Are you someone who likes to see something just a bit off the beaten track? Well here is a list of some films you might enjoy. Just do not expect Citizen Kane and I hope you will not be disappointed. Once again these are in no particular order.
1. The Phantom of the Paradise (1974)
Directed by Brian De Palma ( Carrie, Body Double), this campy cult film is part horror, part musical, part love story. It is loosely based around the stories of The Phantom of the Opera and the Tale of Faust. It stars William Finley as Winslow Leech, a composer writing an operatic version of Faust. Paul Williams (Smokey and the Bandit) is Swan, a vain and powerful record mogul who seems never to age and Jessica Harper (Suspiria) as Phoenix a singer who Leech falls in love with. After a horrible accident that disfigures his face Winslow sells his soul to Swan to get his music published. The movie is part comedy, part horror and part biting satire on fame. It ends in a bloody, musical showdown on stage. A few intense scenes, some sexual situations, extremely mild profanity and violence all on par for a 70’s movie. It is pretty much safe for the whole family.
2. Spider Baby (1968)
Directed by Jack Hill ( Foxy Brown, Coffy,) Spider Baby or The Maddest Story Ever Told is the story of a family with a strange hereditary disease. Its seems that as the children reach adulthood they revert to first a childlike then a completely feral state. Lon Chaney Jr ( Wolfman) plays the ever faithful chauffeur Bruno in his last screen appearance. It also stars a young Sid Haig as Cousin Ralph who has just began his descent into barbarity. The family lives in their ancestral home under the watch of Bruno and all is well until another branch of the family ( apparently not affected by the curse) seeks to take claim to the house. This movie is strange, funny, spooky and just totally weird fun. Nothing in the film would be considered intense or really scary by today’s standard.
Ashley Judd stars as a lonely woman who takes in and falls in love with war veteran (Michael Shannon.) Shannon finds a bug in the bed and confesses that he was part of an army experiment in the Gulf War. Meanwhile Judd’s character is receiving prank calls from someone she believes is her ex husband. Shannon becomes obsessed with the fear he is infested with bugs from the experiments and starts to rig his room with traps and fly paper and then lining rooms with foil as he slips further into madness. Their relationship spirals downward as well and Judd seems to have become as insane and unstable as her lover. A movie with no easy answers, it is a psychological roller coaster and definitely not your average film.
4. The Lost Skeleton of Cadavera
I reckon I’ve seen a bear do things, not even a bear would do.” Lines like this make the Lost Skeleton a cult classic. A send up of classic Sci Fi movies of the 50s and 60s it is filmed in black and white and absolutely hilarious. It features a cast of unknowns so you never get distracted by star gazing. In the modern realm of Spoof movies like “Meet the Spartans” and “Disaster Movie” this movie stands out as actually being fun and interesting without name (or title) dropping. The dialogue is spot on, the costumes bring to mind Ed Wood. Its campy, funny, and strange but if you are a fan of those old “space alien” movies of the 50s give this a try. Suitable for the whole family. As the skeleton would say “I sleep now!”
5. Plan nine From Outer Space
Plan nine is almost universally regarded as the worst film ever made. It has however, reached cult status in a large part because it is so bad. It is so bad it’s good. It has a truly original and completely ludicrous plot. Aliens angered by human aggression set out to stop mankind from creating the “ultimate bomb.” They decide to destroy the earth by reanimating dead bodies to attack and destroy the human race. Plan nine features horrible acting, ludicrous sets and props and was filmed on a nothing budget with friends of Ed Wood Jr and what actors he could coerce into appearing. The most memorable actor is the late Bela Lugosi in his last screen role. Bela died during the filming and most of the scenes are a stand in, who keeps his face covered by Bela’s trademark cape. Also appearing are Vampira, Criswell, and wrestler Tor Johnson. It is a fun watch especially with a group of friends, just do not in expect a “good” movie. It contains laughable violence and is suitable for the entire family.
6. Ed Wood
Director Tim Burton teams with longtime friend and collaborator Johnny Deep for this bio-pic of legendary bad director Ed Wood Jr. Filmed lovingly in black and white this film is a funny but sad look at a man who would do anything to fulfill his dreams. It didn’t matter that he had little talent, he still managed to get his films made. In today’s world where directors fight , and often lose, for the right to get their creative vision on the screen unchanged, it is interesting to see a man willing to make any changes, any sacrifice, just to get his film made. Ed was willing to look anywhere and make almost any concession to get his films made. If not a creative genius, he was a poster boy for tenacity and his spirit was unfaltering. He never set out to make bad movies and that is why people love him, and them today. Burton pays homage to him here in a film that shows Ed’s faults as well as his glory. Depp plays Wood with respect and dignity, even when dressed in a sweater and skirt. The cast includes Bill Murray, Sarah Jessica Parker, Patricia Arquette, and martin Landau as Bela Lugosi. It includes some profanity and crossdressing.
7. The Rocky Horror Picture Show
Rocky Horror is a 1975 opus to excess. Horror, Sci-fi, comedy, musical, morality tale or romance, pretty much any of these could be used to describe the film. Originally a stage play by Richard O’Brien it was brought to the screen by Jim Sharman. Now it lives a double life as film and theater in one. It reached its height of fame as midnight showing where audience members would perform along with the film. Soon the audience had developed a whole new dialogue to go along with the film. Movie goers pelt one another with toilet paper, rice, and water guns at certain film moments, all the while singing along with, and shouting at the screen and the live stage actors. The movie shows on cable and is available on DVD but the true experience can only be had at theaters. The basic plot of the movie has a hapless couple caught up in the web of the evil(?) Dr. Frankenfurter, a “sweet transvestite” from the planet Transsexual, in the galaxy of Transylvania. It stars Tim Curry as Frankenfurter, along with Susan Sarandon, Barry Bostwick, and singer Meatloaf. It contains mild profanity, quite a few sexual situations, cross-dressing galore and a bit of nudity so brief you will most likely never see it.
8. Wild at Heart
No list of strange cinema would be complete without entry from David Lynch. Probably most familiar to the general public as the creator of the television series Twin Peaks, Lynch is a master of the surreal. Wild at Heart is at the most basic a road film. Its stars Nicholas cage and Laura Dern as two star crossed lovers, running from their family and their past. When Sailor Ripley (Cage) is released from prison, he decides to break parole and take his girl Lula (Dern) on a cross country run to California. Lula’s mother (played by Dern’s real life mother Dianne Ladd) hates Sailor and sets a ruthless gangster on them with orders to kill him and bring Lula home. The trip turns into an ethereal ride through hell. Culminating in a bloody showdown with hit man William Dafoe. What is Lynch’s message? Maybe that true love can endure anything. It is hard to tell because this movie is strange but wonderful. Scenes of carnage, bloodshed and imagery from the Wizard of Oz and cameos from Lynch’s stable of actors fill the screen. It contains nudity, profanity, violence, sex, and just plain weirdness it defiantly fully deserves its R rating.
9. Boxing Helena
Another lynch film makes the list, but this time it is David Lynch’s daughter Jennifer . Boxing Helena is the directorial debut of Jennifer Lynch and it is strange and disturbing love story. It stars Julian Sands, Sherilyn Fenn and Bill Paxton. Sands plays Dr. Nick Cavanaugh a surgeon who is madly in love with the beautiful Helena, played by Fenn. They have a botched affair and while the Doctor cannot get over Helena, she has nothing but disdain for him. She flaunts her sexuality in front of him and seduces his friends for spite. After a car accident the doctor saves Helena by amputating her legs. In stead of taking her to a hospital though, he keeps her at his home to care for her. Eventually he amputates her arms as well, turning her into a living Venus de Milo. He dotes on her but refuses to release her. Eventually she realizes that she does love him, even after what he has done to her. This is a disturbing film but there is no blood or gore despite the subject matter. It does contain some nudity and profanity and some sexual scenes. It gained notoriety not only from the movies content but also from a lawsuit against Kim Bassinger. Bassinger was originally cast as Helena but backed out at the last minute. Lynch sued for damages and accused Bassinger of breaking an verbal contract and eventually won.
10. O Brother Where Art Thou?
It was easy to put a Coen Brothers film on the list. What was hard was deciding which one. I came close to just listing the brothers entire library as one. Finally it came down to this and The Big Lebowski, two of my favorite of their films. The final decision was the fact that O Brother is for the most part a retelling of Homer’s Odyssey set in depression era Great South. It’s wacky cast includes George Clooney, John Goodman, Holly Hunter and Charles Durning. Clooney plays Ulysses Everett McGill an escaped con, who claims he broke free to find a hidden treasure that will soon be submerged under a TVA lake. Clooney’s and his fellow escapees, Tim Blake Nelson and John Turturro run through a gantlet bearing strange resemblance to the fabled Ulysses’s trials including a group of Sirens and a Cyclops like bible salesman played by Goodman. They also come across Southern myths and legends like Baby Face Nelson and Tommy Johnson. Filled with humor, wit and Bluegrass music the movie is a treat. It contains mild profanity but otherwise is fit for the whole family.
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