6. The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb (1993)
The now-ancient English folklore tale of Tom Thumb is well-known in the Western canon: the little person warrior that conquered giants and becomes an admirer of many women in the royal court, this fantasy has been handed down over centuries and many adaptations that made the figure a well-loved fictional character that appealed to a widespread children’s audience.
This movie–The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb–isn’t that. Taking the public domain character and warping its familiar world into hellish conditions, with Tom being abducted from his family into a monstrous laboratory before escaping to live in the swamp, where he meets people of his similar stature and then endeavors to return to his parents. It’s nowhere near the original story, instead following its own madness.
A visually striking stop motion feature, the late director Dave Borthwick made a handful of animated films, with this one being his most well-known. A strange artefact from another time, The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb reaches the extremities of oddness and never returns.
7. Arizona Dream (1993)
What to say about Arizona Dream? Insane Americana by way of a Serbian director; a weird blend of elements that make for an unpredictable movie; a dream that charts a random course through its narrative. Starring Johnny Depp, Jerry Lewis, Faye Dunaway, Lili Taylor, and Vincent Gallo, its cast is just as random and unpredictable as the film, and it remains one of the weirdest movies ever made.
The story–as much as there is one–involves Axel (Depp) and cousin Paul (Gallo) taking over their relative Leo’s Cadillac dealership in Arizona. Meanwhile, Axel becomes involved with Elaine (Dunaway) who wants to build flying machines; he helps her build these, only for her stepdaughter Grace (Taylor) to destroy them as they’re constructed. So Axel decides to kill them both, but upon a suicidal round of Russian Roulette he finds no success.
A talent show is put on by Paul that they all attend, at which he fails in his performance. Then turtles, pinatas, and plans to escape to Alaska are made, and the film ends with a halibut flying into the sky.
It’s a strange film that is more impressionistic and surreal than following any linear narrative, and if that’s your bag, it’s a darn good one. Flying fish, bizarre moments, and an otherwise dreamlike storyline makes this one of the odder films made during the 90s.
8. Meet the Applegates (1990)
A picture-perfect nuclear family moves into the suburbs of Ohio where the father works in the nuclear power plant, the housewife mother looks like something straight out of Good Housekeeping, and their son is a straight-A student. But this is just a front: the Applegates are actually insects from South America that can shapeshift into human form, and the “father” plans on blowing up the nuclear plant to kill all humans, leaving the world safe for the bugs.
This is an already wacky premise, but when the “family” members start falling into human habits–the “mother” becomes addicted to shopping, the “father” begins an affair with a co-worker, and their “son” starts taking drugs and listening to metal–the movie becomes even more bizarre than it already was, and by the time their “Aunt Bea” (Dabney Coleman) shows up in drag while sporting a mustache, the film goes from being satire to just weirdness. Even weirder than that, this was Michael Lehmann’s directorial follow-up to the cult classic Heathers.
Perhaps dark satire about suburban life was Lehmann’s specialty but Meet the Applegates is far too strange to be considered just that. Instead, it’s a very offbeat comedy about giant insects trying to take over the world and becoming too human to accomplish that task.
9. Freaked (1993)
So bizarre that it was recalled from distribution, Freaked is about an unlucky actor drawn into the world of freaks. The actor is exposed to a solution that makes him a mutant and joins the freak show that has trapped him and his companion. Entering the freak culture, the actor and his deformed compatriots–more unfortunates who had been similarly transformed by the travelling company against their will–eventually rebel against their warped master.
What insane reasoning led to this movie ever being made? But good thing that is was, since it’s a demonstration of how open and wildly prosperous the 90s film industry was to invest in such a venture. So uncommercial that its studio recalled the film from theaters, Freaked has found a secondary audience on video, as so many film had at the time, and has since developed a B-movie cult following.
Overzealous, 20th Century Fox–which had high hopes for the film–released a series of action figures, a comic book adaptation, and a novelization of the film upon its release, only to recoil in horror at the end product and put an abrupt end to its theatrical run.
A completely bonkers big-budget mainstream studio production that was caught up in the over-enthusiastic air of outre films in the early 90’s, Freaked ends up being a wild curiosity for film enthusiasts as to how easily the madmen can take over the asylum in the film world.
10. Conspirators of Pleasure (1996)
The often bizarre erotic fantasies of regular Prague citizens are detailed in Conspirators of Pleasure: a man creates a papier-mache rooster costume that he wears to then flap around his backyard while enacting a murder of a mannequin of his neighbor, whom he lusts after; his neighbor similarly feels homicidal longing for him, as she repeatedly drowns a mannequin that she built of him by candlelight.
Elsewhere, a newscaster pleasures herself by having fish suck her toes as she reads the news while her police officer husband uses rolling pins covered with feathers and nails to massage himself–and it keeps going in bizarre directions like this for its running time.
Perhaps the most bizarre film on this list, experimental filmmaker Jan Svankmajer creates a fascinating and all-together odd world in Conspirators of Pleasure. Like peering into the subconscious of some very sexually frustrated people, the movie follows Svankmajer’s distinctive visual style that blends stop motion with live action and nightmarish aesthetics mixed with absurd humor. For fans of outre films, they don’t get more bizarre than Conspirators of Pleasure.
Author’s bio: Mike Gray is a writer and academic from the Jersey Shore. His work has been featured on Cracked and Funny or Die, and he maintains a film and TV blog at mikegraymikegray.wordpress.com.