By Bob Freville
If you’re anything like me—a glorified freakshow with a propensity towards hunting through thrift stores for forgotten gems—you’ve likely unearthed a king’s ransom of bizarre and risque movies on VHS or DVD.
Many of us have marveled at flicks like Adam Rifkin’s The Dark Backward (1991) or the Mel Brooks-produced The Vagrant (1992) and wondered just how they ever got made. What’s more, we waited with bated breath for the director’s next gnarly movie to drop.
All too often in so-called independent cinema (C’mon, indies! You’re not fooling anyone. What’s truly independent about taking someone else’s money to make your strange vision a reality?), the next one just doesn’t materialize.
Take, for example, classic cult auteurs like Nick Zedd or Kenneth Anger.
Kenneth Anger was, quite possibly, the most daring avant-garde filmmaker to emerge from the Fifties, giving us the psychedelic madness of Invocation of my Demon Brother and the homosexual fever dream of Fireworks.
Anger had toiled for decades to edit, re-edit, restore and remaster his classic underground pictures and labored just as long to retain his dream of working with a Hollywood budget. He even carefully mapped out what that movie would be, but in the end, the film was never funded and, instead, he was relegated to writing the tabloid-style gossip book Hollywood Babylon for a pittance. The book was banned ten days after its initial publication.
Zedd has fared nearly as terribly; the godfather of the Cinema of Transgression spent years in poverty on the Lower East Side of NYC, pushing a shopping cart full of film prints across the Williamsburg Bridge. The whole time he was hoping that one day an H’wood benefactor would come to his rescue. Instead, he went years without making a motion picture and ended up moving to Mexico City out of sheer desperation.
Sadly, these are just two examples of visionary artists being denied the monies necessary to realize their stories. The following are 10 examples of weird flicks that I’d kill or, at least, maim to see.
1. BLUE MOVIE (Kubrick)
Stanley Kubrick left this world in March of 1999, but each time I throw on my hopelessly scratched copy of The Shining or revisit the deranged wonders of Eyes Wide Shut, I feel as though he is still with us…because he is, in his film prints.
It’s only too bad that Kubrick, who died long before realizing a number of his epic dreams (Napoleon immediately springs to mind), never got to direct Blue Movie. Readers of a certain age will remember that blue movie used to be a polite term for pornography or erotic cinema.
Blue Movie was going to be just that…with a twist. Kubrick’s intention was to cast his blue movie with celebrity actors from Tinseltown and film them fucking. Noted author Terry Southern had written Blue Movie as a novel dedicated to Kubrick and brought it to the legendary director with the intent to collaborate on the script.
Had it not been for Kubrick moving forward with 2001: A Space Odyssey, a formidably weird film in its own right, the world may have seen the first Hollywood-sanctioned sex film. Alas, we can only thumb through the pages of Southern’s film industry satire and imagine what could have been.
2. ONE SALIVA BUBBLE (Lynch)
Easily one of the weirdest filmmakers in America (Calvin Lee Reeder is a close second), David Lynch has been giving us sublime narratives of mystery and grotesquerie since the Seventies. Regrettably, the decades since his arrival on the scene have been marred by abandoned and even impossible projects.
Nearly a year before Lynch and writing partner Mark Frost produced the pilot episode of the cult hit Twin Peaks—television’s weirdest soap opera both then and now—the two collaborated on a script for a feature film that would have focused on a secret government project gone haywire.
The plot would have seen the townsfolk of a small fictional Kansas town switching identities in some sort of bizarre twist on body swap pics like 1961’s The Parent Trap or 1988’s Judge Reinhold-Fred Savage vehicle Vice Versa.
As if the prospect of someone like Lynch directing a movie like The Change-Up isn’t absurd enough, the casting ideas of the time were equally bizarre. Lynch supposedly had his eye on Martin Short and Steve Martin for the male leads.
Sadly, we’ll never know what the flick would have actually looked like—although reading the script online can offer some insights—and that sucks. But keen Lynch enthusiasts will recognize that elements of the identity switch were recycled for the recent Twin Peaks reboot on Showtime. Here’s lookin’ at you, Dougie!
3. MAYHEM (Hartley)
Hal Hartley is not a name that is necessarily synonymous with the strange, even if his later films have been oddly formal in their choreography and framing choices.
More than anything, this New York-born independent is remembered for his trilogy of early-Nineties Long Island films (The Unbelievable Truth, Trust, Simple Men). But what most people don’t know is that Hartley almost started his career in the same fashion as Hollywood heavyweights Francis Ford Coppolla (Dementia 13) and Oliver Stone (The Hand).
In Kenneth Kaleta’s book True Fiction & Possible Films, the Henry Fool director talks about how his friend Ted Hope, then an aspiring producer, had met someone who thought they could raise $500,000 to make a cheap horror quickie.
While HH remains rather tight-lipped about the jettisoned project’s plot, he does expound on the process of having written it, saying, “I wrote a sort of horror exploitation movie called Mayhem in seven days.”
He goes onto say that the budget came with stipulations, telling Kaleta that they could raise the money “if we could get a script that took place on a farm and had six or seven definite attributes, including slaughter on page one and female nudity on page two.”
While it is a bit unfortunate that this one never saw the light of day—the thought of the man behind Flirt and Fay Grim directing a schlocky slasher with naked teens is hilarious, after all—we did get Hartley’s take on the monster movie with 2001’s woefully underrated No Such Thing.
4. HELENA HANDBAG (Smith)
Kevin Smith’s movie ideas have been getting stranger and stranger since 2011’s dark religion gone bad pic Red State. First, we got the late Michael Parks turning poor Justin Long into a human walrus in 2014’s Tusk, then along came Netflix to teach Americans what Yoga Hosers are.
The latter was a fun 80s throwback about two Canadian teenagers who must battle Bratzis (miniature Nazis made of bratwurst) before confronting a giant hockey-loving creature engineered by the Third Reich.
Over the years, Smith has had a lot of fun and off-the-wall ideas for projects, both for the big screen and TV. At one time, he was attached to helm a TV series spin-off of the cult classic The Adventures of Buckaroo Bonzai, but like so many of his projects, it didn’t come off.
At the top of the list of Smith’s most long-awaited films that will probably never see the light of day is Helena Handbag, a story that kind of sounds like the anti-Dogma. Had the project been produced, we would have bore witness to mankind teaming up with the minions of Hell in order to prevent humanity’s extinction at the hands of a massive, rapturing Jesus. If that don’t sound bizarro, I’m Charles Barkley.
5. FIGHT HARM (Korine)
Harmony Korine is one of the most unpredictable auteurs active in modern cinema. After penning the cultural landmark Kids (1995) Korine was given his chance to make pretty much whatever he wanted. The result was 1997’s Gummo, an impossible-to-describe blend of vibrant scripted material, grainy betacam improv and genuine weirdness.
Korine has explored some controversial subject matter over the years and always in the most unexpected and imaginative ways. Whether it’s hiring a glue-sniffing teenager to star in a lead role based solely on a daytime talk show segment about sniffing glue or convincing legendary filmmaker Werner Herzog to drink cough syrup from a bedroom slipper on camera, Korine has made a career of taking potentially career-killing chances.
After a five-year hiatus and a battle with drug addiction, Korine returned in 2012 with the day glo action comedy Spring Breakers, a flick that is as much a satire of rape culture and hip-hop as it is a vibrant, sex-dripping celebration of pop music and teen abandon.
While Gummo and Spring Breakers can arguably be called his crowning achievements, there is one unfinished film that might trump both of them in terms of sheer power of will. Throughout the 90s and early-2000s, Korine deliberately provoked strangers into beating the shit out of him and documented the whole thing on video.
At the time, Korine’s intention was to turn the whole thing into some sort of performance art piece or, perhaps, what he really intended was to provoke critics who had labeled him exploitative of his cast members (Gummo featured a girl with Down’s Syndrome playing a prostitute and julien donkey-boy had featured a man afflicted with albinism).
Korine ultimately abandoned the unfinished product because of the life-threatening consequences of, ya know, getting the fucking piss kicked out of him on a repeated basis.
Whether this was some warped riff on the vaudeville acts Korine loved as a kid or, simply, a commentary on a culture that produced things like Bum Wars we’ll never know. But just picturing it conjures some pretty gnarly images. For perspective, refer to the sequence in Gummo where Korine comes onto a male dwarf before sobbing and pouring a bottle of beer over his head.
6. PASCAL LAUGIER’S HELLRAISER REMAKE
Before Dimension Films poisoned the well with a bunch of convoluted and completely unnecessary direct-to-DVD sequels and reboots of Clive Barker’s fabled Priest series (serious fans will know that we don’t call him Pinhead, we call him Priest), Martyrs director Pascal Laugier was tapped to create a proper remake.
Although the French filmmaker behind the unsung Jessica Biel flick The Tall Man ended up walking away from the project due to creative differences, he left in his wake the groundwork for a genuinely exciting return to form.
As some of you may already know, Hellraiser was based on Barker’s 1986 novella, The Hellbound Heart. The book’s narrative is barely recognizable in the original Hellraiser film or most of its subsequent iterations.
What Laugier appeared to have been doing was returning the true heart of The Hellbound Heart to Hellraiser by including the homoerotic and BDSM elements of the book in his movie script. So faithful was his first draft that Barker himself gave the golden seal of approval to Laugier in an interview with Bloody Disgusting back in 2009.
So why, then, did Laugier’s re-imagining of the first film never make it to cinemas? In 2012, the director shed some light on the subject; speaking to Destroy the Brain, he said, “You know, what happened is I had this feeling that the producers behind the new HELLRAISER didn’t really want to do a solid serious movie, so for me a new HELLRAISER is all about S&M gay culture, because it comes from a homosexual desire and HELLRAISER is about dealing with these very questions and I don’t want to betray Clive’s vision.
“I’m a huge fan and I love HELLRAISER and maybe I was wrong, but I had the feeling I was wanted to do something much more for a teenage audience. One of the biggest problems in Hollywood when you love horror is that Hollywood doesn’t. You either do a slasher or you don’t do anything, you know?
“HELLRAISER is not a slasher. It’s not about killing a teenager and seeing random things between murders, it’s not that at all. It’s much more complex. It’s definitely adult oriented and they asked me to do something very commercial you know, which is fine, but it was a bummer that I didn’t want to do what they wanted. I’ve learned to just run away.”
7. CIGARETTE KEY (Hunter S. Thompson)
You read that right. The godfather of Gonzo journalism was once working on a screenplay for a major motion picture. The project was said to be a dark action film, but little else has been disclosed about the plot.
The story would have likely combined elements of Thompson’s experiences in the Florida Keys, experiences that were well-documented in his book, Songs of the Doomed. At the time, HST had also been talking a lot about Galveston and how that could work within the then-unfinished first draft.
It is possible that the crime film would have involved the Mariel boat lift of 1980 and the hundreds of Cuban refugees that swarmed Miami, although this is mostly speculation on my part. One thing is pretty certain: Like all of his best writing, Hunter would have surely cast himself in the role of the film’s adventurous journeyman.
For more about this and other unproduced HST projects, check out Gonzo: The Life of Hunter S. Thompson.
8. CASH MONEY DOLLARS (Neveldine/Taylor)
Before the Crank team of Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor broke up, they wrote a spec script for a high-octane action movie that seemed like equal parts 70s blaxploitation movie and modern social commentary.
The story itself didn’t sound particularly weird; it focused on a shady private dick, a kick-ass female Secret Service agent and an African-American Texas ranger joining forces to fight terrorism—not exactly groundbreaking outside of the race and gender thing, but considering the duo responsible for it, we were bound to be in for a helluva ride.
As fate would have it, even with big-time H’wood producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura shopping it around to major studios, this one couldn’t pull a Chev Chelios and get off the ground. Fortunately for fans of Neveldine/Taylor’s frenetic style and deranged humor, there’s always the new FX series Happy! which captures the insane spirit of the Crank films and has Brian Taylor as showrunner. One’s better than none.
9. THE CONQUEST OF MEXICO (Herzog)
Werner Herzog is one of cinema’s most prolific filmmakers, effortlessly straddling the worlds of documentaries and narrative features. Whether it’s the heart-wrenching realism of Grizzly Man or the inexplicably batshit Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, this master craftsman never fails to entertain and enlighten. It is obvious that this would have held true for The Conquest of Mexico, a massive and decidedly brazen project that would cost hundreds of millions to make in the current climate and would have surely ruffled feathers with its subject matter.
Nobody knows for sure whether this one got very far along as there hasn’t been any testimony as to whether Herzog ever completed a draft of the script. However, the plot seems very clear that this would have been a sprawling and ambitious endeavor, one that would have taken the controversial path of presenting European colonialism in the New World through the eyes of the Aztecs whose land the conquistadors were encroaching upon.
Some believe that it was the prohibitive budget that doomed this one to the annals of the Black List, but it’s fair to assume that the political context didn’t exactly have money men seeing dollar signs. In any event, we can all dream of Herzog’s big dream and take solace in knowing that he’s already achieved the impossible on more than one occasion.
After all, how many directors can expect to move mountains more than once?
10. FRUITCAKE (Waters)
Throughout the 80s and 90s, the Pope of Trash struggled to get a number of deliciously twisted projects off the ground, from the potentially lucrative sequel to his midnight sensation Pink Flamingos to the ever-elusive film adaptation of A Confederacy of Dunces. But, oddly, it was his most marketable idea that evaded him the longest.
Fruitcake was first mentioned in 2008 with Parker Posey and Jackass star Johnny Knoxville set to star. The most shocking thing about it? Fruitcake was meant to be John Waters’ first true family film (if you don’t count Hairspray and, personally, I don’t) and a holiday movie yet!
The plot centered on a boy named Fruitcake who runs away from home on Christmas after his parents get busted for shoplifting food. Fruitcake then meets a young girl who is also a runaway. The daughter of a gay couple, she is on the hunt for her biological mother.
While all of this may seem rather quaint and Hallmark-ish, we know that John Shrimpin’ Ass Waters would have put his signature low brow humor to work on it. But like actual fruitcake, nobody wanted this one and Waters shopped it around for years to no avail.
In the last decade or so, Waters has left the director’s chair to become a successful multi-hyphenate, launching second and third careers as an essayist and visual artist as well as an always in-demand character actor.
It’s a dirty shame (like what I did there?), but John Waters is unlikely to return to directing. Luckily, his essays and memoirs are some of the most readable around and are readily available on Amazon.
Check back with us next time for 10 Weird Things That Shouldn’t Be On My Body. Visit our concession stand for more SMM goodness.