5. Takashi Miike
Japanese cinema has spawned many overwhelmingly bizarre films, but it’s a true challenge to beat the extreme weirdness, insanity and confusion of Takashi Miike’s filmography. As a true profile artist, he directed more than a hundred movies in a span of more than 27 years.
In his artistic oeuvre are yakuza crime films, comedies, samurai flicks, family-friendly pictures, and… the most oddball films anyone could imagine. Some of them could be described as a fever nightmare of a madman. They are characterized by intense and over-the-top violent scenes, dreamlike logic, perverted sex sequences, and absolutely no remorse for the mental wellness of the viewer. If you think you can handle it, see his essential weird films such as:
“Fudoh: New Generation” (1996) – A freakish yakuza crime film in which one of the characters is a hermaphrodite who shoots people to death with darts from their vagina. Need we say more?
“Visitor Q” (2001) – A provocative, obscene, and dark as a moonless tar comedy, which is a quasi re-imagining of Pasolini’s classic “Teorema.”
“Gozu” (2001) – A kafkaesque story about a yakuza gangster who needs to find his brother in a little strange town filled with characters taken from nightmares. The sequence where a woman is giving birth to an adult is one of the most insane things Miike has ever filmed.
“Audition” (1999) – A story of a widower who tries to find the perfect woman is partly a subtle drama, and partly a horrifying and extremely violent thriller.
“Ichi the Killer” (2001) – A real cult classic and the best representative of the Japanese Extreme. The eponymous character Ichi is an obsessed with raping teenagers, who hunts down the yakuza members while being hypnotized and thereby manipulated by his father.
4. Jan Švankmajer
In Poland there is an expression – “A Czech Film” – which is used to describe a surrealistic situation in which no one knows what exactly has happened. This expression perfectly fits the body of work of the visionary world-famous Czech filmmaker Jan Švankmajer. He started as a director of short animated surrealistic films with the usage of techniques of claymation and stop-motion like in “The Last Trick” (1964), “Jabberwocky” (1971) and the legendary “Meat Love” (1989), which was once aired on MTV.
His feature film debut was “Alice” (1988), a loose adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland.” In this movie, he used the combination of live-action and stop-motion animation to create a fascinating and disturbing realm of wonderland. His movie has ultimately much more in common with a nightmare of a child than the colorful Disney adaptation of “Alice in Wonderland.”
Švankmajer’s unique style of mixing the stop-motion and live-action was perfected as a surrealistic aesthetic device to assault the audience’s senses. Another examples of these mesmerizing films are “Faust” (1994), a variation on Goethe’s classic novel; “Little Otik” (2000), a black comedy/horror about an infertile couple who treats a flesh-thirsty piece of wood as their own child; or “Lunacy” (2005), an allegorical tale about two different ways of treatment for mental patients.
3. David Lynch
David Lynch’s feature film debut “Eraserhead” (1977) is made of elements that create the worst nightmare a person could have. It is shot on black-and-white tape, takes place in a strange industrial world, and tells the story of Henry Spencer (Jack Nance), a father to a seriously deformed baby. The film became a cult Midnight Movie classic and introduced the audience to the bizarre imagination of David Lynch, who mastered the usage of dreamlike logic and atmosphere.
He created such classics of American weirdness such as the neo-noir thriller “Blue Velvet” (1986), the post-modernist road movie “Wild at Heart” (1990) and the puzzle-like, surrealistic mysteries “Lost Highway” (1997), “Mulholland Drive” (2001) and “Inland Empire” (2006).
Lynch is also known for co-creating with Mark Frost the famous 90’s TV show “Twin Peaks,” which combines “whodunit” mystery, soap opera, and surrealistic horror. It was a true television revolution. All the best episodes of the show were directed by Lynch and his creative absence in a huge part of the second season is clearly visible.
Lynch came back from semi-retirement to direct all the episodes of 2017 revival of “Twin Peaks.” This time, his creation was closer to disturbing “Lost Highway” than original “Twin Peaks,” which makes this season probably the weirdest show that ever appeared on TV. It also shows that after all those years, Lynch never lost his unique touch and still has the ability to confuse the audience.
2. Luis Buñuel
In the first half of the 20th century, no one was really prepared for the outrageous cinematic effects of the collaboration between the director Luis Bunuel and painter Salvador Dali. The wicked duo was responsible for creating two master works of surrealistic film – “An Andalusian Dog” (1929) and “The Golden Age” (1930). Both of the films created various controversies amongst the audience and film critics.
“An Andalusian Dog” shocked viewers with the famous razor and eyeball scene, which is regarded by many as a first gore scene in cinema history. “The Golden Age” was considered scandalous because of its sacrilegious content, which after release caused riots from a right-wing organization called “Ligue des Patriotes.”
Eventually, Bunuel and Dali went their own ways. Dali continued to paint his psychedelic masterpieces, while Bunuel started directing films based on a logic of dreams, in which he targeted the hypocrisy of modern society, the bigotry of the Catholic church, and bourgeoisie false morality mixed with their detachment.
The best film to start exploration of Bunuel’s filmography is “The Exterminating Angel” (1962). It tells the story about a group of aristocracy representatives who gathered in a villa for a snobbish party, and realize after awhile that they cannot leave the room for some incomprehensible reason. Soon, their primal instincts start to take control over their actions in a confined space.
This movie has all major tropes of Bunuel’s body of work – strange, allegorical, terrifying and darkly funny at the same time, exactly like his next surreal classics “Belle de Jour” (1967), “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie” (1972) and “The Phantom of Liberty” (1974).
1. Alejandro Jodorowsky
Before Alejandro Jodorowsky became a movie director, he was fulfilling his artistic potential as a circus clown and later as an actor and director in various avant-garde theaters.
In 1962 in Paris, Jodorowsky, Roland Topor and Fernando Arrabal created the famous Panic Movement, which was the artistic co-operation responsible for surrealistic performance art. Circus sensibility, avant-garde and surrealism were the fundamentals on which he built his cinematic vision, not to mention his fascination with poetry and esotericism that also found a specific place in his films.
His debut feature film “Fando y Lis” (1968), an adaptation of a post-apocalyptic/surrealistic play by Fernando Arrabal, was banned in Mexico due to its controversial content and was met with a mostly negative reaction from critics.
His next film became a counterculture cult classic and the ultimate symbol of Midnight Movie. It’s his famous “El Topo” (1970) – a mystical, allegorical and simply bizarre acid western. At the time, the audience had never seen anything like that before.
His third movie, “The Holy Mountain” (1973) was funded by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, who were fans of “El Topo,” and produced by Allen Klein, the manager of Beatles. It was an avant-garde, psychedelic fantasy film, a hallucinatory drug experience made as a feature film.
After the release of “The Holy Mountain,” Jodorowsky tried to make an adaptation of the classic sci-fi novel “Dune” by Frank Herbert, but unfortunately his vision was too ambitious and innovative for the producers and the project was eventually rejected. For anyone interested in what this film could be like, there is a great documentary called “Jodorowsky’s Dune” (2013) directed by Frank Pavich.
In 1980, he filmed the disappointing “Tusk” (1980), a family-friendly picture placed in India in the time of British colonies. He redeemed himself with “Santa Sangre” (1989), a visionary horror film inspired by the famous expressionist classic “The Hands of Orlac” (1924). The title of Jodorowsky’s worst movie belongs to “The Rainbow Thief” (1990), which was another failed attempt at making a family-friendly blockbuster.
After that failure, he stayed away from directing for more than 20 years. He returned from retirement with autobiographical and, of course, surrealistic “The Dance of Reality” (2013) and its sequel, “Endless Poetry” (2016).
Author Bio: Antoni Urbanowicz is a Film studies graduate, defending a thesis about exploitation movies. He is a dedicated cinephile, avid reader and 80’s pop culture enthusiast. His taste of cinema ranges from Z-class trash to world-class masterpieces.