THE ACID EATERS (1968).
Drug-addled sexploitation doesn't get more lovably idiotic than this colorful piece of shit (clocking in at a record 62 minutes), in which a bunch of bored 9-to-5'ers exit their dreary jobs, leap on cycles, and hit the rural highways in search of kicks. At first, it's nothing but '60s swill, including topless swims, body painting, and inane comedy. But this is one of those rare films that refuses to follow any law of narrative cinema, as you'll quickly realize when these Weekend Whoriers discover "the white pyramid", a 40-foot tower of giant LSD sugar cubes sitting in the middle of nowhere. They climb onto it, strip down, and finally go inside to meet the Devil, who comes complete with ill-fitting, red body stocking, limp horns and a pitch fork that has a block of 'acid' (a big chunk of Styrofoam) stuck on the end, which the leads chew on -- and who helps them indulge in their most lurid white-trash fantasies. This amazing, perplexing, T&A (Tits 'n 'Acid) delight will leave you wondering just how much the filmmakers took before production -- not to mention, where can we get some of the same?
AMERICAN BOY (1978).
We all know Martin Scorsese makes damned good films, but this 55 minute documentary is one of his weirdest, funniest, least known works. Remember the twitchy gun salesman in TAXI DRIVER? Well, his real name is Steven Prince, and this long-time friend of Marty's is even wackier in real life. He sorta reminds me a real-life, '70s version of a Steve Buscemi character, and Scorsese simply dumps the guy on a sofa and lets him tell stories about his checkered past, such as working at a gas station outside of Barstow and having to waste a speed freak with a .44 Magnum. It's no surprise his best tales are drug related -- like road managing Neil Diamond while strung out on smack, visiting a typical Village shooting gallery, and encountering a fully-grown, domesticated gorilla while stoned out of his gourd. His funniest story even has present-day resonance, because when Prince tells us about giving an O.D.'ing girl an impromptu adrenaline shot, you suddenly realize that his true story was ripped-off verbatim in PULP FICTION, right down to the tiniest details. A ragged, but totally compelling portrait.
Grab your Gitanes and prepare yourself for a double-dose of crazed, ahead-of-their-time French musicals, courtesy of singer-songwriter Serge Gainsbourg (who bedded some of France's most beautiful women, even though he looked like Bogie's nerdy cousin). Made for French TV, ANNA was an energetic feature-length mosaic conceived specifically for longtime-Godard-ingénue Anna Karina, who plays our naive title waif -- a bespectacled young woman who steps off the train into the big city, and literally stumbles into the middle of a surreal fashion shoot. Jean-Claude Brialy co-stars as handsome photographer Serge (with the real Gainsbourg playing his droopy friend), who becomes instantly obsessed with this mysterious unknown girl in his photos. Soon the lovesick lug is pining for her and belting out showtunes in the middle of the street. Of course, it's easy to understand Serge's passion, as soon as Anna -- in the privacy of her home -- indulges in a wild, undulating dance that would make Ann-Margret pale. Thick with romance and brimming with bizarre musical numbers, director Pierre Koralnik's colorful ode to true love, both lost and found, is a deliriously pretentious, altogether brilliant slice of surreal eye candy.
APOCALYPSE POOH (1987).
This is four-star guerilla filmmaking, and the funniest ten minutes worth of video I've ever seen. T. Graham had the revelation to take clips from Disney's Winnie the Pooh cartoons and then dub dialogue from APOCALYPSE NOW over it. The result is perfect, with Piglet suddenly transformed into Dennis Hopper's mind-blown journalist, Pooh pulled by a runaway kite to The Stones' "Satisfaction", and Tigger popping up for the "Fuckin' Tiger!" sequence. This is sheer brilliance, and I must've watched this tape at least twenty times by now. Also includes "Blue Peanuts" (Charlie Brown meets BLUE VELVET) and The Archies doing a Sex Pistols ditty.
THE AWAKENING OF THE BEAST (1969).
Jose Mojica Marins has been cranking out his sadistic South of the Border horror pics since the '60s, proving himself a cross between Alejandro Jodorowsky and H.G. Lewis. This self-reflexive, drugged-out masterwork proves that drugs "stimulate perversity and promote corruption" (yeah!) -- with Marins playing a dual role as that top-hatted ghoul, Coffin Joe, as well as himself, a director besieged by critics for his violent imagery. It begins with several b&w nudie-roughie vignettes, showcasing pretty young gals smoking grass, shooting up, losing their inhibitions, stripping, and becoming crazed sex maniacs (this is a problem?). Add bizarre sojourns with Marins defending his beliefs and movies; then end it with an L.S.D. experiment, as volunteers dose up, experience rapid-fire hallucinations and are tormented by Coffin Joe. Marins expertly meshes fiction and reality, then whips it into a garish freak-out featuring some of the silliest trip sequences of all time!
BAD TIMING: A SENSUAL OBSESSION (1980).
One of the most unrelentingly grim films ever made about the "joys" of love. Nicolas Roeg's psycho-sexual tale uses a fragmented narrative structure to show us the dysfunctional (to put it mildly) relationship between womanizing louse Art Garfunkel and slutty, self-destructive Teresa Russell. From their first steamy encounter to the sick suicide/finale, Roeg pours on the liquor, pills, and emotional manipulation posing as love. In other words, this is NOT a good 'date film'. Though Roeg's obtuse eye almost overpowers the characters, it's a sleazeball, arthouse masterwork! Co-starring Harvey Keitel, who's drawn to these type of obsessive dramas like a fly to shit.
BEAT GIRL [a.k.a. WILD FOR KICKS] (1960).
Terrific British juvenile delinquent trash, filmed with a grimy, tough-as-nails energy that puts comparable U.S. teen angst flicks to shame. Gillian Hills stars as Jennifer, a pissed-off teen whose Dad spends more time with his new French floozy bride than with her. The answer? Hang out with all the lowlife Beatniks, go for joyrides, and dance your ass off in their "underground cellars and caves". Unfortunately, this sultry blonde dish also gets involved with strip clubs and murder. Ignore all the curdled family melodrama, because this rebellious gem perfectly captures the swinging Beat milieu, complete with dingy locales, wild slang, and appearances by real-life rocker Adam Faith as the local heartthrob, Christopher Lee as a sleazy strip club owner and a pre-stardom (not to mention, pre-liver damaged) Oliver Reed as a supporting social outcast. Without question, one of the coolest, dingiest flicks ever made about the London scene.
BLACK CAESAR / HELL UP IN HARLEM (1973).
Blaxploitation doesn't come much better than this pair of Larry Cohen grindhouse masterworks, which chart the murderous misadventures of Tommy Gibbs, as he rises from shoeshine boy to mob kingpin by killing all his old white bosses. And Fred "The Hammer" Williamson was born to play this macho role, strutting his stuff like he could hit out-of-the-part homers with his dick. CAESAR is a Harlem variation on the Warner Brothers gangster pics from the '30s, overflowing with cliched melodrama and sledgehammer social commentary. But Cohen pushes all the right buttons and kicks ass during a dizzying climax, as Williamson runs from torpedoes thru midtown Manhattan with a hole blown in his stomach! HARLEM, tossed together after CAESAR's unexpected success, is pure adrenalin in a film can -- a totally whacked actioner that tosses logic in the toilet and runs on high-octane, velour violence. Often copied, but never equalled, this pair set the tone for a years of shitty, 42nd street triple bills to come. The brightest gems from Williamson's CAESAR salad days.
BLOOD FREAK (1974).
There are plenty of bad movies. But every so often there comes a movie that's cosmically horrible. How else can you describe an inept, no-budget, anti-drug, pro-Christian monster movie that revels in gore and features a cast spawned from a century's worth of in-breeding? Director Steve Hawkes stars as a biker who smokes a laced joint, samples some experimental poultry, and promptly develops a taste for human blood and a ridiculous paper mache bird head. After savagely murdering the cast, he's finally saved by some "Faith in God" bullshit and a religious dish (subtly) named Angel. This film bites, but it's such a mind-roasting mix of genres that I'll never forget it.
THE BRAINIAC (1961).
Mexploitation at its seedy best -- so weird and ridiculous you'll choke on your warm beer. It kicks off in high gear when a 17th century necromancer is burnt at the stake and vows to kill all the descendents of his badly-dubbed inquisitors. Sure enough, the guy returns to Earth (via a comet, for Christ's sake) 300 years later in the form of a rubbery, claw-handed monster with an 18-inch-tongue that can suck the brains outta his victim through a pair of holes bored in the back of their neck. Oh yeah, he also has chameleon-like powers, which enables him to crash society events and make it with exotic babes. Believe it or not, even nuttier than it sounds. If you dig this one, check out DOCTOR OF DOOM, which even tosses female pro-wrestling into the stew.>
A BUCKET OF BLOOD (1959).
Roger Corman is one of my all-time favorite directors and this, folks, is his finest film. Shot in only five days, it's horrific, satirical and layered with subtext about Corman's own aspirations. Dick Miller stars as Walter Paisley, the ridiculed busboy at beatnik coffeehouse The Yellow Door, whose dream in life is to be an artist. Unfortunately, the guy's talentless -- squeezing his lump of clay into even lumpier shapes while commanding it to "Be a nose!". Fate plays a hand when Walter accidentally kills a cat, covers it with clay, entitles the work "Dead Cat", and is promptly acclaimed a genius by local Beats. With Walter's ego out of control, he becomes obsessed with winning the woman of his dreams and moves onto larger pieces (like "Murdered Man"). Packed with enough pseudo-hip dialogue ("Take me away to some cool blue place, and gas me," says one smitten groupie) and excruciatingly pretentious poetry to make you choke on your espresso... And remember, "Life is an obscure hobo bumming a ride on the omnibus of art... Burn gas buggies and whip your sour cream of circumstance and hope... Creation is. All else is not. What is not creative is graham crackers. Let it all crumble to feed the creative."
CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1980).
Where would a SHOCK CINEMA Best-Of list be without Ruggero Deodato's once-infamous, now-classic Italian cannibal gut-muncher? When acclaimed documentary filmmaker Alan Yates (Carl Gabriel Yorke), his girlfriend/script-girl Faye Daniels (Francesca Ciardi) and their two cameramen disappear after venturing into a region of the Amazon jungle known as The Green Inferno, a search party that includes wimpy NYU Professor Monroe (Robert Kerman) follows their trail deep into cannibal country. After running into various primitive tribes, this expedition finally discovers the remains of the missing filmmakers, with the second half consisting of Monroe (the sole voice of reason) and TV-producers back at home reviewing the slaughtered crew's raw footage -- a sickening chronicle of how these fame-hungry jackasses terrorized the natives, burned their huts, acted like savages, and got exactly the fate that they deserved. Sure, there's graphic disemboweling, decapitation, rape, flesh-eating, and assorted mutilation, but the film is also ingeniously constructed pulp equipped with a chillingly-prescient message about the public's thirst for sensationalism. Or, as one character deftly puts it, "The more you rape their senses, the happier they are."
CREATION OF THE HUMANOIDS (1962).
An unforgettably cheesy futuristic parable from silent-era-child-actor-turned-director/producer Wesley E. Barry, which tackles BLADE RUNNER-style themes on a $1.98 budget. Set years after a 48-hour-long World War III, during which 92% of the population was blown off the map, society is now comprised of aristocratic humans and "clickers" (pale, green-blooded humanoid robots who now make up the majority of Earth's workforce), a Gestapo-esque organization called "The Body of the Order of Flesh and Blood" -- led by an ego-fed shithead named Cragis (Don Megowan) -- goes ballistic when the subservient machines decide to better themselves courtesy of human-lookalike makeovers and implanted emotions/memories. Of course, when super-intolerant pea-brain Cragis discovers this plot, his first urge is to exterminate all of these "soulless, godless, imitations of man." Though almost totally devoid of action, the highly-imaginative script by Jay Simms (PANIC IN YEAR ZERO!, THE KILLER SHREWS) is laced with amusing plot twists, wonderful dialogue and surprisingly insightful subtext -- delving into inter-species love, intolerance, robotic religion, as well as what it truly means to be human. Co-starring PLAN NINE FROM OUTER SPACE's Dudley Manlove as one of the bald, black-eyed "clickers."
THE CRIPPLED MASTERS (1982).
This chopsocky fest isn't for the easily offended. It's the type of movie that'll clear the room within 20 minutes, and wreck any chance of you getting laid that evening. But it's a total field day for twisted kung fu fanatics, with Li Ho and Tang Chu Sing starring as a pair of recent cripples (Ho has his arms hacked off by a vicious warlord, while Sing's legs are burnt into shrivelled sticks by acid). What makes this film disturbing is the fact these guys are actually handicapped, and for the first half we watch 'em tortured, teased and treated like shit. Of course, under the tutelage of a wise old fart, they're taught to work as a team, with the cheers coming fast and furious the moment the once-pissed-on pair begin kicking ass. These guys are fucking incredible, especially when half-pint Sing leaps on Ho's back and they become an unstoppable whirling dervish. Though no great piece of art, this demented pic will definitely stick in your memory (whether you want it to or not).
DARKTOWN STRUTTERS [a.k.a. Get Down and Boogie] (1974).
A beloved, brain-damaged, grindhouse all-time favorite! This blaxploitation/musical/comedy/biker movie is unapologetically surreal and stooopid, featuring a female motorcycle gang led by Trina Parks (DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER's Thumper) and decked out in threads that would've given Liberace wet dreams. Searching for the leader's missing mom (who ran the local Watts abortion clinic!), these funky femmes encounter a cocaine dealer in a white cowboy suit, pedalling a "Pot-sicle' cart; a karate choppin' Brother who breaks through doors (even at his own house), cycle-straddling KKK'ers in red leather hip boots, with crosses strapped to their cissy bars; a sexually-kinky Colonel Sanders look-a-like who's into cloning experiments and keeps kidnapped blacks caged in the cellar; outlandish song-'n'dance numbers; plus more watermelon and ribs jokes than you'll believe. It's all jawdroppingly demented, with kudos going to whacked scripter George Armitage (MIAMI BLUES), director William Witney (who made about a billion B-westerns back in the '30s and '40s) and set designer Jack Fisk, who mixes Willy Wonka with Ken Russell for cornea-singing results. Look for Roger Mosley (MAGNUM P.I.), Stan Shaw, DeWayne Jessie, plus Dick Miller as a local Pig.
END OF THE ROAD (1969).
Director Aram Avakian twists John Barth's novel through a funhouse sensibility, and with the aid of always-whacked scripter Terry Southern, concocts a savagely comic look at alienation, insanity and middle-class mores. Stacy Keach stars as Jake Horner, who goes catatonic on a train platform and winds up at Dr. James Earl Jones' psycho-farm. There he's rehabilitated by way-too-modern methods and is sent back into the world, ready to disrupt the lives of a not-so-normal married couple (Harris Yulin asnd Dorothy Tristan). Indulgent, pitch-black and truly one-of-a-kind, with superb Gordon Willis cinematography. For more Keach weirdness: THE NINTH CONFIGURATION.
THE FALLS (1980).
Peter Greenaway has a rep of being one of the most visually dazzling, unapologetically pretentious directors on the planet. But wait until you see his first feature, which clocks in at nearly 3 1/2 hours and makes THE COOK, THE THIEF, ET CETERA seem as accessible as The Frugal Gourmet. This mock-documentary presents us with 92 short biographies of average people affected by the V.U.E. (Violent Unknown Event) -- a vague ecological upheaval that has something to do with ornithology and seems to be changing the entire nature of human civilization. Methodically constructed, frustrating as hell at times, but also strangely compelling for extremely intrepid filmgoers.
GHOSTS...OF THE CIVIL DEAD (1988).
This Aussie prison flick -- the feature debut of director John Hillcoat (THE ROAD) -- makes PAPILLON look like Fantasy Island. Based on actual incidents, there's no gloss on this bleak tale, set at a high tech, maximum security "containment" facility. And though the inmates are a scurvy bunch of felons and miscreants, the guards are even worse -- brutalizing the captives and casually stripping them of their humanity. It's a depressing slice of life, complete with grizzled lifers who've been in the clink since they were teens, gang rapes, terminal boredom, and acres of razor wire. But when the administration goes totally power-hungry (watch out for those cavity searches!) and begins trucking in full-blown psychos, it leads to self-mutilations, fires, hunger strikes, and a relentless finale. The cast is so realistic you'd think they were pulled outta some local lock-up, with Nick Cave (who also provided some music and co-scripted) a stand-out in his small role as a four-star nutcase. A heavy duty social message pic, steeped in sleaze and rage.
HAVING A WILD WEEKEND [a.k.a. Catch Us If You Can] (1965).
Before turning to far-out features like EXCALIBUR, EXORCIST II: THE HERETIC and ZARDOZ, director John Boorman's first project was this frantic, pop-music/comedy which was supposed to ape The Beatles' celluloid success. The (Dreary) Dave Clark Five was hired on to star, but Boorman took the bolder route of lacing the groovy style with a razored cynicism (courtesy of scriptwriter Peter Nichols, who later penned A DAY IN THE DEATH OF JOE EGG and PRIVATES ON PARADE) that comes off like a Mike Leigh adaptation of A HARD DAY'S NIGHT. The interchangeable quintet star as professional "stunt boys", with Barbara Ferris as a supermodel who ditches her job to tour London with lead singer Dave Clark. A hit-and-miss endeavor (it would've helped to have hired a band with more than one hit tune), but when Boorman connects, he meshes high style and a deft skewering of that entire groovy era. A surprisingly caustic glimpse into the underbelly of the mod generation, as well as a film too honest for its own good.
THE HOLY MOUNTAIN (1973).
Alexandro Jodorowsky's most daring film, and well as THE celluloid mind-roaster of all time! An epic hallucination crawling with wall-to-wall mega-weirdness, in which Christ, The White Master (Alex), and a pack of symbolic thieves (each named after a planet, and each representing a different ill of society) link up to raid The Holy Mountain and steal its secrets. This pic would cost a billion dollars to make nowadays, and its first half hour of in-your-face imagery (crucified, skinned animals; storm troopers; cripples; flowers blooming from stigmata; exploding toads) is like prime Fellini on really prime Peyote. Outrageous, pretentious, unbelievable, and unforgettable. There'll never be another film remotely like it!
HOME MOVIES (1979).
Back in my younger days, when Brian DePalma could do no wrong (was I an idiot, or what?), I was one of the seven moviegoers in the country who laid out hard cash to see this screwball comedy. Filmed during a teaching stint at Sarah Lawrence, DePalma returned to his low-budget roots with this overdose of obscure in-jokes and slumming Hollywood pals. Keith Gordon stars as Denis Byrd, a teenager grappling with his ultra-dysfunctional family. Dad (Vincent Gardenia) is cheating on Mom. Mom is continually threatening to commit suicide. And older brother Gerrit Graham is an egomaniacal wacko who's obsessed with the manly ways of "Spartanetics" and plans to wed a reformed bimbo (ex-Mrs. DePalma herself, Nancy Allen). But first, she has to prove her worthiness, even if it means dressing up like a slut and nearly getting raped by a motorcycle gang. On top of that, Denis yearns to do the bonedance with her -- that is, when the kid isn't dressing up in blackface and doing surveillance on his dad's office. Let's not forget Kirk Douglas' overwrought antics as a college Prof named The Maestro, who's trying to make Denis a "star" (instead of an "extra") in his own life. Sounds silly? You betcha. It's also surprisingly clever. Besides, what other film in recent memory can boast of gags about bikers, health food, voyeurism, and even a live sex act with a rabbit? A severely guilty pleasure.
IN A GLASS CAGE [Tras El Cristal] (1985).
Director Agustin Villaronga's sick-assed drama will best stick in your memory as an oppressive masterwork of dread in the guise of an art film. Gunter Meisner stars as a Nazi war criminal who experimented on boys during the war, now living safely in Spain. But when he becomes trapped in an iron lung, a mysterious young man is hired on as his nurse -- and just by coincidence, this kid was (1) violated by the bastard years earlier, and is (2) totally out of his fucking mind. He starts slowly by reading aloud from the Nazi's graphic journals, but soon progresses to killing the old dude's wife, recreating atrocities with the (unwilling) assistance of local urchins, and taking control of the entire household -- eventually turning the incapacitated swine's dark past back on himself for a surreal revenge-fueled finale. Though lacking in hardcore explicitness, this grim, pedophilia-fueled flick focuses on the true horror at the core of human nature. A shower afterward is optional, but recommended.
This German take on Bram Stoker's Dracula is endearingly half-baked art-sleaze on par with Herzog's NOSFERATU. Although it looks like your typical costumed bore, the film is filled with trashy horror tidbits like cheap sex and dead nuns, but director Hans Geissendorfer's main objective is a two-ton metaphor about those evil Nazis and man's unending capacity for evil. Downtrodden 19th century peasants come up with a plan to destroy their fiendish ruling class oppressor, The Count (Paul Albert Krumm). But first, they enlist the town bonehead, Jonathan (Juergen Jung), to infiltrate the vampire's clan meetings. And wait until you get a gander at this sinister Count, who's got a hairdo just like ol' Adolph H. himself and barks orders to his minions like he just left a touring company of "Springtime for Hitler." Complete with an entourage of ethereal young girls, a healthy dollop of sex and several changes to the vampire mythos, JONATHAN is a schizophrenic joyride of high art, cheap thrills and lavish excess, greatly aided by the Robbie Muller's (BARFLY, DOWN BY LAW) lavish cinematography, which provides the appropriate stench of rural life.
A LIZARD IN A WOMAN'S SKIN [Una Lucertola Con la Pelle di Donna] (1971).
Director Lucio Fulci's giallo is a trippy, London-based psychodrama that mixes murder, sex, mystery, madness, and annoying hippies. Florinda Bolkan (A BRIEF VACATION, INVESTIGATION OF A CITIZEN ABOVE SUSPICION) plays affluent, married, Carol Hammond, who suffers from horny, hallucinogenic dreams in which she's seduced by sultry, hedonistic neighbor Julia (Anita Strindberg). But when Julia is murdered in her bed, on the very same night that Carol dreams of brutally stabbing her, she begins to question her own sanity. While all of the evidence points to Carol -- who may have a "split personality" -- Police Inspector Corvin (Stanley Baker) questions this seemingly open-and-shut case and doggedly seeks out the true killer, with Leo Genn as Carol's influential father, Jean Sorel as her unfaithful hubbie, plus Los Bravos frontman Mike Kennedy as a sinister hairball. The police procedural portion of this story is fairly routine, but Fulci compensates with hypnotic imagery, wild orgies, lesbian foreplay, and shocking visuals (including a few vivisected dogs courtesy of Carlo Rambaldi). Even at its goofiest (fending off a swarm of bats, fleeing from a huge pissed-off swan) or more pedestrian (chased by a knife-wielding motorcyclist), the film is grounded by Bolkan's spirited performance, gorgeous production values and atmospheric locations.
LOVE IS A DOG FROM HELL [a.k.a. CRAZY LOVE] (1987).
This excursion into the warped world of Charles Bukowski is subtle, disturbing, heart-wrenching, and altogether brilliant. Filmed in Belgium by young first-time filmmaker Dominique Deruddere, this emotionally wrenching drama blends three short stories by everyone's favorite puffy-eyed poet into a lifelong record of sexual awakening, loneliness and true love, as experienced by everyman Harry Voss. But don't expect anything gooey and sentimental -- its episodes may be from the heart, yet they're also tough as rawhide. The film follows everyman Harry Voss through three stages of his life. First, as an infatuated 12-year-old. Then as a severely acne-scarred 19-year-old. And finally, as an alcoholic adult who finally finds the woman of his dream in the form of an angelic (albeit stolen) corpse. Impeccably directed and without a hint of pathos, this is a masterpiece of truth, despair and the unexpected forms love can take. An ode to twisted romanticism that's also one of the best films of the '80s, and the perfect double bill with BARFLY.
MAN ON A SWING (1974).
I was just a kid when I first saw this police thriller, and it creeped the hell out of me. Now realizing that it was directed by Frank Perry, behind such equally eccentric pics as THE SWIMMER, LAST SUMMER, PLAY IT AS IT LAYS, and RANCHO DELUXE, I'm not surprised. Based on a true story, Cliff Robertson is a small town cop obsessed with the murder of a local girl, who's found in a supermarket parking lot. But in the middle of his investigation, in steps Joel Grey as Franklin Wills, a clairvoyant who's hooked into the case and offers to lend a hand -- until the cops begin suspecting Wills of the brutal crime. The film initially works its way under your skin with its stark style, then transforms into a psychological study which continually bolts from viewer expectation, wth a script by David Zelag Goodman (STRAW DOGS). Backed by unusually unsympathetic performances (Cliff and Joel are both pretty damned slimy) and unanswered questions, it's no surprise Paramount dumped this character-driven winner.
MASSACRE AT CENTRAL HIGH (1976).
On the surface, this looks like another empty-headed teen romp, especially when you spot Andrew Stevens and Robert Carradine in the credits. But give it a chance. In addition to the cool revenge plot (complete with bloody demises and hideous '70s fashions), director Renee Daalder sneaks in a radical allegory about the abuse of power and the corruption of revolutionary ideals. Set at a 'typical' high school (and conspicuously devoid of any "adult" characters), Andrew Stevens and his gang of wealthy, testosterone thugs keep the nerdier students terrorized by their Gestapo-like tactics. Enter Derrel Maury as a creepy new kid who winds up crippled by these jocks, and besides to realign the school's power structure by systematically murdering these neanderthals. In the film's most original twist, the moment the school's once-abused misfits are empowered, they lose their humanity and turn into as big a bunch of shitheels as the original leaders -- that is, until Maury gets his hands on 'em. Though ripe with drive-in level acting (including the always-watchable Rainbeaux Smith), this is sleazy, smart and subversive fun.
MASSACRE MAFIA STYLE [a.k.a. Like Father, Like Son; The Executioner] (1974).
I'd be hard-pressed to come up with a more gratuitously violent, amazingly wrongheaded, organized crime outing than this Sicilian slaughter-fest from nightclub-crooner-turned-film-auteur Duke Mitchell -- its director, writer, producer and star. Opening with one of the greatest, gut-busting scenes of all time, as two hitmen ventilate over a dozen office workers in the first four minutes, while Duke warbles the incongruous "Tica Ti Tica Te" on the soundtrack. We then get to know Mimi (Mitchell), the son of an exiled mob boss who heads to Los Angeles to take over the city's bookmaking and prostitution scene, and flaunts a terrifying wardrobe of leisure suits, navel-cut shirts and cheap jewelry. Soon Mimi and his old pals are ransoming mobsters, nonchalantly pump-shotgunning his competition and rising quickly within The Syndicate. As Mimi's body count quickly reaches absurd levels -- blowing up an entire funeral party, hanging a guy with a meathook through his eyeball, even an assassination on live TV! -- almost the entire supporting cast is bumped off. Crooks. Their kids. Old ladies. Even cute little dogs. Mitchell's acting is almost hypnotically amateurish, with Mimi's belly-aching about the pain suffered by the Sicilian people some of the most hilariously earnest monologues ever committed to film. It's a vicious, silly, misguidedly sentimental, warped masterpiece.
MY BREAKFAST WITH BLASSIE (1983).
Years after his untimely demise, Andy Kaufman is still getting press, with everybody and their barber now praising his innovative "performance art". What they forget to mention is that when the poor guy was alive, almost no one got the joke. When I saw him in person, he was nearly booed off the stage; and when I first caught this BREAKFAST, it emptied the theatre. Andy was a pure, geek genius, and this hour-long flick is a perfect intro to his acid eccentricity, with Kaufman and ex-wrestling king Freddie Blassie trading anecdotes over a low cuisine breakfast at Sambo's. Depending on your Kaufman Quotient, this (semi)improvised hoot will seem either brilliantly stupid or just plain stupid, as the two mega-egos swap personal hygiene quips. Directed by Linda Lautrec and Johnny Legend, this put-on will fly right over most people's puny minds. It's their loss.
NIGHT WARNING [a.k.a. Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker] (1982).
From its cheesy veneer, you'd probably peg this as yet another no-budget slasher-rama, but Susan Tyrell's psychotic, white trash performance (on par with her work in FORBIDDEN ZONE) makes this a hilarious hoot. Looking like she escaped from a Bellevue production of WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?, Tyrell plays teenage Jimmy McNichol's over-protective aunt, who's perpetually on the verge of raping the poor kid. But when Jimmy becomes old enough to move out and screw his perky blonde girlfriend (a pre-NEWHART Julia Duffy), his independence sets Tyrell on a murder spree. A twisted subplot involves homophobic police-douchebag Bo Svenson, who thinks Jimmy is queer and committed the murders himself. Bluntly directed by William Asher (who should've been castrated years earlier for fouling drive-ins with his Annette & Frankie "Beach Party" abominations), and co-starring Steve Eastin as McNichol's gay gym coach and Bill Paxton as a wiseass high school asshole.
9 LIVES OF A WET PUSSY (1976).
What's a generic '70s porno flick doing here? Because I love to uncover celebrities in their early career potholes. This time around, it's BAD LIEUTENANT-director Abel Ferrara, who actually stars in one of the sex scenes. Produced by Navaron Films (also responsible for MS. 45), an opium-stoned hostess introduces several sexual vignettes, and though slightly classier than the usual cum pageants, it's impossible to achieve a Lady Chatterley-like decadence when you're saddled with an Al Adamson-like cast. But wait. Because halfway in, we get a 10 minute flashback featuring a Christian "Old Man" and his two virgin daughters who are so horny that a Bible quote gives 'em the idea to get Pop drunk and then fuck him while he's passed out. Sure enough, that's Abel himself under the cheap white wig (credited under the moniker Jimmy Laine, which he also used in DRILLER KILLER), being raped in his sleep by his comely (emphasis on the come) offspring. It's all rather pathetic, with the distinct possibility Abel had a Dick Double for the scene, since director Jimmy Boy L. (another Abel nom de plume!) never gives you a long shot of nekkid Ferrara. Nevertheless, a must-see embarrassment!
OUTBACK [a.k.a. Wake in Fright] (1971).
Years before Australian cinema broke into the international market with hits like PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK and MAD MAX, down under films rarely made it to US theatres. They were a novelty reserved for titles like Nic Roeg's WALKABOUT and this increasingly-tense tale from Canadian director Ted Kotcheff. Of course, OUTBACK's gritty portrait didn't sit too well with Aussie locals though, since it made the outback look less hospitable than DELIVERANCE, and its residents more intoxicated than the cast of BARFLY. Gary Bond stars as John Grant, a teacher who longs for his summer holiday in the big city. But before catching his flight, Grant has a one-night stayover in "The Yabba" -- a backwater town where all-night pastimes include drinking, brawling, and bloodshed. Grant is a boorish jerk who doesn't conceal his disdain for the brutish locals, but soon he's broke and stranded, sucked deep into the town's bad craziness and finds his 'civilized' behavior slowly stripped away. Meanwhile, Donald Pleasance co-stars as an alcoholic physician/bum who who offers survival advice and rowdy Jack Thompson hauls Grant on an insanely brutal, drunken kangaroo hunt. Brian West's sun-burnt cinematography adds to the delirium, and the film is so thick with atmosphere that you can almost smell the cast's b.o. Plus, be sure to stock your fridge with beer ahead of time. The entire cast tosses back pints at every hour of day, and this paranoid gem will have you thirsting for similar relief.
OUT OF THE BLUE (1981).
Needing some fast cash during his lean years, a pre-detox Dennis Hopper signed onto a Canadian domestic drama entitled THE CASE OF CINDY BARNES. But when first-time director Leonard Yakir choked and walked off the job, Hopper took over the reigns, rewrote the entire script, and came up with an urgent, nihilistic vision of rebellious youth. Set in a dismal backwater town, this glimpse into family dysfunction features Hopper as an alcoholic, ex-jailbird father (who got soused and slammed into a school bus); Sharon Farrell as a slutty mom; and DAYS OF HEAVEN's Linda Manz as cigarette-smokin', though-talkin', 14-year-old punk CeBe, who hitchhikes around the area, goes to a stranger's pad to get stoned, and kills time at lowlife night-clubs and idolizes dead rock stars. Manz delivers a scaldingly honest performance, while Hopper hauls these characters down some unflinchingly dark paths, restrains his notorious directorial excesses, and creates a rancid mini-masterpiece overstuffed with twisted family ties, dead end lives, seedy realism, and utterly fucked up people. Afterward, you'll feel like kicking Hopper in the head for wasting his talent on quick money-grabs like SUPER MARIO BROTHERS or WATERWORLD.
PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE (1974).
Brian De Palma's rock musical/comedy/horror pastiche is so wickedly entertaining that it blows ROCKY HORROR (which came out a year later) to bits. A modern update of PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, with William Finley playing geeky, down-and-out composer Winslow Leach. When evil record magnate Swan (trollish singer-songwriter Paul Williams, who's terrific! Really!) hears his rock opera adaptation of Faust, Winslow's score is stolen, he's thrown into prison on a trumped-up drug charge, all his teeth are removed in an experimental dental program ("Teeth are a sourse of infection..."), and his face is hideously scarred by a record-pressing machine. Donning a bird-like metal mask and leather body-suit, he becomes the title terror; while falling madly for new lead singer Phoenix (bewitching Jessica Harper, who's never been better) and becoming a pawn in Swan's sinister mindgames. For once, De Palma's material is as outrageous as his over-the-top visual style, as Brian rips loose with split screens, Hitchcock homages (before De Palma's overuse turned 'em into "rip-offs"), parodies galore, a pitch black sense of humor, and prescient satires of music trends (glamrock, beach ballads, do-wop). Plus let's not forget the scene-stealing perf from Gerrit Graham as Beef! It's one of DePalma's best.
PSYCHOPATH [a.k.a. An Eye For an Eye] (1973).
This amateurishly-made, low-budget movie boasts an incredible concept and an astounding, ultra-creepy star turn from Tom Basham, who plays a lovable (albeit secretly crazed) television kids' show host named Mr. Rabbey. After encountering one too many battered children in the local hospital's emergency room, quiet Rabbey burns out a bearing and begins slaughtering their abusive parents! The violence is PG-level tame, the message gets heavy-handed, but I can easily forgive its numerous flaws, since this is a rare horror movie where you can actually feel good about cheering for the murderer. Meanwhile, Rabbey is a cross between Pee Wee Herman, Mr. Rogers and Norman Bates, peddling around on his cool bike, babbling to his puppet pals, strangling people with an old security blanket, and even running over a Bad Mommy's head with a lawnmower! Directed by Larry G. Brown (THE PINK ANGELS), it's a gloriously guilty pleasure.
RAT PFINK A BOO BOO (1966).
There's is NO WAY to adequately describe this Ray Dennis Steckler jaw-droppingly-inept gem. A glorified home movie featuring crime fighting cretins Rat Pfink and Boo Boo (a Batman and Robin rip-off, wearing wool ski masks and ill-fitting long underwear), who don't even officially show up until halfway through the movie. After a half-hour b&w intro of pool parties and inane rock 'n' roll, two characters suddenly walk into a closet and emerge as our costumed clods (complete with tinted photography) in order to save a kidnapped beauty. Unbelievably surreal and one-of-a-kind (thank god). Plus, be sure to check out Steckler's legitimately good films, like THE THRILL KILLERS and SINTHIA.
THE REFLECTING SKIN (1990).
Without question, this is one of the sickest studio releases since BLUE VELVET. A film utterly barren of hope, which offers us childhood at its most fucked up and foul. Yes, that's my kinda movie, folks! On the surface, it looks like a sweet little rural tale about a boy, complete with lush heartland locales. But director Philip Ridley is one grim bastard, exposing the insanity and death lingering just under the surface of adolescent life. It's no surprise young Seth is unstable -- his Mom is certifiably nuts, Dad douses himself with gasoline and torches up, and an ominous carload of greasers cruises the backroads, kidnapping young boys and leaving their corpses stashed about town. Believe it or not, when his older brother Cameron (Viggo Mortenson) returns home from a tour of duty in the Pacific, things get even worse, with Seth convinced that his female neighbor is a vampire, while stashing a mummified baby under his bed, believing it's an angel. A movie so ghoulish and uncompromising that you can ignore its more pretentious moments. This one sticks with you long afterward.
Without question, one of the most hilariously demented sexploitation pics ever made, overflowing with sub-Fellini surrealism, convoluted psycho-babble and some of the homeliest leads in sex pic history. Leading to the $64,000 Question: What the hell was director Fredric Hobbs (ALABAMA'S GHOST) thinking?! E. Kerrigan Prescott stars as a bearded old fart obsessed with stealing porno films, and in between his visits to a shrink, gabbing to a priest and his eventual Loonie Bin stay, we're privy to flashbacks of his spiral into perversity. Highlights include the Busby Berkeley-inspired musical number "You Can't Fuck Around With Love"; a fantasy sequence with a bunch of frolicking nudists constructing a giant, ritualistic penis; and Heironymous Bosch even crawls out from under his bed at one point! Pretentious, inept and jaw-droppingly bizarre -- you'll never forget this crock of shit.
RUBIN & ED (1993).
The ultimate Crispin Glover movie. Period. In which rabid fans can watch The Weird One at his most extreme. And that's saying a lot. Crispin gives an Oscar-caliber performance (yeah, right) as a long-haired dweeb whose '60s-throwback wardrobe includes plaid bellbottoms and immense platform shoes. His mission: To journey into the desert and bury his long-dead cat (which he's kept on ice), aided by unwilling salesman Howard Hesseman. Director Trent Harris gives us terrific sights, like Crispin drinking the melted ice water that his rotted cat has been floating in, plus another apocalyptic performance from Karen Black. As comedy teams go, Hesseman & Glover are the Hope & Owsley of the '90s. Supremely strange.
RUNAWAY NIGHTMARE (1982).
I defy anyone to watch this idiocy without going numb from its sheer incompetence, with director/writer/star Michael Cartel proving that he may be a man of many hats, but none of them have a brain underneath. It begins when two Death Valley worm 'n' snail farmers are kidnapped by a cult of psychopathic dames, who initially plan on torturing the pair (how? By making 'em watch the dailies?). Instead, after much witless repartee, the guys are voted into the ragtag gang, and when they're not being seduced by their not-particularly-attractive captors, help 'em retrieve some stolen platinum from the Mob. It's hard to believe that a movie could reach such uncharted depths of boredom, but be sure to remain awake for the hilarious nudity. You see, to hide the fact the lead actresses didn't strip, the phlegmmakers edited in clips of Body Doubled bare tits. The only problem? The movie was shot on film, while all the nudity is grainy, faded camcorder footage! You have to hand it to Cartel for never attempting to hide the artifice and stupidity -- instead, he forces it on the viewer like a dose of the clap. So tremendously wrongheaded that you'd think these folks had never seen an honest to goodness movie before.
THE SADIST (1963).
Arch Hall Jr. (who normally plays goody-goody dorks) shatters all previous conceptions as giggling thrill-killer Charley Tibbs -- one of the nastiest nutcases in screen history. Accompanied by a wrap-around teen-aged tease, this Charlie Starkweather-styled sadist is in the midst of a multi-state murder spree when he runs into a trio of mild-mannered school teachers at an isolated gas station and proceeds to terrorize them for the remaining hour. Director James Landis ladles on the violence and anti-social behaviour, while pushing the '60s envelope for on-screen bloodshed. An early classic in Psycho Cinema!
SCORPIO RISING (1962-64).
One of the coolest underground shorts ever made. Kenneth Anger mythologizes the biker lifestyle (years before Hollywood discovered its commercial possibilities) in a quasi-documentary that combines motorcycle gang footage with songs like "I Will Follow Him" and "Blue Velvet" (pre-dating MTV-style videos by two decades). As the bikers buckle their leather, rev their engines and go through their pre-battle rituals, Anger intercuts clips of Brando, James Dean and Jesus Christ (ripped off from some cheapjack Sunday School flick), while accentuating the violence, idolatry and homo-erotic nature of their fellowship. Without question his most accessible work.
SHAKES THE CLOWN (1992).
Comic genius Bobcat Goldthwait's directorial debut (yes, I used the term "comic genius" in tandem with Bobcat's name. If you don't like it, fuck you) is one of the weirdest and most unique comedies of all time -- a brilliant blend of BARFLY meets Bozo ("Bozofly?"), with Bobcat portraying the titular, alcoholic, birthday party clown. Him and all his clown buddies (including a young, less-grating-than-usual Adam Sandler) live in Palookaville, swig back drinks at The Twisted Balloon cocktail lounge, drive around town drunk, and beat up hated mimes. Just the opening scene, of hungover Bobcat vomiting in Florence Henderson's bathroom, then getting pissed on by her brat, is worth the price of admission. Co-starring Julie Brown as Shakes' dippy girlfriend, Robin Williams as a mime instructor and Tom Kenny (who worked with Bobcat during his earlier in the Central NY comedy troupe, The Generic Comics) as the evil Binky. Though compromised by the fact Bobcat had to give the film an actual "story" (e.g. Shakes is wrongly accused of killing his boss), its pitch black humor is wielded like a hacksaw.
SOMETHING WILD (1961).
Five years after her success in BABY DOLL, Carroll Baker starred in this grim and unpredictable drama of sexual abuse and societal misfits, with director Jack Garfein immediately grabbing our attention as pretty young Mary Ann (Baker) gets off a NYC subway and, while walking through the park, is pulled into the bushes and raped. Keeping this attack a secret, traumatized Mary Ann represses her feelings, cuts herself off from her family and rents a seedy Lower East Side SRO. Although she's an emotional train wreck, the film never turns into a sentimental diatribe. Instead, she's saved from committing suicide by a blue-collar mechanic (KISS ME DEADLY's Ralph Meeker) who befriends the troubled cutie, with all expectations upended when this 'nice guy' makes Mary Ann a captive in his rundown basement home -- THE ACCUSED meets THE COLLECTOR -- with several violent and emotionally wrenching twists along the way. Baker and Meeker bring unexpected shadings to their roles, while the supporting cast includes Clifton James as a NYPD detective, Martin Kosleck is a slimy super, Doris Roberts plays one of Mary Ann's co-workers, and Jean Stapleton is a neighbor who digs liquor and young men. Authentic NYC locations give this gritty, demented love story additional heft.
SONNY BOY (1992).
What can you say about a movie that features David Carradine in drag throughout, and no one in the pic seems to notice? Absolutely brilliant? Utterly twisted? Barely released? All three! This tale of a kidnapped baby, whose tongue is cut out and then raised like a rabid animal by the ultimate dysfunctional desert family ("Papa" Paul Smith, "Mama" Carradine, and wacko "Uncle" Brad Dourif) is a mindblowing cross between RAISING ARIZONA and TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. When is director Robert Martin Carroll going to make another film? I'll be first in line.
SQUEAL OF DEATH (1986).
If you enjoyed Alex Winter and Tom Stern's feature debut, FREAKED (and you'd have to be an idiot not to), you'll piss all over yourself during this short student film, perpetrated by these two madmen-in-training. It's a Tex Avery cartoon come to life (on a ten-dollar budget), telling the tall tale of the most asinine crime spree in history. Winter stars as Howie, a sniveling moron whose screwy family leads him to a life of ridiculously anti-social tendencies. Crammed with crass, cheap humor, this "rebel without a clue" is a solid chunk of underground dementia.
SUPERSTAR: THE KAREN CARPENTER STORY (1988).
Todd Haynes' home-made short takes a look at the life and death of pop princess Karen Carpenter. What makes this 45 minute excursion into soft rock and weight loss so memorable is that all the lead characters are portrayed by BARBIE DOLLS! It would've been easy to turn this into a spoof of the white-bred duet, but Todd plays it totally serious -- following the dolls through record contracts, concerts, anorexia nervosa, and Ex-Lax addiction, while portraying Karen's life with more intelligence and tragedy than any make-a-buck live-action TV movie possibly could. This is pure guerilla brilliance, though difficult to locate since Haynes was sued by surviving-shitheel Richard Carpenter for using their tunes without permission.
SWEET MOVIE (1975).
Director Dusan Makavejev is a certifiable madman. Once embraced by arthouse critics and best known for WR: MYSTERIES OF THE ORGANISM and MONTENEGRO, this crazed Yugoslavian is the Eastern Bloc's answer to Jodorowsky, mixing lumbering politics with surreal sexual silliness. And while exiled in Canada, he cranked out this highly erotic, absurdist satire that celebrates sex, food and life in all its most deviant forms. When Dusan isn't sledgehammering us with revolutionary rhetoric about a Karl Marx-themed boat and the fall of socialism (Zzzzz...), the good parts involve the perverse antics of lovely Carol Laure as Miss Monde 1984. Her global search for pleasure takes her from a pageant to choose the most perfect virgin; marriage to a Texas bazillionaire named Mr. Dollars (John Vernon), who has a gold-plated dick; sex so hot that she and her new lover need to be pried apart by doctors; plus a an ultra-steamy, grand finale masturbation scene with Laure coated in chocolate. Laced with piss, vomit, anti-social behavior, and outlandish deviance, it doesn't make a lick of sense most of the time, but definitely confirms Dusan's whacko status.
SWITCHBLADE SISTERS (1975).
Jack Hill is one of the unsung geniuses of drive-in cinema. And this is THE definitive street-slut epic, featuring trash temptresses Joanna Nail, Robbie Lee and Monica Gayle as members of The Dagger Debs, who dump their useless men and take over the town. It's non-stop action (complete with street rumbles, catfights, a juvie slammer, a roller-rink massacre, and even a dick chomping). Toss in polyester Tony Danza clones, Black urban guerillas, and plenty of hot chicks with M-16's, and you have a skidrow masterpiece!
TOKYO DRIFTER [Tokyo Nagaremono] (1966).
After cranking out 40 movies in only a dozen years for Nikkatsu (the Japanese equivalent of AIP), including BRANDED TO KILL and GATE OF FLESH, director Suzuki Seijun is finally getting the recognition he deserves. This is his tastiest, most excessive treat. A garish blast of widescreen color and style -- and like no other gangster film you've ever seen, featuring Tetsuya Watari as Tetsu, an expert hitman. While aiding his old boss, Tetsu has to hit the road, from the snowy countryside to the "Saloon Western", while continually warbling his melancholy Tokyo Drifter Theme Song and proving his reputation for a "charmed life" by avoiding assassins at every turn. It's the typical convoluted Yakuza storyline, laced with honor and manipulation galore, but Seijun pares away all the unnecessary bullshit (leaving it a lean 80 minutes), while adrenilizing the flick with his love for hyper-stylized costumes (Tetsu's powder blue suit), sets (a blindingly yellow nightclub) and photography -- not to mention, a cool level of self-parody and glorious bursts of violence that instantly earn him the title, God of Arthouse Carnage. Amazing.
TOUGH GUYS DON'T DANCE (1987).
A remarkable piece of hyper-pretentious trash. Director Norman Mailer adapts his own book and turns it into a wildly overwrought thriller, with a narrative structure like a Gordian Knot and enough heavyhanded symbols to make David Lynch look like a neophyte. Ryan O'Neal stars (yes, that's how wrongheaded it is) ss a drifter involved with lost love, liquor and murder. Laced with absurd humor and quotable lines, and featuring incredible support from Lawrence Tierney as O'Neal's pop and Wings Hauser as a psycho sheriff. This flick is utterly ridiculous, as well as being one of my most beloved guilty pleasures.
THE WIZARD OF GORE (1970).
No one can dispute the fact that Herschell Gordon Lewis is one of the first maestros of cine-malignance, and this pic combines his butcherblock effects with a savage concept. Ray Sager is hilariously overwrought as Montag the Magnificent, a magician whose favorite 'tricks' involve eviscerating female volunteers, taking a punch press to rib cages, and turning faces into "human ravioli". But though his assistants look fine when they leave the stage, they tend to fall apart (literally) hours later. Oops. Lewis lingers lovingly on all the gore 'n' goopy organs, and the ending is a trippy mindfuck when Montag goes network. A landmark in gross-out dementia.
THE WOMAN CHASER (1999).
Only a handful of Charles Willeford's books have been adapted for the screen, but all of them are offbeat gems: COCKFIGHTER, MIAMI BLUES and this one-of-a-kind indie from writer-director Robinson Devor. Just imagine if the Coen Brothers were still churning out quirky low-budgeters, and you've got a vague idea of this film's bizarre storytelling and stylistic precision. Set in 1960, it's a film noir without a foreseeable crime. Welcome to the unpredictable life of mother-fixated Richard Hudson (SEINFELD's Puddy, Patrick Warburton), who runs a L.A. used car lot with brutal charm and a firm hand. One day, Hudson has a revelation to create a movie called "The Man Who Got Away," with his ceaseless determination landing a studio deal that includes a volatile story, an unknown star and a one-take R&B score. When Hudson needs a specific reaction from an actress, he screws her before rolling, and later remarks, "It isn't hard to be a director," with Hudson's story reaching destructive heights when he's unwilling to compromise his notion of integrity. The film is brilliant in every respect, from its evocative production design and often-surreal visuals, to the jazzy score. At the center of it all is Warburton, who's simply astounding. Nothing on his resumé comes close to this fearless performance, as a driven, cruel egomaniac with hard-boiled narration and a warped sense of logic.
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