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A World Tilted Sideways: Ren Warom on Favorite Freaky Films

 

Detail from Beyond the Rainbow move poster/Magnet Releasing ©

I love a good weird film or TV show, anything that really throws the rules out or throws itself headlong into experiment. Many of my very favourite are chosen purely for the atmosphere they engender, a world tilted sideways, out of kilter feel that sometimes enters the gut and sometimes the heart, but is always present in some way.

Today I thought I’d introduce you to some of the movies whose strangeness brings me delight. Only a handful of them, because I have so many, and with no spoilers, because these are movies you should meet without foreknowledge and because I loathe spoilers wholeheartedly:

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“Beyond The Black Rainbow” (2010) Dir. Panos Cosmatos: Evocative of unsettling 60s and 70s psychodrama and body horror, there’s so much to love about this movie. The mise-en-scène is exceptional: the Sentionauts and the experiments, the glowing pyramid and the mysterious pool of black goo Barry, our distinctly eerie antagonist, enters to “Bring home the mother lode…”. It’s all so wonderful strange and compelling. Slow moving as tar and beautifully scored, BTBR builds its vision with slow, exacting care, nurturing an atmosphere of growing dread, spattered with moments of sudden grotesquerie, all the more jolting for their intrusion, and braves a startling, slasher-like ending that fizzles to nothing. As a whole, this movie is hypnotic, and manages to be altogether unique despite the homage it pays to other works of the genre.

Phase IV

“Phase IV” (1974) Dir. Saul Bass: I could eulogise about this particular movie for hours. From Saul Bass, the graphic design genius who brought to life in iconic imagery Hitchcock’s greatest movies, “Phase IV” is a trip and then some, a moral imperative wrapped in a creature feature. The sequences with the ants blow my mind every time, the close-cut heat and horror build with intense precision, the sheer claustrophobic paranoia all but radiates from the screen, and the ending, oh dear Hades, that ending. Watch the proper ending on YouTube, because it’s glorious, bizarre and bonkers and serves as the perfect capstone to this parable of human arrogance and insect ingenuity and otherness. The first time I saw this movie it made a nest in my head and propagated. It’s been living there ever since, sending signals into the void.

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“Eraserhead” (1977) Dir. David Lynch: Industrial, gloomy, messy, awkward and abrupt—styled with absolute confidence into a dystopian, existential nightmare, this is Lynch at his most confident and grim, his most savage and satirical. Everything from the blaring, atonal, ear-melting soundscape to the visceral intimacy of the characters whose lives are cut open for our delectation with scalpel-sharp brutality, it’s all perfection. Unrelenting, unforgiving, throwing out globules of weird with almost casual glee, “Eraserhead” is everything the weird and absurd should be. A masterclass. A master work.

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“Society” (1989) Dir. Brian Yuzna: Right from the get-go this movie is satirising itself, mocking the very subject of its subject. Beginning as your average eighties brat pack style teen movie, a cute kid from a rich family just trying to make it in high school and life, it engages in a slow, delirious uncoiling, gathering in speed and sinister undertone until it explodes into the gnarliest ending you never saw coming. “Society” takes strange and grotesque to new levels, and manages to deftly mock the eighties obsession with California jocks and outcasts whilst joyfully throwing out the rule book of horror movies. I think Cronenberg wishes to hell he’d made this little gem—it’s top notch body horror and also hilarious fun.

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“Absentia” (2011) Mike Flanagan: A quiet movie, this one is, almost amateurish, until the gut punches start to come, and my goodness once they do they never stop. This one has genuine unease running in thick veins right through the middle. Weird as hell. Unsettling as hell. Built around a horror we, one the one hand, never really see, and on the other, see far too well. We see what it does, what it’s capable of, how thoroughly it uses anyone who comes into contact with it. Utterly brilliant in concept and execution, “Absentia” stands as one of the few movies with a moment that genuinely made me feel ill. It’s an astounding piece of cinema, understated in performance, ultra realistic, and with a central conceit I dare you to not be disturbed by. Moreover it’s a perfect allegory of human cruelty. If you love cinema and can stomach horror, watch this.

I could continue to enthuse over favourite odd movies forever, but for the sake of brevity and your sanity, I’ll leave it at five—a nice, odd number. I’ll end by saying that, if you like movies imbued with this sort of strange, you’ll probably dig what I write—even the chaotic, whip-fast, gonzo, cyberwierd madness of Escapology and Virology have an undertow that owes its existence, in part, to movies like these.