Graham Reznick is the director of the extremely weird 2008 feature I Can See You, described as “a psychedelic campfire tale” and certified by us as one of the 366 Best Weird Movies of All Time. Graham’s personal homepage is here, and you can find I Can See You‘s official site here. [UPDATE 3/11/2011: Just over a year later, we note that three of Graham’s suggestions—Performance, Altered States and Hausu—have been certified as among the weirdest of all time, with more to come, we’re sure.]
I am honored to have been asked to provide a list of Weird Movies for 366 Weird Movies.com! For my list, I decided I would compile a group of weird films that I always feel like watching, no matter what my mood, or how many times I’ve seen them. They may not be the “best” movies, or even the strangest—but they all contain at least a touch of the sublime (except, perhaps, #10), and they’re all my favorite weird films. Many of these I saw when I was young, and are major influences on my own work and approach to filmmaking. Some may not, at first glance, even seem that weird—but I hope within this context you’ll be able to enjoy and appreciate them for the inherent weirdness that they contain!
Listed in no particular order:
It’s hard to even describe what makes this movie so special. A gangster on the run hides out with a formerly passionate rock star (Mick Jagger in his first, and perhaps best, role) in swingin’ 60’s London. Sounds simple, but it’s so wrought with the cultural tensions of 1968 that it becomes an ultra dense diamond of sheer psychedelic freak out. Several viewings encouraged!
I could probably put Lynch’s entire catalogue on here so for simplicity’s sake I’ll just pick one. I oscillate daily on my favorite David Lynch movie/production, yet more often than not I end up here: FIRE WALK WITH ME was the first Lynch film I saw, when I was about 13, and it was the first time I understood that movies could be weird AND good. If you’ve seen the show, this movie is NOT like the show. The show can GET dark at times, while exploring the wake left in a troubled teen’s death, but this film is DIRECTLY FROM the subjective, paranoid, and dysfunctionally emotional perspective of that troubled teen – in the six days leading up to her death. It is the HEART of the mystery that forms the show, and it’s an amazing experience that can at once be read as a strange criss-crossing of inter-dimensional signals, or a beautifully moving metaphor for harrowing sexual molestation. It’s never failed to give me chills.
“Because it has something that you don’t have, Max. It has a philosophy. And that is what makes it dangerous.” This line sums up for me one of the most terrifying aspects of Cronenberg’s early 80’s pirate television and Blondie bondage cyberpunk nightmare: that the ‘otherness’ out there is not only actively out to get us, but that it can’t be reasoned with. And in the case of this film, the “otherness” is so mind-bendingly bizarre yet familiar, one can’t help but see it as a bastard child of the sins of our own culture. Highlight: James Woods pushes his face through an undulating TV screen bearing a close up of Debbie Harry’s amazing lips.
4) JOHN CARPENTER’S PRINCE OF DARKNESS (John Carpenter, 1987, USA)
Quantum physics students who hole themselves up in an abandoned church in the center of a city to study the mysterious vat of green goo (found in the basement) are cryptically warned by secret messages, purporting to be from the future and transmitted to them through their dreams, that they may be unleashing the PRINCE OF DARKNESS, and at one point a malfunctioning computer screen tells them that “YOUR GOD PLUTONIUM WILL NOT SAVE YOU.” Oh, and mirrors are portals… but to WHAT?
Through methods that include isolation tanks, manufactured drugs, primitive tribal psychedelics, and combinations thereof, William Hurt inadvisably attempts to peel back the layers of his own mind to find the very first thought buried in our collective unconscious. He succeeds. It’s amazing.
6) HAUSU (“House”) (Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1977, Japan)
Allegedly coming soon to Criterion DVD. The house is a witch, living on the souls of the young girls who dare to enter. Late 1970’s insane Japanese art-pop-experimental-animated-live action-send up but truly kind of scary horror film. Highlight scene: A young girl is eaten by a piano and she’s FUCKING LOVING IT!
7) ANGEL DUST (Sogo Ishii, 1994, Japan)
In some ways, this film could pass as a slick, straightforward serial killer flick. However, the bizarre, insidiously psychological tone (including terrifying implications of telepathy, mind control, and altered reality), the ambisexual relationships at the heart of the story, and the incredible well honed and remarkably impressive craft in this film make it one of the strangest movies I’ve ever seen. Predates the new wave of j-horror by about five years yet predicts their apocalyptic tone. In my experience, a hard film to track down in the US, but 100% worth the effort. Hands down my favorite “new” discovery of the past several years.
Jodorowsky, like Kenneth Anger (whose entire catalogue occupies the unspoken #11 on this list), populates his films with intense, surreal, psychedelic imagery. Yet, it’s not just the content itself in their films which has such a profound weird effect on me, as a viewer: it’s the craft. I can watch the opening of THE HOLY MOUNTAIN (in which two women strip and have their hair cut off) over and over again—because Jodorowsky moves images on screen and through time (via edits) in deft sleight of hand; simple visual magic tricks that please the brain. Known forms change in front of your eyes (hair was here, now it’s going, now it’s gone), and every edit subverts a minute, subtle expectation. The leaps and connections your brian makes (naturally, without complaint) in order to comprehend these occurrences must certainly be forming massive amounts of new neural pathways at all times: that’s real magic!
9) AKIRA (Katsuhiro Otomo, 1988, Japan)
Post apocalyptic “Neo-Tokyo” in this seminal Japanese anime is threatened by the release of a god-like entity (“Akira”) which lives underneath the city. Reality warping psionic abilities and incredible animation distort what could have easily been a cheesy science fiction action flick into a weird epic of inexplicable proportions. Not to mention the transcendent Gamelan based score. Way ahead of it’s time.
10) CLIFFORD (Paul Flaherty, 1994, USA)
Okay, so, this one is not quite in line with everything else on the list. But, I want to point out something interestingly weird with this bizarre Martin Short film: When you completely give yourself over to the tone of a film, you can often be shocked at it’s concrete sense of internal logic, and enjoy the experience in a way you didn’t think possible. The plot points of this film are relatively mundane for a rompy 90’s comedy: a problem child, the titular 10 year old Clifford (played by then-40-year old Martin Short) tinkers with the career and love life of his architect uncle, hilariously played by Charles Grodin. Yet, it’s the tone that sets this film apart – it feels like every cast and crew member drank 46 cups of coffee before, during and after every take. The jokes are ridiculous and terrible yet delivered with the gusto and passion of actors who seem to be acting as if their lives depended on it. There’s a strange desperation and awkwardness that I’ve never seen in any other film—and somehow it works! The movie veers into such odd territory with the emotional situations that you start to realize that part of the genius of it all is that the filmmakers are playing with the viewer’s expectations of “the point of view of a child.” It’s a loop of thought that almost defies logic: here, we are TRUSTING that point of view in a wholly different way than we’re used to, since we’re seeing an adult playing the child. If we stop and think for a moment about the situations, we realize we would never imagine that children see the world in this way… but children might imagine that ADULTS see CHILDREN seeing the world in this way. In any case, it highlights the disconnect between the “adult” conception of reality and “children’s” conception of reality and really just creates a bizarre world unto itself. Give yourself over to it: unconventional, weird fun, and quite unique. Even Roger Ebert more or less agrees, and yet can’t handle it himself. Giving it a half-star (out of four), he said: “”The movie is so odd, it’s almost worth seeing just because we’ll never see anything like it again. I hope.”