The Weird and Wonderful
XXI. The Dark Crystal (1982) – Directed by Jim Henson and Frank Oz, starring the Jim Henson Company puppeteers.
Why You Should See It –Because the Skeksis are pretty fucking far out there, man. Henson and crew had always had a bit of a subversive streak (and obvious creative talent to spare), so when they set out to create a dark fairytale that entertained and frightened children at the same time, they succeeded. Set on a distant planet, the film features two races, the Skeksis and the Mystics, who were torn asunder when the magical Dark Crystal was cracked and a shard was lost. A prophecy foretold that a Gelfling, a humanoid race, would return the shard, so the Skeksis had all the Gelfling’s wiped out. Except for Jen, who is raised by the mystics to fulfill the prophecy. The puppets created for the film by the Henson Company are spectacular and frightening.
Scariest Moment – Anything involving that goddamn Chamberlain. His “hmmmmmmm”s where creepy.
Quote – “Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm….”
XXII. Labyrinth (1986) – Directed by Jim Henson, starring David Bowie, Jennifer Connelly, and the Jim Henson Company puppeteers.
Why You Should See It –Four years after The Dark Crystal, Henson and co. returned to craft another visually spectacular fairy tale, Labyrinth. I like this film better because it incorporates some of the absurd humor the Muppets were known for, and human actors allows for more audience empathy. Here, young Sarah (Connelly) wishes that the Goblin King (Bowie, whose near obscenely tight costumes were responsible for the sexual awakening of many a girl) would take her baby brother away. Now faced with the responsibility of traversing the Goblin King’s labyrinth in order to reach his castle, Sarah finds unlikely allies in Hoggle, Bluto and Sir Didymus, which she will need to get past the bizarre and fantastic creatures she encounters.
Scariest Moment – The oubliette is pretty creepy, but I always found Sarah’s drugged out dance dream creepier.
Quote – “I ask for so little. Just fear me, love me, do as I say and I will be your slave.”
XXIII. Cemetery Man (Dellamorte Dellamore, Italy) (1994) – Directed by Michele Soavi, starring Rupert Everett, Francois Hadji-Lazaro, and Anna Falchi.
Why You Should See It – It’s staged like a nightmarish dream that never ends. The narrative doesn’t make much sense, but it is interesting and nice to look at. Everett stars as Dellamorte, the caretaker of the local cemetery. Unfortunately, the dead have developed the habit of coming back to life, so Dellamorte, along with his bizarre yet somehow lovable assistant Gnaghi (Hadji-Lazaro), has to repeatedly put the dead back down. Things change, however, when Dellamorte encounters a mysterious and beautiful woman (Falchi). Things go awry, and Dellamorte must continuously struggle to escape the doldrums of his life. But repeated encounters with different women (all played by Falchi) complicates matters.
Scariest Moment – There’s a scene with an awesome Grim Reaper come to stalk Dellamorte.
Quote – “Hell, at a certain point in life, you realize you know more dead people than living.”
XXIV. Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead (1994) – Directed by Don Coscarelli, starring Reggie Bannister, A. Michael Baldwin, Bill Thornbury, Gloria Lynne Henry, Kevin Connors, and Angus Scrimm.
Why You Should See It –Because it’s Phantasm! Continuing Coscarelli’s long running low budget horror series, the third installment sees the continuing adventures of badass ice cream man, Reggie (Bannister) and Mike (Baldwin, returning to the role after studios forced Coscarelli to cast James LeGros in the second film) against the sinister Tall Man, who still has habit of stealing dead bodies for nefarious purposes. This time around, the duo pick up some new compatriots, particularly nunchuck swinging Roxy (Henry) and Tim (Connors), a kid whose very good with weapons. Michael’s dead brother, Jody (Thornbury), also returns to the series, but his spirit is imprisoned in one of the Tall Man’s flying silver balls o’ death. This installment ramps up the humor (some of which works and some of which falls way flat) and the action set pieces that were introduced in the second film. Some more clues about the Tall Man’s true nature are revealed, as are questions about Mike’s true nature. All in all, this is a worthy followup to the previous two Phantasm films.
Scariest Moment –As always, the Phantasm films end with a WTF? moment designed to make the audience jump (fans of the series will accept that these endings are almost totally glossed over or retconned at the beginning of the next film).
Quote – “Ever try vanilla?”
XXV. Battle Royale (Batoru rowaiaru, Japan) (2000) – Directed by Kinji Fukasaku, starring Tatsuya Fujiwara, Aki Maeda, Taro Yamamoto, and “Beat” Takeshi Kitano.
Why You Should See It –It’s batshit crazy. Set in a near-future Japan, rising unemployment and student unrest has led to the passing of the BR bill, which requires one class of students to be picked at random every year, sent to an isolated island, given weapons, and told to kill each other until there is only one survivor. The survivor of the Battle Royale gets whatever he/she wishes. The film follows the class chosen for that year’s BR. They are drugged and taken to the island, where their old teacher (Kitano) coldly and ruthlessly informs them of their mission. Randomly given weapons, the students struggle to come to terms with what they have to do (they have two days to complete the game or the electronic collars around their necks will cause their heads to asplode). Some students still band together; others take the opportunity to pretend their in a John Woo movie. Several students, however, figure out that their might be a way out of the game. The action is fast and bloody, and the characters are interesting, although we don’t get to know more than a few. The best part, however, is Takeshi Kitano who is both batshit crazy and oddly sympathetic. Don’t ask me what his backstory with one of the students was about though. I have no idea.
Scariest Moment – When Kitano explains the mission to the students. The man get’s coldblooded.
Quote – “Life is a game. So fight for survival and see if you’re worth it.”
Fun Fact - Some of you may recognize Takeshi Kitano as Vic Romano from MXC: Most Extreme Challenge, the old show from Spike TV that featured crazy obstacle courses and hilariously inappropriate commentary. MXC was a recut and redubbed version of Japan’s Takeshi’s Castle.
XXVI. The Shining (1980) – Directed by Stanley Kubrick, starring Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd, and Scatman Crothers.
Why You Should See It –Because it’s The Shining. Featuring Jack Nicholson at his crazy best, the film is set in the Rockies during the winter. Isolated from the rest of the world, Jack Torrence (Nicholson), his wife (Duval) and son (Lloyd) are holed up in the grand Overlook Hotel, where Jack has been hired to be the caretaker over the winter. But all is not right in the hotel, which Danny senses thanks to his ability to “shine,” i.e. communicate telepathically and see things from the future and past. As Jack sinks further into insanity (how much of it the fault of his own demons and how much of it the fault of the malevolent hotel is never made clear), Danny and Wendy become witness to some surreal and bizarre imagery. Who can forget ocean of blood bursting out of the elevator.
Scariest Moment – Room 237. That’s all you need to know.
Quote – “Heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeere’s Johnny