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Twisted Visions

A look at 2010's best off-the-wall DVDs

By Phil Morehart · December 22nd, 2010 · Movies
I love the year’s end. As a writer who delves into the wonders of cinema on DVD, December turns thoughts to the mountains of films consumed over the past 12 months. Believe me, it’s a lot.

Sussing out the best is an awesome task, but it can lead to hair-pulling conundrums. Where to begin?

As a firm believer in the archival and curatorial capabilities and possibilities of DVD, my heart immediately pulls for the lost relics finally re-released thanks to the hard plastic circular data disc.

The complete version of Fritz Lang’s 1927 sci-fi classic Metropolis, restored with 25-minutes of new footage recently discovered in Argentina, saw the light of day thanks to Kino, who lead the charge yearly with silent cinema releases. The New York-based company also receives kudos for releasing Fantomas: The Complete Saga, a three-DVD set of five serialized silents directed by Louis Feuillade and produced by French studio Gaumont from 1913-14 that details the misdeeds of the then-internationally known, fictional master criminal Fantomas. This collection promises to bring the long dormant (but never forgotten) masked dapper newfound fame.

One of the true pleasures of the home-video market is that films can be enjoyed ad nauseum, allowing for nuances and layers perhaps lost at first watch to re-emerge with subsequent viewings. Though big budget, mainstream releases, Christopher Nolan’s Inception and Martin Scorsese'sShutter Island were two of 2010’s most brilliantly complex films, and their DVD releases are perfect microscope samples.

However, despite such high ideals, when compiling my personal list of 2010’s best releases, my mind diverts to the truly off-the-wall titles that entered my atmosphere. It’s in these crazy, often warped nether-regions that the DVD medium shines, as many of thesefeatures would never find audiences without it.

My faves run the gamut: found footage mash-ups and fakeries, trippy foreign language masterpieces, sensationalistic horror and a few that are simply warped. All are essential.

Everything Is Terrible! took root as a blog devoted to unearthing our taped past — bits and pieces of forgotten VHS ephemera, late-night infomercials, oddball commercials, bad TV movies, etc. from the past 30-odd years. It doesn’t stop there, though. The E.I.T. crew re-edits and re-contextualizes the footage into short snippets that take hilarious, often sinister jabs at religion, politics, sex and more.

And sometimes they are simply butt-ass crazy for craziness’ sake.

Murder She Wrote star Angela Landsbury’s empowering, self-help tape for women becomes creepily erotic. Puppets and clean-cut

Folk singing praises to the Lord turn predatory. Instructional videos teach bumbling incompetence over learning. You get the picture.

Enjoyed singularly, the Everything Is Terrible! clips are a good, quick laugh. Compiled together into snaking, hour-long narratives, as they are in the self-released DVDs, Everything Is Terrible! The Movie and its follow-up, 2Everything 2Terrible II: Tokyo Drift, they become experimental, subversive mind-fucks impossible to take your eyes off.

Harmony Korine (Gummo, julien donkey-boy) mines a similar milieu in his latest film, Trash Humpers, released by Drag City.

Shot on VHS and presented complete with crude titles, on-screen rewind prompts and analog noise, the film follows a gang wearing elderly face masks as they raise hell in parking lots, abandoned houses, alleys and playgrounds throughout Nashville. It’s pure hedonism — televisions are smashed, people are murdered and, yes, trash dumpsters are humped. A lot.

With no semblance of a narrative, Trash Humpers requires patience. The proceedings seem pointless initially, but a voyeuristic hypnotism develops. Like watching the lost home videos of a family of serial killers, you always want to know what will happen next.

The horror genre dipped into the VHS revival, as well, but with more clever results.

Filmmaker Ti West took nostalgia to extremes with his stellar ode to ’80s slasher/demon pics with House of the Devil. The film’s plot is familiar: A broke college coed heads to a spooky old mansion in the middle of nowhere to baby-sit, but soon finds the home’s inhabitants have something other than childcare lined up for her.

West’s eye for detail is perfect. Everything feels straight from the golden age of low-budget teen horror, from photography, direction, tone and pacing to period costumes and sets. It’s as if House of the Devil was found in a time capsule. Dark Sky Films furthered the effect by offering the film both on DVD and on VHS — packaged in old-school clamshell cases, of course.

The Criterion Collection opened a real time capsule with their long-awaited domestic release of Hausu (House), the 1977 psychedelic horror film by Japanese director Nobuhiko Obayashi.

Obayashi throws everything at the screen — day-glow colors, animation, collage, Pop music — as he follows schoolgirls into a haunted house where all forms of ghosts and demons dwell. The filmmaker culled the story from his pre-teen daughter’s dreams and the results are both freakily nightmarish and sweetly innocent.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one of this year’s most talked about releases, The Human Centipede (First Sequence).

Directed by Dutch filmmaker Tom Six, it follows two college students traveling through Europe who run afoul of a crazy German doctor who’s determined to create a new being — one comprised of three humans who share a single digestive system by being surgically connected anus to mouth, lined up in a row like the film’s titular insect.

The film’s wild premise and trailer made it the talk of the cinemaniac water cooler in the months leading up to its eventual unveiling. Unfortunately, it was all hype.

The Human Centipede is far from good. A few interesting sequences notwithstanding, it counts amongst the year’s worst with ham-fisted direction, terrible acting, cheap suspense and zero scares. For those unable to see the film in all of its theatrical glory, though, the DVD release gave the goods, for better or for worse.

Honorable mention: Antichrist (Criterion), Dillinger is Dead (Criterion), Colin (Walking Shadows), Red Riding Trilogy (MPI Media), Bronson (Magnolia), Nollywood Babylon (Kino), Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (First Look).



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