I've always sought out bizarre and unusual films. Sometimes they are wonderful and brilliant and sometimes they are just trashy and weird for the sake of being weird. Some of them are visionary works of indie genius and some of them are... well, not. Whatever the reasons, the movies below have captured my fancy and I love them as much as I love any of the great Hollywood films. A caveat: not all of the clips I've gathered here are for everyone, and some contain a bit of nudity (not much, but a bit - bare breasts, mostly). Still, if you have the time (and can find them - some of them are particulary obscure), I recommend them all. Here then, is the list of my favorite cult movies, in no particular order:
Liquid Sky (1982)
Russian director Slava Tsukerman and writer/star Anne Carlisle created this 1982 sci-fi musical about aliens who land on a rooftop across the street from a model/singer (Carlisle) who also happens to deal heroin. The aliens live off the endorphins produced by both heroin and orgasms, and soon everyone Carlisle sleeps with ends up dead. Surreal, punk-infused mayhem, Liquid Sky was the first movie I actually drove into Center City Philadelphia to see at an art-house cinema (The Ritz 5). I saw it with my art-major friend, Deb and we both loved it, though I'm not sure how well it holds up today. It's certainly a fascinating look at the times. "Delicious, delicious. Oh, how boring."
Best known for the 1931 Bela Lugosi version of Dracula, Director Tod Browning's Freaks was banned for decades because it was deemed too disturbing. It tells the story of a beautiful trapeze artist who marries a circus midget. When it is discovered that she only did so because he has money, the midget's friends band together to take revenge on the gold-digger and turn her into one of their own. The film featured actual sideshow performers which include several micro-cephalics and an appearance by the Hilton Sisters, conjoined twins who would eventually become teh subject of the underrated but truly brilliant stage musical "Sideshow."
Pink Flamingos (1972)
Director John Waters has long since gone mainstream (Hairspray; Serial Mom), though his most outrageous and depraved movie set the benchmark for outsider filmmaking. Featuring Waters' personal muse, Divine as Babs Johnson, Pink Flamingos tells the story of the search for the "Filthiest Person in America." Incest; egg fetishes; a singing asshole and a grown woman in a playpen (the incomparable Edith Massey) are just a few of the many bizarre sights to be seen - not to mention the infamous dog-poop eating at the end. Singer Cyndi Lauper even managed to reference it on her first solo album ("Oh, Eggman, I love you!"). Not for the weak-stomached, I watched this movie on VHS at home, while a college student. My sister (in high school at the time) was making cookies and I begged her to stay in the kitchen several times.
Based on the H.P. Lovecraft short story 'Herbert West: Re-Animator,' this horror film was notoriously released without an MPAA rating. West (Jeffrey Combs of The 4400) plays a medical student who invents a formula that brings the dead back to life, with disasterous results. It features a scene that gives new meaning to the phrase 'giving head' and cemented Combs' career as an indy-Horror icon.
Plan Nine from Outer Space (1959)
Often considered "The Worst Movie Ever Made" (though Lord knows, I've seen worse), Plan Nine is the Holy Grail of bad movies. Cult hero Ed Wood, Jr. made this movie based on 5 minutes of footage he'd managed to capture before the death of his friend and film hero, Bela Lugosi. It's about aliens using ressurected corpses to take over the world and features TV Horror Hostess Vampira, wrestler Tor Johnson and Wood's usual cadre of talentless bozos. Cardboard sets, wooden acting and hilariously bad dialog are just the beginnning of this awful and hilarious sci-fi flop. "Because all of you of Earth are idiots!"
Visionary director and former Monty Python member Terry Gilliam (Time Bandits; The Brothers Grimm) has said that Brazil is part of a trilogy which starts with Time Bandits and ends with The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, in which he depicts the world as he thinks it should be. Grim, weird and obsessed with ductwork, it features Robert DeNiro as a terrorist plumber with a plan, Katherine Helmond as a plastic-surgery addicted mum and Jonathan Pryce as a beauraucrat caught up in the machinations of a dsytopian government. If you see this film , make you sure see the Director's Cut and not the sanitized studio version. Simply devastating.
Pee Wee's Big Adventure (1985)
1985 was a big year for cult movies, and director Tim Burton (Batman; Big Fish; Sweeney Todd) made his feature film debut with this tale about a boy and his bike. Paul Reubens' Pee Wee character went on to his own CBS Saturday morning show (itself a cult phenom, until Reubens was caught - literally - with his pants down in a Florida adult theatre). Wrtten by Reubens and the and the late, great Phil Hartman, Pee Wee's Big Adventure is still one of the funniest and most quotable movies to come out of the 1980's. Watch for appearances from Cassandra "Elvira" Peterson, Dee Snyder, James Brolin and Morgan Fairchild. "I know you are, but what am I?"
Perhaps the best known and most beloved cult movie of all time, The Rocky Horror Picture Show was a commercial disaster when it was originally released. Based on the stage musical by Richard O'Brien, Rocky Horror became a phenomenom in the late '70's at midnight shows across the country. I was introduced to it while working my first professional theatre gig as a teenager, and immediately fell in love with it. Tim Curry reprised his stage roll as Frank N. Furter, a transvestite mad scientist from the planet Transylvania, who wants to create a perfect man to be his lover. O'Brien is Riff-Raff; Oscar winner Susan Sarandon is Janet Wiess and Barry Bostwick (an original cast member of Grease) is Brad Majors in this musical send-up of horror and sci-fi movies and so much more. "Don't dream it - be it."
Forbidden Zone (1980)
Richard Elfman (husband to Jenna and brother to Danny) made this quirky little fantasy film starring Herve Villechaize ('Fantasy Island') and Susan Tyrell (Crybaby). In the basement of the Hercules' family home, lies a door to a giant intestine which leads to the Sixth Dimension. Forbidden Zone tells the tale of the Hercules family's attempt to rescue their daughter from the Sixth Dimension's evil King (Villechaize). Frequent Tim Burton collaborator Danny Elfman (then leader of the band The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo - later just known as Oingo Boingo) wrote the music and appears as Satan in the above clip. Oingo Boingo are probably best known for their theme song to another '80's cult classic, Weird Science. Forbidden Zone gives new meaning to the word "bizarre" and is probably best viewed while under the influence (not that I'm advocating that, but it certainly can't hurt).
They Live (1988)
Horror icon John Carpenter (Halloween; The Fog) wrote and directed this sci-fi parable about aliens who have sublty and subversively taken control of the planet, using subliminal messages to enslave the human race. Former wrestler "Rowdy" Roddy Piper stars as Nada, a down-on-his-luck jerk who discovers the plot with the help of a pair of filtering sunglasses. Keith David (The Thing; There's Something About Mary; Coraline) is on hand as a doubting Thomas and Meg Foster (she of the exceptionally pale blue eyes) is the reporter who claims not to believe. Funny, oddly sexy and oh-so-weird, They Live isn't exactly a good movie, but I find myself watching it every time it shows up on TV. "I have come here to chew bubble gum and kick ass. And I am all out of bubble gum!"
Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001)
The most recent film on this list, John Cameron Mitchell's transsexual fantasy punk-rock Off-Broadway musical translates brilliantly to film. Mitchell plays the titular Hedwig, whose botched sexual reassignment surgery left her with an 'angry inch' and a need to express herself through music. When the rock star Tommy Gnosis (Michael Pitt) steals her songs (they were lovers, once-upon-a-time), Hedwig and her band The Angry Inch start following his tour, playing to fans in a series of seafood restaurant chains called 'Bilgewaters.' Through songs and diatribes, Hedwig relays her story of love, rejection and redemption. The clip above is of my favorite number from the movie, "The Origin of Love," composer Stephen Trask's take on Plato's creation myth.
There are probaly a dozen or more cult movies I love, but these are my favorites. Did I miss any of your favorites? Let me know.
More of this, anon.