6. Elvira: Mistress of the Dark (1988)
Scream-queen and Groundling Cassandra Peterson’s inverted Valley-Girl persona Elvira, the beehived host of Movie Macabre, made her cinematic debut in 1988’s star vehicle Elvira: Mistress of the Dark, a fish-out-of-water comedy-horror that pits the buxom compere against a puritanical midwest town- council of harridans, who grow fearful of her influence on the local youth after she becomes the surprise benefactor of an estranged relative’s inheritance.
Big, camp, cartoonish fun, full of innuendo and laced with cracking comedic performances (including The Kenick himself Jeff Conaway as the greaser goon of Elvira’s villainous Great Uncle Talbot), it’s easy to see why it’s become something of a queer culture classic – the film positively bursts with the inimitable tone of a Drag Race maxi challenge.
Trashy fun with a killer soundtrack, a punk’d up anamorphic poodle, and a Flamingo hotel finale that in its splendiferous tack puts the rest of Vegas to shame, Elvira: Mistress of the Dark is a film that could force even the most cynical turgid bore’s lip to curl into an unwilling and reluctant simper; a film as comfortable and appealing in its no-strings simplicity as a big dumb hunk.
And if you’re into it, they even made a sequel. God bless the wicked.
7. Shadows and Fog (1991)
Woody Allen’s back catalogue is vast, and only the more avid fan would have ventured beyond the films of his known as classics of genre; but if you do happen to wander on through the ‘earlier, funnier ones’ of Love & Death and Sleeper, up passed Annie Hall and Manhattan, and out onto the vast expanse of his remaining work, there’s always some inimitable joy to be found.
Shadows and Fog preceded Husbands & Wives and Manhattan Murder Mystery – the former being a far more well received study into his split from long term partner Mia Farrow; the later’s released being mired by the sexual abuse allegations and murder-by-public-opinion that followed their separation – and as such, sort of marks the Halcyon Days before the shit-storm of public ire and unabated suspicion, with the biggest charge that can be bought against the film itself being it just kinda came and went without much fuss or fan-fair.
Shot in black-and-white homage to the German Expressionists of the 1920s, Shadows and Fog stars Allen as the nebbish Kleinman, awoken by a braying mob and pulled through Kafkaesque scenes of a twilight town on the hunt for a serial killer. With the usual shmorgishborg of a-listers in tow, the film is a nice little pivot away from the Allen’s fondness for Bergman pastiche, and a hearty recommendation for those willing to receive it.
8. Uncle David (2010)
Anti-drag performance artist David Hoyle turned his back on fame and celebrity at the turn of the new century, retreating to Manchester to collect himself and tend his garden. The transgressive star had, through his drag alter-ego, built up a cult following and feared the large sums of money UK’s Channel Four was throwing at him to reprise his popular show The Divine David Presents would simply shuffle him along his coil too early to be existentially viable.
Hoyle has subsequently returned to the drag scene in a varied form of the character, but it is as a himself (kind of) that he stars in Uncle David, an uber-transgressive star vehicle with multiple nods at the backwards-small-town-appalling-kitsch of John Water’s films, starring beshredded long time collaborator (and gay porn star) Ashley Ryder.
A black comedy thick as treacle, Hoyle stars as the eponymous psychopathic anti-hero, who ventures to murder his nephew as an act of incestuous love, whilst pontificating on various moral and philosophical topics. One take, heavy improvisation, full of interesting ideas and jet black gallows humour. A good introduction to an important British artist.
9. The Comedy (2012)
For his third independent feature, filmmaker Rick Alverson teamed up with the absurdist alt-comedy duo Tim & Eric and hipster demigod (and LCD Soundsystem front-man) James Murphy and made a film about a group of ageing Williamsburg trust-fund kids that so perfectly captured the insidious, corrosive and tiresome nature of combative masculine irony that it went over the head of a number of critics upon release: who took the film to be a championing of these characteristics, and not a nuanced critical self-study of them.
Structured but heavily improvised, The Comedy centres on Swanberg (played by the beautiful Tim Heidecker), a boat-dwelling, shark-eyed hipster as he ambles between one situationist prank to the next, without emotion and free of any notable repercussion. The film received middling reviews when released in 2012, but is slowly gaining a cult following amongst the comedic community, including Jordan Peele who cast Heidecker in the 2019 box office torpedo Get Out.
Bolstered by a poignant soundtrack from independent record label Jagjaguwar, and co-starring Gregg Turkington AKA the celebrated anti-comedian Neil Hamburger, who would go on to star in Alverson’s next feature Entertainment, The Comedy is a must watch for anyone interested in ambiguous, transgressive cinema, that has a looseness of structure, and leans away from (the often disingenous) claims of moral rectitude in content and a formal didacticism.
10. Masters of the Universe (1987)
‘Everything comes to he who waits. And I have waited so very long for this moment.’
The rise and fall of the Cannon Group has been well documented in 2014’s Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films, and it seems their problems came when they took a punt on a number of big budget films that all flopped – One of those big budget flops was Masters of the Universe. The film dubbed as the ‘Star Wars of the 80s’ seems very much to be creatively pilfered from every decent sci-fi film ever made, and can be cynically viewed as a by-the-numbers attempt to cash in on the popularity of a toy line made by Mattel. But there’s just something about it that’s iconic, and I think it’s time for a re-evaluation.
Starring a shredded and feathery-maned Dolph Lundgren as He-Man (wooden as a toy) and an all in Frank Langella as Skeletor, mercurially huffing about the place being proper evil, the film centres on He-man’s attempt to reclaim Castle Greyskull and rescue the Sorceress from Skeletor’s soul sucking grasp (as you might imagine). Because of budgetary issues, you only really get a glimpse of Eternia, most of the film takes place on earth, where our heroes have unexpectedly found themselves: falling out of the sky and landing pretty much on a young Courtney Cox’s head.
It has Gwildor: the red headed troll thing with a heart of gold; some permed unctuous uber-creep with a hook for a hand (Karg); Meg Foster as Skeletor’s second in command / girlfriend Evil Lynne (best character name ever); the sets they could afford to build look amazing, and it has He-Man flying about on a hover board pew-pewing a space pistol. Absolute Magic.