Not everyone is a big fan of experimental films, or even mainstream films that experiment to push boundaries. Something about good ol’ Hollywood and its conventions make us feel right at home and secure, right? Sure, we have happy endings and a hero that wins most of the time. Sadly, this is the mentality that pushes strange films to the side. Films that are nothing but so damn weird are some of the best because, even if they end up being bad, you won’t forget them for a very long time. In fact, some of the longest impressions I’ve had from watching films have come from ones I will be naming shortly. There’s just something about watching the abnormal that sticks with you, because, isn’t that one of the best joys we can get from watching movies? To experience what we wouldn’t otherwise? We watch action films and horror films for the same reason, so why not watch films that go above and beyond what those two genres can do in terms of normality? Along with a normal rating, I will put a special rating for each film that will grade how disturbing that respective film is because, let’s face it, bizarre is not too far away from being horrifying. So, I present you the top ten films that are guaranteed to make your mind explode (not literally, though it would excuse my writing style), in order of least weirdest to most.
WARNING: The majority of these films are disturbing and should not be taken with a grain of salt. As interesting as they may seem, please take notice of my ratings, especially if you are squeamish, before checking out the following.
Also, experimental shorts will NOT be featured. These are only feature lengths. I may do a list of experimental shorts in the future, so wait for your Salvador Dalis and Kenneth Angers until then.
10. Synecdoche, New York (2008)
People go on and on about how weird Charlie Kaufman’s scripts are, and I’d have to disagree. They are very clever and they do work outside of the box (WAY outside of the box, even), but I’d never really call them weird. Not even Being John Malkovich. Well, there is one possible exception, and that’s his directorial debut: Synecdoche, New York. This is one film that is nearly impossible to figure out on the first watch. I don’t mean the overall message, but just the finer points. If you thought Inception’s multi-layered labyrinth of a plot was hard to follow, you have not seen the dream of Caden Cotard; A playwright and theater director. His life is ending as quickly as his career, and he desperately tries to hang on to both in this dive into his subconscious. People move into houses that are permanently on fire for no reason, everybody has a stunt double/triple/quadruple/etc., and time and space simply do not exist. Ladies and gentlemen, if the theme of 8 1/2 had a child with the complexity of 2001 (I guess that would be 2009 1/2, but that’s looking too far into it).
Disturbing Rating: 2/10
9. Brazil (1985)
This is the best rated film on the list but it’s not number one. Why not? This is about which film is the weirdest, and frankly Brazil isn’t nearly as weird as the other films once you understand it. It’s an incredibly dark comedy mixed with elements of horror and drama set in what appears to be the near future. This is the bureaucratic look at an Orwellian society where everything is taxed (including your own execution) and the terrorists that threaten the cities are heating engineers and house movers. Things get a bit weird when protagonist Sam Lowrey begins to mix reality with his dreams, and we begin to question if specific people/events even existed. The weirder moments, however, are incredibly cheesy or downright scary, creating an unsettling contrast of two of the fortes of 80’s filmmaking. It’s bound to be a bit strange since Terry Gilliam directed this film, but is it the weirdest? Sadly, in a world like the one we have today, it isn’t too far off from reality.
Disturbing Rating: 4/10
8. Antichrist (2009)
This tragedy thriller starts off with a classic Von Trier opening where everything is slowed down, played to symphonic music and contains dream-like visuals (or in this case, nightmarish). After the epilogue comes a horrifying tale of a couple whose child (as shown in the opening) accidentally commits suicide. The husband, not pleased with how his wife is handling this, takes it upon himself to act as her psychiatrist and he takes her to the place she fears the most: The woods. On paper, this film really isn’t that strange, and on first watch, it isn’t. That is until you reach near the end. Firstly, it’s gruesome and down right shocking, then there are parts of the plot that get revealed that completely change the opening half of the film (not twists, but subtle nuances). Antichrist is not a religious or anti religious film, but instead is one about self hatred through discovery. It’s one of those films that are so visually captivating but also so disturbing (refer to any scene with animals), making this by far the most screwed up movie about grieving.
Disturbing Rating: 10/10
7. Videodrome (1983)
Remember Y2K? Whatever happened with that? Absolutely nothing, right? We were “scared” that all of technology was going to turn on us and suddenly humanity was at stake while the rest of the world, including what we made, was to overthrow us? Whatever made people come up with such a stupid idea? Probably Videodrome. Like Brazil, Videodrome is a spooky cautionary tale about society and its future. It tells us about the degeneration of society through televised hallucinations, and the lack of freedom and control in a world owned by corporations. James Woods is always great, and he’s no different here, turning what could have been a campy horror film into a whirlwind of fear. Cronenberg’s stories and films are always to-the-point and short-and-bittersweet, so Videodrome will speed right past you. However, the parts you may want to forget the most, including the surreal visuals and indescribable gore (which Cronenberg is also a master of). After watching Videodrome, you may never see television the same way again. Oh, and listening to Blondie will creep the shit out of you.
Disturbing Rating: 7/10
6. パプリカ [Paprika] (2006)
Movies about dreams are bound to be strange, especially when that movie is about visiting other people’s dreams. Animated movies are also just as open to the world of the bizarre, since animators are not held down by impossibilities that live action films may face. Paprika is a combination of both, and boy is it weird. At least the story makes a lot of sense. The basic premise is that people can be treated therapeutically through their dreams in the future. So you’ll see some stunning visuals you didn’t think could be imagined, including, yes, some disturbing scenes you didn’t think were possible. Some of the soundtrack is like the story itself: Bubbly and happy with a scary undertone you can’t ignore. Paprika is one of those rare animated films that challenges both the story and the visuals of many live action films. Hell, it even influenced Christopher Nolan (I’m guessing the movie he made after watching Paprika was Insomnia?), who is considered to be a visionary of our time. Paprika isn’t the weirdest film because everything is understandable, but it’s still pretty damn out there.
Disturbing Rating: 4/10
5. Enter the Void (2009)
Gaspar Noé is one of the most controversial directors in existence, and Enter the Void could be his masterpiece. What you should take from this is that this film is worth the watch but only with extreme caution. I mean, if you make a film combining the Tibetan book of the dead with DMT and childhood traumas, you’re bound to have a film that will touch upon something interesting, and Noé does. With the eight minute long DMT trips and the many long takes of overhead shots of an evolving neon city, this film is such a visionary experience. However, with moments of disturbing imagery and taboo themes, this film, as intended, is an emotional roller coaster designed to make you also feel awkward and not just excited. Of course, the DMT sequences can scare those who fear hallucinations and drugs already. Whether this film disturbs you or delights you, it’s unforgettable. Bottom line is that this movie is just strange as all hell. Interesting. Philosophical. Even inventive. Still, strange as all hell.
Disturbing Rating: 8/10
4. Eraserhead (1977)
Oh boy. Well, if Eraserhead didn’t exist, none of the brilliant works David Lynch made would have existed either, so Eraserhead, as bizarre as it is on paper, is worth a watch just to see the origins of this talented director. You’d think it’s bizarre, but it’s not. It’s far more screwed up. You’ll get everything from a disfigured alien fetus to ones head exploding off, all with a side order of seizure fits and a woman with tumors in her face. Nothing makes sense in this film, except for the fact that it’s Lynch’s complete opposite rendition of your typical 50’s diner tv shows. It’s like Leave It to Beaver on acid after you got a concussion, if you will. As strange as it is, Lynch’s protégé Jack Nance is a fantastically awkward lead character, and once you get the idea of what Lynch is trying to show us, this static nightmare becomes a cool look into the alternate universe.
Disturbing Rating: 7/10
3. La Planéte Sauvage [Fantastic Planet] (1973)
Animation is a fine way to tell stories since it leaves no limitations. But when someone smokes ounces of weed and takes five tabs of acid all at once and thinks up a film like Fantastic Planet, you just don’t know where to begin. Okay, I don’t think that many drugs can be done at once, but I didn’t think a movie like this was possible either. The problem isn’t the story. The story is easy to follow. A human is treated as a pet on a planet and he wants out of it. Easy. Everything else, however, is unexplainable. What the hell is that laughing tree creature we never see again, and why does it kill the flying animal? What’s the deal with the aliens floating in bubbles (how do they get in/out?) What the hell happens to the bodies of the aliens when they are studying? How did that box eat that guy? We. Never. Find. Out. It’s irritating to say the least (and you can’t just say “it’s a movie about aliens so anything goes”, we still need answers dammit!). The story line doesn’t get affected by these questions, though, so there aren’t any blatant plot holes (just some minimal issues really). The animation is wonderful and looks like something out of Monty Python’s days of eating shrooms. This movie, as strange as it is, is only third on the list because the story line is pretty set in stone, so at least you can focus on that.
Disturbing Rating: 2/10
2. 鉄男: Tetsu [Tetsuo: The Iron Man] (1989)
It’s no surprise that a Japanese film would rank so high on here. Paprika showed that Japan was inventive with its animated films, but Tetsuo: The Iron Man is here to remind us that Japan is also innovative with both horror and just downright screwed up films. This film is a body horror story about a man who transforms into part metal. And I guess that’s all you need to know. Visually, this film actually makes Eraserhead look normal. The stop-motion is freaky and too-well done (even if you can tell it’s stop motion), and the sounds won’t leave your ears for days. This is definitely the most frightening film on the list, but why is it not the number one spot? As strange as everything is, and as indescribable as the events are, at least there is some sort of story here. There is commentary on the rise of technology and the fall of man, like some of the other films on the list. Also, that industrial music is just so badass. You’ll be questioning everything on screen but also understanding the bigger picture at the same time.
Disturbing Rating: 9/10
1. La Montaña Sagrada [The Holy Mountain] (1973)
Jodorowsky has made some of the most bizarre films to date. His best film, El Topo, is a psychedelic metaphysical western that digs deep into what it means to be a sole individual (a lone ranger in the west, independent in religion and society). His weirdest film, though, is The Holy Mountain: No contest. It is based on the idea that religion is universal, and any religion can be just as good or as dangerous as any other. That’s about all I can say. There is a plot, but how can I begin with that when you see such weird sites as crucified dogs, an advertisement for guns shaped like menorahs and Buddha, and the conquest of Mexico shown with frogs, lizards and exploding pyramids. Do I need to explain any more? The film is quite phenomenal but also just downright creepy at times. However, it’s probably the most daring film based on religion yet. Jodorowsky tried to show how deep ones beliefs can take them, but maybe showing an armless midget kicking the shit out of a mannequin is too deep. If you are easily offended or timid, this film may not be for you (or, let’s not cut corners here. Okay, it’s not for you at all). If you’re daring, this film is worth a shot. Or if you just want to watch what is probably the weirdest feature length film ever made, this could be the one.
Disturbing Rating: 9/10