Richard Thomas: Under the Skin (2013)
What some are calling an arthouse flick, Under the Skin is probably Scarlett Johannson’s best film to date. Without spoiling it, this eerie, creepy surreal movie starts with an opening that rivals 2001: A Space Odyssey. The music and soundtrack go a long way toward creating an atmosphere that is unsettling, as well as emotional. Now and then the movie slides into the abstract–showing elements that are not clearly defined, but filled with symbolism and sensation—black pits of liquid, a flowing red substance, a series of orbs and circular objects, etc. There is a sense of the uncanny, or something above and beyond the everyday rituals that our protagonist goes through, as she lures men into her van, leading to their demise. This haunting, touching, and visceral film should be seen on the big screen, but even at home it has power and impact. This movie asks a lot of questions about how we see ourselves, and others, how we treat people, how we identify, and what base, primal urges lie underneath it all—and how dangerous that can be. One of my favorite A24 films to date.
Ellen Datlow: Keiko Mask (aka, Kekkô Kamen) (1991)
Keiko Mask, (Kekkô Kamen) directed by Yutaka Akiyama, is a Japanese movie from 1991 about a female superhero who wears red boots and a red mask and nothing else. She stuns her opponents by flashing her ahem, privates at them, and as they’re struck senseless by its charms, she can kill them.
Johnathan Raab: Burial Ground: The Nights of Terror (1981)
A surprisingly competent gonzo Italian grindhouse gorefest with all sorts of uncomfortable subtexts. If you enjoy weird, foreign, or Eurohorror cinema, this is a must-watch. Just be prepared to be absolutely baffled and repulsed in all the right ways.
Nicole Cushing: The Freakmaker (aka, The Mutations) (1974)
Donald Pleasence stars as a mad scientist trying to turn human beings into plants. Why? Because that way we can all be fed via photosynthesis. Therefore, hunger will end! The film also includes a scene or two ripped off from Tod Browning’s Freaks, and Tom Baker (yes, that Tom Baker, the future Dr. Who) costars as Pleasence’s henchman. I’ve seen many strange movies. This is one of the strangest.
Brian Asman: Prayer of the Rollerboys (1990)
Mainstream Hollywood has a long tradition of trying to capitalize on the latest teenage fads with often-bland results (the video game-centric retelling of Rain Main, Fred Savage vehicle The Wizard, notwithstanding), but when low budget production companies try to do the same, the results are often magical. Enter Prayer, a post-apocalyptic tale of drugs, gangs, and in-line skating. The titular Rollerboys are a racist gang led by a guy named Gary Lee (played by Christopher Collet, whose first film role saw him get decapitated by Angela in Sleepaway Camp), who is ONLY ever referred to by his full name. Corey Haim plays Griffin, an orphan skate rat/pizza delivery boy raised by a kind-hearted ex-boxer, who’s just trying to raise his younger brother Miltie in an economically-depressed hellscape. When Miltie gets seduced by the girls, drugs, and rock-n-roll lifestyle of the Rollerboys, Griffin goes undercover to bring down the gang, working with a teenaged cop played by Patricia Arquette. While it’s sadly not widely-available at the moment, used DVDs and VHS tapes can be had on Amazon.
Ben Fitts: Deathgasm (2015)
A demonic, metal-themed horror-comedy, Deathgasm is a New Zealand film about a teenaged black metal band who’s so kvlt that they accidentally summon a hoard of body-stealing demons during band practice. It ends up being up to those very teenagers to save their town from the demons now inhabiting the bodies of everyone they once knew, all set to a kickass soundtrack of underground extreme metal bands. Full of off-beat humor, splatter happy fight scenes, an absurdist premise, and some moments of pretty genuine horror, Deathgasm is one of the funnest and most thoroughly enjoyable weird movies out there.
Emma J. Gibbon: Crybaby (1990)
I unabashedly, unironically, unashamedly love this film. For anyone who hasn’t seen it, it’s a musical comedy in the style of Hairspray starring Johnny Depp and Amy Locane. Depp plays Crybaby Walker, a rebel without a cause style character who falls in love with Locane’s character, Allison Vernon-Williams, one of the “squares.” There is so much to love about this—I mean it’s John Waters so you know what you’re getting—Iggy Pop in a tin bathtub, Traci Lords playing a rebellious teenage, Ricki Lake giving birth in the back of a car during a game of chicken (oops, spoiler), Patty Hearst is in it! Part of why I love it is nostalgia, this was my sister’s favorite film when she was a kid—she watched it every day (bless my parents and their complete lack of screen monitoring) and because she was so young she had no clue it was a parody so took the plot and characters completely seriously, which is the best way to view this. Also, I donate this DVD to the library I work at, and it gets stolen at least once a year. That’s how you can tell something is a cult classic.
Shoshana Frerking: Man Bites Dog (1992)
Man Bites Dog is a totally messed-up black comedy from the early nineties, and a commentary on how the media usually manages to insert itself into whatever story it is reporting on, particularly where the story involves heinous acts of violence. The movie was filmed documentary-style by two of its writers (André Bonzel and Rémy Belvaux), who accompany serial killer Ben on a murder bender. Ben is a very likable guy who loves to explain his techniques while he is slaughtering his victims. As the film progresses, the two filmmakers gradually start assisting Ben in the murders, in order to keep the documentary rolling. Some of it is a little hard to watch, but the film’s message about media coverage is bitingly clear.