JAMES MANNAN’S TOP TEN WEIRD FILMS

In this occasional feature where we ask established directors and critics to list what they feel are their top 10 “weird” movies.  There are no constraints on what the author can pick. This list comes from James Mannan, owner of Liberty or Death productions.  James has directed and produced Wannabe, To Haunt You and Hallow’s Dance with partner R. Panet.

  1. Un Chien Andalou (France 1929; dir. Luis Buñuel):  The keystone of surrealist cinema. In its short 18 minutes this film turned the cinematic conventions of its day on their ear. The disturbing, subversive aesthetics continue to challenge today’s audiences and filmmakers.
  2. Die Nackte und der Satan aka The Head (West Germany, 1959; dir. Victor Trivas): The ultimate summation of the mad scientist/transplant sub-genre, this is far more artistic and conceptually challenging than the better known knock-off The Brain That Wouldn’t Die (which was made in the US 3 years later).  Expressionist production design was by Hermann Warm (Cabinet of Dr. Caligari) and atmospheric cinematography by George Kraus (Kubrick’s Paths of Glory).  The most amazing (and later copied) image is, of course, the living severed head of Michel Simon as Dr Abel, but seemingly all of the characters are touched in some way by mad science, including the villainous Dr. Ood.
  3. Manos, the Hands of Fate (USA 1966; dir. Harold P. Warren):  This is a favorite of the “Mystery Science Theatre” crowd, but Manos needs no running commentary to point out its delicious oddities–chief among which is the performance of John Reynolds as the servant “Torgo.” Every element of this below-grade-Z production is sublimely dreadful in a way neither Ed Wood or Al Adamson could have achieved.
  4. Satánico Pandemonium (Mexico 1975; dir. Gilberto Martínez Solares):  A Mexican Nun is possessed by the devil and is soon corrupting the innocence of her fellow nuns and the nearby villagers. And you thought Linda Blair masturbating with a crucifix was shocking…
  5. Lemora: A Child’s Tale of the Supernatural (USA 1973; dir. Richard Blackburn):  Blackburn was fresh out of film school when he directed this gothic coming-of-age tale, inspired in parts by both H P Lovecraft and The Night of the Hunter.  Extraordinarily ambitious, considering the low budget, the film has a unique atmosphere of weird dread.  Lemora benefits enormously from the performance of Cheryl “Rainbeaux” Smith as the “singing angel” Lila Lee.  Smith marvelously projects the adolescent girl’s wariness at each new threat to her innocence, in what amounts to a kind of a demented version of “Alice in Wonderland.”
  6. Martin (USA 1977; dir. George Romero):  The premise: a teenager may or may not “really” be a vampire.  Romero, at the top of his game as a director, and John Amplas, in a marvelously understated performance, combine to paint an uneasily intimate portrait of an adolescent in a struggle against both inner demons and the strange supernatural traditions imposed by his family.  One way or another Martin is clearly a murderer, but Amplas’ tortured portrayal is empathetic, and ultimately very moving.
  7. Nightdreams (USA 1981; dir. Rinse Dream):  A surreal, explicit comedy made towards the end of the period when the California-based adult film industry was making films with traditional narrative structure.  In this case the narrative is episodic, involving a team of scientists who are literally monitoring a mental patient’s erotic dreams.  Watch for the scene where she encounters a human-sized dancing cream of wheat box.
  8. Kissed (USA 1996; dir. Lynne Stopkewich):  One wouldn’t necessarily expect a portrait of a necrophilia funeral parlor employee to be both sensitive and profound. On the other hand perhaps one could, considering the possible richness of material bound to come from the confluence of love, sex and death. Molly Parker’s performance in the lead role is miraculous, and the direction is never exploitive, despite the bizarre subject matter. Ultimately the film is both unnerving and heartbreaking.
  9. Crumb (USA, documentary 1994; dir. Terry Zwigoff):  Robert Crumb is well know for his bizarre underground cartoons from the heyday of Haight-Ashbury, but the tragic true story of he and his dysfunctional family is far stranger than any of his drawings.
  10. Sixteen Tongues (USA 1999; dir. Scooter McRae):  McRae may be one of the best known and admired of the micro budget directors to emerge since the 90’s.  Tongues is set in a futuristic “sex motel” where we encounter an odd brace of characters, many of whom have been altered in some demented way (the main character has had much of his flesh replaced with transplanted tongues–hence the title.)  As with McRae’s other film Shatter Dead the story is less important than the shock conveyed through the images–many of them explicit and/or horrific–most of them disturbing.

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