Author Archives: lindsay gibb
“The answer my friend/is breaking in the wind/the answer is sticking out your rear”
This is the poetry of Booji Boy — Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh wearing a baby mask — as he walks through a deserted, post-apocalyptic landscape. This is the beginning of Neil Young’s Human Highway.
Human Highway is legendary for its weirdness. Before it was released on DVD in 2016, the film was notoriously hard to find and only available to those lucky enough to find the laserdisc or VHS copies kicking about. Featuring Neil Young as a goofy mechanic who longs to be a rhythm and blues man and Devo as nuclear fallout cleaners, the film is packed with characters, straying storylines, musical numbers and oddness, making it natural material for this column.
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As I motor through my list of potentially chaotic movies I notice that all of the movies I’ve deemed worthy of this column have something in common: mysterious chemicals.
The film that kicked off my year — and was the impetus for this column — was Repo Man, a film featuring radiation and wild results. It’s still the best symbol of what I mean by chaotic weird movies. I don’t just want odd movies; the energy of the film is also very important. They need to be hyper in both intensity and content. They need to have so much going on that it’s a challenge to explain the film afterward.
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It’s only ten minutes into Wild Zero when it is clear this film is heading for a perfect rating on my chaos meter.
Just before the ten-minute mark we’re in the back room of a club witnessing a stand-off between Guitar Wolf (the band, which is made up of men named Guitar Wolf, Bass Wolf and Drum Wolf), a gangster-like talent booker and his henchmen. By this point in the film not much has happened. We’ve met Ace (Masashi Endô), a greaser who loves Guitar Wolf and rock ‘n’ roll in equal measure, and he’s waiting outside the door of this back room to meet his heroes. Just then our dubious talent booker, pointing a gun at the band, says “Rock ‘n’ roll is over, baby” and triggers the beginning of the mania.
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Radioactivity was all the rage in the 1950s. In Burquitlam (a fictionalized version of the small town between Burnaby and Coquitlam, British Columbia), it’s all about the chemicals. Here, the local butcher’s cast-offs mix with the sludge in the septic tank to create Balonium, a chemical that is apparently highly sought after by aliens.
It’s also desired by teen scientist Jan Wczinski (Andrew Gillies) who is building a cyclotron, a contraption he describes as a power source for common household appliances: “Can openers, space ships, knife sharpeners. That sort of thing.” Wczinski and his Moldavian family live above the butcher shop, and when he discovers the radioactive green chemical he vies for the prize against the aliens who have reanimated the town’s mayor in an effort to obtain it themselves.
Made by a small group of young filmmakers in British Columbia near the end of Canada’s tax shelter era, Big Meat Eater is a weird blend of musical, sci-fi, horror and comedy, and the result feels like something a bunch of friends put together to compile their strangest ideas. Ideas like a city hall run by people named Alderman Sonny the Weasel, a reanimated corpse singing about its rebirth and a mother recommending her daughter stuff pierogies down her top before going on a date. But for a film that reads like a random mash, it all blends together really, really well.
The best movies are the ones that surprise you.
For me that usually means movies that go so far out in left field that I’m swept up in the originality, and often the more ridiculous or implausible the plot, the better. When asked for my favourite film I tend to list Being John Malkovich, mostly because it was such an original idea and the odd things that happen throughout that film just keep coming (peak odd: John Malkovich taking the portal into his own head to find a room full of himself saying his name over and over again). I’ve felt that way about other movies — John Paiz’s Crime Wave or Robert Bierman’s Vampire’s Kiss come to mind — and I’ve decided this is the year I’m going to track down the strangest films I can.
I started this year off with a Repo Man re-watch because I wanted a little chaos, and then I kept going down the rabbit hole. So I’m going to share my journey down, here, with you. When it’s weird you want, John Waters is a pretty safe bet. So that’s where I’ll start.
Nicolas Cage has the capacity to be the master of whatever genre he chooses. He’s tackled many, among them comedy, drama, adventure, sci-fi, con capers, crime films, and, of course, action. The films in his late ’90s action trilogy — The Rock, Con Air and Face/Off — are still cited as classics and, at the time, came out of nowhere for an actor who had barely touched the genre.
But when you think of horror movies, Nicolas Cage isn’t the first guy that comes to mind.
Last year I released a book, National Treasure: Nicolas Cage (2015), in which I argue that the reason Cage is a national treasure (in just about any nation) is due to this ability to be everything and convincingly take on all genres. Not only that, but his willingness and seemingly incessant need to try everything at least once (but usually at least three times) results in a diverse filmography and a fascinating collection of acting styles.
Trying new genres fuels him and yet, when I was writing this book and watching all 72 of his films (he’s now up to 78. Yep, he’s released six movies since my book came out a year ago. Prolific!), one genre that was suspiciously light was horror. Read the rest of this entry