The Holy Mountain,
and six more movies

The Neverending Film Festival

Today we have two subversive stories that don't really work as stories, but one of them is great anyway. The other isn't. Also, the first and still one of the grandest and most paranoid of paranoid political thrillers. Plus a couple of fairy tales, some absolute schlock, and a fine short subject.

• Beyond Atlantis (1973)
• Edward Scissorhands (1990)
• Floundering (1994)
• Hellzapoppin' (1941)
• The Holy Mountain (1974)
• The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
• Skatebang (2008)

The Holy Mountain is the one I'd recommend most enthusiastically. It's either taking religion far too seriously or mocking it marvelously, and either way it's the closest I'll come to attending worship services. Also not to be missed is Frank Sinatra in The Manchurian Candidate.

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Beyond Atlantis (1973)

Here's a monster movie that shows its ludicrous bug-eyed monster in the first scene. "Stay where you are! Don't anybody move!," someone shouts, and everybody moves.

The movie's two main male characters are both 30-something white men in psychedelic '70s shirts with exactly the same color of permed curly hair, and even they couldn't tell each other apart. The main female character swims around a lot, in a bikini.

Sid Haig has a key supporting role, and rocks it, but the movie sucks.

Verdict: NO.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Edward Scissorhands (1990)

A film by Tim Burton, starring Johnny Depp, Winona Ryder, Dianne Wiest, Alan Arkin, Kathy Baker, and Vincent fucking Price. Marvelous music by Danny Elfman, screenplay by Caroline Thompson (The Addams Family, The Secret Garden), and scissorhands effects by Stan Winston. 

Depp wears a gallon of facepaint, which after this movie became his habit. He's playing a sort-of human thing stitched together by mad scientist Vincent Price, who inexplicably gave him blades and scissors instead of hands.

This makes Edward the allegorical man who breaks, kills, or ruins everything he touches, and we all know that feeling. Avon lady Dianne Wiest adopts him, applies astringent to his many accidentally-inflicted face wounds, and then Edward meets Wiest's daughter, played by Ryder, and the music swells and he's instantly in love. 

With his scissorhands, Edward trims hedges, cuts hair, and sculpts ice, and perhaps even more than bladed fingers, his furiously fast ice sculpting — which makes snowflakes fall — is the movie's most memorable visual effect.

It's all a fairy tale, of course, and you either go with it or you don't. I went with it, all the way.

When I first saw this in 1990, maybe it helped that I had a thing for Winona Ryder, and for redheads, and they made her a strawberry blonde for this movie, which is almost a redhead, and she looks marvelous in every shot. It also helped that it was cold but dry when we walked inside the Aurora Fourplex, but snow started falling during the movie, so when we stepped outside afterward the world was covered in snow, just like the movie.

There are a lot of things wrong with it, though. Nobody's nearly as afraid as they should be of what Edward's hands could accidentally do. The town's women want to boink him, which defies common sense; if he had sex with a woman he'd accidentally kill her. As with most of the early Burton films, Edward Scissorhands is visually imaginative, but there's not much of a story, and any illusion of depth comes from Elfman's score. Price is barely in the movie, for whatever reason — he was 79, and maybe he wasn't well. And Ryder is game for it, but covering her face in latex and having her pretend to be old in the movie's first and last scenes doesn't work.

That said, dang it, I loved Edward Scissorhands when I was younger, and it still made me cry tonight.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Floundering (1994)

James Le Gros stars as a man named John, who feels sorry for himself, does a lot of existential whining, and narrates the movie. John Cusack plays his good buddy, Steve Buscimi plays another good buddy, Ethan Hawke plays his drug-addict brother, and the movie comes to life when any of those three are on the screen, but they're each only in one scene.

Mostly it's about John. He waxes philosophical about buying bread. He scowls at a sign saying not to give to the homeless. He daydreams about starting a non-profit that could help down-and-outers build careers. He's bothered by the then-recent riots in L.A., so he buys a gun (?). He ponders wealth inequality in America, and has an improbably deep conversation with several crackheads.

I agree with most of what John says in his too-talky narration, but I never warmed up to him. He's an ass.

He dates one woman (Lisa Zane) but fucks another (Olivia Barash, from Repo Man), and their sex scene is kinda repulsive. He kidnaps a third woman he's infatuated with (Maritza Rivera), and her response is to give him a blow job — not under duress, but because "I like to give blow jobs, especially to men who appreciate it."

Before the semen's been swallowed, she falls in love with this very annoying man who's snatched her at the point of a gun. "Am I going to see you again?" she asks him.

"If it's meant to be," he says, and then he borrows $40 from her, and leaves, never to return.

The story ends with several politically radical gestures that could've been moving, had the story earned it, but it feels about as honest as a "Chevron loves the environment" commercial.

I wanted to like this movie, but Floundering fought me all the way. And I wanted to write this review without describing the movie as 'floundering', but that's exactly the right word.

Verdict: NO.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Hellzapoppin' (1941)

This is a Hollywood musical send-up of Hollywood musicals, made during the height of Hollywood musicals. It's bold, and it's fun.

The opening song and dance is performed in Hell. The number is catchy, and this vision of Hell is seriously hellish — people get canned into oil drums and rolled off-stage, a woman wails for her missing lost or stolen baby, and the baby suddenly shows up, now an adult, crying, "Mommy!" and then mother and son both fall through a hole in the floor, never to be seen again.

"Any similarity between Hellzapoppin' and a motion picture is purely coincidental."

I've never seen anything quite like this movie's first ten minutes or so, but after that, Hell simmers down and the movie doesn't pop nearly so much. Most of the remaining songs are ordinary movie musical fare, as are the actors and settings. Still, there are occasional flourishes, like when characters in the movie yell at the theater's projectionist, or have a conversation in front of a bullseye, as arrows fly between them.

It's the singing and dancing granddaddy of Kentucky Fried Movie, not nearly as funny, but amazing for the 1940s.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

The Holy Mountain (1974)

This starts with two pretty women getting the hair cut and stubble shaved off their heads, to be welcomed to some sickly cult. Christ on a cross gets stoned by a bunch of kids, and climbs down to yell at them. Tourists gawk at corpses and a woman enjoys being raped. Overdressed frogs hop around in a miniature and soon blood-drenched Mexican city. A guy with tubes in his nose gets his face covered with glop. Mannequins abound, many dressed as Jesus Christ.

All this is calculated to be shocking or offensive, but it's offered in a spirit of happiness so what the hell.

"These illustrious travelers came here to find the Holy Mountain, but they prefer the Pantheon Bar. The real Holy Mountain is here, in my words, in my poems. If I write 'rose' it blooms in my hand, and the bees come to feed on my poetry."

The story eluded me, and I'm not certain there is one, but as a collection of skits and bits and outrageousness it's eminently watchable.

There's a knockout scene where ten people walk into a meeting room, and each opens a briefcase full of cash, and they burn all the money. A fisherman almost performs the miracle of the loaves and fishes, but it's only loaves because fish are expensive, and then he changes his mind and there are no loaves either. There are more naked or semi-naked people than clothed, all through the movie, and one of them climbs and literally fucks the Holy Mountain. A man with a beard on only half his face shoots milk from his nipples through a tiger cub and onto another man's face. A naked woman strokes a long metal tube until gallons of white liquid spill out.

How could anyone not want to see this movie?

Verdict: BIG YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

Screenplay by George Axelrod (Breakfast at Tiffany's, The Seven Year Itch), based on a novel by Richard Condon (Winter Kills), directed by John Frankenheimer (Birdman of Alcatraz, Seven Days in May). Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, Janet Leigh, and Angela Lansbury star. 

Sinatra and Harvey are recently returned from the Korean War, and they're haunted by nightmares that might mean something. I will give away nothing beyond that, and simply say it's a movie worth seeing, and I've seen it about a dozen times.

This is the first of the modern-era paranoid political thrillers, and dang me it's good. Because it involves a political assassination, the movie was withdrawn from distribution for 30 years after JFK took one for the team. 

Definitely not to be mistaken for the lame-ass remake with Denzel Washington. 

Verdict: BIG YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Skatebang (2008)

This is a short film, juxtaposing footage of skateboard wipeouts with images of gunmen pulling triggers, so it appears that a madman is massacring dozens of skateboarders. Over this, Madonna sings "Papa Don't Preach."

It's from Damon Packard. Five minutes, one joke told a hundred times, and it's funny every time.

Verdict: YES.


There are so many good movies out there — old movies, odd or artsy, foreign or forgotten movies, or do-it-yourself movies made just for the joy of making them — that if you only watch whatever's on Netflix or playing at the twentyplex, you're missing out.

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Top illustration by Jeff Meyer. No talking once the lights dim. Real butter, not that fake crap, on the popcorn. I try to make these reviews spoiler-free, but sometimes screw up, sorry. Piracy is not a victimless crime. Click any image to enlarge. Comments & conversations invited.   



  1. I believe that you and I saw The Manchurian Candidate and The Parallax View on a double feature at The Castro. I had seen "Candidate" before. It is an absolute great movie, and The Parallax View is pretty dang good.

    1. The Parallax View is *definitely* on my rewatch list.

    2. Parallax View is fantastic, but I like Klute much more. Parallax is almost entirely about plot, Klute is almost entirely character, and Fonda gives one of the ten best female performances ever, in my opinion. Parallax is moody as Hell, but Klute even more so.

      I also have issues with Beatty's patsy being a reporter. If he's so curious and skeptical, how did he get duped? On the one hand, that's a very cynical and dim view of the intelligence of journalists, but then that's much better than All The President's Men which is entirely naïve hero-making of the profession. I think that latter film basically ruined journalism for the last fifty years -- all the "gotcha" aspect of that business started right there, with that film, and continues today worse than ever.

      Has there ever been journalist who was a patsy? Seems more often than not that low-level military personnel or foreign nationals are the dupes.

    3. Judith Miller?

      Too long since I've seen The Parallax View for me to comment much, but yeah, as usual when smart people say something smart, I can see your perspective on All the Prez Men.

      I want there to be great reporters like Redford and Hoffman, but they turn out to be Bernstein putzes. Is Woodward a putz too? Not sure.

    4. If I were smart, I wouldn't have been a janitor or video store clerk or all the other lackey jobs I've held my whole life. More often than not I feel like Beatty in Parallax... paranoid and just waiting for the dam to unleash the water, or the shoe to drop. I should have seen it coming!

    5. I've never seen it coming either, and never tried to be smart about anything. Eventually both shoes will drop, but until then let's keep reliably making the wrong choices and having fun.


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