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The Strange Stuff: Cinemania at Tribeca 2011

At Tribeca’s Cinemania program, the weirder, the better. A diverse collection of eight horror, crime, and sex films, the fest’s genre slate features a few too many retreads this year, including two found-footage Blair Witch Project knockoffs in Grave Encounters and The Trollhunter. But its three best selections, all unhinged and going for broke, deliver the gory and gonzo goods.

Beyond the Black Rainbow
Panos Cosmatos’s sci-fi saga is a head-scratcher, a patience-tester, and a mind-bender. Set in an alterna-reality 1983, its tale—of a lunatic research doctor, his young female patient/captive, and happiness-producing pills that lead to alien madness—is unadulterated oblique insanity told via a pastiche style indebted not just to famed auteurs like Kubrick and Argento but also ’70s and ’80s future-fantasy B-movies. Whether it all makes sense is irrelevant; it’s a dystopian nightmare of inkblot hellholes, psychic powers, and bald demons into which one doesn’t enter so much as plummet.

Underwater Love
A musical variation of a Japanese soft-core porn pink film shot by famed cinematographer Christopher Doyle (In the Mood for Love, Hero) with a stylized naturalism that amplifies the material’s absurdity, Shinji Imaoka’s ode to eternal love marries surreal whimsy and earnest empathy. The story of a fish-factory worker whose life is complicated by the arrival of a dead high school crush who’s now a kappa—a mythical man-creature with a beak, tortoise shell, and hairless scalp—this bizarro romance randomly indulges flights of song-and-dance fancy set to tunes by French-German duo Stereo Total, as well as serves up multiple bouts of explicit interspecies eroticism.

Saint
Dick Maas’s Santa Claus slasher film repurposes genre conventions to amusing ends, imagining Holland’s version of the jolly old soul as a Freddy Krueger fiend who, burned alive for heinous crimes centuries earlier, returns to wreak havoc on the naughty and nice. If never outright frightful, it remains a jokey and reverential Wes Craven–via–John Carpenter riff fit for a midnight bill.

 
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