If you’re not wise to the ways of odd cinema, perhaps this blog, for once, could serve a function. I have always appreciated and loved the insane side to humanity that is often shunned and ignored, and what better medium than film to explore that insane side? My definition of ‘fucked up’, ‘bizarre’, and ‘utterly insane’, may differ to yours: gruesome acts (ala ‘Hostel’, ‘Saw’) in films are something I most definitely do not find ‘fucked up’, ‘bizarre’ films are not ones that contain characters who are wacky, zany or otherwise deliberately odd, and ‘utterly insane’ movies MUST always leave you feeling uncomfortable, worried, and sometimes amused as to their sheer lack of any grip of sanity. If you are looking to watch more and more weird films, this list then is probably a good place to start, I won’t order the films in terms of preference, rather in terms of how ‘weird’ I find them to be, thus you can dip your toe into the pool of excrement, human spit and Fanta Fruit Twist that is insane cinema.

 

#12: The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

Though it’s often mentioned in the same sentence as other Wes Anderson flicks (‘Rushmore’, ‘Life Aquatic’), The Royal Tenenbaums distances itself from outright comedy by being a moving and believable drama about a family of dysfunctional geniuses who are affected by their father’s absence from their lives.  It’s the sense of quite oddly tender but completely out of place sentiment that makes the film weird, and it’s not overtly so, more playful in it’s clever surrealism.  In all, Tenenbaums is about what life can be like if you are made to put up a front, and the personal demons and inner conflicts this cognitive disonnance can and inevitably does produce.

 

#11: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)

What is probably the first use of surrealism influencing horror in film, ‘Caligari’ is a visually jarring and bizarrely filmed experience that flits from limitless dreamlike states to unnerving real life situations. It’s integration of surrealist and expressionist imagery into the film medium is not the first time such close links between cinema and art had appeared, but it’s use in order to jolt and frighten the viewer, as opposed to provoke and stimulate, certainly was very influential indeed. Even now, it’s a weird and oddly scary  film.

#10: The Wicker Man (1973)

Horse shit remakes aside, the Wicker Man still stands up today as a really terrifying and utterly compelling horror film. The tale of an island full of mental Pagan bastards who sacrifice virgins is well known, but the bizarre and very scary elements of the film are often more unsung: a town dressing as animals, the enigmatic and charming leader of the island, and more than anything else; THE FACT THAT THEY’RE ALL PRACTISING PAGANS AND IT’S 1973! Make what you will of it, the Wicker Man, and it’s notorious ending, are so impassively odd that they seem almost dreamlike in their severity.

#9: Being John Malcovich (1999)

The fact that ‘…Malcovich’ is constantly referred to as a surrealist film really pisses me off. The films various scattered metaphors are indeed surreal, but they belie a story which is a very simple and identifiable one; the pressures of fame, and the joys of empathy. Indeed, we would all like to be famous (or, at least rich) to some extent, and the characters of the movie explore this in a more literal sense – by getting inside of John Malcovich’s head. It’s brilliant, and the imagery is definitely completely nuts – but, like Royal Tenenbaums, the film is not surreal because of it’s visual content, it’s underlying messages are easy to understand, and it’s universal consciousness is most definitely odd.

#8: Videodrome (1983)

Though it reads like a Phillip K. Dick novel, Videodrome is in actual fact an original work by David Cronenberg, and as such, it is obviously completely insane. A seedy cable TV channel operator is entranced by an even seedier unbroadcast channel called ‘Videodrome’, which shows outrageous and brutally realistic torture, rape and murder of ‘realistic actors’. Little does he know it is real, and is being used to control his mind and induce hallucinations. He goes absolutely mental and starts killing people with a gun that has somehow been literally grafted onto his skin. The film is an obvious allegory for TV’s role in the cause and increase of violence in society, but ironically, it is an incredibly violent film, something which I have no doubt was tongue in cheek in itself.

#7: Pi (1998)

Few films use of black and white is more effective than that of Darren Aronofsky’s debut picture ‘Pi’, a story of  Max, a genius mathematician driven insane by his own vividly coherent theories on The Golden Ratio. The film’s use of B&W is symbolic in itself, as Max becomes more and more paranoid and suffers physical ailments due to his intense brainpower. The film is constantly playing around with his perception, and at the end it’s completely unclear as to whether half of the stuff that happened, actually did. Still, it’s a rollercoaster ride of a movie, that is also about maths. If my 15 year old self could hear me say I loved a film ABOUT maths, he’d probably call me ‘gay’ or ‘twat’ or something.

#6: Repulsion (1965)

Repulsion is a pretty heavy film, loaded with visual sexual innuendo, references to Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytical work, and a definite meditation on full blown Schizophrenia. While left alone, shy main character Carole begins indulging in vivid and shaky hallucinations of rape and sexual contact. The film is a classic example of the ‘unreliable narrator’ technique, insofar as Carole is herself a very unreliable, and possibly mentally ill character, her version of events don’t quite seem to be the truth – though she believes it herself. This forces us to question the reality of what is happening in front of us, something which when closer examined, is quite obviously false.

#5: Un Chien Andalou (1929)

‘Un Chien’ is a deliberately surreal film made by film maker Luis Buñuel and artist Salvador Dalí. For me, extreme surrealism is quite unnerving and moving at times, and pure metaphor and imagery reign supreme in this film, which has little to no narrative structure whatsoever, and connects events in a way that can only be called to mind as being similar to dreams themselves. It’s the quality of the film being almost like a ‘living nightmare’ that makes it so creepy, bizarre images that you can’t wake up from, people chasing you and characters just coming out of absolutely nowhere – everything that makes dreams scary and odd experiences is contained within this film.

#4: 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

It’s hard to fathom what cinema as a whole (let alone, just Sci-Fi) would look like today were it not for Stanley Kubrick’s seminal work from the early 60’s up until his death just before the turn of the century. 2001 absolutely cements his place as visionary and genius, for me. It’s creepy and silent environment of space is shown as being a lonely and desolate experience, as opposed to the romantic views of ‘Forbidden Planet’ and others. Using visual metaphors throughout, Kubrick takes us on a journey that basically spans the existence of man as we know it, from savage proto-man apes, to demi-god and ‘Star Child’, the film is a heady mix of imagery, silence and triumph over nature. In scenes like ‘the star gate’ final sequence, the director came up against challenges to his work from critics, a lot of people didn’t understand it, and some were frightened by it’s intensity, surrealism and creative power. 2001 isn’t a surrealist film, and it certainly isn’t scary, but for nothing else it is breathtaking in it’s scale, scope and it’s towering achievements.

#4: El Topo (1970)

 

As previously mentioned, extremely unrelenting surreal films can be tough to watch, it’s hard to constantly analyse every bit of imagery and metaphor contained within the film – mainly because there are so many. El Topo is a classic example of that, at first a violent and deceptively dull witted Spaghetti Western with lower fidelity in sound and visual quality. Then shit starts to get absolutely insane, weird characters and fucked up happenings make El Topo a completely immersive and allegorical experience, which at times makes the viewer horrifically uneasy. The story is said to be an allegory for the life of Jesus Christ himself, with the second half taking up the redemption and love El Topo experiences, but whatever it means, it still remains unbeaten in terms of sheer visceral cinema with the power to shock.

#2: Begotten (1990)

Without reading any plot synopses, one could be forgiven for thinking Begotten was another post-Lynchian slice of black and white weirdness, but it most definitely isn’t, and in fact was so close to coming top of this list it’s ridiculous. The story (if you could call it that) is one of the birth of creation, the character seen above is ‘God’, and he basically creates the universe by disembowelling himself straight away. His sacrifice breathes life into the universe, and mother Earth is spawned from his wretched guts. The film follows along the same way, 70 minutes of unrelentingly gory imagery, violence, metaphor and conflict. There’s no doubt, fewer films are harder to watch, few as ambitious in their scale and scope, and even fewer that I can recall are harder to erase from your mind; every day since I watched Begotten I have been haunted by it’s surrealist imagery, violent undercurrent, and it’s revelling in squalid and necessary violence, it is absolutely brilliant.

#1: Eraserhead (1977)

There could surely be no doubt as to my number one choice, and although I did faulter for a few minutes in nearly choosing Begotten to be it, there was never really any possibility of any film coming ahead of Eraserhead. Over thirty years on and it’s bleak vision of the future gone completely topsy turvy is so engrossing, so scary, so enjoyable, and so plain weird that it seems it will always be number one. I’ve been asked why I think the film is so weird, and the most honest answer is that I really couldn’t tell you. It’s picturing of a world so corrupted with shit and radiation is juxtaposed by a world of 1950’s naivety, innocence and hope. The characters in Eraserhead are not just characters, they are people living it; even when you turn your copy of it off, you know that somewhere inside the disc, as inside Henry’s radiator, these people are still alive, trapped in a limbo of a world destroyed by nuclear weapons, of new born babies being so irradiated they look like wild fowl, of dinners made from synthetic chickens that feel the pain of being carved open. But what is so so shocking and downright disturbing about the film is the fact that somewhere, you KNOW that Henry’s world is black and white. David Lynch has filmed it in such a way that suggests everything is either black, white, or dark grey. The colour has been irradiated from everyone, from everything, there is no beauty, only complete shit for all, complete shit that everyone has to dine on for the rest of their prolonged and agonisingly depressing lives. The film doesn’t say anything, it remains impassive to the plight of it’s victims, and it’s that which is so utterly dark and disturbing that has made this film stay with me ever since I curiously watched it. Don’t get me wrong, I am absolutely glad I watched it; no film has changed me in such a way, but when I said no film has stuck with me as much as ‘Begotten’, I neglected to mention Eraserhead. It’s scenes of life being unable to be lived, yet somehow, being lived, shows either great courage and resilience of human spirit, or the desperate, last dregs of humanities legacy swirling around the hair infested plughole.

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