hours early on a Sunday for us, so this is truly a landmark event.

Entry in the quiz is free to all Weird Weekend ticket holders, who also get a food discount + free entry to Nice N Sleazy all weekend.

See all screenings: Weird Weekend

Tickets £28/£14/£5 | bit.ly/weirdweekend

Crime Wave | Weird Weekend

John Paizs’ unsung deadpan masterpiece screens from fully-restored 2K DCP.

Crime Wave 2“If the great Canadian comedy ever gets made, John Paizs might be the one to make it.”

Jay Scott, Globe and Mail, 1985

In 1986, a cult film named Crimewave was released. Though it bombed, critically and commercially, it was a notable stepping stone in the careers of a many of its key players, who, despite its ignominious failure, went on to have glittering careers that left it only a curious blip in their CVs.  In this case, the term “cult” applies only in the sense that completist fans of the Coen Brothers (writers), Sam Raimi (director) and Bruce Campbell (producer, star) will keep its faint flame burning for a good while longer than it demands on its own merits. Meanwhile in Canada, another film, similarly-titled, received blazing reviews on its festival debut then all but disappeared without trace.

John Paizs’ Crime Wave was the culmination of themes and style developed by Paizs in a series of shorts starring the director himself as a ‘silent man’ character, Nick, the predecessor of Stephen Penny, mute protagonist of Crime Wave. Penny is an aspiring screenwriter, afflicted with a peculiar kind of writer’s block – he can only write beginnings and endings for the “colour crime pictures” he aspires to make, and no middles. When he takes a room above a suburban family’s garage, his landlord’s daughter, Kim (Eva Kovacs), discovers his abandoned script pages in the trash and takes it upon herself to help him realise his potential.

The synopsis, however, barely sketches the experience of Crime Wave. Paizs painstakingly shot and styled his film to mimic the Technicolor of classical Hollywood. He also re-recorded all dialogue in post-production, inspired equally by the highly-controlled sound design of radio dramas. The tone, meanwhile, is deadpan absurd, the construction post-modern. Paizs interpolates Penny’s travails and Kim’s enterprise with sequences realising the opening and closing scenes from Stephen’s script fragments. When Kim introduces him to a mysterious Dr Jolly, who promises a solution to Stephen’s dire straits, the film accelerates towards a manic and hilarious climactic montage.

Crime Wave 1
John Paizs as Stephen Penny in Crime Wave

Crime Wave debuted at the 1985 Festival of Festivals (later to become the Toronto International Film Festival). The screening was also, according to Paizs, essentially a test screening. Writing and producing his own work, he’d gotten used to unusual creative freedom. “I used to just get to the end and I would not show the script to anybody and I would not do another draft, I just applied to the Arts Council for the money and they were less concerned about, ‘Does it have a coherent story?’ They were more into, ‘Well, is it kind of different?’” Crime Wave, like its creator, was certainly different. Following the (successful) festival screening, Paizs was dissatisfied enough to entirely rewrite, re-shoot and re-cut the film’s final 20 minutes.

Justifiably, though unjustly, it remains the high water mark in Paizs’ filmmaking career. “After Crime Wave, expectations were quite high for me,” explains Paizs. “According to the Globe and Mail reviewer, I had to make the great Canadian comedy, and, I’ll tell you, that was the best thing that someone could possibly say to any film-maker, right, but also the worst. And because I decided not to do the ‘silent man’ thing anymore after Crime Wave, not only did I have to come up with something new that I could invest myself in passionately, but it also had to be great and, you know, that in a nutshell is why there was no follow-up to Crime Wave.” Which is a genuine tragedy for cinema, especially since the Globe and Mail review was based on the first, unrefined cut of Paizs’ masterpiece.

Crime Wave could only have been made in Canada, in Winnipeg and by John Paizs, though it’s so much more than just a great Canadian film. Though its theatrical release was thwarted by an ill-advised distribution deal (which complicates its home-viewing release to this day), Crime Wave’s timeless originality,  meticulously-crafted aesthetic and the singular voice of its creator stake a claim for it in film history, exclusively on its on terms.


This article originally appeared in Physical Impossibility #4: Guide to World Cinema.

Crime Wave screens at Matchbox Cineclub’s Weird Weekend on Sunday 3rd June. Tickets from £5, day and weekend passes are available. All tickets available from CCA’s box office, 0141 352 4900, or online: bit.ly/weirdweekend. #makeitweird

The Astrologer pins hopes on lucky stars

A 1976 UPI article by Vernon Scott on Craig Denney’s The Astrologer, as it appeared in The Ottawa Journal (14/01/1976)

The Astrologer 1

If you are Aquarian with Uranus in the third house, the sun in Capricorn, bestride Scorpio with Virgo ascending and the moon over Miami, you are probably in deep trouble or at least about to meet a tall dark stranger. Devotees of the zodiac will be hit with that sort of thing in The Astrologer, a new movie starring Craig Denny [sic] who also directed the film. Until now, astrology has been ignored by moviemakers. But Denny, 31, is founder of Moonhouse International, a computerized horoscope service which, for a price, whips out detailed astrological forecasts for individuals and corporations.

Astrology has made Denny a rich man. He says Moonhouse grossed $31 million last year with corporations paying as much as $20,000 for the service. “There’s never been a movie based on astrology,” said Denny, a handsome and intelligent man who is steeped in the lore of the zodiac. “Surprising, isn’t it? Especially when you consider there are 33 million individuals in the United States alone who are interested in astrology and buy astrological books, magazines and horoscopes.”

“So there is a huge audience waiting to see a picture based on astrology. The concept has been ignored all these years because it was new and different and didn’t follow any trends or patterns. Our story is about a gypsy fortune teller – me – and what happens to him as he predicts the future. We don’t preach astrology in the movie. There are five different story lines and plots. There’s a great deal of fantasy. The picture is visual. Even though it includes some heavy knowledge about astrology, the film is entertaining. We aren’t trying to make converts. This is a contemporary story with a great many optical special effects. I’m sure the picture has a basic appeal for everyone, including non-believers.”

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Webster’s defines astrology as: “A pseudo science claiming to foretell the future by studying the supposed Influence of the relative positions of the moon, sun and stars on human affairs. Primitive astronomy.” Denny, of course, views astrology as the mother of all sciences. “It is 5,000 years old,” he said. “I’ve been involved in astrology for 10 years. I don’t try to influence skeptics. Either you believe in it or you don’t. I have all the proof in the world that astrology is a true science.”

Denny embarked on a discourse of dates, planets and stars in a terminology which defies analysis by laymen. He holds theories which would shock other astrologers. His eyes gleam with teal. One is well advised not to take issue with him on the subject. A former radio broadcaster, Denny began The Astrologer in 1972 with a budget of $1.5 million. Three years later and at a total cost of $10 million, the picture was completed.

“Astrology has had a tough time with radio and television,” be said. “The government has a law that all astrological information must have a disclaimer before and after any programs dealing with the subject. It can’t be promoted on the air. The National Association of Broadcasters and the Federal Communications Commission have ruled that astrology is not a true science.” Denny’s disdain for the patented foolhardiness of the NAB and FCC was clearly reflected in the expression on his face. The Astrologer will open in prime American cities’ theatres Jan. 14, a date not selected at random. “The astrological aspects for the picture’s release were considered,” Denny admitted. According to the stars, the timing couldn’t be better.

Vernon Scott


The Astrologer screens at Matchbox Cineclub’s Weird Weekend on Sunday 03/06/18. Tickets from CCA’s box office, 0141 352 4900, or online here.

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Newspaper ad images: Temple of Schlock.