James Felix McKenney is the director of the campy cannibal fest CanniBallistic! (2002), the ghost story The Off Season (2004), the retro sci-fi robot flick Automatons (1996), and the just-released Satan Hates You (2009), a modern Christian scare movie that plays like a Jack Chick tract brought to life (view the trailer here). You can read up on his projects at his production company website, monsterpants.net.
A top 10 list! I love making movie lists but narrowing it down my favorite ten weird ones was a real challenge!
Films by David Lynch, Alejandro Jodorowsky, José Mojica Marins, Guy Maddin, Ken Russell and Andrzej Zulawski should be included on EVERY list of this type, but I’m guessing that most visitors to this site already have them as part of their own top ten. I also should have put a Jean Rollin film somewhere on here, but which one? Lost in New York, maybe? After eliminating these directors’ works from my list, I still found myself with over 30 movies to choose from.
Hausu should also be on here, but my colleague Graham Reznick recently included it on his top ten, giving me an excuse to trim my list down further. Begotten, Phantasm, and The Wicker Man are among of my favorite movies in the world, but have already made this wonderful web site’s master list. Other films that didn’t make it to my top ten were: The Last Movie (one of my favorite films of all time), Rubber’s Lover, The Flew, Daft Punk’s Electroma, Frankenstein’s Bloody Nightmare, Blood Freak, Arrebato, We Are the Strange, Zardoz, Red to Kill, Jigoku, Dementia (AKA Daughter of Horror), Gusher No Binds Me (AKA Hellevator), Abhay and Goodbye, 20th Century.
Anyway, here’s my (sort of) Top Ten. I’m sure I’m forgetting at least one of my all-time favorites. These are the films that make my brain hurt while putting a smile on my face. Thanks for asking.
Deafula (1974): I used to have friends over to my house every Wednesday for a movie night. Of all of the oddities I subjected my guests to, none ever went over quite as well as Deafula.
The awkward storytelling and bottom-of-the-barrel production values of this bizarre, so-bad-it’s-good film are almost enough to warrant a spot on any weird movie list. But when you add the fact that this is a vampire movie for the hearing impaired in which every word of dialogue is not spoken, but performed in sign language, this becomes one of the most amazingly strange viewing experiences. Deafula may not be a “good” movie, but it is never boring and several unintentionally hilarious moments make it a truly entertaining watch.
Zoo: A Zed & Two Noughts (1985): I first saw this movie in Portland, ME in the late 1980’s. It was my first exposure to the work of Peter Greenaway. I had never seen anything like it until then and I was instantly a fan. Greenaway has made several films that I adore, but the beautifully composed shots, striking music, oddball characters and disturbing storyline focusing on death, decay and dismemberment, make this his best (and weirdest) in my book.
Young Playthings (1972): Sexploitation master Joe Sarno’s most astonishing film is easily the greatest piece of soft-core porn ever made. Featuring the talents of the delectable Christina Lindberg, Young Playthings starts out as a fairly straightforward story of two women’s sexual exploration. But when an odd neighbor invites the more timid of the two into her own personal Toyland, things begin to get weird.
The women don white face pantomime makeup as they engage in naked play-acting of fairy tales to pre-recorded narration. As more and more people join the games, things take a turn toward even deeper insanity and darker sexual depravity. Beautiful women in strange costumes committing even stranger acts make Young Playthings a must for your next LSD-fueled key party.
Spookies (1987): A beacon of strangeness in the sea of generic horror films that was the 1980’s, Spookies could be described as a poor man’s Phantasm—if said poor man happens to be completely and incurably insane. Elements of Spookies (such as its synth score and opening scenes featuring a boy wandering alone in a graveyard by an eerily lit mansion) make it obvious that at least part of the film was heavily inspired by Coscarelli’s classic.
Spookies started out as a more traditional teen horror film called Twisted Souls which was abandoned in 1984. Two years later, the super-odd “phantastic” elements were shot and cut together with the original film. The two parts make a whole that is a jarring, jaw-dropping experience filled with colorful characters, crappy creatures and non-stop nonsensical action.
The Happiness of the Katakuris (2001): You can talk about Ichi the Killer all you want, but this is my favorite film by über-director Takashi Miike. This movie has everything: laughs, zombies, gore, musical numbers and even claymation! If you haven’t seen it, you must. Immediately. It’s one of the most original things I’ve ever seen, even if it is a remake (of 1998’s The Quiet Family).
The Mask (1961): One of my favorite films of all time, and it’s in 3-D! Well, parts of it are—you put on your 3-D glasses whenever a character puts on the film’s magical mask. The non-3-D scenes of the film look like they were shot over a weekend. But the poor lighting, amateurish cinematography and choppy editing actually add to the dream-like atmosphere of the film. The 3-D segments are all surreal fantasy sequences that appear to be where the filmmakers focused most of their time and energy. Or maybe the scenes are just so bizarre, one doesn’t notice or care about the flaws. I certainly don’t. To me, this is a perfect film.
Thundercrack! (1977): If John Waters, Guy Maddin and Andy Milligan got together to make a horror-porno film, it would probably be a lot like Thundercrack! This movie is required viewing for any fan of the bizarre. Known as “the most walked-out-of film of all time,” it mixes long scenes of ridiculous melodramatic dialog with others of very explicit sex. Oh, and there’s also a killer ape, and a monster of sorts. The film’s running time of 150-plus minutes will definitely try the patience of many a viewer, but for the rest of us, films like Thundercrack! are why we watch movies.
Death Bed: The Bed that Eats (1977): Moments of mind-numbing tedium alternate with ones of mind-blowing awesomeness in this odd, dream-like movie that offers up plenty of gore, nudity and inane dialogue. The majority of the story takes place in one room, as various folks somehow find themselves wandering into an abandoned cellar in the middle of the woods for a quick lie down. A ghostly narrator (and former victim of the carnivorous bed) describes every action in the film in great detail. But his is not the only voice-over. The thoughts of virtually every character in the film are broadcast out loud, describing their every move as they perform it, taking the film’s weirdness factor father beyond the promise of its premise.
If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do? (1971): When I began making the film Satan Hates You, a tribute to Christian “scare” films of the 1960’s and 70’s, I put together a list of several films of the genre for the cast and crew. At the top of the list was the terrifying Christian classic A Thief in the Night, followed by the amazing Twilight Zone-esque short Stalked. But at the heart of the list were the films of exploitation director-turned-Christian filmmaker Ron Ormond, most specifically The Burning Hell (a delightfully amateurish production that also deserves a place on this list—check it out on YouTube) and his anti-communist, pro-Jesus masterpiece, If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do?
Based on a sermon by the Reverand Estus W. Pirkle, the film takes us to the near future when the Godless commies have taken over. Illustrating Pirkle’s insane and paranoid theories are a series of episodes featuring the “good” people of the USA suffering all sorts of tortures at the hands of the invaders. The most famous and shocking of these scenes shows a small boy having his eardrum pierced with a pointed stick, causing him to vomit from the pain. Good wholesome stuff!
Who Wants to Kill Jessie? (1966): Forget Iron Man, The Dark Knight and all of that other Hollywood nonsense, this Czech effort is the greatest comic book adventure ever filmed!
The film is a chaotic adventure in a live-action dreamland starring Jessie, a blonde bombshell who wears a pair of “anti-gravity” gloves that give her super strength. She is pursued by her two comic strip arch-enemies, a powerful “Superman” and his cowboy sidekick. These characters don’t speak the same way we do; instead of words and sounds coming from their mouths, comic book dialogue balloons emerge and then hang in the air next to them for all to read. There’s some great imagery in this film, including a look at the happy visions running through a cow’s head—the real, live cow relaxing in a hammock! The film’s resolution is one that I can guarantee has never been used in a film before and never will again. Satisfaction is guaranteed with this unique cinematic experience.