Here’s an alternative seasonal viewing list for the weird, that goes beyond the usual vampire/zombie/demon/slasher fare (although some favorite characters make appearances).
1. Matthew Barney’s Cremaster Cycle 3 (2002) . Only the third of Barney’s epic Cremaster Cycle, made over an eight year period, has made it’s way to any type of video release, which is criminally unfortunate. The Guggenheim Museum, who financed it, exhibits the Cycle and describes it as a ”a self-enclosed aesthetic system consisting of five feature-length films that explore the processes of creation.” Trailers are available on the Cremaster website; www.cremaster.net. The third movie is available via Amazon and other outlets, albeit at expensive prices [Ed. Note: the version of Cremaster 3 that's commercially available is not actually the full movie, but a 30 minute excerpt that's still highly collectible as the only Cremaster footage released]. The Cremaster Cycle is complex, challenging, provocative and not for the attention span-challenged.
2. Guy Maddin‘s Dracula-Pages from a Virgin’s Diary (2002). Guy’s Dracula ballet, choreographed to Mahler. Just when you though nothing more could be done with this old, old story. Of course, we are talking Mr. Maddin here.
3. Ingmar Bergman’s Hour of the Wolf (1968). Bergman’s ode to German Expressionism has been labeled his sole horror film. Hour is a further continuation of frequent Bergman themes—the defeated artist, loss of God, nihilism—and stars Bergman regular Max Von Sydow. Some find this dull and slow, others find it mesmerizing and nightmarish.
4. Roman Polanski‘s The Tenant (1976) returned this consummate craftsman back to the territory of Repulsion and remains one of his best films. Polanski is now facing extradition charges for having sexual relations with a willing, underage girl thirty years ago, who he has paid millions to and already served jail time for. Meanwhile, several followers of the man that butchered his wife and unborn child forty years ago walk free. Now that’s true American Horror Hypocrisy for you.
5. Frank Perry’s The Swimmer (1968) almost feels like something from Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone. This sublime, allegorical, surreal work is almost too beautiful, too haunting, and too unique for words. Burt Lancaster, as usual in his mid to late career, is superb as the suburban middle age swimmer who decides to go home on a bright sunny day by swimming through all the neighborhood pools. The dreaded conclusion is as inevitable as it is draining.
6. David Lynch‘s Inland Empire (2006), shot on video, is a beautifully textured film. It almost seems like Lynch is in a return to form that, perhaps, began with Mulholland Drive. Laura Dern plays numerous, angst-ridden characters in a plot that might be described as dissonant film noir.
7. David Cronenberg‘s Crash (1996), based off the J.G. Ballard novel, aptly divided and provoked critics, as well as viewers. The film is as cold, metallic, and dissecting as it’s subject.
8.William Beaudine’s Sparrows (1926). Yes, Beaudine could actually direct once, and this one is a “high melodrama” Mary Pickford silent that just happens to be her best film. She is the charge of dastardly Simon Legree’s orphan slaves. There are swamps, alligators, climatic chases, dead children, and a cameo by Jesus. If it sounds like pure schlock, it is, but done right.
9. Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Vampyr (1932). The Vampire is dispatched by suffocating in flour. The imagery is startling, and the whole film casts a hypnotic, becalmed milieu. If you thought Tod Browning’s Dracula was static… Criterion finally released a worthwhile copy on dvd.
10. Damon Zex‘s Waking Nightmare. Former public access underground college cult hero Zex tackles the grand guignol, Zex style. What’s that mean? Well, one could start with Zex Zombie performing cunnilingus on Tamara and eating her bloodied tampon right out of her. Move from that to Zex’s Evil Tarot Torture.
11. Richard Elfman’s Forbidden Zone (1982). Even the midnight cult crowd can’t unanimously handle this one. It was unavailable for half of forever, but there were some of us who waited with pins and needles for this mix of Oingo Boingo (recall when Elfman wasn’t repetitive?) , Minnie the Moocher, Herve Villechaize, and Satan himself in one glorious, inexplicable brew.
12. Mack V. Wright’s Riders of the Whistling Skull (1937). Energetic B-Western horror with standby cow dude Bob Livingston. Bob finds a curse in skull temple and ends up battling Satan-worshiping natives and mummies. Pass the popcorn and loads of butter, please.
13. Michael Reeves’ The Sorcerers (1967). At one point Reeves seemed like the horror genre’s new L’enfant terrible. He made this and the superb Witchfinder General. Then, he was dead at 25 from a drug overdose. Karloff is actually good again, possibly because he is somewhat cast against type, but Catherine Lacey is even better. They are an elderly couple who have invented some kind of mumbo jumbo scientific device where they can experience youth again by inhabiting the body of a young man (60′s genre stud Ian Ogilvy) who… oh, the plot doesn’t really matter. This voyeuristic black comedy has got style aplenty.