If the trailers are even remotely representative of the actual film, this week’s theatrical release of ‘Cloud Atlas’, which apparently has a narrative that spans multiple timelines from the 19th Century to the distant apocalyptic future, promises to be the biggest “WTF?” movie of the year. You know what I’m talking about – the kind of wacko movie that leaves you utterly confounded as to what the &^(# you just watched. Cinema history is littered with such oddities. Perhaps the movie just had a really out-there twist ending, or perhaps it’s a total mind-screw from beginning to end. In today’s Roundtable, we’ll highlight some that have really stuck with us.
There may be no right way to watch ‘Zardoz‘, except to catch it unexpectedly on cable as I did many years ago. As the giant, speaking and flying stone idol head spews firearms from its mouth in exchange for grain cultivated by a group of awkwardly-attired primitive “Exterminators,” I was utterly fascinated. Then Sean Connery emerges from his hiding place within the grain, only to accidentally knock the person most likely to supply answers out of the idol as it sails high above on its way back to a hidden, malformed super society. Each new revelation is quickly outdone by the next until the climax, which seems to deliberately try to erase any hope of understanding the narrative.
When the DVD was released, I gathered a few friends to hear the commentary, hoping for a proper analysis of that undeniably weird ending. Unfortunately, director John Boorman, rather than offer any kind of insight, was quiet and finally just said, “Thanks for watching my movie.” For my part, I can only offer the trailer’s tagline: “I have seen the future, and it does not work.”
I’m a total sucker for “WTF?” movies. Surrealism and absurdism are my favorite art movements. I strive to seek out the weird, possibly maligned and unloved films of the world. One of my favorites is Michele Soavi’s ‘Dellamorte Dellamore‘, or as it’s known in the U.S., ‘Cemetery Man’.
Based on a novel by Tiziano Sclavi, author of the comic book ‘Dylan Dog’ (the basis for the recent failed Brandon Routh vehicle), ‘Cemetery Man’ is an English-language Italian production starring Rupert Everett as Francesco Dellamorte, the caretaker of a small town graveyard where the dead come back to life as flesh-hungry zombies (or, as Dellamorte dubs them, “returners”). At first, the film seems to be a straightforward comedy, with Dellamorte and his manchild assistant Gnaghi (whose only word is “Gna!”) shooting or impaling zombies through the head. But then it takes an unexpectedly surreal and existential turn. Dellamorte falls hard for a mourner, unnamed and played by the Italian model Anna Falchi, and begins to see doppelgängers of her everywhere. Trying to be with these women almost always proves fruitless, which drives Dellamorte further to the brink of despair. He sees the spectre of Death, who tells him that in order to stop the returners, he must shoot the living in the head. Doing so, he discovers that the local police consider him so meaningless that they won’t even listen when he confesses to his crimes.
‘Cemetery Man’ combines surreal imagery with Kafka-esque situations to highlight the existential crisis that Dellamorte finds himself in. By the end, what seemed like a silly romp becomes a complex and rather serious and fascinating examination of the human condition.
The original ‘Saw‘ is one of my personal favorite “WTF?” movies. I mean, you have two characters – Adam (Leigh Whannell) and Dr. Gordon (a slightly pudgy Cary Elwes) – who are abducted by a twisted psychopath and wake up with their ankles chained inside the most disgusting bathroom on the planet. Other “WTF?” moments from the film include the pig head mask, the cringe-inducing body part severing scene, and the creepy little clown puppet. I’m pretty sure that Adam actually even utters the phrase “WHAT THE FUCK?!” a couple of times. And we can’t forget that twist ending that absolutely no one saw coming (pun not intended). At the time of its debut in 2004, ‘Saw’ pretty much invented the torture porn genre. It’s still the smartest horror flick we’ve had in a very long time.
I guess I’d have to say that the “WTF?” genre just isn’t my cup of tea. I’m struggling to think of a film that fits this category that I’ve actually enjoyed. The closest I can come is, of course, a Woody Allen film. ‘Stardust Memories‘ is an odd little movie, probably more surrealist than “WTF?” calls to mind, but it’s the nearest I can get to a bizarro cinematic journey that I both enjoy and find more interesting with each repeat viewing. The fact that casual Allen fans don’t get the film, and thus take great offense at what they see as his irritation at folks who prefer his “early, funny films“ is proof enough that there’s much more to this movie than early audiences perceived.
One should know better than to walk into a David Lynch movie expecting coherency, but after the cliffhanger conclusion to what remains one of the best television series ever created, I expected something much different from ‘Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me‘. Granted, I knew that it was a prequel to the television show going in, but I expected a much more linear story… Yes, even with the knowledge that this was a movie directed by Lynch.
Instead, I was treated to over two hours of a time-traveling G-man, a dancing dwarf, a hopscotching kid, a barking dog, a screaming one-armed man, formica tables, creamed corn and even an angel. Remember Agent Cooper’s odd dreams on the television series or, better yet, the strange finale that almost exclusively took place in the Black Lodge? Imagine a whole movie full of that, and you might be able to fathom the bizarreness of this film.
This isn’t to say that the movie doesn’t grow on you after a while. After twenty years and probably as many viewings, I’m still not sure if ‘Fire Walk With Me’ is a disastrous mess or a complete masterpiece. I do know one thing, though: It’s a lot more interesting than ‘Inland Empire’!
Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)
“Can a person become happy through striping evil?”
Here’s a quick summary of everything that happens in the first five minutes of ‘Zebraman 2: Attack on Zebra City‘:
- A middle-aged teacher dressed up as a zebra-themed superhero does a headplant on some random bad guy.
- A dwarven Japanese super-scientist, complete with one of those old-timey doctor reflector headset thingies, stabs a little girl in the neck with a pencil.
- As what little remains of Tokyo is devoured by a zebra-stripe-painting energy bubble, an older, amnesiac version of that superpowered teacher is hunted down by zebra-masked stormtroopers.
- The movie smash-cuts to a zebra-centric music video for no reason whatsoever. As the crowd exuberantly pumps their zebra towels up in the air, that aging former-Zebraman putters across the bottom of the screen in a mobility scooter.
Nothing in ‘Zebraman 2’ threatens to many any sense, but that’s kind of what’s so entrancing about it. The whole thing is just an excuse for screenwriter Kankurō Kudō and director Takashi Miike to indulge every hyperstylish and gleefully unhinged idea that pops into their heads. If you know and love Nobuhiko Obayashi’s ‘House’ and the deranged rock-‘n-roll/zombie/horror/comedy ‘Wild Zero’, you desperately need to add ‘Zebraman 2’ to your wish list.
I just recently finished up a David Lynch marathon, so my criteria for what qualifies as a “WTF?” movie may be a little more rigid than most people’s. One particular film that really got under my skin, to the point that it not only left me questioning what I’d just watched, but questioning the very nature of reality itself, was the anime feature ‘End of Evangelion‘.
Even the circumstances of the movie’s creation are ridiculously bizarre. Somewhere in the middle of his popular anime series ‘Neon Genesis Evangelion’, creator Hideaki Anno had a nervous breakdown. That, coupled with budgetary and scheduling issues, resulted in two final episodes that basically set aside all of the show’s major storylines for a perplexing, deeply internalized conclusion that took place entirely inside the main character’s head, with next to no explanation for what was going on out in the characters’ “real world.” Part dream sequence, part clip show, entirely enigmatic and confusing, the finale had some defenders, but left most fans frustrated and upset.
That alone was enough of a “WTF?”. However, in response to the backlash, Anno decided to give the series a proper conclusion a couple years later with a feature film called ‘End of Evangelion’, which is broken into two halves known as “Episode 25: Movie Version” and “Episode 26: Movie Version.” That would seem to imply that the movie replaces, or at least contradicts, the last two episodes of the show. But no, that’s not the case either. Technically, the movie takes place concurrently with the finale of the series, and both are considered official canon.
Anno really pulled out all the stops for ‘End of Evangelion’, which magnifies all the religious and philosophical themes of the TV show by about 7,000%. This thing is totally nutso. Nothing I could say to describe it would do the movie justice. Ostensibly the story of a small team of young teenagers who pilot giant robots to fight monsters, the narrative spins wildly out of control to encompass both the destruction and re-creation of the entire universe, as depicted in a final string of balls-out crazy, mind-warpingly surreal images and scenes. Oh, and part of the movie is even live-action, for reasons that are never even remotely explained.
Before we go, I need to toss out an Honorable Mention to the granddaddy of all “WTF?” movies: Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece ‘2001: A Space Odyssey‘.
Tell us your picks for this topic in the Comments. If you have trouble thinking of any, Total Film recently put together a list of suggestions.