The Cult-erion Collection: The 10 Weirdest Films You Can Watch on Filmstruck
Launched in November, Filmstruck is a new US streaming service featuring classic and foreign films. The product of a partnership between Turner Classic Movies and The Criterion Channel, Filmstruck is an oasis in the desert for cinephiles and thinkpiece writers bemoaning the absence of Casablanca and Citizen Kane on Netflix. (Though Filmstruck doesn’t have them either.) Featuring curated categories like “Auteurs in Space” and “Classic Bollywood,” the site aims to be an immersive film-watching experience–where else are you going to see Bill Hader introduce The Virgin Spring? However, one common criticism of Filmstruck I’ve heard is that it’s “all vegetables–no dessert.”
Is Filmstruck the streaming site for you if you’re a casual cinephile, more interested in cult than canon, anime over Antonioni?
Here are my top ten picks for some of the the wildest, weirdest, most surprising films currently available on Filmstruck.
10. The 10th Victim
A pop art oddity, The 10th Victim predates The Hunger Games and Battle Royale in its depiction of on-air murder as entertainment. In this world, The Big Hunt is an event where contestants play ten rounds, five as the Hunter, and five as the Victim. The winner of ten rounds becomes extremely wealthy; winner-to-be Caroline (original Bond Girl Ursula Andress!) will get a big payday from the Ming Tea Corporation if she kills her next victim as part of their new commercial. But that pesky tenth victim of the title, the smooth Marcello, is more than a match for Caroline, and the two fall in love. But who is hunting who? Wild mod fashion and outrageous “futuristic” set designs add color to the tricky plot, and, oh yeah — remember those gun bras from Austin Powers? Totally swiped from The 10th Victim.
9. Fire and Ice
This 1983 animated collaboration between Ralph Bakshi and Frank Frazetta is like a classic sci-fi paperback cover bursting to life. Fire and Ice features a warrior and a princess (though given typical fantasy names Larn and Teegra, they should really just be called Warrior and Princess, they’re so archetypal) fighting to save a kingdom from the evil, ice-controlling Nekron and his scheming mother. Comics fans will note the script is written by Gerry Conway and Roy Thomas, and they give the film an appropriate pulpy feel given their work on Marvel’s Conan the Barbarian. I recommend Fire and Ice over Filmstruck’s other major adult animated fantasy film, the overrated and juvenile Heavy Metal, though you may wonder, as I did, why Larn and Teegra don’t get frostbite running around the ice kingdom in just a loincloth and bikini.
8. The X From Outer Space
Kaiju comes to Criterion! If you’re looking for a movie in which a guy in a rubber suit steps on Hot Wheels cars and bats away exploding model airplanes (and who isn’t?) The X From Outer Space is a rollicking blast. Guilala may be one of the least intimidating kaiju of all time, not the least because he looks like a giant cosmic chicken. This is a tasty slice of 60s cheese, from the helmet-shaped hairdos to the silver lamé spacesuits worn by the intrepid astronauts trying to stop Guilala. Watch this and wonder why there was never a sequel where Guilala fights Gamera.
Before it was a GIF, it was one of the most shocking scenes in horror movie history — you know, the exploding head scene in Scanners. David Cronenberg’s 1981 head scrambler is like a grindhouse take on the X-Men, with Patrick McGoohan as the ersatz Professor X. McGoohan sends his strongest psychic pupil after the evil “Scanners” planning world domination, resulting in nothing less than a battle between a telekinetic Cain and Abel. Though it drags a bit in the middle, you’ll remember Scanners for its bold special effects, and a masterfully scene-chewing performance from Michael Ironside, the evil Scanner Darryl Revok. (What a name!) Scanners is one of my favorite superhero movies that is not at all a superhero movie.
6. Fiend Without A Face
Brains! Braaaaains! No, it isn’t a zombie movie, it’s the Fiend Without a Face. One of the ickiest science-fiction movies to emerge in the Drive-In era, 1958’s Fiend Without A Face tells of a small town terrorized by invisible “mental vampires” that are revealed to be mutated, telekinetic brains. With their tendrils and eyestalks, the faceless fiends are suitably creepy, and this is a good pick if you’re looking for classic black-and-white horror that’s a bit edgier than Creature from The Black Lagoon. Shoutout to all the British actors who had to convincingly act like they were being strangled by floating brains!
5. Belladonna of Sadness
After a successful run of revival screenings, the stunning and troubling Belladonna of Sadness is now available to stream. Originally released in 1973 as the final entry in the “Animerama” trilogy, our Belladonna of Sadness is Jeanne, a medieval peasant girl who is raped on her wedding night, only to gain power over her tormentors through a pact with the devil. I Spit On Your Grave as painted by Gustav Klimt, Belladonna is a colorful, acid-soaked fever dream, mixing harrowing subject matter with beautiful (though limited) animation. I don’t quite agree with critics framing the story as one of female empowerment–after all, Jeanne’s newfound supernatural powers come from another violating male figure, not from within herself — but Belladonna of Sadness is definitely a unique cinematic experience.
The films of David Lynch are a welcome addition to the Criterion Collection, and I stressed over which title to include here. Eraserhead seemed a bit too obvious, and his short films (like the “exactly what it sounds like” Six Men Getting Sick) are perhaps too impenetrable. Then there’s Dumbland, Lynch’s inexplicable six-part animated series that was released in 2001, the same year as his masterpiece Mulholland Drive. Looking like it was hastily scrawled in MS Paint, Dumbland is a glimpse into a suburban hell that could be in the same neighborhood as Lynch’s comic strip The Angriest Dog in the World. Randy, a bowling ball-shaped lout whose mouth is a perpetual “O” of screaming outrage, lashes out at his family and neighbors, usually getting his ass kicked by a treadmill or ending up in a full body cast. Dumbland foreshadowed the rise of the absurdist, short-form animated shows of Adult Swim, and it’s the only place you can hear David Lynch say, “I’m a one-armed duck fucker.”
Before there was Evil Dead, there was Equinox. A fascinating example of independent, do-it-yourself filmmaking, Equinox is the story of four students who go into the woods, find a mysterious occult book, and incur the wrath of the demon Asmodeus. Though the acting is Manos: Hands of Fate level at best (oh god, that park ranger), Equinox is notable for its special effects and what it achieves with its limited budget, including multiple stop-motion figures — the students are besieged by an ape-like beast, a green but not so jolly giant, and finally, a gruesome flying demon. The effects may be crude by today’s standards, but they maintain a Harryhausen-like charm. Special effects gurus Jim Danforth and Dave Allen would go on to long Hollywood careers, working on the visual effects for movies as varied as Diamonds are Forever and Bride of Re-Animator.
2. The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years
The only documentary on our list, The Metal Years is an ode to headbangers and hairspray. Directed by Penelope Spheeris, the film chronicles the glam metal scene of the mid-1980s, interviewing heavy-hitters like Lemmy and Alice Cooper alongside groupies, aspiring musicians, and future VH1 reality show stars. The Metal Years succeeds as a darkly funny, brutally savage expose of a genre that prioritized sex, drugs, and fame over any actual musical talent. There are scenes in this documentary that will stick with me forever: Paul Stanley of KISS interviewed in bed with several scantily-clad women in a grotesque display of machismo; Chris Holmes of W.A.S.P. self-destructing on-camera, drinking vodka in a pool while his mother looks on. Perhaps the biggest joy is watching a pack of big-haired has-beens and never-wases riding a rollercoaster they think will never stop, blissfully unaware they’re about to slam into a brick wall named “Grunge.”
House possibly needs no introduction, as its reputation as a one-of-a-kind cult classic has only grown in recent years. Seven fresh-faced teenage girls visit a mysterious aunt in a haunted house, and are picked off one-by-one by malevolent forces. This may sound like a familiar horror story, but nothing in House is familiar — not the cheery pop songs, not the vomiting cat painting, and especially not the girl eaten by piano. Nobuhiko Obayashi’s direction is surreal, brilliant, and often uproariously funny. House‘s deliberately slapdash, “cut up” style of special effects is deliriously disorienting, and beneath all the weirdness (the head in the well! the dancing skeleton! the BANANAS!) is a lingering adolescent fear of impending womanhood. “You’ve never seen a movie like this” is a well-worn cliche, but in House‘s case, it’s true.