INLAND EMPIRE (2006)

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Director: David Lynch

Stars: Laura Dern, Justin Theroux, Jeremy Irons

Admittance to Lynch fans only

I remember when I watched Inland Empire for the first time. You could say that I was something of a David Lynch virgin as I had only seen The Elephant Man, Wild At Heart and Mulholland Drive. I have since devoured everything and anything he’s put his hands on from his earliest short film, Six Men Getting Sick to his bizarre animated series, Dumbland. Inland Empire is definitely jumping into the deep end though if you’ve only seen a handful of Lynch’s stuff, so I was either going to sink or swim. Luckily for me I sat there completely spellbound throughout the hefty 180 minute acid trip and was left completely shaken by what I had just seen. It was the film which turned me from a fan and into a super-fan.

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This isn’t the normal reaction to Inland Empire though. Even the most die-hard Lynch fans find massive fault with it and I can completely understand this viewpoint. This is a film which defies description. Some people liken it to David Lynch shooting random crap on a cheap digital camcorder, but I think it’s important to approach the film as you would with a piece of art or music. It’s a feeling and you either get it or you don’t. I could write an essay about how Cher’s ‘Believe’ is the best song of all time but if you hear it and don’t like it then nothing’s going to change your mind. Inland Empire is not something you can casually stick on and watch whilst playing on your phone, it’s a film which requires your absolute fullest attention. Your eyes can’t afford to leave the screen otherwise the magic will be ruined. Forget everything you know about coherent plots and movies, this is something which you have to truly immerse yourself and get lost in.

It has that lucid dream-like quality to it just like Mulholland Dr, but this time even more so. If Mulholland Drive was a dream captured on camera, then Inland Empire is a full-blown nightmare. It made me feel as if I was turning insane (in a good way). If David Lynch aimed to get his audience in the same twisted mind-set as his protagonist then he certainly succeeded. The film was a total mind funk from start to finish. I have never taken drugs before, but this is what I would imagine a ‘bad trip’ feels like. It’s exactly like experiencing a dream because dreams feel like they’re going on forever when you’re in them, yet when you wake up you can only remember bits and pieces. Inland Empire is three hours long and yet I find it difficult to recall most scenes. It feels like it’s going on forever when you’re watching it and not long at all, all at the same time. It’s the closest you will ever come to experiencing a dream whilst awake.

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You could argue that Inland Empire does lack a strong plot. Whilst Mulholland Drive by no means has a coherent and linear narrative, there is still a strong sense of a plot and a lot of it is open to deep analysis and interpretation. However, Inland Empire will have you utterly bemused right from the black and white opening which sees a blurred-faced Polish girl interacting in a hotel room. That’s not to say that there is no plot though, I just wouldn’t worry about it too much on the first viewing, just go with the flow and let the madness wash over you. It somehow manages to be grossly unwatchable, yet utterly hypnotic. I remember first watching the film and thinking that this is either the worst film of all time, or the greatest.

Most people don’t class Inland Empire as a horror film, however it’s one of the very scariest films I have ever seen and I don’t scare easily! The look of the film is very early Lars Von Trier, as it was shot on a digital camera, which adds a very raw and real edge to the film. It feels like you’re experiencing a nightmare first-hand. There are some very claustrophobic moments where the camera is right up to the actor’s face and some moments which will chill you to the core. If you jumped at the Winkie’s Diner scene in Mulholland Drive then wait until you see Laura Dern’s face in this (no offence to Laura, you’ll see what I mean).

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Talking of Laura Dern, what a performance she gives in this! If the film was more accessible then people would be calling this a performance for the ages and she would’ve rightly won the Academy Award. It’s also important to note that Dern wasn’t even given a complete script so she was as in the dark as us in regards to what the heck is going on. David would write the film as the shoot was going on and give Laura a freshly written page of script each day. I’d also like to mention the extraordinary music used in the film which adds the unsettling atmosphere. Composed by Marek Zebrowski and Lynch himself, some of it is reminiscent of The Shining and a piece of music from The Shining is even used at one point which is delightful.

If you’re going to watch Inland Empire then it’s important to do it right. Set aside three hours at night time and make sure there are zero distractions. Put your kids and partner to bed, make sure you’re comfortable and switch your phone off. Make sure you have a sizable TV with good sound, pop in the disc, press play and do not take your eyes off the screen. If you follow these tips then you should find yourself feeling lost in a nightmarish labyrinth that will seemingly never end. It’s not always a pleasant experience, but it’s certainly like nothing you’ll ever see again. In some ways, Inland Empire is the epitome of David Lynch’s gorgeous filmography.

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10 insanely weird movies to haunt your dreams!

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It dawned on me one day that I’ve seen quite a fair share of strange movies. I’m attracted to them… I don’t mean sexually of course because that would be weird! It’s just that I find the weirdest films are often the most memorable and can leave quite a big impression on your subconscious. I tend to be drawn to films that I’m going to remember the next day and so I find myself watching some very strange films indeed. Sometimes I take a good long look at myself and think, “What am I doing with my life?” Not all of these films are good films as I’ve decided to primarily focus on the weirdest. Now, please bear in mind ladies and gentlemen that I haven’t seen every weird film there is. I still have yet to see films like: Naked Lunch, Brazil and Begotten, so please feel free to comment below if you think there are any weirder films than the ones listed here. So all that’s left for me to say is please sit back, relax and enjoy the strange and sometimes psychedelic road to Weirdsville.

10) Mulholland Drive

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Mulholland Drive isn’t just mind-numbingly brilliant, but one of the greatest films of all time. It’s certainly in my top 5 favourite films and I hope it stays there! David Lynch’s surreal masterpiece is a compelling story which features Hollywood hopeful, Naomi Watts as she tries to help amnesiac, Laura Harring discover who she is and why she has a load of dosh and a mysterious blue key on her person.

It’s a compelling, seductive and dreamlike film which features Lynch at the height of his powers. It’s completely bemusing the first time you see it, but once you read up on the fantastic theories lying around the good ol’ internet, you realise just how genius this film is. Naomi Watts is also sensational in her first role and it’s criminal that she wasn’t Oscar nominated and that it didn’t even win any of the Oscars it was nominated for (one). Examples of its strangeness include: a psychedelic jitterbug opening, a seriously scary tramp emerging from a dumpster and a two inch old couple attacking Naomi Watts. The highlight for me is the powerful scene in the mysterious ‘Club Silencio’.

Weirdness rating: 8/10

Movie rating: 10/10

9) Society

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Brian Yuzna’s 1989 masterpiece of special effects and make-up happens to be a very trippy ride indeed. It follows Baywatch’s Billy Warlock who is a very disturbed teen. He’s very paranoid and has strange hallucinations such as seeing his sister’s body in the shower being twisted around. He thinks his family (and the rest of society) are out to get him. He even listens to a tape recording of his Mum, Dad and sister having some strange threesome. Is it all in his head? Or is this rich town actually planning something rather sinister for Billy?

That’s the key question to Brian Yuzna’s horror satire which, quite literally, is about the rich sucking the poor. The film has a masterful and suspenseful build-up before exploding into a deranged array of weirdness. It features: a gooey orgy, a head coming out of a backside and man with a giant hand instead of a head! The special effects are astounding and all in all it’s a wonderful payoff. Society is a highly underrated little comedy-horror film which deserves far more attention than it has. The main theme song is also brilliantly creepy.

Movie rating- 9/10

Weirdness rating- 8/10

8) El Topo

El Topo

Unfortunately I am a bit of a newcomer to Alejandro Jodorowsky’s work and I understand that his other films (notably Santa Sangre and The Holy Mountain) are supposedly even weirder than El Topo, however I have yet to see them. El Topo definitely deserves to be on this list though.

It stars Alejandro Jodorowsky as a cowboy who claims to be God and goes around with his naked son (Jodorowsky’s actual son) killing various religious masters. The second half concerns El Topo years later, whom has since grown wild hair and is stuck in a cave with physically disabled people. They eventually escape and try to make peace within a corrupt town. El Topo is much weirder than it sounds and is largely metaphorical. It gained a cult following and John Lennon helped the film get a wider distribution which funded Jodorowsky’s next film, The Holy Mountain. The film is said to represent the new and old testament of the Bible, with the first half being much more violent and the second half being more about personal redemption through peace. I found it a little slow and boring, but I did admire the strange direction and bizarre imagery.

Weirdness rating- 9/10

Movie rating- 6/10

7) Visitor Q

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A lot of people joke about watching Visitor Q with their families, because the film is about a deranged and dysfunctional family who commit acts such as incest, necrophilia and domestic abuse. However, I actually did make the mistake of watching this with my family. Mum, Dad, sister and dog all sat down to watch this delightful slice of depravity. We all had very different reactions, but it’s a film we’re very unlikely to forget.

Takeshi Miike’s taboo-breaking horror film has developed a strong cult following over the years thanks to its unflinching approach to disturbing violence. The film is shot on a very low budget camera, giving everything a very unnerving and raw quality about it. It opens with a father having sex with his daughter and the scene feels like it’s going on forever! It’s seriously uncomfortable viewing. Whilst I found it too slow in some places and plotless, I couldn’t help but become fascinated by its incredible strangeness. It features huge lactating nipples, a strangely hilarious case of rigor mortis and a vagina which excretes faecal matter. Like I said, don’t watch this with your family! The strangest thing is that this isn’t even Takeshi Miike’s most peculiar film…

Weirdness rating: 9/10

Movie rating: 7/10

6) Gozu

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By a hair or two, Gozu actually manages to outdo Visitor Q on the weirdness scale and ends up being the most bizarre film I’ve seen so far from Miike. Gozu follows a Yakuza enforcer who has been given the task to assassinate his colleague. However, this colleague goes missing and the Yakuza enforcer ends up lost in an extraordinarily strange town with extraordinarily strange inhabitants!

Many have tried to analyse what the film is trying to say and it has been compared to Lynch, however I’m in the camp that thinks that this is just Miike messing with his audience. At the beginning a man says to another man, “Everything I’m about to tell you is a joke. Don’t take it seriously.” Thus, I think that Takeshi Miike is just trying to take the Mick out of people who over-analyse films. Gozu is sensationally weird. Just like Visitor Q is has crazy lactating nipples, but on top if that it also features a huge cow’s head licking a man and a woman giving birth to fully grown man. I don’t want to spoil too much about it though, because it really is a strange and memorable experience. I would’ve liked it a lot more if it had been cut down though. There were a few surprisingly drawn out and boring parts which took away from my enjoyment of the film. It’s still worth a watch though!

Weirdness rating: 9/10

Movie rating: 6/10

4) Holy Motors

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We’re going to jump out of Japan now and leave Takeshi Miike’s strange world behind us as we hop on the plane to France to encounter an arguably stranger world. Leos Carax doesn’t make films very often and Holy Motors was his 9 year comeback, but what a comeback it is!

Holy Motors is a fantastical love letter to filmmaking and just goes to show what a creative and highly entertaining thing film can be. It follows a man called Mr. Oscar (perhaps named after the much sought after award?) who travels around in a limo driven by Edith Scob and attends various ‘appointments’ where he dresses up in a variety of different guises and performs. The film never tells us what these appointments are about, so the film is open to a lot of interesting interpretation. These guises Oscar takes on vary quite considerably. They range from an elderly beggar woman to a CGI snake creature. At one point Oscar (rather entertainingly) transforms himself into a hideous plant-eating hunchback who kidnaps Eva Mendes and takes her to his sewer dwelling. Holy Motors is an insane film which you either love or hate. I happen to be in the former category. I loved its dreamlike quality and the way you get sucked into each scene is pretty mesmerising. Denis Lavant (who plays Oscar) also shows off his extraordinary talent. He shows more range in one film than most actors can in their whole career. The film also looks incredible. The highlight for me was probably Kylie Minogue’s moving scene where she sings about a lost love.

Weirdness rating: 10/10

Movie rating: 9/10

4) Taxidermia

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We take a short trip to Hungary now where things are about to get very weird indeed. Gyorgy Palfi’s anthology film dips its toes into three different genres. The first story is a kind of surreal drama about a sexually frustrated man during the Second World War; who lives under the heel of his lieutenant. He fantasises about having sex all the time, but the closest thing he comes to intercourse is sticking his penis through a hole in his shack, only to have a hen come and peck it (or should I say, cock!) However, fantasy begins to blur with reality and he ends up getting the lieutenant’s wife pregnant. Oh, and did I mention that he can shoot fire out of his penis?

The second (and weakest) segment follows the sexually frustrated man’s bastard child and the film decides to head towards the comedy route. He grows up to be a terrific speed eater and all this segment is keen on showing us is him and his obese wife eating and vomiting in equal measure. The final story enters into the horror route. It follows the obese man’s son, who is ironically anorexic and a taxidermist. He cares for his father who is now literally bigger than Jabber-the-hut and overfeeds his cats. Things take an extremely disturbing turn when the taxidermist decides to use his talents on creatures other man animals. Taxidermia is incredibly surrealistic. It develops a rich tapestry of striking and unforgettable images. The film is also very well directed (the 360 degree camera sequence is particularly impressive) and acted. It’s just a shame that the second segment is so dull, and it takes up most of the film, unfortunately. Taxidermia is also ultimately pointless, but it’s undeniably fascinating and utterly unforgettable. I’ve only seen it once; roughly 4 years ago and I still remember it vividly.

Movie rating- 6/10

Weirdness rating- 10/10

3) INLAND EMPIRE

INLAND EMPIRE

A list of weird films wouldn’t be complete without a few films from movie maestro, David Lynch. Inland Empire is his last feature length film (come on David, get out there and make some more movies!) but it’s one hell of a film to go out on. Inland Empire has divided opinion in a monumental way. You either think it’s one of the worst films ever made, or one of the best. I fall into the latter option, however even Lynch’s most die-hard fans find inland Empire difficult to love.

At three hours long, Inland Empire is no easy ride. It’s an utter assault on the senses and trying to explain the plot would be nigh on impossible and the most David is going to give away about it is that it’s about “a woman in trouble.” It follows actress Laura Dern, playing actress Nikki Grace, whose life becomes increasingly nightmarish and surreal. It’s one of the scariest experiences of my life and its best enjoyed on your own with the lights out. Inland Empire is pure art and can’t be put into words. When you’re watching it, it doesn’t feel like you’re watching a film but, having a nightmare. It’s something you simply experience. Suffice to say, you’ll never forget the eerie family of rabbits or seriously frightening warped image of Laura Dern that flashes up on the screen without notice. You have to see it to believe it.

Weirdness rating: 10/10

Movie rating: 9/10

2) Conspirators of Pleasure

Conspirators of Pleasure

Jan Svankmajer’s “comedy” is speechless in more ways than one. It’s quite literally speechless as there is no written dialogue in this Czechoslovakian film which takes weirdness to a whole new level. Jan Svankmajer is possibly the weirdest director no one has ever heard of! His other catalogue of films include his own twisted stop-motion take on Alice in Wonderland (Alice), a fable about a piece of wood turning into a child (Little Otik) and a horror film about inmates taking over an asylum complete with dancing steaks and Ox tongue (Lunacy). Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it) I have yet to see these films, but if Conspirators of Pleasure is anything to go on, then they surely can’t get any weirder. Can they?

Conspirators of Pleasure follows the lives of 6 people who are all entwined in an apartment building. They may look fairly ordinary to you and I, but they all indulge in secret fetishes which become uncovered as the film goes on. If you don’t want to know what happens, then quickly press the ‘Next’ button before I spoil it all for you! I should let you know that I pretty much hated the film, and would be saving you a lot of time if you read what I have to say…: A letter-carrier sucks balls of bread up her nose, a woman shoves a carp up her vagina, her husband lets a rolling pin covered in actual pins roll up and down his body, a man creates his very own masturbating machine, whilst another man creates a chicken costume and unnervingly flies around in the most disturbing use of stop motion animation I’ve ever seen. The film is billed as a comedy, but I found it incredibly disturbing and strangely dull. There is no plot or deep characterisation as not a word is spoken in its 80 minutes. Still, if you’re after something seriously bizarre and twisted, then you couldn’t really go wrong with this. It’s bizarrely quite well-acclaimed, but it didn’t really do it for me.

Weirdness rating: 10/10

Movie rating: 2/10

1) Eraserhead

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“What? How could it get any weirder!?” I hear you cry! Well, who else could top a woman inhaling dough balls up her nostrils but no other than David Lynch? Now, don’t get me wrong. We’ve now been through a lot of strange films, but Eraserhead is really the only one on the list which is constantly weird. As soon as you hit play, you’re neck deep in the bizarre and frankly terrifying world of Henry Spencer and Lynch doesn’t let up until the very last frame. It’s an extraordinary debut and there’s honestly nothing else like it around. Eraserhead isn’t a film you watch, but a film you feel. To truly appreciate it, you have to let yourself go and become immersed in the frightening world which Lynch has lovingly created.

Poor young David slaved over this film for three years and even ended up sleeping in the same bed as Henry for over a year. All of it was worth it though. Even directing legend (and friend of Lynch), Stanley Kubrick loved the film and made the cast of his masterpiece, The Shining, watch Eraserhead to get in the right frame of mind. No one knows what the film is actually about, and no one ever will. Although, Lynch has said that in all these years he still hasn’t heard the correct interpretation. There’s no point trying to explain the plot, because that’s something you have to figure out for yourself. The film is an utter dreamscape which combines unsettling industrial sounds with startling, surrealist black and white photography. A man with groovy hair walks around a possible dystopian future and encounters a series of strange events. One involves a moving tiny roast chicken which spurts some sort of liquid out and another involves a seriously creepy chipmunk lady who sings in a radiator and also stamps on sperm. Eraserhead is one hell of a trip, and it’s a trip which thoroughly exhilarated me.

Weirdness rating- 10/10

Movie rating- 10/10

So that’s me done. What did I miss out?

Blue Velvet (1986)

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Director: David Lynch

Cast: Kyle Maclachlan, Laura Dern, Dennis Hopper, Isabella Rossellini

David Lynch is the king of filmmaking!

It seems like Blue Velvet has had the same effect Eraserhead on me. I didn’t have the same strong physiological reaction to Blue Velvet, but I sort of have the same psychological effect, in the sense that I can’t stop thinking about it. I finished watching Blue Velvet last night but it feels as if I haven’t gone to sleep. When I was lying in bed all I could think about was Blue Velvet and I even had a dream about Blue Velvet. Waking up now, all I can still think about is Blue Velvet! I was painfully excited to see it. David Lynch happens to be my favourite director of all time, and Blue Velvet always seems to get rave reviews even from people who aren’t fans of Lynch.

I was pumping myself up for Blue Velvet so much. I planned exactly when I was going to watch it and prepared my own mental countdown to the day. Watching a new film by David Lynch is a massive event for me, because you can only see his films once. I can never watch Mulholland Dr. (my favourite Lynch film, and one of my favourite ever films period) the same bemused way I watched it the first time. I can’t put my excitement into words when I actually popped the disc in and was getting ready to press ‘Play Movie’. What followed was 2 hours of me looking awe-struck.

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Blue Velvet is a masterpiece and quite possibly the best thriller I’ve ever seen. If any other director was given a story like this in the 80’s then they would’ve made it exceedingly bland and conventional. However, in the hands of our God (David Lynch) he has created a thoroughly absorbing and seductive piece of work which can proudly sit with his other insane masterpieces. Blue Velvet is definitely one of his more linear works. It’s easy to understand (though not as shockingly normal as The Elephant Man or The Straight Story) yet it still evokes a sense of power and magic you can’t put into words.

Much has been said about the brilliant opening which lifts a beautiful blue curtain to reveal a bright and beautiful American town (not dissimilar to Twin Peaks) only to then change its tone rapidly by depicting a man having a stroke. The camera then mesmerizingly pushes through the green grass to reveal a dark and revolting world where bugs crawl. This is of course the basis of the film. Not everything is as it seems, and what goes on behind closed doors can be more disturbing than anything you can imagine. As Jeffrey and Sandy say throughout the film, “it’s a strange world.”

The film begins as a chirpy mystery. It evokes the atmosphere of a 50’s noir with the fantastic dramatic music and simple mystery plot. It also has the innocent love interest, Laura Dern, who is brilliant here as she is in Wild at Heart and Inland Empire, although Inland Empire features undoubtedly her greatest performance. The mystery begins when Jeffrey (Kyle Maclachlan, playing almost the same character as detective Dale Cooper) finds a human ear on his walk home. There’s a fantastic wholesome quality about Jeffrey. He seems like the innocent young lad who’s after a bit of adventure. This makes it all the more interesting when the mystery becomes so intense that it starts showing a darker side to Jeffrey’s character.

Blue Velvet is a gripping yarn, but it becomes all the more gripping when Jeffrey starts hiding in the apartment of the mysterious singer, Dorothy (wonderfully played by Isabella Rossellini). I don’t want to spoil what happens because it’s one of the greatest moments in the film. It’s when the atmosphere turns from being innocent and lively to unbelievably dark and disturbing. It’s a classic Lynch scene which feels very nightmarish and dreamlike as it’s very long and drawn-out, which in turn sucks you in. I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen, even though what was happening was not pleasant to watch.

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You might’ve guessed that the scene in question features Dennis Hopper as the legendary Frank Booth. Here Dennis is a deranged mass of energy, not too dissimilar to Day Lewis’ immortal Daniel Plainview, only Booth is less calculating. He’s a frightening sado-masochist who reacts purely on instinct and bizarrely inhales some sort of gas when he gets himself worked up. Obviously this performance was far too daring and memorable for the academy as Hopper wasn’t even up for a gong!

Lynch brilliantly puts the audience in the shoes of Jeffrey. We feel ourselves becoming more and more sucked in to the mystery and succumbing to the seductive and hypnotic dreamlike atmosphere. The film probably reaches its disturbing peak when Booth takes Jeffrey for a joyride and we’re introduced to his strange and psychotic friends. The lip-synch to ‘In Dreams’ is just classic Lynch and so beautifully haunting.

Whilst Blue Velvet isn’t quite as wonderfully layered or as surreal as Mulholland Drive or Inland Empire, it’s still an incredibly piece of work. This is the work of a true magician who has a passion for Hollywood’s golden age and is desperate to revive it, whilst still adding his own distinctive brush strokes. David Lynch is one of the few directors who realises that film is an art and when done correctly, it can take you on a mesmerising journey and evoke feelings and emotions you didn’t know you had. Blue Velvet is a beautiful film with incredible music and a moving ending. It’s one of the greatest films I’ve seen.
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