Ever since Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali banged their bizarre brains together and came up with the 1929 short film Un Chien Andalou, filmmakers around the world have attempted to outdo one another and create movies which twist and distort reality while bending the minds of their audiences.
Some filmmakers with fertile imaginations and a fondness for the surreal have broken into the mainstream. You don’t have to be a hardcore cinephile to have come across the works of directors like Terry Gilliam, Guillermo del Toro and Tim Burton, all of whom have entertained mainstream audiences while injecting their films with surrealistic flourishes.
Delve a little further into the deep well of surreal movies, however, and some truly odd works of cinema can be found. Way beyond the familiar conventions of multiplex movies lie some real oddities which surprise, confound and sometimes shock with just how downright weird they are.
From Sean Connery in a mankini combating giant floating rock heads, to a bloodthirsty car tyre on a killing spree, here are ten incredibly strange films you might’ve missed.
Sean Connery wearing a mankini while threatening you with a gun isn’t a sight anyone wants to see, but it’s what you get if you watch Zardoz, John Boorman’s weird and wonderful science fiction movie from 1974 which is about as quintessentially of its decade as any film made.
Depicting a world in which “Brutals” are forced to kill one another in order to extend the life of the “Eternals”, Zardoz is about as kitsch as science fiction comes, blending quasi-dystopian futurism with high camp entertainment. Connery plays Brutal Exterminator Zed, caught as a prisoner of the Eternals, who decide he is worthy of being psychically studied.
With cinematography by Geoffrey “2001: A Space Odyssey” Unsworth and the pedigree of Boorman behind it, Zardoz could have been something epic. It’s certainly striving for greatness, which makes the bizarre end result all the more entertaining to watch. Great it isn’t – incredibly strange? Hell yes.
9. The Adventures Of Buckaroo Banzai Across The 8th Dimension
Another great cult science fiction movie with large ambitions which lend the project an air of engrossing chaos is The Adventures Of Buckaroo Banzai Across The 8th Dimension, W. D. Richter’s science fiction fantasy adventure romance comedy film starring Peter Weller, John Lithgow and Ellen Barkin.
Summarising the complex, weaving plot of Buckaroo Banzai is a fool’s task – suffice to say it’s a heady concoction of multi-dimensional travel mixed with the trials and tribulations of a rock band and the potential take-over of earth by an alien race known as the Red Lectroids. Rumour has it the script was started and stopped several times, which is evident when you try to make something coherent of the plot.
Who needs plot, though, when a film is this much strange fun? Buckaroo Banzai makes up for its lack of common sense with a string of hilariously odd set pieces, deliberately tacky production design and sterling performances from great actors who seem to be more than aware of the nature of the project and quite happy to throw themselves into the roles.
Buckaroo Banzai is a film deserving of its place in the pantheon of 1980s cult movies, and even gets a nod in Ready Player One, with the main character Parzival donning the iconic suit for his date with Art3mis.
A group of young women arriving at a house only to be confronted by supernatural goings-on sounds like the set up for a thoroughly conventional horror movie. In the hands of Japanese director Nobuhiko Obayashi, however, this basic framing device is anything but predictable.
Hausu was conceived in part as a response from Toho studio’s desire to find an “incomprehensible” project, with Obayashi taking on the directorial duties after the project languished in development hell for 2 years. Approaching the project in a loose and experimental manner, Hausu emerged as one of the most unique horror movies of the era, as each of the archetypal female protagonists (with names like Gorgeous, Melody and Fantasy) encounter the delights of an increasingly strange house.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of Hausu is the visual effects, which draw upon a number of techniques while retaining a deliberately crude and childlike aesthetic. The women are attacked by household items such as clocks, with one devoured by a piano, in an extended absurdist grand guignol which is as chaotic and inventive as anything else committed to film.
7. The Happiness Of The Katakuris
Fans of Japanese cinema will no doubt be familiar with the films of Takeshi Miike. Miike’s prolific filmography includes some of the best cult films released in Japan since the 90s, including Audition, Ichi The Killer and Visitor Q.
While singling out one of his films as being the most bizarre is pretty much impossible, The Happiness Of The Katakuris is as strong a contender as any. Revolving around the titular family and their hopes of building a guest house beside a still to be constructed road, it features a full smorgasbord of cinematic tricks to tell its story, veering from comedy to horror and even musicals throughout its run time.
Miike also throws in some animated sequences, flipping to scenes of claymation in a relentless barrage of surreal imagery which brings to mind the works of master surrealists such as Jan Svankmejer and the Quay Brothers. The Happiness Of The Katakuris finishes off with a karaoke scene, lyrics displayed for the benefit of the audience. Because why not?
6. Naked Lunch
Selecting the best example of a very strange film from David Cronenberg isn’t easy – the Canadian director has been mining the darker landscape of surrealism and body horror for decades. Many of his works – Scanners, Videodrome, Crash – are masterpieces of the form, but for the really out-there material nothing compares to Naked Lunch.
Adapted from the drug-fuelled excesses of William Borroughs – who wrote much of his novel of the same name while in a narcotics-induced state of disassociation and paranoia – Naked Lunch sees Buckaroo Banzai star Peter Weller take on the role of a bug exterminator who prefers to get high on his own supply. Reality and hallucinations soon blur, and Cronenberg explores not only the mental state of his protagonist but the process of creativity itself.
Naked Lunch was too much for mainstream audiences to take and failed spectacularly at the box office. It has since earned a well deserved cult following, and is essential viewing for fans of weird and disturbing cinema who can handle a heavy dose of narrative obtuseness.