The Golden Horns (1972)

I've been wanting to review this movie for a few years now. I'd developed a slight obsession with the Swedish Pippi Longstocking films, and I believe I reviewed the first of the series on my old Myspace page. A reader commented that if I liked that one I should check out a Russian film called "Kingdom of Crooked Mirrors". I did, and I just fell in love with it. All the elements I looked for in a children's fantasy film were there. It was beautifully made, gorgeous cinematography and costumes, strange creatures, cartoonish villains and it starred two little twin girls that were so cute I could die. It made Pippi Logstocking look unimpressive by comparison. Now, this isn't a review for Kingdom of Crooked Mirrors (maybe it should be, although sadly I don't own a copy and it' been quite a few years since I saw it) but the film struck me in such a way that it became a spring board for a new obsession; Russian Fairy Tales. I did some research and discovered that the director Aleksander Rou (or sometimes Alexander Row) had an extensive career spanning decades focusing on folklore and fantasy films. As I would later find out, it didn't stop with Rou's impressive filmography. There was a whole gang of Russian filmmakers who dabbled in this exotic and dreamy sub-genre of fantasy. Amidst all of this information I was absorbing, I happened upon a copy of "Zolotye Roga"  aka "The Golden Horns".

As all of these films tend to be, it's based on a Russian Folklore tale. The story begins as two twin girls (the same two from Kingdom of Crooked Mirrors), Masha and Dasha, are picking mushrooms in the forest. They've been told not to enter a dark forbidden area, but they know they can find plenty of delicious boletus mushrooms so they go against their better judgement and enter the proverbial Forest of No Return. The area is home to many mystical things including a majestic deer with golden antlers. It's understood that this deer has the omnipotent power to protect all living creatures in the forest. Despite this guardian in the wilderness, the dark part of the forest is still an unpredictable and dangerous place. A wicked witch, Baba Yaga dwells and rules many of it's strange beasties, including your garden variety goblins and trolls. As the two girls explore the forest the creatures who dwell in it begin to stir. Under the control of the evil Baba Yaga, they kidnap the girls and bring them to her. Angered by their presence, Baba turns them into littles fawns. How precious!

Personally, I'd rather have fawn than children :-/

When their mother discovers that Masha and Dasha have been abducted she immediately sets out to rescue them. In her journey she encounters much enchantment which aid her in her conquest...

  • The elements; the Sun, the Moon and the Wind
  • a magical bun of bread
  • Talking animals. Dogs, cats, bears, et cetera.
  • mushroom sprites (yay!)
  • and of course the Deer with the Golden Horns who seems to have a psychic connection to all things organic

The enchanted loaf of bread.

As I attempt to get into specifics delving into the whole fantastic story I find myself going into endless ellipses in my admittedly inadequate analysis of the Golden Horns. "And then, there's this magical thing and then this magical thing happens, and omg, it was so magical". There are only so many synonyms for MAGICAL. Golden Horns combines a charming handmade quality with an unobtainable magnetism that you long to be apart of. As if you've stepped right into a book of Russian fables. Everything's perfectly in place as if it were written by yourself in some other lifetime. I can't speak for it's original Russian audience, but seeing it with a fresh pair of eyes in modern day it feels so foreign and otherworldly as a fairy tale should. As I continue to discover more Russian Fanstasy films I find this unnameable quality but never so saturated with a warm and innocent charisma as the Golden Horns. Even in the moments of slapstick and childish antics it remains completely self aware. With it's hand painted sets and dramatic lighting it's reminiscent of a stage play, with shades of Georges Melies and Mario Bava. More expressive than realistic, setting the perfect atmosphere for a whimsical fable. I might also add that Arkadi Filipenko's beautiful score accompanies the visuals with an aria of excitement and fancy befitting to a classic ballet.

The film even has life size Matryoshka dolls. Is there no end to the charm??

Baba Yaga is quite a character herself. A common villain in many Russian Folklore tales. A hag-like witch who hates (and in some version EATS) small children. She lives in a house that (no joke) walks around on chicken legs. In the Golden Horns, she's played by male actor Georgi Millyar. Millyar also played Baba Yaga in the first Soviet fantasy film "Vasilissa Prekrasnaya" ("Vasilissa the Beautiful" 1939), which was also Aleksandr Rou's first film. He would go on to appears in many of Rou's fantasy films as a colorful villain. Every time I hear the name "Baba Yaga" I help but think of my earliest frame of reference, the Italian horror movie by the same name aka "Kiss Me, Kill Me" or "Baby Yaga, Devil Witch". I saw a poorly dubbed heavily cut version many years ago, now that I've become more familiar with the character I should re-visit it properly to see where it fits in within the realm of folklore and witchery.

One thing I've noticed about Rou's films, Golden Horns in particular, is his abundant use of live animals. In between scenes we see an ample footage of furry creatures in their natural habitats. Birds, squirrels, rabbits, bears (dancing bears, no less), more birds, cute badger-like creatures. A proverbial woodland wonderland! The happy ending is even sealed with a kiss by offering it's audience a montage of all the animals in the film dancing and being cute set to cheerful music.

love that guy.

 Aleksandr Rou passed away in 1973, which according to IMDB was 10 months before the release of The Golden Horns. However I've noticed other websites referencing the film as having been released in 1972. Either way, the Golden Horns is his very own swan song. Lyrically capping off an extraordinary career and serving as a lovely grand finale. I can only imagine how many young minds his films expanded in the Soviet Union during those politically wrought decades. I wish I could live in this worlds that Aleksandr Rou created! I also that wish I had discovered these films when I was a kid wondering why there weren't more dark and whimsical movies like Labyrinth and Return to Oz. It would be years later that I realized the only option is to go backwards. It's a shame that these films don't have a larger output here in America, but like everything else, they're out there somewhere. And for every wild movie there's an equally wild audience waiting to discover it. I'm putting serious effort into working my way through his entire filmography. You can be sure that I'll reviewing as many as I can right here. In fact, I plan on reviewing more offbeat children's and fantasy films in general in the upcoming months. The weirder and less accessible, the better!

Until next time, watch out for those Mushroom Sprites!


The Mafu Cage (1978)

I've been wanting to see the Mafu Cage since I first laid eyes on it's provocative poster art. I found it in the cult section at Amoeba and it's been beckoning me every time I've skimmed by in the past year. I ended up with some store credit so I decided to make the leap for a few curiosities, Mafu Cage was at the top of the list. It's a challenge to attempt compartmentalizing this bizarre film into any given category. It's often mis-classified as horror and although it definitely contains some terrifying themes, the film itself is about as erratic and unpredictable as the character it surrounds.

Carol Kane plays "Cissy", a delusional young woman who was never able to move on from her childhood in Africa and the death of her Anthropologist father. Her sister Ellen, played by Lee Grant, promised their late father to always take care of Cissy no matter how extreme her peculiar behavior may be. It was his belief that as long as Cissy could be kept busy in her natural environment that she'd be just fine. To accommodate her eccentricities they turned the living room into a jungle. Plants, tribal music, African decor and a giant cage for Cissy's "Mafu". Although it's never quite explained what a "Mafu" is, she uses it in reference to her pet monkeys. Perhaps it's a term she picked up from an African tribe. Her sister allows her to keep an ape around to illustrate as she did for her father's research. It's obvious that Ellen allows this, not for research, but to keep Cissy content.

The problem (or one of the many problems) with Cissy is that she's given to hysterical outbursts that end with a violent attack on her pet monkey. In a fit of childish rage, she suddenly becomes angry when it doesn't obey her. She throws a temper tantrum and inevitably ends up killing the poor creature when she can't have her way. Ellen doesn't know what to do, she tries cutting her off but Cissy's dramatic suicide attempts and meltdowns make Ellen give in every time. It's not until she actually witnesses the slaying of an orangutan that she finally refuses Cissy's request for yet another replacement Mafu. Unfortunately, Cissy's homicidal tendencies are taken beyond animals when a man Ellen is romantically interested in comes into the picture. This aspect of the film leads us into all kinds of demented incestuous lesbian overtones between Ellen and Cissy. Ellen seems to wants a chance at a normal life but based on her intimate relationship with her sister (perhaps being isolated in Africa during adolescence?) she knows she can never really have one. During one especially verbally graphic scene Cissy reminds Ellen that it's been a long time since shes made her "gush". Wow, gross. Cissy even insinuates in one scene that she's partaken in sexual activities with her Mafus. It's fairly obvious at any given moment in the film that there will be no happy ending for these two.

Although certain elements were a little hard to watch (animal killing is always a tough pill to swallow), I found the Mafu Cage to be a fascinating character study. I've always had a great affection for Carol Kane. Ever since I was 5 or so and saw her in Scrooged as "the Ghost of Christmas Present" where she channels some sort of nutzoid Glinda the Good Witch. She's cute, awkward and severely under used as a serious actress. She always struck me as this pixie-esque incarnation of Bette Davis. Sadly her unconventional looks and funny voice have had her typecast in mostly comedy, bit parts and character roles. After seeing the Mafu Cage I'm more convinced than ever that she's one of my favorite actresses. Lee Grant, although a fantastic actress, didn't interest me much in this film. The Mafu Cage is all about Carol Kane being exhaustingly fervorous, seductive and primal. The other characters are just there to set up Cissy's next catastrophe.

It's hard to judge whether or not anyone else would like this film. I can't see it appealing to many people. The elements I found compelling seem to walk a tight rope between whimsical and adverse. It's exotic and visually striking. Cissy's clothes and artistic style are so alluring and primitive. She's a sexy and appealing character who you desperately want to see cozily adapted to her element. Much like Lota in Island of Lost Souls, she's wild thing you want to study. I found it conflicting for such a stimulating character to participate in such reprehensible actions. Certain aspects of the film felt distinctly feminine, perhaps the pleasantries of having a female director? On the other hand, the confinement and pulsating atmosphere is so stifling that the feral nature of the main character takes center stage.

It's not difficult to see why this film has not quite found an audience. It's easy to classify the unclassifiable as "cult" when a film contains such convoluted algorithms. But what is it a cult film without a cult following? With such a unique vision and subversive material it's certainly deserving of a devoted flock of admirers. I'd love to hear some others' thoughts on the film. This one seems to have completely mis-fired to the point of abysmal obscurity. I can't promise you'll like it, but for fellow explorers who share my self-destructive curiosity, you may find yourself hypnotized by this feverish example of unrestrained captivity within the tightly wound barriers of psychopathia sexualis.


Creating Rem Lezar (1989)

What better way to celebrate April Fools than to spotlight a video that's a complete aberration on humanity. Creating Rem Lezar is a bit of an anomaly. Considered to be a holy grail of sorts by many collectors of found footage. It's a straight to video children's musical meant to inspire some kind of critical thinking and develop social skills. I'm sure all it ever accomplished was inflicting irreparable psychological damage.

The story follows two kids, a boy named Zack and a girl named Ashley. They're both constantly getting in trouble for daydreaming. What else do that have in common other than being lame and having no friends? They share a "special" imaginary friend named Rem Lezar. A gown man dressed as a superhero with a blue mullet. They love Rem Lezar, and who wouldn't?

One day in ceramics class Ashley notices Zack molding a life like sculpture of Rem Lezar. She comes over to inquire about his inspiration for the piece and he tells her to "go braid her hair or something". And this kid has no friends? She explains her demented friendship with Rem Lezar. Of course he's real, if he's not then who's the strange man sneaking into her bedroom at night to sing sad songs while watching her sleep? She then exasperates "you see, a girl CAN understand Rem Lezar". But can we really? I might not want to understand a man who wears tights and stands over small children's beds at night. No, Ashley, I think you're the one who doesn't understand Rem Lezar, that goes double for you Zack. This isn't a matter of boy and girl this is a matter of AMBER ALERT.

Despite their differences, they bond on the fact that they share the same friend and no one believes them. They decide to make Rem Lezar real. How do you make a friend? With mannequin parts apparently. In an extremely disturbing display of delusional behavior, the children put together a make-shift Rem Lezar out of pieces they found god-knows-where. Where do find a blue leotard for an adult male on short notice? Surprised that he's still an inanimate object they sing possibly the most terrifying off-key song in this entire disaster. It works! He comes to life and joins them in their mournful dirge. He cradles them to sleep singing...all alone in an empty barn. How am I watching this?

"Eight year olds, Dude"

The real fun begins when they wake up the next morning and find that it wasn't a dream. Rem Lezar IS real. The began an adventure to find the one accessory missing from his ensemble. The Quixtoic Medallion. What makes it "quixtotic"? Nothing. My guess is the writer wanted to throw a cool word in there so they put a figure 8 on a saucer, spray painted it gold and called it "quixotic". What's even better is that at the end there are literally credits for "Quixotic Medallion Construction". Which is now going to be code for when I have to take a shit, because that's exactly what Creating Rem Lezar has done to my life.

Come to find out there's a bad guy in this movie! (Aside from this fruity pedophile following these two kids around) We also have Vorock, a giant pixelated video toaster head. He reveals that he's stolen the Quixotic Medallion because he has no friends. He hints that he's hidden the medallion at the "highest point of the mind". Whoa. Rem asks the kids what they think is the highest point of the mind? Zack says a mountain. Ashley says a skyscraper in NYC. Which struck me as some blatant adults-writing-what-they-think-a-stupid-kid-would-say answer. My answer would have been "A flying unicorn. duh.". For the record, the correct answer ended up being "love". "Love" is the highest point of the mind. See what they did there?

CRL makes feeble attempts at being educational or enriching in some way, but fails miserably. At the end of the movie the credits list several P.H.D.'s and Psychotherapy clinics, which leads me to believe this was funded by such organizations. Which also leads me to believe it was shown to patients. Which leads me back to my original statement of Creating Rem Lezar causing irreparable damage to young minds. Could you imagine if a child who had actually been victimized saw this film? Horrifying.

A few notations I jotted down while watching Creating Rem Lezar, but couldn't quite figure out how to work them into my summary...

  • "Adults are Assholes"
  • "Creepy Pedophile Pansy Magical Disaster"
  • "I Can Touch, I Can Feel" (direct quote)
  • "Homosexual Rockapella + Rapping"
  • "Oddly Placed Violin Solo" (best part of the movie actually, made me want bust out some Ponty)
  • "A LOT of singing. a lot."
  • "Little Tot-Tots" (direct quote)
  • "Heavy Philosophical Bullshit"
  • "Bullshit Bullshit Bullshit"

For the longest time I thought the title of the movie was "Creating R.E.M. Lasers"...which was something I desperately wanted to learn. Still do. Anyone have THAT movie?

There's so much to say about this mind fuck that you can't really began OR end any kind of logical dissertation. I didn't know where to start this thing and I don't know how to finish. This 48 minute feature is like that awful quixotic medallion. An infinite symbol of tackiness and despair. Much like my life now that I can't go back and un-see it. Honestly though, it was a delight! I'd like to have been inebriated or at least amongst friends but the truth is, it was a blast to watch. Even alone in your apartment surrounded by cats.You can watch the whole thing in six parts on youtube.

Fun Fact: Rem Lezar is the guy that sang that stupid fucking Snickers song. Good to know that those golden pipes took him somewhere in life.