Scott Dwyer is a writer and filmmaker living in upstate NY with his black cat Haxan. His weird short film “Stillborn” is available to view on Youtube. He also runs the weird horror in film and literature website The Plutonian.
I have been a fan of weird films pretty much my whole life. I remember wandering around video stores in the 1990’s looking for strange thrills, surreal dreams, bleak zombie apocalypses, and poetic perversions. The thrill of finding a strange film on the rack that you have never heard of is a pleasure lost in this modern era of Wikipedia and YouTube.
The true connoisseur of the weird is the hardest to please. Most films that try to be weird fall flat. Usually the best weird films are made by people who are just so weird that they don’t realize how weird their visions are, like Manos: The Hands of Fate. I classify the best weird movies as films that you can throw on late at night, fire up your hallucinogenic of choice, and see which of your friends gets freaked out and bounce, and which ones stay, lost in the infectious signals emanating from your television. Weird films tend to have a nonlinear logic to them, a kind of alien ambience. Sometimes you can’t tell if you are still watching a film, or have fallen asleep and are dreaming. Weird films are transgressive to those not into them, and objects of obsession to those who love being lost in a nightmare. So here is a list of my top ten, in no particular order, weird films that have somehow injected themselves into my psyche and force me to re-watch them repeatedly., or who are held back by budget or other factors and their film just ends up this strange offspring they did not intend, like
- The Black Cat (1934) – A couple traveling find themselves somehow caught in a tragic revenge story that seems to have emerged from some fevered horror fan’s wet dream. A revenge obsessed Bela Lugosi and a satanic Boris Karloff square off against each other in a art deco complex built over an old battlefield, eventually sending the whole film diving headfirst into a self-annihilating abyss. The plot and the acting are so over the top that it goes way beyond the Gothic horror that the director Edgar G. Ulmer may have been going for and heads straight into bad drug territory.
- Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989) – Racing camera, exploding transformations, a pounding industrial soundtrack, never has a weird film been so in your face. This film was my first exposure to the very strange field of Japanese cult films. If Eraserhead is a slow burn weird film, Tetsuo is a hyperkinetic burst of corrupted bodies, cold steel, and black blood.
- Mystics in Bali (1981) – The image of a witch’s head flying around, dragging its spinal cord, looking for fetuses to suck out of pregnant women’s wombs, is the zenith ofjaw-dropping sights. You just won’t believe what you are seeing, and what you are seeing will stay in your head forever.
- Hausu (1977) – Like a mix of Japanese schoolgirl pop and a haunted house film, this one lets out all the stops. Schoolgirls flying in the air, karate kicking at possessed furniture? Demonic cats? Little girl eating pianos? It’s just so damn cheery in it’s murders and madness. It’s bubblegum sweet, the kind of sweet that gives you mouth cancer.
- Tales From the Gimli Hospital (1988) – Love in a time of smallpox. From Canada but plays like a black and white Icelandic fairy tale that does not realize how crazy it is. Really really funny, but none of your friends will think it’s funny. You really have to have a deviant sense of humor to enjoy this. Now where did I put my fish carving shears?
- Crippled Masters (1979) – Two men, the dregs of society, team up to fight a local crime lord to avenge the evils he has wrought upon town. But these two are not your average men. One has no legs. One has no arms. Yet they team up, and truly clean up with their superior kung fu. The most bizarre martial arts film I have ever seen.
- Death Bed: The Bed That Eats (1977) – Death Bed works because it plays its concept completely straight. A fable of carnivorous beds, cursed demons, and trapped ghostly voyeurs. It veers from camp to creepy to surreal with no warning given. If it was not for some sheisty distribution moves preventing this film from seeing a wider audience on it’s release, I have no doubt this would have been a classic midnight movie.
- Frankenstein Conquers the World (1965) – Nazis rush to get the immortal heart of Frankenstein out of Germany during WW2 before the Allies reach them. They ship it to Japan, only to be caught at ground zero of the US nuclear bombardment. Years later, a strange feral boy is found running around scavenging food. He grows at an extraordinary rate, alarming scientists. It is revealed that the boy is in fact the rebirth of Frankenstein, the nuclear radiation having caused him to regenerate. He escapes the scientists and runs off into the forest. Just then a giant mutant dinosaur erupts from the earth and starts destroying local farms and eating livestock. The two giant mutants end up meeting and fighting in the weirdest match-up Toho studios ever produced. There are enough campy and what-the-hell-is-going-on moments to keep you glued to the screen. The amazing miniature work stands up with the best of the Godzilla series. Ishiro Honda deserves to be ranked on the same level as and Sam Peckinpah in terms of creating his own immediately recognizable filmic style.
- The Brainiac (1962) – A Baron burned at the stake in 1661 returns to Mexico City in 1961 (with supernatural powers to transform into a hideous monster) to wreak his promised vengeance on the descendants of his executioners. And the monster he transforms into, the hairy, long tongued brain sucking demon, it truly a sight to behold. He kind of looks like someone’s perverted grandpa. Just incredibly bizarre and campy. A real treat for late night monster movie fans.
- Eraserhead (1977) – The greatest midnight movie ever made. A surreal nightmare of reproduction and alienation. Low ambient machine noise whispering through a rundown apartment building. Mutant flesh quivering in the moonlight. Shrieking diseased infants. Desperate passions and a virulent disgust of the body. It’s slow dream rhythms continue to fascinate me.