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)
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)
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).