Over time, I’ve begun to get extremely bored with modern blockbusters. I’m tired of being told that I should care about the next Marvel, the next cinematic universe, or another pointless live-action remake of a Disney classic. I’m tired of the business-politics involved, knowing that certain movies were altered in order to appeal to the Asian market. I’m tired of the clickbait articles about another fake outrage.
More and more, I’ve retreated to the past, revisiting old classics and discovering new ones along the way. After going through a delightful binge of 70’s exploitation films, discovering the works of masters like Jack Hill, I’ve begun to wonder why I even bother with modern blockbusters anymore. If it’s a choice between seeing buxom Pam Grier kick ass or seeing another film that’s mostly made behind a green screen, the choice seems pretty clear to me.
So that’s why I’ve chosen to write this list, to share my love for films that aren’t exactly mainstream, that were more appreciated as time went on. Even if not all of them are exactly ‘masterpieces’ as the title suggests, each one of them was made from that wild and crazy creative spark. None of them feel like they were during a board room brainstorming session.
So if you want to take a break from all the crap they’ve been feeding you on the big screen, take a look at this article. If you haven’t seen any of them, give them a chance. You might wake up to the fact that movies are supposed to be fun.
10. Motel Hell
Oh, this is a weird one alright. This was also a bit creepier than I initially suspected. It stars the great Rory Calhoun as Farmer Vincent who, together with his gluttonous Sister Ida (Nancy Parsons), harvest humans for their particular brand of meat. Things become increasingly complicated, however, when Farmer Vincent falls in love with would-be victim Terry (Nina Axelrod).
Seeing how much fun Calhoun and Parsons are having playing the villains is the best part of the film. Aside from the performances, the characters themselves are great, too. What makes them great is that they don’t consider themselves villains. They don’t harvest humans out of greed or malice; for them, it’s just about creating a great product.
In one scene, Farmer Vincent gives a persuasively twisted logic to his actions: “You know there’s nothing cruel about what I’m doing here. I treat most of my stock better than farmers treat their animals. I don’t feed ’em chemicals or hormones. When you consider the way the world is today, there’s no question I’m doing a lot of them a big favor.”
The sights of human heads sticking out of the ground, who are only able to growl and gurgle because their vocal cords have been shattered, is a disturbing sight.
It’s not perfect, though. Terry is a rather weak character, a damsel-in-distress who falls for Farmer Vincent because… he’s nice? And having Sheriff Smith (Paul Linke) as the hero at the end, especially since he basically assaulted Terry earlier in the film, is rather uncomfortable.
Even so, fans of cult films and horror-comedies owe it to themselves to see this movie.
9. Troma’s War
“Troma’s War” has all the hallmarks of your regular Troma film: bad acting, cheesy effects, bad dialog, continuity issues, and highly unnecessary nudity. What sets this film apart from other Troma films is its bigger budget, as this was made from an accumulated $3 million budget – the most expensive Troma film to date.
The film certainly boasts more spectacular actions and stunts – I was even impressed with the final stunt in the film, even though I could see that the explosive went off a few seconds too early.
“Troma’s War” starts with a plane crash (which we don’t see because that would be too expensive) of a commercial airline flight on a nondescript island. The survivors are an assortment of different buffoons and stereotypes. Unfortunately for them, they landed on an island on which sits a secret multicultural terrorist base. These terrorists think these survivors are some elite soldiers and begin hunting them down. The survivors realize they need to work together if they want to survive and save America.
Troma’s flatulent emperor Lloyd Kauffman himself considers this a deeply underrated film of the Troma brand. The initial release of “Troma’s War” was badly received, which was also partly due to the MPAA, who demanded heavy cuts to be made or else this film would have received an X-rating – a death knell for any movie in cinema. For Kauffman, this was just another example of the MPAA doing the bidding of big corporations while refusing to give independent filmmakers a break.
As with many Troma films, the film is actually much smarter than you’d initially think. The film is a satire of the 80’s action movie genre. During this time, action heroes such as Sylvester Stallone and Chuck Norris often perpetuated the political agenda of the Reagan administration, and “Troma’s War” is a reaction to that. Just like with Paul Verhoeven’s masterpiece ”RoboCop,” one of the villains of “Troma’s War” is a cowardly Wall Street executive, the exemplary Reaganite stooge, who luckily gets his comeuppance.
While the film has a lot of aesthetic problems, it’s still so much fun.
8. Brain Damage
When Frank Henenlotter started his film career, he probably knew he was never going to win an Oscar. And if he had any sense, he wouldn’t care. His interest lay always in those gloriously trashy pulp movies he saw in the grindhouse theaters as a young man. All that unnecessary nudity and excessive bloodshed corrupted his fragile mind…
Mourn his innocence all you want, I think it was for the best. Yes, those movies might have ruined his childhood. Yes, he could have been a doctor, saving lives and all that, but he wouldn’t have made ”Frankenhooker”! We wouldn’t have been able to enjoy his sick movies! I think we can all agree that the existence of ”Frankenhooker” is worth a few ruined childhoods.
While not all of his movies are particularly noteworthy, some have become cult classics, such as 1982’s “Basketcase” and naturally 1990’s “Frankenhooker.” But one movie that’s often overlooked and which is in many ways just as good as those two, is 1988’s “Brain Damage.”
“Brain Damage” is about an ancient parasitic creature named Aylmer who can give its hosts a glorious euphoric high. The only drawback is that this parasite also needs human brains to survive. Its subject is the innocent and kindly Brian (Rick Hearst), who eventually becomes addicted by the euphoric juices of Aylmer. As usual with Henenlotter films, it looks incredibly cheap, so the special effects in the film, especially the creature design of Aylmer, look rather laughable – in a good way.
But the film has such a charm to it that you just don’t care. It also helps that Aylmer is voiced by longtime horror host John Zacharie and is often hilarious in the role.
Also, watch out for a neat little cameo by Kevin van Hentenryck and his “basket.”
7. Rolling Thunder
“Rolling Thunder” is one of Quentin Tarantino’s favorite films, and that alone should be recommendation enough. The fact that original screenplay was written by Paul Schrader – who did disown the film from deviating too much from his original script – should make your cinematic interests tingle, too. If that isn’t enough, the film stars William Devane and Tommy Lee Jones – who looks so ridiculously young in this film.
Major Charles Rane (Devane) spent seven years as a POW in Hanoi. When he returns home, he has difficulty adjusting as the psychic scars run deep. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have much time to get better as he comes home one day, finding a group of outlaws intent on stealing his precious silver dollars.
When Rane refuses to cooperate, they put one of his hands in a garbage disposal, which will make him wear a hook through the rest of the film – and naturally one of his arms looks longer than the other. They murder his wife and son and leave him for dead. As you could expect, when he wakes up, he’s aiming for revenge.
The film comes together in a wonderful climax where Rane and his veteran buddy Johnny Vohden (Jones) embark on an epic shootout in a whorehouse. The last shot is even rather touching. Rewatching this recently made me wish there were more movies with these two characters. It probably would have become quickly ridiculous, same as with the Death Wish franchise, but even so, it would have been a helluva lot of fun.
Before Michael Myers stalked people that Halloween night in Haddonfield, before Freddy Krueger haunted our dreams, and before Jason Voorhees was massacring promiscuous teenagers, there was the Tall Man, the interdimensional demon. We are, of course, talking about Don Coscarelli’s gloriously weird 1977’s ”Phantasm,” which kickstarted one of the most imaginative horror franchises of all time.
Even with its five sequels – which despite the continuous diminishing quality never becomes embarrassing like many other horror franchises – it never reached mainstream appeal. This is both a blessing and a curse, as commercial appeal might have tarnished the series’ unique weirdness.
At the same time, the fantastical elements of these films were often diminished because of its low budget. Roger Avary reportedly wrote an ambitious sequel, which was going to be set in a post-apocalyptic future (and co-star the chin himself, Bruce Campbell) but this would never come to be because they couldn’t assemble the $10 million budget – and considering the crap they spend a hundred million on these days, it seems like nothing.
“Phantasm” is not only noteworthy as a horror film, but also an example of independent filmmaking. Coscarelli had only a measly budget to make his expansive vision come to live, and though this does show in several scenes (and in most of Coscarelli’s filmography to be fair), it’s also part of the charm.
The original film is particularly flawed and doesn’t hold up as well like Wes Craven’s “A Nightmare on Elm Street” or John Carpenter’s “Halloween.” The first sequel, “Phantasm 2,” is probably most fondly remembered.
But there’s just something so unique in the first one that none of its sequels could come close to. It’s a film that plays on dream logic, where characters are suddenly from one place to the next and where you just have to swallow the weirdness of it all. It still remains a fascinating oddity after all this time.