#WeirdHorror Countdown

We countdown our favourite wonderfully weird horror films

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We’re celebrating the run up to Halloween with some of our favourite odd and awesome horror films. Mostly we’re doing this on our Facebook page here, but we’ll update this post as we go too. We’d love to know your favourite weird horrors too – or what you think of ours…

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1/31 | DEAFULA (Peter Wechsberg, 1975)

A theology student finds himself turning into a vampire and hunting other students for their blood, in the first feature film produced in American Sign Language (or “Signscope”).  Writer-director-actor Peter Wechsberg lost his hearing during Nazi Germany’s World War II bombing of London and had grown dissatisfied with his work as a videographer for a financial institution. His Deafula inexplicably incorporated a giant rubber nose, of which producer Gary Holstrom explained, “The deaf loved it, the hearing didn’t.” Read Cashiers du Cinemart’s interview with Holstrom here.


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2/31 | NEON MANIACS (Joseph Mangine, 1986)

“They’re the Neon Maniacs—an unstoppable, hideous incarnation of evil zombies terrorising the residents of San Francisco. ‘Neon,’ because they can only be seen in the dark; ‘Maniacs,’ because they kill at will!”

The Neon Maniacs include Ape, Archer, Axe, Decapitator, Doc, Juice, Mohawk, Punk Biker, Samurai Warrior, Slash, Soldier, Stringbean and Thing. They each, for some reason, have their own in-film tarot/trading card.


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3/31 | INKUBO (Leslie Stevens, 1966)

Marc, a soldier of pure heart, becomes the target of a beautiful demon who wants his soul.

Starring a pre-Star Trek William Shatner, Incubus is one of only two films produced entirely in the constructed language of Esperanto. At the premiere, a group of 50 to 100 Esperanto enthusiasts “screamed and laughed” at the actors’ poor pronunciation of the language. Once thought lost, the only remaining print was discovered in France in 1996. You can read more about Esperanto in cinema here.


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4/31 | VLČÍ BOUDA (Věra Chytilová, 1987)

AKA Wolf’s Hole or Wolf’s Lair, this is a science fiction horror hybrid in the vein of The Thing, from the director of Daisies (Sedmikrásky).

In an old mountain cottage called the Wolf’s Lair, 11 carefully selected teenagers participate in a skiing workshop. Tension and suspicion mount as the strange instructors insist that one of the 11 is an intruder…


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5/31 | PURA SANGRE (Luis Ospina, 1982)

An old, bedridden sugar tycoon, who communicates with the outside world by CCTV, consumes constant supplies of blood plasma from kidnapped and murdered children.

Pure Blood is a prime example of the Tropical Gothic genre, mainly associated with Colombian cinema of the 1980s. A flurry of productions were based in the country’s third largest city, Cali, where a very intense cinephile culture was flourishing. The most emblematic of these cinephile filmmakers were fans of Roger Corman as well as cinéma vérité documentarists, and part of a politically radical art scene.


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6/31  | ŞEYTAN (Metin Erksan, 1974)

A 12-year-old girl living with her mother in cozy Istanbul high society plays with a ouija board and becomes possessed by Satan himself. A troubled psychiatrist and an archaeologist become the girl’s only hope for salvation.

AKA Turkish Exorcist for obvious reasons, Erksan’s film is a classic remakesploitation in the bold shot-for-shot-copy category. William Friedkin’s original was banned in Turkey, so the filmmakers traveled to a London screening and transcribed the script. However, the audacious “theft” – Turkey actually had no copyright laws to speak of – belies the numerous ways Erksan (who won the Golden Bear in 1964) adapted The Exorcist to reflect Turkish culture.

Read more about Şeytan and other Turkish remakes here.


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7/31 | 狂った一頁 (Teinosuke Kinugasa, 1926)

A retired sailor becomes custodian at a mental hospital to be closer to his estranged wife, one of the patients at the facility. Their daughter is soon to be married, but the father’s fear and pain surrounding his wife’s mental state threaten the future happiness of the family.

Completely lost for 45 years, the print of Kurutta Ichipeij (A Page Of Madness) discovered in a rice bin in Kinugasa’s garden shed in 1972 was only 2/3 of the original print, which would also have screened with live narration and musical accompaniment.


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8/31 | PARENTS (Bob Balaban, 1989)

Meet the Laemles. Dad, Mom and little Michael…they’re the all-American family of 1954. With one small exception. Michael can’t figure out why they are eating leftovers every night, but he’s got a scary suspicion. Dad’s bringing home the bacon and a whole lot more!

Character actor Bob Balaban (a familiar face for Christopher Guest and Wes Anderson fans) made his directorial debut with this black comedy horror. Too strange and deadpan to go over commercially, its deliberate tone, pace and aesthetic help it linger in the corner of your mind, like a childhood nightmare.


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9/31 | A RETURN TO SALEM’S LOT (Larry Cohen, 1987)

“Salem’s Lot. Population: Dwindling. Primary industry: terror.”

A weird horror hiding in plain sight, this is so much more than a straight-to-video Stephen King sequel. For one thing, it has nothing at all to do with Stephen King, or even the original Salem’s Lot. What it does have is the unmistakeable Larry Cohen touch, since the writer-director created this “sequel” basically from scratch. The cast features some of Cohen’s signature players (particularly Michael Moriarty and James Dixon), a young Tara Reid and…Samuel fuckin’ Fuller, the iconic director playing a gun-toting Nazi/vampire hunter. Watch it for the Larry Cohen joint it is, and it’s 10/10.


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10/31 | BLOOD AND DONUTS (Holly Dale, 1995)

“There is a place between the living and the dead…and it’s open 24 hours.”

This comedy horror follows a vampire, napping since the Moon landing, who’s woken with a bump into 1990s Toronto. Eschewing human blood, he falls in with a donut shop waitress and a taxi driver needing protection from a Crime Boss (David Cronenberg!). Also his 1969 girlfriend is quickly on his trail…


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11/31 | BEGOTTEN (E Elias Merhige, 1990)

“A godlike thing dies giving birth to a quivering messiah thing; then the villager things ravage and bury them, and the earth renews itself on their corpses.”

The debut of writer/director Merhige, better known for directing Shadow of the Vampire (2000), and even better known for directing the music video for Marilyn Manson’s Antichrist Superstar (1996).


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12/31 | MIRROR MIRROR (Marina Sargenti, 1990)

“Megan (Rainbow Harvest) is experiencing the usual problems of adolescence, magnified by a change of home and school. Stranded and outcast, she retreats into a world of insecurities, craving a means of comfort and escape from the depths of her own fantasies. In her new home, the desolate and eerie Weatherworth House, Megan finds a curious-looking mirror, which entices her into a dream world where her imagination can stray. At first, the mirror seems magical, but once the innocence of her initial fascinations fade, it begins to take on a more sinister and evil dimension. Its power combines with her adolescent mind and sucks her into a nightmare from which she cannot escape!”


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13/31 | DUST DEVIL (Richard Stanley, 1992)

“He came from the beginning of time to take your soul.”

Writer-director Richard Stanley followed his debut, the 2000AD inspired Hardware, with this unsettling South Africa-set slasher arthouse folk horror. Dust Devil, described at the time as “Tarkovsky on acid”, spent just a week in cinemas before being released to home video. Stanley’s 2-hour cut had been brutalised by balking financiers down to just 87mins, leaving early audiences confused. Stanley’s Final Cut is now available, best resembling his original vision.


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14/31 | HOUSE (Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1977)

“A schoolgirl travels with six classmates to her ailing aunt’s creaky country home, only to come face to face with evil spirits, bloodthirsty pianos, and a demonic housecat.”

No weird horror countdown could possibly skip Nobuhiko Obayashi’s psychedelic, phantasmagoric, absurdist masterpiece, quite possibly the weirdest and best film ever made, any more than words could do it justice – just watch it, IMMEDIATELY.


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15/31 | SCREAMPLAY (Rufus Butler Seder, 1985)

“Aspiring screenwriter Edgar Allen’s best attribute is his wild imagination. He imagines scenes so vividly for the murder mystery he is writing that they seem to come to life…and they do! As mysterious murders pile up, Edgar Allen must confront ageing actresses, rock stars, and the police in the bleak setting of broken dreams in Hollywood.”

Shot in black and white, this budget weirdo comic-melodrama recollects Forbidden Zone in its expressionistic sets and John Paizs’ Crime Wave in its meta themes. Screamplay was a one-and-done from writer-director-star Seder, who also managed to recruit underground legend George Kuchar for a rare role outside his own productions.


Check back tomorrow, or 10pm over at Facebook, whichever comes first, for the latest in our #WeirdHorror countdown…

PS: Phantom of the Paradise

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Brian de Palma’s Phantom of the Paradise (1974) was our Halloween 2016 screening. Here, journalist Patrick Harley takes a closer look at “the most highly acclaimed horror phantasy of our time.”

There’s a scene in Phantom of the Paradise where the maniacal music mogul known only as Swan makes a point of gifting talented songwriter Winslow Leach (by this point deformed and forced to live in the shadows as the film’s titular Phantom) a contract the size of a phonebook. Flicking several pages into the tome, the Phantom’s one functioning eye chooses an article at random and proceeds to read aloud:

“The party of the first part gives the party of the second part and his associates full power to do with him at their pleasure. To rule, to send, to fetch, or carry him or his, be it either body, soul, flesh, blood or goods” – what does that mean?

The satirical implication that the Phantom is being fooled into quite literally signing his life away later takes on a darker edge, when, distraught with grief, he contemplates suicide, only to discover that the same contract has also voided his right to death.

death-records

Yet death is a recurrent motif in Brian De Palma’s musical horror. Swan’s unscrupulous record label is even named after it: Death Records, its logo a once chirpy songbird, now flat on its back. It’s a journey to which the Phantom could relate; particularly since by the end of the opening act, he’s already been declared deceased. What really perishes in the film’s first thirty minutes though is Winslow’s identity – most of all, his innocence.

winslow

Played by the late William Finley, one early sequence sees Winslow trying to secure a meeting with Swan, confused as to why the producer would have taken hold of his life’s work without crediting or paying him. Having gained access to Swan’s home, he finds out that not only has his music been stolen, but the label is in the midst of vetting potential singers. One such hopeful, and soon to be the object of Winslow’s affection, is the talented Phoenix (Suspiria’s Jessica Harper in her first cinematic role). Whisked into a room and the doors firmly closed behind her, Phoenix immediately screams in terror, swiftly emerging to exclaim that she only came to sing and will not do what Swan is asking of her. Horrified, a clueless Winslow gasps, “That doesn’t sound like an audition!” It’s not long before his naivety finds him crippled, literally destroyed by his belief that he singlehandedly can stop the ever-turning machinery of the record industry.

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But in Phantom of the Paradise, death is just an opportunity to try a new marketing strategy. It is, of course, no coincidence that De Palma enlisted songwriter Paul Williams to play Swan, his compositions for the film also earning him an Oscar nomination. With Williams’ talent and knowledge of the industry lending the film’s songs just the right amount of credibility necessary for pastiche, we see Swan’s house band cycle through multiple incarnations as he strives to find the sound that will unlock access to “The Paradise” (a musical utopia said to be on par with Xanadu). First up, a 1950s nostalgia band named the Juicy Fruits, then the Beach Bums – a surf group who the Phantom, and no doubt De Palma, relishes in blowing up – before finally they are resurrected as the Undeads, a glam-goth act in which every member is styled after the sinister somnambulist from The Cabinet of Dr Caligari. It is during this performance that Swan clocks onto his biggest hit yet when a literal death, live onstage, leaves the audience in a frenzy; they love it, instantly chanting for more.

laugh

For as much as De Palma’s film points a finger at the entertainment industry (record labels no doubt serving as a substitute for the indie director’s own distrust of studio system), it also turns a mirror toward us, appalled at our willingness to be numbed by spectacle, never pausing to think about what goes on behind the curtain. A standout use of split-screening sees one performance shown from two angles: one the upbeat, cheery stage show intended for the crowd, the other the berating going on backstage. As one camera pans to Swan, watching from his private box, the other descends into destruction. Similarly, Williams’ lyrics too are laced with vicious critiques, the anthem of the sleepwalking Undeads calling out for guidance from a figurehead with a Hollywood Smile.

It’s no surprise then that as the film reaches its climax – a chaotic blend of tribal rhythms and fast cuts in which a televised concert turns into a bloodbath – the only screams are cheers. If one onstage death was good, the fans definitely enjoy three. Pulling the camera back, De Palma reveals that, throughout it all, the crowd continues to dance.

Patrick Harley