The other day I went to use the computer only to be shocked by a terrifying, eternal grin repeated many times over. Bill had discovered Yue Minjun and saved his picture to the desktop. I thought immediately of Aphex Twin or Being John Malkovich.
Minjun is an artist from Beijing who uses his own face, frozen in a grin, in all his paintings and sculptures, which often replicate iconic imagery such as the Terracotta Army. There’s a kind of mischief and joy to his work, which has been shown in China, London, France, and Switzerland among others.
It’s probably no secret by now that I love YouTube, I watch it more than TV. So many artistic and weird things can be found that would never previously have seen the light of day outside of a few old tapes passed from hand to hand.
So I thought I’d share with you some channels entirely devoted to bizarre, freakish or otherwise surreal animations, the kind that shows you the real odd side of YouTube. I’m guessing most people know of Cyriak, David Firth and Rachel Maclean so I picked the smaller ones lurking below the surface.
Also, last night, my boyfriend Bill uploaded the trailer to an upcoming animation of his. It’s brilliantly absurdist and dark, I’m very proud of him, and I can’t wait for you to see the whole thing.
OK, first up is Colin Raff. All his animations are roughly a minute long and they’re a little Max Ernst, a little Monty Python, and very peculiar.
Supercriminal Pregnant Pink Surprise Eggs Fun in Real Life by Colin Raff
Next up is someone whose blog I’ve been visiting on and off for a few months, and recently discovered their YouTube channel. They’re videos are mainly surreal landscapes with jolly music, or a clip of a road or beach with some kind of animated layer on the top.
Gmcfosho hasn’t uploaded anything for a few years but his parody rap videos make me chuckle. With lyrics like “Fresh up out the water like a amphibian, I’m so fresh that I got a Aunt Vivian,” and rudimentary animations he’s entertainingly daft.
Think of computer games, and what comes to mind? Call of Duty, Super Mario, or World of Warcraft? These sorts of big studio titles are well-known, but gaming has always had an indie side. Efforts have been made to unite the two: the highly anticipated No Man’s Sky promised to be the first big budget game with an indie aesthetic and endless exploration. However, the mixed reviews reveal the inevitable disappointment that comes with a hype-culture, a world where zealous fans send death threats to journalists for the crime of reporting a delayed release date.
Despite the industry’s problems, I enjoy playing games; I recently did a 24 hour game marathon for charity, and was lucky enough to have some strange titles to choose from, all on my console. Indie gaming has become a popular business, and part of this may be down to consumer boredom with the same old narratives in more mainstream games. It could also come from platforms like Steam Greenlight, where you can tout a game in the hope people will like what they see and vote for it to be made and released. There’s some utter dross out there, too, and more than a little controversy about a lack of quality control; however, there seem to be more games than ever trying to capture the weary audience’s attention or, better yet, a YouTuber looking for something weird to play.
YouTubers have been doing Let’s Play videos for years and increasingly search the fringe for something original. It pays to stand out when surrounded by clones of Uncharted or Fallout. For those unfamiliar with Let’s Plays, the premise is simple: a YouTuber captures footage of them playing a computer game, often with voiceover and on-screen video of their reactions. For the uninitiated, it may sound odd to derive enjoyment from watching someone else play a game, but many tune in for the YouTuber’s entertaining commentary. Don’t knock it: PewDiePie makes quite a good living from his unique style of play, with a reported net worth of $12 million.
If you’re looking for something a little off the beaten track, here are a handful of games which aim to deliver something different, even if that means not being to everyone’s taste…
I could write an entire post about Robert Yang’s games, and perhaps, God-willing, one day I shall. Yang is one of the most interesting creative minds to come out of the games industry in recent years. Whilst at first glance his games seem silly or merely titillating, they often have a deeper meaning. Hurt Me Plenty, for example, may just look like a game where you spank a dude, but it slowly reveals itself to be a thought-provoking take on consent.
Succulent is intended as a parody of ‘homo hop’, and the idea that male gay bodies should all conform to a certain type (toned, white, abs for days). The gameplay is simple: “Castro clone” stands before you, an ice lolly in his mouth. Your job is to move the lolly around as he sucks on it. That’s it. Oh, and then the guy also consumes other… things. Play the game and then check out Yang’s blog for an insight into his thought processes (don’t read before playing as it contains ending spoilers!!!). Succulent is available to download for pay what you want.
One of the most recent releases on this list, Virginia is part of a sub-genre of gaming often referred to as exploration games, sometimes less charitably called ‘walking simulators’. They are usually short (around 2 hours long), with minimal action required (press X here, walk there), and the focus is on the narrative. Virginia is a prime example of this. You are an FBI agent in the 1990s, sent to a little U.S. town to solve a missing persons case. However, you have your own secrets to reveal, and they’re not always pleasant ones. The twist? There is no dialogue throughout the entire story, and part of the joy is working out what the hell is going on. The game reminded me of Twin Peaks with its dream sequences, and there was more than a sly nod at an X Files influence. Play it if you can; it’s definitely an interesting experience.
A quick shoutout to Gone Home as well – another game set in the 90s, your role is to walk around your childhood home and uncover the mysteries within your family. Unlike Virginia, it has dialogue provided through diaries, letters, phone messages and voice recordings. This interactive story takes time to build characters, making you care about this supposedly everyday family before you even realise it’s happening.
Though your main task is to find out what’s happened to your little sister, the father was a surprise: he proved to be a more subtle and rewarding character than initially presented. You won’t necessarily get all the subtext straightaway, but clues about the father’s past, and what drives him, are peppered throughout.
Hatoful Boyfriend is based around the visual novel genre popular in Japan. Again narrative-focused, it’s more like watching a story unfold based on your choices. However, there are multiple endings (HB has about 14) and the point is to play through the game again and again, making different decisions to unlock the different outcomes. These kinds of games are usually dating sims, where you’re trying to pick which boy or girl to romance.
Hatoful Boyfriend takes the idea of the dating sim and puts a new spin on it. For reasons neither Jesse Cox nor I understood, you are a human girl at a school for birds. Yes. You are trying to romance birds. Talking birds, no less, ranging from a puffy aristocrat, to a deranged athlete obsessed with pudding.
Don’t ask why because it will not tell you, at least, not at first. The storylines are often bizarre and surprising; if you don’t make the correct choices, a ninja comes to murder you in the night, meaning you have to start all over. However, stick with it: a strange narrative emerges. You get a glimpse of this during a sequence where you’re travelling. There is meant to be a section unlocked if you successfully romance the ‘bad boy’ characters (helpfully called the ‘Bad Boy’ storyline), which reveals how the world came to be in this state. I’ve yet to complete it, but God speed, pigeon fanciers!
Another exploration game of sorts, Journey stole my breath away. It is, visually, one of the most beautiful games I have ever seen. You are a traveller on a journey, with the ability to flutter along the wind. As you fly around, music soars as well, creating a sense of joy and adventure.
The puzzles are interesting, though may not be challenging enough for some, especially as other, silent players will show up to demonstrate what to do next. That’s fine, though; it just means you get to spend more time appreciating the style and feel of the desert world. It is one of the most relaxing games I’ve ever played, and thoroughly charming. At less than a tenner, it’s well worth your time.
Not a game I’ve personally played, but one I’ve watched, SWYDS (because I’m not typing that out every time) is a fast-paced arcade game which sounds creepier than it is. The idea is simple: some 8-bit dads and sons are at a swimming pool (I guess?), but the sons are lost. You must guide and match the right son up to their dad and… yeah.
A somewhat subversive take on quick-reaction games, there’s a healthy sprinkling of dad jokes in here and reviewers have said it’s highly addictive as the difficulty increases. SWYDS is going for 79p on Steam at the moment, which sounds like a bargain to me.
Horror games are a staple of YouTube Let’s Plays, where players get to demonstrate their reactions to jump scares and creepiness for the audience’s viewing pleasure. The Bunker had proven a popular choice, partly for its horror storyline, but also for its visual style.
The Bunker is a psychological horror, and a fairly bleak one. Harking back to the 90s, this is a FMV game (i.e. based around filmed video, where clips play after buttons have been pressed and choices made). You guide John, a man who has grown up in a bunker after a strongly implied nuclear disaster has taken place. Now an adult and the only survivor, he’s all alone…right?
I enjoyed this whilst I played it, even if the gameplay did feel more like an interactive movie. The writing is solid and the central performance of Adam Brown as John is outstanding, looking perpetually like a lost schoolboy with too many secrets. The tense, claustrophobic atmosphere ramps up as things go wrong, and you start to wonder exactly what John has seen, or done.
That’s part 1 for now. In part 2, I’ll be looking at Reigns, The Stanley Parable, Life is Strange, The Room (a game based on the infamous cult film) and Goat Simulator.
Hello my little packets of single use HP Sauce! Welcome to another round of stuff I’ve read.
I love true crime books, the weirder the better. An honorary mention goes to Amelia Dyer and the Baby Farm Murders by Angela Buckley. Although the murder of infants is abhorrent it’s not quite odd enough to make the list. Fascinating book though and meticulously researched.
Claire and Dora Williamson were two misguided upper class sisters, believing a trip to Linda Burfield Hazzard’s isolated ‘health farm’ in the Pacific Northwest will do them the world of good. It didn’t and that’s an understatement. We follow them from hopeful, rather naive beginnings to madness, starvation and desperation, as they blindly follow Linda’s prescribed diet of a few peas and sips of broth while signing away all their worldly goods.
Written in a novelesque manner (is that a word? It is now), I occasionally wished Gregg would hold back his tendency for poetry and just state the facts. However it’s absorbing, bizarre and deeply sinister, and you can’t help being fearful for the two women.
The Law’s Strangest Cases by Peter Seddon. I love this book so much. OK, the author’s sense of humour is occasionally annoying, but only very occasionally – most of the time it works or he keeps it to himself.
The cases are mind boggling (I never thought I’d use that term, yet here we are) stretching from the beginning of law to the late nineties, including the shipmates of cabin boy Richard Parker who was feasted on while adrift at sea. Bizarrely it doesn’t mention the novel of Edgar Allen Poe, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket: a cabin boy named Richard Parker was eaten by his shipmates while adrift at sea – and it was written forty-five years previously. Life of Pi author Yann Martel was no doubt aware of this fact when he named his Bengal tiger Richard Parker.
Other fascinating moments include the gruesome origin of the phrase ‘Sweet Fanny Adams,’ a parrot whose screeches proved a mitigating factor and a man whose solution to annoying visiting relatives was to SET THE HOUSE ON FIRE.
If I Did It by OJ Simpson. OK, I want to make a couple of things clear: I didn’t pay for this book, I downloaded it. I’m sure that will infuriate some people but I didn’t want to give out any money for it, I would have felt dirty. I also couldn’t finish it – if you could throw a kindle book across the room I would have done.
He’s really not a very nice man. The entire thing is a litany of excuses and misdirection – I’m a great guy, I was married to a crazy person, I never called her fat when she had a baby she was the one making my life hell about it, I was understandably angry when she made friends I didn’t approve of and she was embarrassed after calling the cops on me because she realised it was over nothing, on and on and on.
Part of the reason I wanted to read it was morbid curiosity – I was in an abusive relationship for a few months and in order to stop me pressing charges he turned the whole thing on me, something OJ seems very adept at. In fact, even writing about this makes me feel a bit sick, so I think we should stop it there. Don’t buy this book.
You’d be right to be confused. The answers lie in this book which I mostly found fascinating, and yet I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you I skipped sections. Most people’s complaints with this book, by the author of Zodiac, was that it took so long to get to the actual murder. However I love films and read it more as a biography of a fascinating lady who not only secretly starred in Hitchcock’s movie but posed for art, became a playboy bunny and danced as a showgirl. Despite this there are still moments when it takes too long to get to a point, maybe lingers on a particular scene too long. I did like it though and I do recommend it.
Well, hello, glad you could drop in! There’s salsa on the table. OK, no there isn’t, could you pop out and get me some salsa? I’ll…pay you later…
Let’s dive in and look at the weird words that have drifted past my eyeballs the last few weeks.
Naked Friends by Justin Grimbol. Not only does his surname sound like a crotchety troll living under a fallen log, but his book made me laugh out loud, or ‘lol’ as the unselfconscious say. Sure, it’s sometimes gross, quite juvenile and gamers will be sad at their portrayal (I’m sorry), but it really did tickle my funny bone.
It’s kind of a cross between The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night Time and Bored To Death in that the main character is an inept wannabe detective who advertises on Craigslist, but it’s definitely got it’s own feel. A feel that includes a layabout rich boy with three half naked girlfriends and a man called Boner who lives in his van.
2. Planet Mermaid by Leza Cantoral. Leza tickles my eyes with poetry and imagination. However don’t let that fool you, this novelette has some pretty shocking things in it and I don’t recommend it unless you’re fairly robust.
I enjoyed the fact that mermaid cliches were turned on their head – the water is icy so their skin and hair is dull, there’s no rainbow colours or tropical seas here. It’s darkly fantastical and very beautiful, and I’m really looking forward to more word magic from her.
3. The Last Girlfriend On Earth by Simon Rich. You might recognise a number of these short stories from a recent sitcom called Man Seeking Woman. Indeed the massively imaginative, humorous pieces on lost love, finding love, unreasonable men and women were strung together to form the story line of a man navigating surreal scenarios on his quest to meet a lady.
The original stories are perhaps even more enjoyable and I can’t believe he’s only 31 with so many credits to his name – several books, a sitcom, written for SNL and Pixar. I mean, does he sleep? Was he birthed pitching ideas to The New Yorker? Either way I really enjoyed his book and already have several others to get my peepers into.
Here’s one that made it into the sitcom, Cupid Intervention:
it’s not quite in the modernist, stream of consciousness style favoured by Virginia Woolf but the sentences gallop strangely creating a vivid, dreamlike feel, as if the reader is glancing about and taking note of all he or she sees. The people and events are vivid and mixed together in a memory soup.
An extra layer of oddity is added when Alice describes Gertrude as a genius, only of course it’s not Alice’s words, it’s Gertrude’s. Was it something Alice said to Gertrude or is she guessing, or having a joke?
If you love the art, literature and lifestyle of the bohemian 20s like I do you’ll love it, and you’ll want to go to Paris.
5. Cotton Candy by Kevin Strange. I thoroughly enjoyed this long short story of erotic oddity. It reads like a winding Victorian tale told through a letter, only with gang bangs and were-furries.
After his wife dies a professor fills his life with increasing decadence and daring sexual exploits, finding himself in a remote building filled with other men, one woman and large, plushy teddies… large plushy teddies that move when no-one’s looking.
Well, dear readers, there we are! Another bag of weird joy. May we meet again one darkened night, you’ll have to wait till I’ve got my slippers on though.
Pip pip, what what and other meaningless phrases. Here are a few full length episodes of ‘documentaries’ from my distant memories. It seems to me that the 90s developed an obsession with the odd in all it’s forms, from Fortean Times to sun, moon and star decorations (which of course I had as wallpaper). Perhaps my memory is biased because I lapped it up like a crazy cat, but here are my favourites IN FULL!
Sacred Weeds. There were four episodes in this series: Blue Lily, Henbane, Salvia Divinorum and Fly Agaric Mushroom. They were fascinating for a couple of reasons; firstly for the study on natural drugs, secondly for the stubbornness of the scientists who very rarely if at all change their minds and thirdly for the sheer oddness of suited men and women questioning people tripping their tootsies off. Here’s the Henbane episode, thought to have been taken by witches:
For an added treat here’s Salvia Divinorum
BBC Weird Night. Back in 1994 the BBC had a ‘weird night’ which became legendary in my mind, partly because there’s almost no information on it and the programmes were never shown again. It will always have a special place in my mind as a defining moment of weirdness setting me on a particular path with my fiction. I personally don’t believe in the paranormal anymore, but it’s still a fun watch if only to bask in 90s tastic weirdness. Also of note, follow the link above to see which films, including David Lynch, were shown after the programmes.
Fortean Review of the Year (1994)
The next was WSH, The Myth of the Urban Myth. Urban myths are fascinatingly grotesque, and this show weaves drama with genuine experts discussing them from all angles:
Weird Thoughts. Continuing Weird Night, here’s a gathering of ‘experts’ in the bowels of Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Museum discussing the meaning of weird. I love this because the London museum was the destination of mine and Bill’s second date:
This is slightly cheating as this programme was first broadcast in 2002, but the image of a kitty cat drug orgy was burned onto my retinas. Here’s Weird Nature, Peculiar Potions:
You have to hand it to Chuck Tingle – he’s found his niche. He’s cornered the market on bizarro, absurdist and plain weird erotica and he clearly has a sense of humour. At least…I hope he does?
Never once in my Hallucinogenic nightmares did I imagine such sexual tomes as “Pounded in the Butt By My Own Butt,” it’s sequel “Pounded in the Butt By My Book Pounded in the Butt By My Own Butt” and the haunting classic “Pounded by the Gay Color Changing Dress.” He has a gay Unicorn series, for God’s sake, how can you not be fascinated?
He’s an elusive man who likes to play with the truth on social networks (meaning he talks nonsense) though he did give one interview for The Observer which you can read here. Bear in mind in his daily routine he claims he will eat “a big spaghetti breakfast, roll out of bed and then take a shower or a bath in the upstairs bathroom if my son lets me. Work on my Tae Kwon Do and meditate to come up with next tinglers. when one of them sticks in my brain I write it down that night if ted cobbler’s keeping his trap shut and not keeping up the whole block.”
Who is the elusive Mr Tingle? Perhaps we’ll never know. In the meantime stop by his amazon page and check out such future gems as “My Billionaire Triceratops Craves Gay Ass,” “Glazed By The Gay Living Donuts” (which I just bought and will be discussing on our podcast in two week’s time) and “Chuck’s ‘Living Object’ Tinglers.”
You kids and your crazy ideas! If you’re not making bathtub gin you’re expounding theory after theory on whether Marsellus Wallace’s soul is in the Pulp Fiction briefcase, or Aladdin is really a futuristic apocalyptic wasteland, or War of the Worlds is really the sequel to ET which was about an alien scouting planets to invade.
So, without further ado, here are my favourites from the dark hinterland of the web.
1. Absolutely anything in Room 237. The people in this documentary of theories surrounding The Shining could certainly be described as…dysfunctional.
The ideas range from Stanley Kubrick deliberately placing messages in clouds to imagery incorporating the Minotaur’s Maze, with Jack Torrence as the angry bull in it’s centre (the second is possible, or have I just been reading too many theories?). However the biggest and most complicated are probably the ‘Native American genocide‘ theory (follow links if you don’t mind spoilers) and the ‘moon landing theory.’
2. ‘Up’ is Carl’s journey through the afterlife.OK, I don’t mind admitting I wept harder than a banker in a recession during the first ten minutes of Up, there’s no shame in that. However an extra poignancy could be added by suggesting the old man, Carl, died and everything from then on became a complicated metaphor for his ascendance to Heaven.
This theory speculates that the young lad accompanying him is an angel trying to earn his wings (final merit badge). He also represents Carl and his wife’s inability to have children (!). Muntz represents Hell, my favourite sentence in the theory being: “Muntz is Evil, of course, resplendent upon a story of lies at first and commanding the Hounds of Hell.”
One of the main sticking points for viewers of the film/movie is the size and amount of balloons needed to tear the house from it’s foundations. However I like the magic realism and I’m perfectly happy to just say: It’s about an old man with a bunch of balloons floating through the air.
3. Ferris Bueller exists only in Cameron’s head. In some sort of bizarre Fight Club twist Ferris and his girlfriend Sloane represent Cameron’s need to cast off self doubt and grow up a bit. In scenes where the three of them interact he is really alone.
Apparently supporting the idea is “There are “save Ferris” messages all over the city. This represents how Cameron wishes someone would care about him and also helps the idea that the film is merely a fantasy.”
5. The secret ingredient in Wonka Bars is children. Everyone goes nuts for the creepy and psychopathic Willy Wonka’s chocolate bars, but what’s in them that makes them so addictive? According to one theory (and, apparently, Roald Dahl in the actual book, which renders this not so much a theory as a disturbing fact), it’s the naughty children.
Not sure? The theorist has it all worked out (and plenty more): “Wonka has some Oompa Loompas take (Violet) to the Juicing Room to get back to normal. Turning into a fruit is a pretty big effect and doesn’t seem like some kind of mistake and showing it off to a bunch of careless, candy-loving kids is not a smart idea.
“When Wonka captured children, originally, in order to make a child even more useful, he fed them these dinner gums so they can become different fruits and taken to the juicing room to get an endless supply of “natural” flavors. The Television Room’s original use may be obvious: turning kids bite-sized in order to harness all of their flavors for a candy. The shrunken kids could of also been used for manufacturing tiny aspects of small candies, like molding them.”