Max Evry November 13, 2013
This past week Drafthouse Films opened their bomb bay doors and dropped a 50 megaton blast of weird on an unsuspecting populace with the restored/remastered 1979 film “The Visitor”. As detailed in our review, this Italian oddity laden with bizarre cosmic powers, evil children and headscratching celebs (John Huston, Sam Peckinpah, Lance Henriksen, Franco Nero as Jesus, etc) was tailor-made for rediscovery by midnight movie marauders.
“The Visitor” isn’t the only game in town, as we’ve unearthed ten more obscure curios primed for fresh eyeballs to glean ironic (or possibly sincere) enjoyment from. Tim League and his team should pay attention as there are fortunes to be made (and lost) distributing these amazing flicks you’ve probably never heard of, let alone seen.
‘The Saragossa Manuscript’ (1965)
Back in 1999 an unsuspecting me, then a freshman film student, wandered into the Brattle Theatre in Boston and settled in for possibly the most mind-bending, consciousness expanding substance I would intake that year: “The Saragossa Manuscript.” A group of Napoleonic soldiers discover a book recounting the story of one of their ancestors, and that escalates to a series of stories-within-stories-within-stories. By the time you’re 8 or 9 tales deep within this matryoshka doll of a movie you might actually hear your skull cracking, and not even Leonardo DiCaprio’s “Inception” dude could tell you how far down the rabbit hole you’ve gone. Maddening. Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola aided a restoration of Wojciech Has’s Polish masterpiece as a tribute to their gratefully dead buddy Jerry Garcia (this was his fav flick), but it received only a small-scale arthouse tour and DVD release. This movie is begging to be rediscovered via a proper theatrical/Blu-ray launch accompanied by a pint of Cherry Garcia, a therapist and a sh*t-ton of Adderall.
No two ways about it, girl power has entered the zeitgeist in a big way, so let’s celebrate all things sugar and spice with a kitschy British confection destined for the camp pantheon. A teenage Lolita named Girly (Vanessa Howard) and her lunatic family lure unsuspecting bums and hippies to their stately country mansion to play sick, homicidal games with them. Basically, it’s a bucolic Brit take on the whole “Texas Chainsaw,” “Family who slays together…” genre with a vaguely queer sensibility. It was directed by the great Freddie Francis, who whipped out plenty of horror product for Hammer and Amicus before settling into a comfy career as a cinematographer for the likes of Martin Scorsese (“Cape Fear”), David Lynch (“The Elephant Man”) and on “Glory” for which he won an Academy Award. “Girly” (known in the UK as “Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny and Girly”) was Francis’s dream project, but its release was hampered by an outcry over an incestuous moment where Girly sucks her brother Sonny’s (Howard Trevor) finger. In 2004 organizers of a Freddie Francis festival couldn’t find a single print or VHS copy, and despite a new DVD released in 2010 “Girly” remains to be unearthed by discerning cinephiles.
‘Simon, King of the Witches’ (1971)
Spark a jay and venture forth into a world of black magic, mysticism, and white-guy fros. That’s right, all your faculties are now under the control of “Simon, King of the Witches,” so just mellow out, man. This is one of those rare occasions where the murky, low rent look actually adds a layer of atmosphere instead of simply making it cheap. It’s a grimy world where our shaggy, vagabond warlock hero named Simon (Andrew Prine of “The Town That Dreaded Sundown”) infiltrates a world of prostitution, devil worship and psychedelic tripouts on his way to becoming a god. Unlike something as moronic as “Samurai Cop,” this movie knows exactly how ridiculous it is and keeps its tongue planted firmly in cheek: “I’ll open this mirror at 1:33, the precise moment in time when the gods are unable to resist my thrust into their domain!” This fun and funny free-dive into the occult will probably gain traction once Marvel gets their “Dr. Strange” movie off the ground, since this is basically the same thing but with more bellbottoms.
‘Darktown Strutters’ (1975)
Elders of the Internet would not allow us to pass over the WordPress bridge without including at least ONE blacksploitation offering, and here it is. Produced by Roger Corman’s brother Gene (also known as “the cheap Roger Corman”), it’s a crazy-ass ghetto fairy tale about a female biker gang leader (Trina Parks) trying to find her kidnapped mother named Cinderella. Along the way there’s a rival male biker gang, kung-fu, pimps, hos, a klansman doing an Evel Knievel over 10 cars, and Colonel Sanders in a diaper trying to clone black political leaders to vote for white ones! SATIRE! “They’re fast as a jet, sharp as Gillette, and what you see is what you get!” In case you couldn’t tell from that tagline, The Dramatics are IN THIS MOVIE… performing in a jail cell! You know you want to see it so bad. A pre-”Animal House” Otis Day also appears, as does Roger Corman’s “Where’s Waldo?” perennial bit player Dick Miller. The screenplay was penned by George Armitage, who later directed “Grosse Pointe Blank.”
‘Brittania Hospital’ (1982)
Lindsay Anderson began his informal Mick Travis Trilogy with the pre-Columbine school massacre classic “If…,” followed by the rambling/picaresque half-musical “O Lucky Man!” Both of those pictures were praised to the rafters and continue to be cited as influential up-the-butt by the likes of David Gordon Green and Wes Anderson… but what about the redheaded stepchild of the trilogy? “Brittania Hospital” is the final piece of social satire in which Anderson, star Malcom McDowell and writer David Sherwin thumbed their noses at Thatcher-era class warfare within a public hospital where a dictator and the Queen are staying. Familiar faces from the first two films -like Graham Crowden as a mad scientist- populate the expansive ensemble that gives Robert Altman a run for his money, though consequently McDowell’s Travis is not the center of attention. Actually, he dies horribly as a human patchwork “Frankenstein” creation. There’s also a talking brain in a jar and Mark Hamill skywalking on pot in a TV truck. It’s a mess, to be sure, but an intriguing one worthy of reappraisal.
‘Get Crazy’ (1983)
Two Malcom McDowell movies on one list? Get outta town! Given the recent passing of rock icon Lou Reed, this one seemed like a gimme, even though the site of the Velvet Underground frontman composing a song on his guitar while walking into traffic might be the least surreal image in here. It’s a grab bag of zaniness as McDowell plays a Mick Jagger-esque libidinous rocker named Reggie Wanker to excessive perfection, along with real-life music legends Lee Ving of Fear, Howard Kaylan of The Turtles, Fiabian, etc, with a pre-”Wonder Years” Daniel Stern stage managing all the drugged-out, sexed-up madness. Director Alan Arkush (“Rock ‘n’ Roll High School”) based the antics on his time working at Bill Graham’s famed NYC venue Fillmore East, but was betrayed by his producers who stood to gain more if the film failed, “The Producers”-style. Supposedly no new prints or Blu-ray can be mastered due to lost audio elements, but “Get Crazy” received a raucous response when Edgar Wright played it at the New Beverly last year.
‘Samurai Cop’ (1989)
“Now I’m telling these motherf**kers if they continue killing our children to make their precious millions they deposit in their secret Swiss bank accounts; Counselor, before your lawsuit even gets on the law clerk’s desk, I’ll have their stinkin’ bodies in garbage bags and ship them back to Japan for fertilizer.” Yeah, Shane Black this ain’t. There are enough howlers like the above in “Samurai Cop” to choke a sumo wrestler’s toilet, with cheese literally dripping from every strand of lead Matt Hannon’s mullet. This late ’80s direct-to-video actioner in the “Lethal Weapon” mold recently had an HD re-issue on DVD (though not Blu-ray) and even played this year’s Fantasia Fest in Montreal, but a run of midnight shows is just the ticket to make this unpolished gem a new “The Room”-like phenomenon. A movie like this NEEDS an audience, preferably a drunk one. After all, if an ineptly shot car chase falls in the woods and no one’s there to see it, is it still hilariously awkward?
‘The Thief and the Cobbler’ (1993)
No movie has a longer, more tortured production history than this 30-years-in-the-making animated flick that renders the word “masterpiece” hopelessly inadequate. Academy Award-winning animator Richard Williams, the genius behind “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” spent decades laboring to bring this Arabian Nights-inspired fable to the screen with the most intricate, M.C. Escher-like visuals anyone had ever attempted in traditional pen-to-paper animation. Fresh backing from Warner Bros made it look like it would get finished, but delays and the threat of rip-off movie “Aladdin” on the horizon caused the studio to boot Williams and slapdash the rest into theaters to little fanfare as “Arabian Knight.” There’s a proper workprint of Williams’ original vision available on the interwebs, and Disney has made overtures in the past about picking up the tab to have it properly restored. Indeed, a full-fledged restoration would require at least a few million peeled, but if enough people knew how mindblowing this movie was it would pay for itself.
‘Funky Forest: The First Contact’ (2005)
Let’s see… Blacksploitation? Check. Animation? Check. Cheesy action? Check. What are we missing? Oh yeah, something Japanese! “Funky Forest” fits that bill just fine, a crazy anthology movie that was first unleashed stateside at Fantastic Fest in 2006. Directed by Hajime Ishimine, Shunichiro Miki and Katsuhito Ishii, the latter of whom directed the great animated sequences in “Kill Bill: Vol 1.” As expected, the sequences are surreal, featuring odd creatures like a man with huge nipples who pulls huge bloodsucking creatures out of his pants. And yes, that is “Pacific Rim” hottie Rinko Kikuchi as a nerdy student, actually her last role prior to breakout success in “Babel.”
‘Rat Scratch Fever’ (2011)
From the director of “Werewolf in a Women’s Prison” comes this epic science-fiction horror disaster picture that will make Roland Emmerich green with envy… or nausea! Filmmaker Jeff Leroy keeps the festivities moving at an enjoyably frantic pace, throwing one surreal set piece at the wall one after another, whether its rats on flaming toy cars or a plane covered with giant rats crashing into the Capitol Building. His reliance on home baked models and miniatures, not to mention the most After Effects-y looking CGI you’ve ever seen, makes this one of the most instantly charming made-to-order B-movies of recent years. Look at that trailer… LOOK AT THAT TRAILER!!! How is that not the most astounding blockbuster of the decade?
Other Notable Oddball Choices:
“Wrong is Right”
“The Tenth Victim”
“Doc Savage: Man of Bronze”
“Death Bed: The Bed That Eats”
“OC & Stiggs”
“Daughters of Darkness”
“Bad Boy Bubby”
“The Naked Monster”
“In God We Tru$t”
Categories: FeaturesTags: Brittania Hospital, Darktown Strutters, Drafthouse films, Funky Forest: The First Contact, Get Crazy, Girly, Rat Scratch Fever, Samurai Cop, Simon King of the Witches, The Saragossa Manuscript, The Thief and the Cobbler, The visitor