6. Bio Zombie (1998)
Bio-Zombie is a 1998 Hong Kong horror comedy from director Wilson Yip, who would later direct the iconic martial arts film Ip Man (2008) and its sequels. Least to say, Bio-Zombie is a forgotten entry in the director’s stacked filmography, and it’s truly a shame that it is.
The film follows a group of definitively ‘90s degenerates working at a mall. The protagonists, Woody Invincible and Crazy Bee, sell bootleg DVDs. When a zombie outbreak caused by a bio-agent black market deal gone wrong abruptly overruns the mall, the slackers must stick together and fight to survive the night. Think Dawn of the Dead (1978) starring the characters of a Kevin Smith film.
Bio Zombie is incredibly funny in all the right ways, both intentional and unintentional. It’s a quirky little zombie flick, but it never veers too far into the hint-hint-nudge-nudge territory of overbearing irony or tongue-in-cheek humor. Bio Zombie is a love letter to the films it parodies as much as it is one of those films itself, and it totally embraces such status.
The film has a goofy, gross-out sense of humor without getting too over-the-top, and it hosts a cast of memorable, fun characters. There’s also a wonderful, lush color palette of greens, pinks, and blues, and a unique ‘90s mall aesthetic. Bio Zombie is deeply underappreciated and an essential viewing for fans of the zombie genre.
7. Wizards (1977)
Ralph Bakshi is indeed an iconic director and pioneer in adult animation who may need no introduction, but Wizards is often overlooked in the canon of his more iconic films like Fritz the Cat (1972) or The Lord of the Rings (1978). It’s one of those films that many people know of, but few have actually taken the time to watch.
The plot of Wizards boils down to a rather simplistic good vs. evil fantasy exercise, but with some major stylistic twists and unique post-apocalyptic world building. The good wizard Montagar and his team must defeat the forces of evil mutants from overtaking the world.
The film’s antagonistic wizard, Blackwolf, manipulates his goons through the power of technology and Nazi propaganda. Bakshi crafts a diverse landscape of unique characters, from robots, fairies, and dwarves, to gun-toting warriors and sleazy ghouls. There’s even a rather hysterical cameo from Mark Hamill as a fairy.
It’s a psychedelic and politically charged film, allegorical for the destructive powers of technology and fanaticism. Bakshi masterfully switches between different techniques of animation, using alternatingly impressionistic and detailed imagery throughout different sequences.
The juxtaposition between friendly looking animation style and rather shocking themes of eroticism and violence create a unique, seedy atmosphere – a quality Bakshi is famous for. Wizards is a feverish and unforgettable work of creativity, deserving of its growing cult following and vital viewing for anyone interested in animation.
8. Deadbeat at Dawn (1988)
One of the most underappreciated cult films of all time, Deadbeat at Dawn is a 1988 micro-budget grindhouse film written by, directed by, and starring Jim Van Bebber. This film is the definition of a labor of love – shot over the course of four years, Van Bebber dropped out of film school and used the remainder of his student loan to fund the film. What resulted is one of the most rewarding and passionate efforts in cult cinema to date.
The film follows a typical tough-guy gang leader named Goose (played by Van Bebber) whose girlfriend, Christie, convinces him to quit the gang life. Shortly after quitting, Christie is brutally murdered by the rival gang. Goose goes rogue and embarks on a path to bloody, brutal retribution.
Deadbeat at Dawn is a no holds barred revenge film, and it revels in the grotesque and grimy. Movies with ten times the budget don’t come anywhere near the primal adrenaline rush of Deadbeat at Dawn; the film’s action becomes so extreme, one could almost consider it a horror film. No doubt, it’s an amateurish and cheesy flick, but that’s part of the charm.
It doesn’t feel like a self-absorbed Tommy Wiseau type project like most of these sorts of films become; Deadbeat at Dawn has a simple and focused vision, and it hits a home run within the resources provided. Van Bebber utilizes repeating imagery, gothic tones and underlying themes of nihilism and decay to drive his testosterone fueled flick full throttle to its incredible, blood-soaked climax.
Goose, as one dimensional as his character inherently is, ultimately proves to be one of the great tragic heroes of cult cinema with the film’s wonderfully melodramatic closing lines. Van Bebber gave the film his all, and it really paid off.
9. Dead Leaves (2004)
Running at only 55 minutes, Dead Leaves is a short but sweet exercise in anime insanity directed by former Gainax member Hiroyuki Imaishi, famous for creating the classic modern anime series Gurren Lagann (2007) and Kill La Kill (2014).
Two convicts with superhuman abilities, Retro and Panda, wake up naked and confused on a futuristic Earth and embark on a crime spree, only to be thrown back into the infamous moon prison called Dead Leaves. The two slowly learn more about their past as they attempt to break out of the daunting prison with the help of their mutant inmates.
Calling Dead Leaves “stylized” is a gross understatement… it is one of the most hyper-stylized and kinetic works of animation to date, almost to the point of total abstraction.
The film’s angular art style, comic book colors, and warped perspectives became distinct to Imaishi’s later work, and the extreme violence and absurdity of the film is complimented by a similarly frantic trance soundtrack. Within its short runtime, Dead Leaves does not let up; it’s an hour of total sugar rush and sensory overload – relentless, funny, perfectly irreverent and gleefully subversive.
10. Bad Taste (1987)
Peter Jackson has become a household name after directing the Lord of the Rings trilogy and its more unfortunate prequels. But what many filmgoers may not know is that Jackson was not always known for making such tasteful, accessible fantasy epics.
Back in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, Jackson got his kicks directing trashy, nasty films that make Raimi’s early work seem like child’s play. Released in 1987, Bad Taste is perhaps the ultimate exercise in flippant, low budget gross-out filmmaking, honoring the true spirit of not caring what anyone thinks.
The film focuses on three agents of the Astro Investigation and Defence Service (otherwise known as A.I.D.S.) as they investigate the strange disappearance of a small New Zealand town’s entire population. To their dismay, the agents discover the townspeople have been replaced by gluttonous aliens seeking to farm humans for their intergalactic fast food chain. It’s up to A.I.D.S. to stop the evil corporate aliens.
Jackson wrote and directed the film, and even plays a role as A.I.D.S. agent Derek with comedic absurdity. Bad Taste favors insanity over logic, chaos over order, and potty jokes over any sort of tasteful, premeditated humor.
If the title of the film doesn’t let you know what you’re in for, I don’t know what will. It’s an absolute blast of trashy, nonsensical mayhem and slapstick folly. If you’re willing to turn off your brain, forget your sophisticated cinema sensibilities and just laugh for a little, it’s hard to go wrong with Bad Taste.