Category Archives: Essays

QUESTIONS ARE BEAUTIFUL

Poring over past musings here, I ran across this comment under our List entry for Cube (1997): “Incidentally, I feel like the whole topic of the ontological mystery is something this site could devote an article to…” You’re right, Simon Hyslop, so this Bud’s for you!

But there’s an aven bigger rock to pick out of the trench than just the “ontological mystery.” Perhaps we should illuminate why we like weird movies, or at least get as close to solving that conundrum as we can here. It’s just gift-wrapped in the ontological mystery genre because it makes for such a dandy distillation of the concept of weirdness itself.

Mirriam-Webster defines “weird” as “of strange or extraordinary character : odd, fantastic.” This suggests that in order for something to be weird, it must be puzzling, mysterious, and perhaps even ultimately unsolvable. So many movies honored on 366 Weird Movies can be described exactly that way. The top movies on this site, by reputation and backed by reader polls, as often as not have ambiguous meaning and a baffling ending that leaves us with more questions than we started with.

Where the hell is Eraserhead set? What is really going on at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey? What genre does Donnie Darko even fit into? How exactly has the family in Dogtooth survived in the world this long? Why is there a secret door in an office building that leads to the inside of Being John Malkovich‘s head? No reason.

All those movies are honored, timeless classics debated by film scholars year in and year out, but the questions are still open: just as with the mysteries of Cube, and stories in the existentialist tradition going all the way back to Sartre and . Come to think of it, most movies enrolled in the List can be stretched to fit the definition of “ontological mysteries,” or at least mysteries of some kind or another. It’s the unanswered questions in these stories that captivate us.

Sure it does. But why? Why aren’t we happy with “boy meets girl and tEraserhead's ontological crisishey live happily ever after?” A lot of other people seem to be content with that. In real life, we seek answers and are never satisfied until we get them. That’s what the continuing pursuit of science is all about.

But right away you notice that real life never has a tidy ending with everything explained. There’s no real beginning or endings anywhere; every story stretches along an infinite thread in either direction.

The nature of the universe exposes us human beings as having one encumbering flaw. The fact that we defend it does not negate the fact that it is a flaw. The flaw is that humans need to understand Continue reading QUESTIONS ARE BEAUTIFUL

99 YEARS OF WEIRDNESS, IN NUMBERS

This article was submitted by Aki Vainio.

Introduction, Methodology, and Breakdown by Year

A warning: all the data used here comes from the IMDb, so it’s user-submitted, and not always that well thought-out. I mean, according to the IMDb, 212 of these movies are dramas. If you call everything drama, does that designation even have any meaning anymore? There’s also some problems with country or origin, because they always list all the countries that have participated in any way. Anyhow, that’s what I have easily and automatically available, so that’s what I’m using. All the data is from January 16th of 2019. Obviously, much of it will change over time.

Note on the methods used: I did the research by using a list of the movies I’ve maintained over on IMDb. IMDb gives you a CSV export of that data, which is good start, but did not contain everything I wanted. For the rest of the data, I used the API provided by the good folks at OMDb, which enabled me to get the countries and languages. On top of that, I used a little bit of coding and some Excel action.

The earliest movie on the list is from 1920 (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari) and the newest movie is from 2018 (Sorry to Bother You ), which covers 99 years. However, 20 of those years failed to provide the List with any movies at all.

Perhaps 1921 has the excuse of not knowing any better, but come on 1930s, your latter half (1935-1939) has a grand total of zero (0) movies. Or maybe the writers on this site have a prejudice against the 1930s.

Weird movies by year

The last year not to have a single movie on the list was 1956. After that there have been some poor years (like 1978, with only one), but the combination of moviemaking becoming cheaper and distributors finding new sources of income has made making movies for niche audiences possible.

The biggest years were 1968 and 1971, each of which produced 13 Canonized movies. 2006 wasn’t far behind with 12, while 1973 made it all the way to 11, and both 2004 and 2009 were in there with 10.

Personally, I’ve always believed that creativity is in no way dead, despite the influx of recent franchising attempts with sequels, prequels, reboots, remakes, and so forth. The list seems to support this belief. There’s still plenty of weird things going on, even if the drug-fueled highs of late 60s and early 70s might be behind us.

Who Comes Up with this Stuff?

Apparently, and , with a total of eight movies each. It’s also worth noting that they both share credits with others. comes up a bit short with seven, although with a total of ten features under his belt, 70% rate is not bad. and each have six, although Gilliam only directed one segment of Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life. Still within this higher echelon of directors, we have and Continue reading 99 YEARS OF WEIRDNESS, IN NUMBERS

WHAT MAKES A WEIRD MOVIE WEIRD?

Here at the Utility Muffin Research Kitchen, our staff is repeatedly faced with a perplexing question: How do you quantify a movie as “weird”? It’s like the old Supreme Court ruling on how to define pornography: “I know it when I see it.” OK, but our mission is to sort out the 366 Weirdest movies, on top of that. Now we’re forced to quantify movies, because some will be on the list and some will not. Given any two movies that appear equally weird, how do you rank them?

It’s an unanswerable question, ultimately. But here, submitted for the consideration of anybody who cares, is the closest thing to an objective system the present author can think of when ranking a movie’s weirdness. It’s the system I partially use when throwing in my vote for yay or nay on whether a movie belongs on the list. Since we even have reader polls once in awhile to vote movies onto the list, perhaps it will do some good to share it. It’s not an iron-clad rule, merely a guide.

What a silly exercise! No doubt Robin Williams from Dead Poets’ Society will charge in here after we’re done and tell us all to rip this page out of the textbook. Have at it, Robin, you’re probably right.

The Weird Movie Ranking System

You can rank a movie’s weirdness in four areas. These axes of ranking are:

  • Premise – A wild or original idea. The substance.
  • Presentation – The method, attitude, or approach of storytelling. The style.
  • Detail – The stuff you see in the “indelible image” and “three weird things” section of list entries.
  • Passion – The commitment to an individual and original vision imbued by the movie’s creator(s).

The higher we can rank a movie on each of these axes, the weirder it is. This isn’t anything silly like a one-to-ten scale, just a general mark of “high” or “low.” Most movies can’t make it onto the list with a high ranking in only one aspect. But the more boxes we tick on the list, the higher its chances. Now to examine each axis in more depth:

Premise

Premise appears to be the least important metric in measuring a movie’s weirdness. Premise is closely related to plot, but not identical. Some entries, such as Un Chien Andalou, have no plot to speak of. “A girl falls asleep and dreams about a magical fantasy land” can describe both The Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland. The premise doesn’t make the movie weird by itself.

Detail from Being John Malkovich posterBut it sure helps. Being John Malkovich is a great example: An office building staff discovers a portal into an actor’s head, and tries to exploit it for profit. Death Bed: The Bed That Eats is about a bed that eats people. Elevator Movie is Continue reading WHAT MAKES A WEIRD MOVIE WEIRD?

MR. BURTON’S BRAND OF PECULIAR MOVIES: A TIM BURTON ROUNDTABLE

As we approach the culmination of the List of the 366 Weirdest Movies Ever Made, hard choices need to be made. There are some directors (including , and ) who, while their overall contribution to the field of weird movies might not rise to the heights of a , a , or a , nonetheless possess singular enough visions to demand representation in some form or other on the List. The thorniest of these artists is almost certainly (with whom our Alfred Eaker, in particular, has aired his very public love/hate relationship).

After a couple of shockingly original short features that were so odd that Disney Studios canned him as a storyboard artist, Burton’s career began in earnest with the out-there kid’s comedy Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, an askew road movie starring an abrasively endearing man-child in a series of near-surreal adventures. He followed this unexpected hit with a series of comic-Gothic films featuring weirdo square-peg protagonists trying vainly to fit into society’s round holes. As a complete oeuvre, there’s no doubt that Burton has crafted an aesthetic that’s unique and auteurial. Stripes, organic spirals, Victorian costumes, and pallid pancake makeup serve as recurring visual signatures. Thematically, no one else whips the whimsical and the macabre into such a piquant froth. His late work, however, has unquestionably become both repetitive and qualitatively inferior (note that none of our contributors selected a Burton film made after 1999 as his best). At the same time, Burton has set new box office records with some of his lamest work, like his execrable Alice in Wonderland rehaul, reaping financial rewards that reinforce his worst habits and instincts. This has led to a well-deserved critical backlash against his films, and some on-point parodies:

But despite recent disappointments, there’s no doubt that Burton’s early work was among the most original and gruesomely lively Hollywood-backed product to appear throughout the late Eighties and early Nineties. The problem is that no single Burton film rises confidently above the rest, pronouncing itself as simultaneously his best and his weirdest work. This troublesome fact became even clearer when I solicited staff writers to pick the one Burton film that they thought should unquestionably make the List; I got five different responses, not all of them movies I personally would have considered. Our staff’s suggestions are listed below, in order of release.

El Rob Hubbard Beetlejuice (1988)

Still from Beetlejuice (1988)Although most of Tim Burton’s work has a weird aspect in some form or other, it’s my opinion that Beetlejuice was where he was allowed to let his freak flag fly freely, and it paid off with box-office success. How weird is it? Well, there’s Geena Davis and a Continue reading MR. BURTON’S BRAND OF PECULIAR MOVIES: A TIM BURTON ROUNDTABLE

REALIZING THE WITCH

Editors note: Richard Baxstrom, co-author (along with Todd Meyers) of “Realizing the Witch: Science, Cinema, and the Mastery of the Invisible”, contacted us with a request that we add the recently included book to the bibliography on our Häxan [Witchcraft Through the Ages] Certified Weird entry. He also included some thoughts on the book and why this academic work would be of interest to readers of this site. His commentary was long and detailed enough that we thought it merited its own post. Neither 366 Weird Movies nor Mr. Baxtrom were paid for this article; we simply thought it was an unusual situation which might be of interest to our readers.

’s 1922 film Häxan certainly qualifies as one of the strangest films ever made. This is the power the film possesses, and it caught Todd Meyers and me in its spell from the first time we encountered it. And this is what compelled us to write a book about it. We begin our book Realizing the Witch this way:

The Wild Ride. The Sabbat. Child sacrifice. Diseases, ruin and torture. The old hag. The kleptomaniac. The modern hysteric. Benjamin Christensen took the threads of phantasm and wove them into a film thesis that would not talk about witches, but would give the witch life. Häxan is a document, an amplified account of the witch insistent on its historical and anthropological qualities, presented through excesses so great that they toyed with his audience’s skepticism as much as their sensitivity. Christensen created an artistic work filled with irrationalities that not only made the witch plausible, but real.

Yes, you read that correctly—we argue that Benjamin Christensen shows us how the witch was real for sixteenth century Europeans. Our book is ultimately an attempt to understand how this could possibly be so. Even more strangely, we assert without shame or irony that Häxan has a great deal to say about what we take to be real or true today. Christensen always insisted that Häxan was a non-fiction film. We take his assertion very seriously and it is only by giving one’s self over to the utterly excessive, outlandish weirdness of Christensen’s creation that his claim and our agreement with it makes any sense at all. Anyone who has truly seen Häxan will immediately understand what we mean by this – the reality of the dark power of the witch is made known to us through her excessiveness, her weirdness.

We wrote this book for scholars and for fans of the film alike. This is a tricky balance to achieve. Our solution was to go as far as we could with Christensen and Häxan, to embrace and immerse ourselves in the film’s weirdness and try to come back from this journey with our own expression of why “the weird” is powerful, important, and truthful in its own way. This seems to be entirely consistent with what we perceive 366 Weird Movies is seeking to do and we are quite happy to find Häxan presented in the company of so many other wonderful, weird, and important films.

Richard Baxstrom

Edinburgh – March 2016

REPORT FROM FANTASTIC FEST 2015

See also: Alex Kittle’s Top 5 Weird Movies of Fantastic Fest 2015

Fantastic Fest is an experience like no other. I say that not to shill, just to state a simple fact. This was my first time attending the now-storied genre film festival, hosted by the famous Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, and it’s safe to describe the event as “something else.” Over the course of eight days I saw over 30 films—primarily new releases but also repertory screenings of Turkish pop-cinema, Shaw Brothers classics, 80s horror, and two secret screenings—and attended karaoke performances, video game demonstrations, and a Wild West-themed party. I missed some of the night-time shenanigans either because of exhaustion or conflict with screenings, but I do know that the hardest question in the Fantastic Feud game was (to me) a no-brainer concerning the aliens in Earth Girls Are Easy. I made friends with locals and critics while waiting for my films to start. I ate a decidedly inappropriate amount of fried food. I danced the chicken dance along with Alamo director Tim League. I watched DJs in animal costumes rap about reincarnation. I learned all about the “Satanic Panic” of the 80s and 90s from authors who were connected to it. I bumped elbows with festival attendees , Kumail Nanjiani, and Karyn Kusama (but was too shy to talk to any of them). I had, for lack of a better word, a fantastic time.

Fantastic Fest 2015Throughout the week I saw almost everything I wanted see, including recent festival hits like The Lobster, The Witch, and Victoria, as well as new efforts from filmmakers I admire such as Sean Byrne’s The Devil’s Candy, Karyn Kusama’s The Invitation, and Mamoru Hosoda’s The Boy and the Beast. From the documentary Remake, Remix, Rip-Off, I learned about the remarkably resourceful filmmakers working in Turkey during the 1970s-80s, who took advantage of the country’s lax copyright laws and created hundreds of weird, pastiche remakes. And while I missed The Man Who Saves the World (aka “Turkish Star Wars”), I did catch The Deathless Devil, a highly enjoyable caper that combines elements of superhero serials, James Bond, and killer robots—plus the star of the film was there to tell us silly behind-the-scenes stories. After joking that I wished the secret screening would be Crimson Peak, I was elated to discover it in fact WAS Crimson Peak and I just about lost it when walked out on stage! Everyone received a complimentary pint glass and I’m still riding kind of high from the whole experience. The second secret screening was one of Drafthouse’s “unearthed” cult films, a haphazard action movie called Dangerous Men that doesn’t quite reach the enjoyably campy heights of personal favorites like Miami Connection or Hard Ticket to Hawaii, but certainly had its ridiculous moments. The most-hyped film was Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room, which I saw only after hearing nearly every single fest attendee sing its praises, and while it is a very good, brutal thriller, it is, in fact, not the greatest thing ever, Continue reading REPORT FROM FANTASTIC FEST 2015

THE HISTORY OF SUPERHERO MOVIES (AND THEIR RABID FANBOYS) PART TWO

Continued from last week’s survey of the history of the superhero movie.

Today, Marvel has the upper hand in big screen superhero adaptations. However, DC has long ruled the small screen with both live-action and animated productions. DC’s “Superboy” series (1988-1992) was actually written by comic writers (imagine that), producing a critical and popular success.

Trying to compete with their rival, Marvel issued The Punisher (1989), and the film was as inherently dull as the character itself (they proved this point again in a 2004 reboot).

In the wake of 1989’s hot Batman, executives launched the short-lived TV series “The Flash” (1990). Somehow, it took awhile for them to realize that the Red speedster’s appeal lay in his flashy nemeses. By the time they figured it out, the potential audience had given up after seeing Flash square off against one too many bland burglars. This was unfortunate because later episodes, two of which feature Mark Hamill as the Trickster, were among television’s most psychedelic comic book adaptations.

Dick Tracy (1990)Warren Beatty produced, directed, and starred in Dick Tracy (1990), which ranks among the best of its kind, self-consciously conveying a delightfully alternative synthetic universe despite uneven writing and an off-kilter performance from Madonna.

Foolishly, Warner Brothers sacked from its Dark Knight franchise (a testament to the influence of a mighty McDonald’s Happy Meal deal) and committed hara-kiri by turning the reigns over to perennial hack Joel Schumacher.

Not surprisingly, on TV “Batman: The Animated Series” (1992-1995), the animated “Superman” (1996-2000), and “Justice League” (2001-2006) found the original comics’ pulse far better than most of their feature film counterparts. Like the earlier incarnation, ‘s “Spiderman” (1994-1995) also became a much sought after cult favorite. Semper had a simple rule, which one think would be obvious to everyone but producers: “It does not matter who Spiderman is battling. What matters is Peter Parker has girlfriend problems and struggles to pay the rent.”

DC’s “Lois and Clark: The New Adventures Of Superman” (1993-1997), shared Semper’s commonsense ideology. Again, DC met with critical and popular success, despite its less than dignified final season.

Marvel had a trio of hits in Blade (1998), the even better Blade II (2002), and Blade Trinity (2004), although as super-horror none of the films could compare to Marv Wolfman/Gene Colan’s long-running cult comic book “Tomb of Dracula.”

DC’s “Smallville” premiered in 2001 and had an extraordinary decade-long run until 2011, although it consistently had mixed reviews.

Smartly, Marvel briefly learned from mistakes made by DC and hired Continue reading THE HISTORY OF SUPERHERO MOVIES (AND THEIR RABID FANBOYS) PART TWO