Blue Sunshine is a bad movie that sometimes ends up on people’s Best Cult Movies of All Time lists, provided those lists go up to like 100. It’s attained that status based on three strengths: 1) A brooding, distant and most of all weird performance by the lead actor, Red Shoe Diaries director Zalman King. It’s not clear to the layman whether his inappropriate staring or absurdly idiosyncratic yelling counts as acting or not, but I’m assured it’s a misguided attempt at trying to be Marlon Brando. 2) Typical bad movie stuff like baffling dialogue and strange people wandering around in the background. 3) Every now and then in the movie, someone gets their wig yanked off, and their eyebrows disappear, and they get super-strength, and they go on a killing spree.
So I gave some thought to what this movie was “about”. Tried to figure out what the overriding theme, meaning or message was. I didn’t get very far. That’s not to say that it doesn’t have one. A smarter person than me could probably figure it out quicker, or I could devote some more time to it, but neither of those things is happening in my house tonight. The movie isn’t as surreal as I feel like people think it is. But maybe I’m imagining that perception of it. It’s not like people are knocking on my door on a Friday night to tell me that Sante Sangre doesn’t make any sense. One reason (among many) for that is because it does make sense. It’s pretty linear, really, and not even very opaque. There’s very little that happens that it isn’t immediately obvious why it’s happening, either because it’s progressing the plot or expressing the characters’ emotions. Okay, so I just talked a lot about what this movie isn’t, so let’s talk about what it is for a minute. Jorodowsy is one of those directors that even when his work is surreal, it still has the weight of purpose. The man has vision, whatever that means, and you never feel like you’re being shown a bunch of sketchbook images. It’s a narrative, even when it’s a naked man perched on a branch, you can sense the machinations behind it, even if you don’t quite know how they work. This weight of purpose allows us to give ourselves over to the film, which Jorodowsy uses to unsettle and horrify us. A lot of feelings watching this. None of them pleasant, but deeply felt. Not just scared or grossed out, I mean that happens too, but most notably deeply unsettled in a way that makes you feel like Jorodowsy is touching on not just your own but everyone’s subconscious.
When I rented this movie I was told that it was a sort of proto-Tim Burton piece. There are definite Tim Burton flourishes, from the Gorey-esque imagery to the Danny Elfman sounding score, but I might be more inclined to describe it as a cross between Terry Gilliam and Evil Dead. The story revolves around a young seminarian who is forced to pray for three nights over the corpse of a young woman he accidentally beat to death. It’s pretty much just about the horror, but if a theme can be found it’s the dogged determination that people can have of denying their mistakes, and the consequences that can bring (namely, a bunch of herky-jerky monsters crawling out of the walls and pawing at you). I think Gilliam is a better contemporary for Viy because the production is so colorful and the mood is often so silly. Mostly as a result of it’s characters, a group of outrageously stereotypical Russians, magnificently mustachioed and drunk on Vodka. But while being a little goofy it also presents no small number of genuinely odd images. And that’s where Evil Dead comes in; the creatures twitch, convulse and relentlessly torment the protagonist much in the same way that nasties in Evil Dead did fifteen years later. Not to mention the wild camera and sound work, which make the movie feel downright modern. There are problems, mostly the erratic lighting that jumps from looking like it’s early morning to mid-afternoon from shot to shot, but overall Viy proves to be a fantastic movie to wallow in the weirdness of. 4
Observe and Report’s intentions are at odds with each other; it wants you to take it’s characters seriously but sacrifices their humanity for laughs, and it wants you to be caught up in the drama of their lives but it’s plot is too linear and it’s direction too flashy to get engrossed in. If it had picked a side in these issues it could have been either a pretty funny comedy or a really engrossing dark character study, but it ends up not really being any of these things. (It occurs to me that this is kind of a reflection of the film’s bipolar protagonist, but still, doesn’t make for a good movie.) Side note to Rogen: tone down your trailers or start making better movies. Your trailers are fantastic and set the bar way too high. 2
I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a movie straddle the comedy/horror line so successfully. You’re aways laughing with Sundown, not at it. The secret to it’s success is it’s tone; it’s almost completely a comedy.And it makes great use of it’s cast. David Carradine, Bruce Campbell and M Emmet Walsh are all excellent character actors, and all of their strengths are played to brilliantly. The attention to detail is also unusual for a production of this type. All of the background characters are fully realized, individual characters from costume to performance. An unapologetically fun movie. 3.5
I think I understand what the filmmaker was going for here- a spiritual horror film that uses artfully paced storytelling to ramp up the terror- but it never came together for me. There are some very effective sequences and actors, but more often than not the opposite was true and a lot of the result seems silly. And I don’t know why, but I just get turned off by horror movies that incorporate any kind of real-world, “ethnic” spiritualism in their proceedings. I didn’t work for me in The Serpent And the Rainbow, and it didn’t work for me here. 2.5
Six String Samurai sure has a lot of good ideas, and it presents them nicely, but that’s all it does. One fun idea after another, each followed by a fight scene, aren’t connected in any thematic way and aren’t important to the plot, so it all gets quite tiresome really quickly. Even that might have held together, but terrible (often dubbed) sound and every other shot being in molasses-vision kill whatever momentum the movie might have been able to build for itself. The lead actor makes a few neat choices, but the whole thing is trying too hard to show us how weird it is without actually being weird enough to be interesting at all. 2
It’s hard to review a movie like Stingray Sam. A film with this level of enjoyability and charm is almost immune to criticism in the eyes of the viewer. Did you have a good time watching it? No, you had a great time. Mission accomplished. But even if you decided to look at it with a critical eye you’d be hard pressed to find anything amiss; it looks beautiful, the satire is sharp, the performances are appropriately campy and the music is great. Does a comedy/musical starring cowboys in space sound good to you? Of course it does. But Stingray Sam goes beyond the novelty of it’s genre mixing in a way few do to become an overwhelming, wild, funny, even tender and most of all genuine work. 4.5