WHERE’S THE WEIRDNESS?: TOP 10 WEIRD MOVIES NOT (YET) AVAILABLE ON DVD (IN THE US)

We frequently get requests to review certain movies that are unavailable on DVD in the United States.  In this digital age when even cigarettes are electronic, it seems every movie ever made should be legally available to watch, somewhere. Surprisingly, that’s not the case.  Sometimes movies are hung up in rights disputes; often, the ones we’re most interested in are so weird and specialized they fall through the cracks.

But truly strange stuff is showing up on DVD and Blu-ray all the time.  Last Year at Marienbad (1961) is a surrealist classic and a film school favorite, but it didn’t debut on DVD until 2009.  The bizarre haunted house horror Hausu (1977) was ignored and forgotten on release, but was rescued from obscurity more than thirty years later by no lesser entity than the Criterion Collection.  Even something as odd, ignored, and seemingly uncommercial as 1977’s Death Bed: The Bed that Eats—a movie that critics are still unable to confidently classify as incompetent exploitation or self-aware joke—recently showed up in the DVD ranks.  Many fans of cinematic marginalia grew up assuming that Skidoo, Otto Preminger’s 1968 counterculture satire bomb featuring Groucho Marx as God, among other oddities, would exist forevermore only as a brief plot synopsis in dog-eared movie guides, with a turkey symbol eternally etched next to it.  Skidoo was buried, maybe out of deference to the embarrassed stars (besides Marx, it also featured Jackie Gleason, Carol Channing, Frankie Avalon, singer-songwriter Harry Nillson and a host of distinguished character actors); but in 2008, Skiddoo showed up on TV, and this July it will make its first appearance on DVD.

The point is, we’ll never give up on anything appearing anymore, so long as someone, somewhere thinks there’s a buck to be made off of it.  There are a number of movies we’re going to hold off on reviewing immediately because they may get a release in the future.  We’ve listed some of the rarest and most important ones below.  In keeping with the venerable Top 10 tradition, we’ve limited ourselves to a decemvirate of titles, but believe us, there are a lot more missing movies out there. We skipped over some high-interest titles which are still available on Region 1 DVD but are extremely rare, such as Institute Benjamenta and Survive Style 5+.

10. Arrebato [Rapture] (1980).  Made in the years after the demise of Franco and film censorship, Arrebato, a drug movie about a filmmaker who believes his camera has a mind of its own, has an enraptured cult following in Spain.  The ideas here are sometimes said to anticipate David Cronenberg‘s Videodrome.  Neil Young (the film critic, not the Canadian songwriter) is one of few English speakers who’s seen and reported on it; he was less than unimpressed, calling it “a mind-blowingly pretentious exploration of creativity, madness and the addictive world of cinema.”  We’d still like the opportunity to judge for ourselves, since mind-blowing pretension is frequently a virtue in the weird movie realm.  In November 2010 Arrebato was released in Region 2 edition by the respected German company Bildstörung, with English subtitles.  Whether there will ever be enough interest to get it released on these shores is another question.


Clip from Arrebato

9. Goke, Body Snatcher from Hell (1968).  Japanese sci-fi with a plane crash, UFOs, and alien blobs that turn their victims into vampires.  The visuals are unreal and stylized but very striking, almost expressionistic; Quentin Tarantino paid homage to Goke with the airplane flying through the blood red/orange sky in Kill Bill.  This film occasionally shows up on Turner Classic Movies late at night; if TCM can get the television rights, they likely can clear the video rights too.  Don’t sit on this masterpiece of classically odd Japanese camp, Ted Turner!


Japanese trailer for Goke, Body Snatcher from Hell

8. Throw Away Your Books, Rally in the Streets [Sho o suteyo machi e deyou] (1971).  A psychedelic montage about a dysfunctional Japanese family (before dysfunction was “in”).  It tells the story of an angsty teen caught between a peeping Tom dad, a sister with an unhealthy attachment to her pet bunny, and other unsavory, bizarre kin.  Strictly Film School’s Acquarello calls it “offbeat, garish, unclassifiable, and audacious.”  Almost none of Shûji Terayama’s experimental features are available on DVD; they seem like Criterion candidates.

Still from Throw Away Your Books, Rally in the Streets (1971)
Still from Throw Away Your Books, Rally in the Streets (1971)

7. Happy End (1967).  Czech comedy that begins with a man’s head being detached from his body by a guillotine; the film then literally runs backwards until it arrives at a happy “ending.”  A gimmick, sure, but a gimmick we should have a chance to see for ourselves.  Chances of this ever being released seem pretty slim.


Clip from Happy End (1967)

6. Eden and After [L’éden et après](1970). This mix of Alice in Wonderland by way of the Marquis de Sade, with a heaping helping of LSD on the side, involves a young girl on a hallucinatory, sadomasochistic journey.  Director Alain Robbe-Grillet wrote Last Year in Marienbad and directed other surrealistic movies like L’immortelle (1963) that also aren’t available on DVD.  This is available on Region 2.


Clip from Eden and After (1970)

5. Death Laid an Egg [La morte ha fatto l’uovo] (1968): A bizarre giallo involving a serial killer who preys on prostitutes; it’s set on a chicken farm, and a subplot involves a plan to breed mutant poultry.  With Gina Lollabrigida, the beautiful Ewa Aulin, and lots of atonal jazz.  Giallos are always a bit off-center, but if you ever wondered what a surrealist filmmaker would do if he chose to dabble in the genre, here’s your answer.  Director Giulo Questi only made three feature films, but all were weird; his first movie was the surreal Spaghetti Western Django Kill! (1967) and his final effort was the strange horror movie Arcana (1972).


Clip from Death Laid an Egg

4. Celine and Julie Go Boating [Céline et Julie vont en bateau] (1974). This three-hour long, whimsical and dreamlike French New Wave comedy seems like the kind of thing that should have the acquisition execs at the Criterion Collection salivating.  We’re not sure what the holdup is on this one getting a Region 1 DVD release, but this one has a great reputation with the Caheirs du Cinema crowd and looks far more likely to see the light of day than any of the other titles on this list.

Still from Celine and Julie Go Boating (1974)
Still from Celine and Julie Go Boating (1974)

3. Kin Dza-Dza (1989). A treasure trove of films made in the former Soviet Union are essentially lost to the West at the moment. We’re at the mercy of Ruscico, the Russian Cinema Council, to bring us whichever films they believe would be of interest to outsiders.  One film they haven’t chosen to release yet is this legendary cult sci-fi epic which involves two Russians trapped on an absurd, capitalist planet.  An animated remake of the film, aimed at children, is planned for release to the Russian market in 2011, but we demand to see the original!  Koo!


Clip from Kin Dza-Dza

2. Angel’s Egg [Tenshi no Tamago] (1985).  This nearly silent anime by Mamoru Oshii (Ghost in the Shell) about a young girl protecting a mysterious egg is one of the most requested titles in our Suggest a Weird Movie thread.  Due to the popularity of anime in general you would think there would be an outcry to get one of the legendary early works by a respected practitioner of the form out on DVD.  In 2002 a planned edition by Anchor Bay fell through due to unspecified rights issues, and there’s been no news on a release since then.  The market is definitely there.


Trailer for Angel’s Egg

1. Cremaster cycle (1994-2002). Conceptual artist Matthew Barney made a series of five surrealist films over a period of eight years that together comprise the Cremaster cycle (the titular “cremaster” is the muscle that raises and lowers the testes).  A famous scene features a bee flying out of a boy’s penis.  Altogether, the Cremaster films run six and a half hours, with the third installment accounting for three hours of the total running time.  Barney himself is insistent that the Cremaster series will never be released on mass market DVD, although they tour periodically and may be seen at special screenings.  “The Order,” a thirty minute segment of Cremaster 3, was released to video in 1999.  The cycle’s rarity has made it legendary, but it’s not universally beloved by those critics who have caught it; the dependable J. Hoberman said that Cremaster 5, in particular, “gives the ridiculous a bad name.”  On the other hand, Variety called Cremaster 3 “a masterpiece” full of “intoxicating visual beauty.”  We hope that Barney will relent from enforcing the scarcity of these films (we have a feeling that if he doesn’t, his estate just might).  If not, we’ll have to track the films down somehow.  No list of 366 weird movies can be complete without addressing the (in)famous Cremaster films.

More information about the series may be gleaned at the Cremaster website (then again, it may not).

Still from Cremaster 1 (1996)
Still from Cremaster 1

13 thoughts on “WHERE’S THE WEIRDNESS?: TOP 10 WEIRD MOVIES NOT (YET) AVAILABLE ON DVD (IN THE US)”

  1. Whilst I’m naturally curious to see The Cremaster Cycle, and really hope that someone sees fit to release Angel’s Egg, I have to say that I really, really, REALLY want to see Death Laid An Egg! Holy Mackeral! Rainbow chickens drinking wine…in tuxedos…from glasses…
    Who do I have to get an attractive friend to seduce to get this released?

  2. I would love to see all of these films (I have seen Goke), Celine & Julie Go Boating has been long sought after in my head for more than a decade. I know you focused on the more obscure titles, but 2 other weird classics that need to be released are Rubin & Ed with Crispin Glover and Ken Russell’s The Devils. In a sense, when something that has long been out-of-print finally sees the light of day, it is rather exciting (Hausu was worth the wait). Another film I love that until recently was only available on VHS is Brewster McCloud…’bout time. Well, anyway, thank goodness Criterion exists. They really are a film lover’s dream.

    1. Ouch! How could I have forgotten to place The Devils on this list? Warner Brothers was supposed to release an uncut region 1 version of Ken Russell’s wacky nunsploitation feature in 2010, but backed out at the last moment for unknown reasons. I wasn’t aware that Rubin & Ed wasn’t on DVD, but as I said we could easily go to 50 titles on the wishlist.

  3. Last Year at Marienbad was released on R1 DVD in 2003… It’s not as bad as all that.

    Criterion is pretty weak compared to the amazing British DVD labels – MoC, Second Run, Artificial Eye, Studio Canal. All hype. Just look at the reactions to their blu ray of The Leopard – raves about image quality when it is hilariously second rate compared to the French version. All hype.

    Daneliya has at least one film on DVD in R1, but it has a Russian dub over the top of the original language track which makes it unwatchable. Luckily Ruscico is releasing a ton of their films for free on youtube, many with subtitles. Generous Ruskies.

  4. GOKE has long been rumored to be an upcoming Criterion release, especially since it’s under the Janus Films umbrella – but so far, nothing, although maybe CC’s release of HAUSU still provides a window of hope…

  5. Eden and After is great, glad you’ve put it on the list. I also liked Succesive Slidings of Pleasure and Trans Europ Express too. It’s surprising none of them has dvds, especially trans europe -i mean, the album it was named after being a cult etc- . Same with Terayama – Pastoral is highly recommended- . I’d also love to see Death by Hanging, Tomorrow I’ll Scald Myself with Tea, Who Wants to Kill Jesse and Goodbye 20th Century (czech one) on DVD, too. The last three are very, very bizarre.

  6. Death Laid An Egg has been on my to see list for a long time. I was briefly obsessed with Sonny Chiba films a few years back which is when I discovered Sato. I haven’t seen Goke and I have not been able to find any of Sato’s films so far. Criterion needs to get on that! I haven’t heard of any of the other films on this list but I sure am intrigued by Throw Away Your Books and Eden and After.

  7. If I remember correctly, cremaster is another word for what is called the taint in American parlance: the area between the penis and the anus. I could be wrong about this.

  8. Arrebato, a great film, very strange. Cremaster is without a doubt one of the strangest things I’ve seen, all 5.

  9. For those of you with access to Region 2, Death Laid An Egg is available on DVD, though I’ve read such mixed reviews of it that I haven’t rushed out and bought one. Instead, I’m on the waiting-list for a rental copy, but it seems to be very popular with people who just like the title (and who wouldn’t?).

    Death Bed – The Bed That Eats is one of many low-budget horror films that fell victim to a peculiarity of British law. I don’t know if it’s still true, but it used to be the case that if you submitted a film to the British censor and they refused to give it a certificate at all, you pretty much had to guess what they found unacceptable about it, and submit it again with what you hoped were adequate cuts – they wouldn’t specifically tell you what had to be removed.

    Since each submission cost what was for a low-budget studio a lot of money, they had little choice but to cut out all the sex and violence to be sure of getting a certificate next time around, and since this would often defeat the whole point of the film, they sometimes didn’t bother and just gave up.

    We also had the infamous “video nasties” flap in the 1980s. For those of you who don’t remember this, what basically happened was that a toddler was horrifically murdered by two young boys, and certain British newspapers aimed at less intelligent readers whipped up a lot of public outrage by claiming that the murder was directly caused by the boys having watched horror movies on video, in particular Child’s Play. In reality, the only connection was that one of the boys lived in a house which also contained a copy of that film – they were simply horrible people, and movies had nothing to do with it.

    But, the masses being what they are, public outrage led to some very weird legal measures, including the infamous video nasties list of arbitrarily-chosen horror movies which were suddenly illegal. Most of these were of no merit whatsoever, and would have sunk without trace if they hadn’t been on this list. Some are now simultaneously highly sought-after collector’s items and utterly worthless as films.

    But the upshot is that many low-budget horror films released in Britain during the video boom suddenly found themselves facing much tighter censorship laws, and if the studio couldn’t afford to repeatedly submit the film for certification, they simply disappeared. There must be quite a few incredibly strange straight-to-video horror movies from this period that never get a mention, even on websites like this, and have never come out on DVD because they have been completely forgotten.

    Has anybody looked into this properly, to see what treasures may be out there? I used to see ridiculously-titled films with terrible box art in video store windows which I wish I’d taken out, because I’ve never seen any mention of them anywhere since, and some of them must surely have been amazing!

    Oh, by the way, I understand that the forthcoming DVD release of The Devils is unfortunately the censored cinematic version, which is odd, since at least some of the missing scenes have been shown on British TV, though not in their proper context in the movie itself, and having seen them, I can report that there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with the quality of the print. Perhaps the recent death of Ken Russell will prompt a retrospective of his work, now that the movie industry can say how much they always liked his films without any risk of having to explain why they won’t finace his next one.

    RIP Ken. You’re missed already.

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