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15 Weird American Movies You’ve Never Heard Of

20 October 2016 | Features, Film Lists | by Raul J. Vantassle

weird-american-movies

How many films have left you completely speechless after watching them, asking yourself WTF did I just watch and put myself through? How many have you constantly questioning throughout them, what exactly is going on in this movie? Should I continue to watch this?

The definition of weird is often described in the dictionary as being “strikingly odd or unusual (synonyms: bizarre, eccentric, grotesque, odd, preternatural, surreal)” [1]. These are the types of motion pictures that are on this list, being labeled as some of the weirdest films to ever be made in the United States.

 

1. Maniac (1934)

Maniac (1934)

This road show exploitation flick is meant to be a loose adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe’s story “The Black Cat,” with a little bit of “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” thrown in. Yet it feels more like the really bad knock off version of Frankenstein. The story involves a mad scientist who has created a medicine to bring people back from the dead. His assistant is a vaudeville actor who is very good with makeup effects and impersonations. He dons the persona of the mad scientist after killing him and slowly goes mad himself.

Often dubbed as one of the worst films ever, it has a little bit of everything; there is bad filming, extreme overacting, actors being obscured by test tubes and other science equipment. The overacting is just classic, including a man portraying insanity by howling like a wild animal.

Add in some brief female nudity and a cat fight, and you have to question what you’re watching at some point. It should be mentioned that the cat fight doesn’t involve two women, but an actual fight between a pair of felines. A RiffTrax version of this was done in 2009, with commentary from the Mystery Science Theater 3000 crew.

 

2. Robot Monster (1953)

Robot Monster (1953)

“Incredible! Unbelievable! Told The Untamed Way!” [2]. Shot and distributed in 3D, how can you not include a film whose evil alien is a man in a giant gorilla costume wearing a space helmet with rabbit ears? Just look at the posters and that’s enough to include it on any weird movie list.

Add in some bad dialogue, bad acting, stock footage of dinosaurs, and the unexplained presence of a bubble machine makes this something rather unusual. Set in the future, the surviving humans are attacked by Ro-man, a super-intelligent gorilla in a space helmet.

It was shot in only four days in Bronson Canyon with a budget of roughly $16,000. It was originally released in 3D, which would most likely explain the reasoning behind floating bubbles in the cave. It reportedly made around one million dollars in its initial release, despite being considered one of the worst films ever made. This motion picture was also featured in one of the episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

 

3. Manos, The Hands of Fate (1966)

Manos The Hands Of Fate (1966)

“It’s Shocking! It’s Beyond Your Imagination!” [3]. It’s shockingly bad, the king of bad movies. It is considered to be the worst film ever made, making Plan 9 From Outer Space look like an epic masterpiece. It has everything that will please fans of bad movies: terrible acting, bad lighting, bad and laughable dialogue, unbelievable situations, and bad special effects.

The story involves a family that gets lost while on vacation and ends up staying at a house that contains a satanic cult, featuring a Freddy Mercury lookalike cult leader, six wives, and an evil henchman named Torgo who has big knees.

The film was shot on a budget of $19,000 [4]. At times it feels like you’re watching a silent film, with just the scored music playing throughout. There are times when the actors are speaking without dialogue. The editing is so choppy because it was filmed using a 16mm Bell & Howell camera, which can only take 32 seconds worth of footage at a time [4].

All audio was dubbed later in a sound studio, with most of the voices being dubbed by just two people [4]. The lighting is so bad that it attracted all of the bugs that you can see on camera. There is also a scene where you can see the film clapboard on the right hand side.

It was able to get distribution but didn’t do anything and was pretty much forgotten until its appearance on season four of Mystery Science Theater 3000. That episode containing Manos is considered one of the best of the series and brought back a new cult following to this wonderfully bad film [5].

So if you’re a fan of bad movies, then this one’s for you.

 

4. Skidoo (1968)

Skidoo (1968)

This has to be considered one of the weirdest big budget Hollywood productions ever made, directed by Oscar winning director Otto Preminger and featuring a huge cast of well known actors.

It is a comedy crime caper that satirizes the 1960’s counterculture lifestyle, hippies, drug use, and LSD. The story involves a retired mob hitman who is asked to do one final job, he refuses and then there are all sorts of singing and shenanigans along the way.

The cast is an immense who’s who of comedy, including Jackie Gleason, Carol Channing, Frankie Avalon, Frank Gorshin, Peter Lawford, Burgess Meredith, Cesar Romero, Mickey Rooney, and Groucho Marx.

It was an obvious box office bomb, with critic Jonathan Rosenbaum calling it in 1973 an “endlessly fascinating aberration… [it] enlists a legion of Fifties TV corpses into an amalgamation of every conceivable Hollywood genre” [6]. It has been played on the Turner Classic Movies’ series called TCM Underground and has a small following amongst cult cinema fans.

 

5. Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny (1972)

santa-and-the-ice-cream-bunny-1972

What happens when you combine a sweaty Santa stuck in Florida, a guy in a bunny costume, another person dressed in a gorilla suit, the story of Thumbelina, Pirates World theme park, and Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn commenting on the events from a distance? You get this weird ass children’s movie, described in a Rifftrax ad as “…one of the strangest and most baffling pieces of outsider art that Mike, Kevin and Bill have ever riffed.”

This confusing amalgamation of concepts has made many people lay claim to this as being one of the worst movies ever and also one of the weirdest. Part of the reason is that the title characters only briefly appear in this, with the Thumbelina story occupying almost an hour of this picture. There is an alternative version that contains Jack and the Beanstalk, as opposed to the Thumbelina story.

 

6. Greaser’s Palace (1972)

greasers-palace-1972

“He’s got the boogie on his fingers & the hubba-hubba in his soul!” [7]. Set in the old west, this surrealist comedy is basically the tale of Jesus except that he’s a zoot-suited savior named Jessy. Every event that takes place is as weird and unpredictable as the next, with the incidents being even funnier because the actors play it deadpan and don’t acknowledge the weirdness.

Some of the weirdness includes the Holy Ghost appearing as a man in a bed sheet with eye holes cut out, characters repeatedly being killed and coming back from the dead, a midget and a transvestite living together, the rape of a wooden Indian, and mariachi music being used as a torture device.

Written and directed by Robert Downey Sr., it received a mix of good and bad reviews upon its release. Time magazine’s critic Jay Cocks said that it was “Downey’s funniest, most accomplished and most audacious film yet [and] … the most adventurous American movie so far this year” [8].

Another critic, Thomas Meehan, said that he thought that this was “even worse than [Downey’s] earlier pictures – an absurdist, incomprehensible Western that mixes in scatology, William Morris agents and the second coming of Christ” [8].

 

7. The Day the Clown Cried (1972)

The Day the Clown Cried (Jerry Lewis)

This is the weirdest film that you will most likely never be able see in your lifetime. It is a drama that was meant to tell the story of a German circus clown who was imprisoned in a Nazi camp during the holocaust. Jerry Lewis starred and directed the picture, anticipating that it would be his big dramatic opus.

It was reportedly so bad that both Lewis and the owners of the underlying rights refused to allow it to be released. So unless those rights are ever secured, no one will ever be privileged enough to see the full movie. Actor Harry Shearer saw a rough cut of it in 1979 and was quoted in Spy Magazine, saying that, “With most of these kinds of things, you find that the anticipation, or the concept, is better than the thing itself.

But seeing this film was really awe-inspiring, in that you are rarely in the presence of a perfect object. This was a perfect object. This movie is so drastically wrong, its pathos and its comedy are so wildly misplaced, that you could not, in your fantasy of what it might be like, improve on what it really is. “Oh My God!”—that’s all you can say.” [9]. You can view parts of it on YouTube.

 

 

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  • HLLH

    Greaser’s Palace sounds like an El Topo knockoff.