Strange Cinema: Escape from Tomorrow (2013)

This is part of an ongoing review series for the films featured on‘s Certifiably Weird list. My goal is to watch and review all of them (even if it kills me). These reviews may contain spoilers.

Escape from Tomorrow (2013)
Director: Randy Moore
Starring: Roy Abramsohn, Elena Schuber, Katelynn Rodriguez, Annet Mahendru, Danielle Safady, & Alison Lees-Taylor

What’s it about?
Jim gets fired from his job while on vacation at Walt Disney World with his family and begins to have increasingly disturbing hallucinations that may or may not be real.

Is it any good?
I had such high hopes for this film. Not only was it filmed illegally in Disney World, but it was also advertised as a biting satire of the entire Disney corporation. The buzz surrounding this film was so intense I just assumed it was going to blow my mind. I should really know better by now than to trust “buzz.”

Escape from Tomorrow is technically a horror film, but it’s really not that frightening. Sure, it has a couple minor scares (animatronic puppets on the “It’s a Small World” ride with demon faces is a little disconcerting), but there weren’t enough to make this film genuinely horrifying. I need more than just facial distortion and an ambiguous ending, Randy Moore.

I realize how risky it was to film this, but the editing is just terrible. The actors look Photoshopped on to stock footage at several points, and the explosion scene at Epcot is beyond ridiculous. And did I mention there’s a completely unneeded five-second intermission? This isn’t Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I doubt it was included for comedic effect.

The acting is just as bad. Roy Abramsohn was pretty good as Jim, but his wife was a bit of an over-actor. I didn’t really believe her anger because it just seemed out of place. And Alison Lees-Taylor as the unnamed other woman was just too much. Maybe that was intentional since she comes off as a cartoonish villain, but it was kind of a distraction.

I honestly couldn’t tell who was supposed to be the real villain in this film. There’s the other woman who kidnaps Jim’s daughter, but then there’s also the weird scientist inside Epcot who keeps Jim in a secret detention center. But the scientist isn’t torturing him–he’s just showing Jim his own imagination. What’s so evil about that?

The plot makes little to no sense, mostly because there’s just too much going on. Jim has hallucinations, becomes obsessed with following some French girls around the park, has a random affair with this other woman, gets kidnapped by an “evil” scientist, and eventually comes down with “cat flu.” What the hell was the cat flu supposed to signify?

I honestly believe Escape from Tomorrow would have worked better in the documentary style, much like The Blair Witch Project or Quarantine. It was already filmed guerrilla-style, so why not play that up more? If the scares were a bit more subtle, it could have been a lot more successful. As is, it’s just a film festival novelty by an ambitious filmmaker. And it’s amazing that Disney didn’t sue the shit out of Randy Moore.

Grade: D+ (for amateur filmmaking and a plot too convoluted to be frightening)
Weirdness Score: 8.5/10 (or, weird enough to make a family theme park seem a bit more menacing)

[Read the more in-depth 366 Weird Movies review here.]


Strange Cinema: The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

This is part of an ongoing review series for the films featured on‘s Certifiably Weird list. My goal is to watch and review all of them (even if it kills me). These reviews may contain spoilers.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
Director: Jim Sharman
Starring: Tim Curry, Barry Bostwick, Susan Sarandon, Richard O’Brien, Patricia Quinn, Nell Campbell, & Meat Loaf

What’s it about?
Brad and Janet get stuck with a flat tire and wind up at Dr. Frank N. Furter’s creepy castle, where they meet the doctor’s creation (Rocky) and experience a kind of sexual awakening.

Is it any good?
Widely considered to be the prolific midnight movie of all time, The Rocky Horror Picture Show is synonymous with cult films. Even if you’ve never seen it, you’ve at least heard of it. And if you haven’t seen it, you’re definitely missing out.

The problem with reviewing this film is that I’m 100% biased in favor of it. I watched it religiously in middle school and even participated in a theater troupe’s performance of it in college (shout out to the Lost Flamingo Company!). I consider this to be a coming of age experience rather than just a spoof of old horror B movies.

So in order to give this movie a (mostly) objective review, I have to separate it from its cult following. But we’ll add that factor back in at the end to see if it really holds up.

Rocky Horror isn’t meant to be taken seriously. You’ll laugh at the awkward set pieces and the lackluster acting (even from a veteran like Susan Sarandon). This film satirizes B movies like The Bride of FrankensteinForbidden Planet, and Doctor X. The spirit of those early sci-fi films is perfectly captured, but Rocky Horror adds an extra element to the mix: unrestrained sexuality.

One of the most common messages of Rocky Horror is simply to “give yourself over to absolute pleasure.” Everyone has sex in this film–men and women, men and men, women and women, creation and creator, brother and sister (elbow sex counts!). And despite being a little over-the-top, this movie is surprisingly inclusive of all sexual expressions. It celebrates sexuality (something that was not unusual in a lot of other films in the ’70s), and doesn’t restrict it to heterosexuality. It’s not pornographic by any means, but you definitely get the hints.

The film itself is good for a few laughs and has an incredibly catchy soundtrack, but if you’re just watching it by yourself in your living room, it’s not the most entertaining movie.

BUT, if you add the enormous cult following and the audience participation, Rocky Horror is one of the best experiences you’ll ever have. If you ever get the chance to see a live performance of this or you get a chance to participate in it yourself, do it. You’ll have a new appreciation for this film and you might even have your own sexual awakening. Admit it, Tim Curry as Dr. Frank N. Furter is oddly attractive. I can say from firsthand experience that performing with a bunch of other Rocky Horror fans in nothing but lingerie and high heels is something you’ll always remember and cherish.

Grade: B- (without audience participation), A (with audience participation)
Weirdness Score: 8.5/10 (or, weird enough to make you question your own sexuality) 

[Read the more in-depth 366 Weird Movies review here.]

Strange Cinema: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

This is part of an ongoing review series for the films featured on‘s Certifiably Weird list. My goal is to watch and review all of them (even if it kills me). These reviews may contain spoilers.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Director: Michel Gondry
Starring: Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Kirsten Dunst, Mark Ruffalo, Elijah Wood, & Tom Wilkinson

What’s it about?
After finding out that his ex-girlfriend had her memory of him erased, Joel Barish elects to have the same procedure, but as each memory of Clementine is erased, he realizes that the entire process was a mistake.

Is it any good?
Words can’t express how much I love this film. I first saw it when I was 13, and although it took a couple of viewings to fully understand, I was amazed by it. Eternal Sunshine is also one of the few films I’ve seen that can reduce me to tears every time I see it, which is quite a feat.

Before seeing this film, I was only familiar with Jim Carrey’s comedy career. I grew up watching him in movies like Ace Ventura: Pet DetectiveDumb and Dumber, and Liar, Liar, so seeing him in a serious role was quite a shock (this was before I got around to watching The Truman Show). But he’s not completely serious, which makes this role all the more enchanting. His character still finds humor in his situation, especially when confronted with the fun memories he shares with Clementine. But of course he gets emotional at all the right moments, and it’s actually believable. When he realizes his mistake in getting Clementine erased and he pleads with the people who can’t hear him (“Please let me keep this memory”)–I’m actually tearing up just thinking about this, to be honest.

Kate Winslet is also perfect in this film. Clementine is a great character because although she represents the manic pixie dream girl trope, she acknowledges how pathetic that fantasy really is and even reveals her own major flaws. She proves that the perfectly eccentric girl on the outside is just as fucked up as anyone else.

In fact, Eternal Sunshine is one of the very few films that shows a believable relationship. As Joel gets the memory procedure done, we see his relationship with Clementine in reverse, so the only things we know about them in the beginning are the things that caused them to drift apart. We see all their faults (Clementine has an uncontrollable temper exacerbated by her constant drinking, and Joel is just a pushover), and hear these characters vocalize the other’s faults in their recorded testimony. But by the time Joel reaches the sweeter memories of life with Clementine, the audience is rooting for them.

I’ve heard people complain about how difficult this film is to understand, but it’s really not that confusing. We’re not talking about Donnie Darko here (can’t wait to get to that review!). Eternal Sunshine is an unconventional love story with a reverse timeline. Director Michel Gondry, much like Terry Gilliam, is obviously obsessed with dreams and how the mind works. I hope I’m not alone in believing that Eternal Sunshine is his best film, hands down. Is it weird? Yeah, a little. But that’s probably why it’s one of the only romance films I’ve ever truly loved.

Grade: A (for knockout performances and a believable love story)
Weirdness Score: 7/10 (or, weird enough to make you think twice about forgetting your ex)

[Read the more in-depth 366 Weird Movies review here.]

Strange Cinema: Naked Lunch (1991)

This is part of an ongoing review series for the films featured on‘s Certifiably Weird list. My goal is to watch and review all of them (even if it kills me). These reviews may contain spoilers.

Naked Lunch (1991)
Director: David Cronenberg
Starring: Peter Weller, Judy Davis, Ian Holm, & Roy Scheider

What’s it about?
This film has one of the most difficult plots to summarize, but it basically follows exterminator William Lee as he gets high on bug powder and hallucinates some of the most frightening typewriters ever portrayed on film.

Is it any good?
Not only is it difficult to explain this film, but it’s also difficult to determine whether or not it’s actually good. Based on William S. Burroughs’ novel of the same name, Naked Lunch is one confusing ride from beginning to end. According to Burroughs, the chapters in the novel are not meant to be read in any particular order, a sentiment David Cronenberg took to heart when he made this incredibly loose adaptation.

I’ve tried multiple times to read the book, but I’ve given up each time. Rather than finish the damn thing, I decided to watch the movie instead (a lazy choice, but perhaps a necessary one). Of course the film isn’t entirely based on Burroughs’ novel–it incorporates some of his other, more personal writings. This makes the character of William Lee much more comparable to Burroughs himself. Basically, Naked Lunch is Burroughs’ mind on drugs.

Drug movies are pretty hit or miss for me. Sometimes they’re brilliant (Trainspotting), but other times they try a little too hard to be “edgy” (Enter the Void). Oddly enough, Naked Lunch is the only drug movie I’ve seen that stands firmly in the middle. Cronenberg isn’t really trying to be edgy here–in fact, it feels like he doesn’t give a shit if he’s lost the audience or not. “Oh, are things starting to make some sense to you now? Fuck you, here’s a bunch of people sucking slime out of an alien bug’s phallic appendage.”

This is a pretty dark film despite the lack of a real plot. Peter Weller does a great job playing a stone-faced drug addict (he’s pretty much known for being expressionless, anyway), and he’s surprisingly calm when faced with all the fucked up creatures he encounters. I feel like I’d be much more upset if my typewriter turned into a giant talking insect.

Sure, Naked Lunch has an abundance of strange imagery, but does that make it good? Cronenberg did keep the Burroughs spirit, which is quite a feat. That alone should give the film some merit. And I did appreciate that the giant insects were puppets rather than CGI, which made them all the more frightening. So despite some low quality production and a completely nonsensical plot, I’d call this a good film. Granted, it’s not for everyone, especially if you’re expecting everything to be explained to you by the end. If you like William Burroughs and David Cronenberg, you’ll probably dig it.

Now maybe I can finally read the book.

Grade: B (for an ambitious take on a William Burroughs tale)
Weirdness Score: 9.5/10 (or, weird enough to make typewriters seem terrifying) 

[Read the more in-depth 366 Weird Movies review here.]

Strange Cinema: Sin City (2005)

This is part of an ongoing review series for the films featured on‘s Certifiably Weird list. My goal is to watch and review all of them (even if it kills me). These reviews may contain spoilers.

Sin City (2005)
Director: Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez, & Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Jessica Alba, Benicio del Toro, Bruce Willis, Mickey Rourke, Clive Owen, & Brittany Murphy

What’s it about?
Based on the graphic novel anthology of the same name, this adaptation follows several seedy characters in the fictional Basin City as they face corruption, murder, and revenge.

Is it any good?
It’s incredible how many of my favorite films of all time have made it on to the weird movie list. I was a bit surprised to see Sin City there, though. I suppose I’m a bit desensitized to it since I’ve watched it so many times, but it never really struck me as that bizarre. Sure, the color scheme is a little strange, but that’s only to make it look like a real graphic novel. And yeah, the story structure is a bit off. And there’s some cannibalism, a talking corpse, a genetically-altered pedophile with yellow skin…

Okay, so Sin City is actually pretty strange. But it’s probably one of the best graphic novel adaptations ever made. The director dream-team of Miller, Rodriguez, and Tarantino took some risks with this one, and everything turned out better than expected. Instead of sticking with one book in the anthology, they decided to incorporate three separate stories–The Hard GoodbyeThe Big Fat Kill, and That Yellow Bastard.

In The Hard Goodbye, mentally ill brute of a criminal Marv (Mickey Rourke) wakes up to find the only woman who ever showed him any kindness dead in his bed. Marv suspects foul play and dodges police on his way to find the real killer of his beloved Goldie. It turns out there’s a certain cannibal by the name of Kevin (Elijah Wood) who’s been killing and eating prostitutes, but he can’t be brought to justice because he happens to be involved with the powerful and corrupt Roark family.

Mickey Rourke was the perfect choice for Marv. He’s brutal, physically menacing, and kind of charming (in a psycho killer way). His story arc in the film is relatively short, but he steals every scene. He’s definitely one of the best characters in the film.

The Big Fat Kill follows Dwight (Clive Owen) and the prostitutes of Old Town as they race to cover up the murder of a cop, which carries the threat of the police, the mob, and a group of mercenaries taking over the girls’ territory. While I did enjoy all the shoot ’em up violence in this story, I did think the whole “girl power” idea of Old Town was a bit problematic. Sure, the prostitutes were able to stand up for themselves and created their own functioning society, but they’re still presented as male fantasies. They carry guns and wear leather and lace, but in the end, they still need to be saved by a man (Dwight). I would have liked to see a bit more autonomy.

The final story arc, That Yellow Bastard, is probably my favorite. Aging cop John Hartigan (Bruce Willis) tracks down a serial pedophile, but like Marv, can’t bring him to justice because he’s part of the Roark family. He saves little Nancy from being raped and gravely injures Roark Junior, but ends up being framed and sent to prison. Hartigan eventually gets out and searches for the now 19-year-old Nancy (Jessica Alba), but is followed by horribly disfigured Junior, who wants to rape Nancy and kill Hartigan as revenge.

Bruce Willis’ Hartigan is such a great character, and his final sacrifice for Nancy is frustrating, but ultimately makes sense. The romance between them was a bit creepy, but I guess every film-noir needs some romance.

Grade: A (for experiments in film noir and some of the most memorable characters)
Weirdness Score: 7/10 (or, weird enough to make you sympathize with a bunch of criminals)

[Read the more in-depth 366 Weird Movies review here.]

Strange Cinema: Evil Dead II (1987)

This is part of an ongoing review series for the films featured on‘s Certifiably Weird list. My goal is to watch and review all of them (even if it kills me). These reviews may contain spoilers.

Evil Dead II (1987)
Director: Sam Raimi
Starring: Bruce Campbell, Sarah Berry, Dan Hicks, Kassie DePaiva, & Richard Domeier

What’s it about?
Ash and his girlfriend Linda take a trip to a cabin in the woods, but after uttering an incantation from the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis, an evil force is unleashed and only Ash is left to save the day.

Is it any good?
Widely considered to be one of the greatest horror films of all time, Evil Dead II has enough blood and gore to rival just about every other horror franchise out there. But the brilliance of this horror schlock-fest lies in its execution. Evil Dead II, much like its first installment, isn’t meant to be frightening in the traditional sense–its strength is in the ridiculous visual gags and beyond cheesy dialogue. And the fact that Bruce Campbell is a B-movie god doesn’t hurt, either.

Technically, Evil Dead II isn’t really a sequel. It has almost the exact same setup as the original Evil Dead, released in 1981. Instead of having an entire group visit the cabin in the woods, only Ash and Linda show up in the sequel. Of course, the ending is completely different, but the characters and the setting are exactly the same. This makes Evil Dead II a half-sequel, half-remake hybrid. But most fans agree that it’s the best in the trilogy (though I did thoroughly enjoy Army of Darkness).

So what makes this messy, mindless parody so good? Well, for one thing, it doesn’t take itself too seriously. That’s the trap that a lot of horror films fall into–they try too hard to be genuinely frightening and end up looking too forced and clumsy. The bad horror films out there unfortunately outnumber the good ones, but let’s be honest–a truly genius horror film is difficult to make nowadays. You can say you’d make a better one all you want, but’s it’s tough to get all the elements lined up correctly.

Sam Raimi wasn’t interested in making a serious horror film, but used the right elements in his parody. He’s got the isolated setting, the clueless young characters, the catalyst for all the mayhem (the Necronomicon), and the unseen evil force that manifests itself in countless surprising ways. It’s a cliché setup, but that’s part of what makes it funny. The rest of the comedy comes from over-the-top violence, sassy deadites, and just about everything that comes out of Bruce Campbell’s mouth.

There are too many great scenes to list here, but some of the highlights include Ash getting attacked by his own possessed hand (who flips him the bird after the battle), the bizarre laugh-riot with a room full of inanimate objects, and the iconic chainsaw-attachment surgery (“Groovy”).

The gore is ridiculous, but buckets of fake blood have never been funnier. Raimi tried to recapture the magic of his Evil Dead days with 2009’s Drag Me to Hell, but it just fell short. Evil Dead II is quite possibly the funniest film on the list (at least out of the ones I’ve seen so far), but it’s definitely not for the squeamish.

Grade: A- (for excellent parody work and Bruce Campbell’s chiseled jaw brilliant acting.)
Weirdness Score: 8.5/10 (or, weird enough to make you laugh at a dismembered hand.)

[Read the more in-depth 366 Weird Movies review here.]

Strange Cinema: Alice (1988)

This is part of an ongoing review series for the films featured on‘s Certifiably Weird list. My goal is to watch and review all of them (even if it kills me). These reviews may contain spoilers.

Alice (1988)
Director: Jan Svankmajer
Starring: Kristýna Kohoutová

What’s it about?
This free adaptation of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland turns Alice’s fantasy world into a living nightmare complete with sawdust-filled rabbits and creatures made of animal bones.

Is it any good?
I have a strange obsession with everything related to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, so when I heard of this film, I had to see it. If you’ve never seen a Jan Svankmajer film, you’re in for a treat. And by treat, I mean you’ll be having nightmares for weeks.

All jokes aside, Svankmajer is an incredibly talented filmmaker. My introduction to his work was his 1992 short film, Food. He does a lot with stop-motion animation, and I think we can all agree that stop-motion is perhaps the creepiest form of animation. Alice combines stop-motion with live action, but the only live action character is Alice herself.

If you’ve seen the Disneyfied version of Alice’s story (especially at a young age), you probably thought Wonderland was a bizarre, but harmless fantasy world. And even the Red Queen’s threats of chopping off people’s heads seemed tame because you never actually saw any heads rolling around. The creatures Alice encountered were a bit odd, but they were still cute in that typical Disney way.

Prepare to have your childhood ruined by Jan Svankmajer’s version of this fairytale. He was unimpressed by Disney’s cartoon and decided that dark was the way to go. Rather than presenting the story as a fairytale, Svankmajer made it appear as an amoral dream, which is actually a bit closer to the book’s presentation of Wonderland. The rabbit hole turns into a desk drawer, the White Rabbit is a taxidermy rabbit stuffed with sawdust, the Caterpillar is a sock with human teeth, and the delightful little creatures Alice meets in the woods are slabs of raw meat and animal bones. Not so cute now, huh?

There’s very little dialogue in this film, aside from Alice’s narration upon meeting a new creature. The narration is punctuated by a close-up shot of Alice’s lips saying, “said the White Rabbit” or “said the Caterpillar,” which gets annoying really fast. Any dialogue is taken directly from Lewis Carroll’s novel, which is refreshing.

Even though the animation style is beyond frightening, there’s definitely a lot to admire. I love the scene where Alice meets the Caterpillar for the first time (seen above) because she’s just talking to a sock, but it seems like a real character. It’s only when she grabs another caterpillar from a hole in the floor that the socks appear to just be socks. Svankmajer gives life to inanimate objects. Granted, they’re creepy as hell, but they seem real.

In the end, when Alice finds her way back to her bedroom, it’s never clear whether or not she dreamt up Wonderland, or it actually does exist. The only clue the audience gets is an empty space where the taxidermy rabbit had been in the beginning. The Disney version didn’t have that uncertainty, which is important in the original story.

It’s difficult for me to gauge whether or not I genuinely liked this film. I count it as one of a few films I enjoy showing to other people simply because I like seeing their reactions. But if you like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland as much as I do, you might want to give this version a try.

Grade: B- (for great stop-motion animation and a satisfyingly dark vibe)
Weirdness Score: 9/10 (or, weird enough to give you nightmares about socks)

[Read the more in-depth 366 Weird Movies review here.]