As we move into summer movie season 2017 with Wonder Woman, The Mummy and Transformers: The Last Knight, some of you may need a pallet cleanser of more interesting films. So, in no particular order: here’s my list of rare or obscure films you should pay a glance or two to. (I do want to give an honorable mention to cannibal horror film Raw, because I haven’t seen it but it deserves attention.)
REVOLVER (2005): So Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur was kind of a giant mess wasn’t it? The indie/Hollywood director who made classics like Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch, RocknRolla, and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, makes another terrible film- almost as bad as Swept Away. One underappreciated film (that’s my second favorite of his after the Sherlock Holmes sequel) is his 2005 art house crime film Revolver. Some viewers will say it’s bad and others will point to the excellent Brows Held High review, but for me it’s good (at least the US cut is- the UK cut is abysmal). It’s a story that feels thematically driven more than blanket profit driven and it works as a stylish, masculine ego exploration and experimentation. No, it’s not for everyone, but for those who don’t enjoy art films and prefer more classic genre films (I enjoy both), this will please you. Some pretty good shootouts, a directorial style and color pallet that’s gorgeous, and a genuinely good enough ending that the UK cut ruined. Call it Only God Forgives (see below) with more action.
THE RELIC (1997): From the director of Timecop, End of Days, and 2010, comes possibly the most underrated horror film of the 90’s (that isn’t Event Horizon)- The Relic. The Relic is an upscale monster movie set in a museum that has that mix of mythology and science as almost to pass for Lovecraftian horror. It’s pretty much Alien in a museum. There’s not a big notable cast, but one which you may recognize briefly. The main reason to watch this film is that the scares and gore are pretty good at a time when horror was afraid to be vicious, instead of meta-gags. The monster design is cool, the direction and cinematography is great, and so is the fact that darkness is used to fully create horror and fear. That darkness might also be the biggest downfall as only the Blu-Ray cut lets you see well enough. The DVD is passable, but nothing could replicate the original cinema experience. It’s a fun, scary monster film you probably missed, so go check it out.
MIMIC (1997): While it’s not the feature debut of Guillermo Del Toro (Blade 2, Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth, Pacific Rim), it is his first Hollywood film and it’s quite impressive. The story about mutated bugs that eventually develop into creatures that can hide among humanity’s shadows is terrifying. This is the film that Del Toro chose instead of doing Seven (that David Fincher would helm) because it was “too dark,” even though this film has children murdered at the hands of nasty bug monsters. The movie even has a young Josh Brolin before he became Agent K and Thanos. It’s not Del Toro’s best work and the studio butchered it, (fuck you, Harvey Weinstein, for ruining everything you touch), but most cuts you can get are really good, and even the cut versions can’t hide Del Toro’s genius. Be sure to also check out Shape of Water, his Cold War laboratory film later this year.
THE NEON DEMON (2016)/ONLY GOD FORGIVES (2013): These two violent visual masterpieces by Nicolas Winding Refn both share a spot because they have similar qualities. While Bronson, Valhalla Rising and Drive are liked and known well enough, these two even had art house fans saying no. And while I’d agree on Drive being his best, Only God Forgives is my favorite of his and The Neon Demon was one of the best films of 2016. Both are films that dazzle the eye, challenge the gore and violence senses, and have underlying narratives that unlock the thematic stories for each. Only God Forgives is a story about forgiveness, violence and masculine identity, while The Neon Demon is a story about women, beauty as power, and the danger in obsession. I don’t want to spoil too much but if you’ve not seen these two, I highly recommend you do.
THIEF (1981)/MANHUNTER (1986): Another double bill, this time from a more burnout director, Miami Vice creator Michael Mann, whose recent film Blackhat (which I loved) was a financial and critical failure. If you don’t know his name you may know his movies Last of the Mohicans, Heat, The Insider, and Collateral. But before that: he made both Thief and Manhunter. Thief, basically being Drive if it was actually made in the 80’s instead of styled like it- though it stands on its own and was the staple of Michael Mann’s subject of men, commercialism, post-modernism, and their place in the world. Manhunter was based on the Hannibal Lecter novel Red Dragon (which would be made into Brett Ratner’s only good film in 2003). Its focus is not on either of the villains: it’s a film about men, their dreams and psychologies. Both are forgotten visual and audio pieces that any budding filmmaker should watch. Both are cult classics, but cult classics which more should see.
AUDITION (1999): This is one of the most violent, disturbed and genius little movies I’ve ever seen. Audition stems from Takeshi Miike, who also made Ichi the Killer, the original One Missed Call and the movie version of Terra Formars. Thus comes a film that is Japan’s answer to Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. That’s not a spoiler or discrediting the film-it’s a story about the selfish nature of men and the predatory nature of women in a world where men think they control everything. What seemingly starts as a romantic drama turns into a horror film with a torture scene you’ve probably seen on “Best Film Tortures Scenes” on YouTube, but seeing it from start to beginning and reading the themes in this story are some truly terrifying things… But yeah, that torture scene is more gruesome than the entire Saw and Hostel franchise put together. Go see this now.
THE FALL (2006): Have any of you seen The Cell? Or Immortals? Or Self/less? Or that god-awful Mirror Mirror? Well, you want to see the director’s best work? Then watch 2006/2008 film The Fall. Easily one of the best looking films ever made. It’s an insane piece of work where they went to over 24 different countries, sometimes for scenes that weren’t essential, and sometimes one second frames… yes. Is it insane? Yes. But is it money and quality all up on screen? Yes. With the barest minimum of CGI, everything you see is a location, a practical set, and a costume, and it’s phenomenal. Tell the concrete grey color pallet and CGI heavy blockbusters to do one second of this film and they’d cry. This film could only be made by a mad visual genius like Tarsem Singh, with the producing help of Spike Jonze and David Fincher. It’s one of the best looking films you’ll ever see- go watch it now.
SPRING BREAKERS (2013): Harmony Korine of Kids, Gummo and Trash Humpers made the box office hit, mainstream film Spring Breakers, that despite being a product of 2013, is still amazing and relevant to this day. The story of millennial teen girls finding existential reality in their world of capitalist western products and promotions, trashy new age culture, and fully sexual alcohol-induced freedom, is easily one of the most terrifying and unique things to come out in recent years. I’ve seen some critics praise and bash the film, but I ask this for those that bash or reject it: is the idea of the current young generation finding existential nothingness, pointlessness, and only joy in violence and debauchery too scary for you to want to admit? Or because you don’t want to admit that, you begin to realize the older generation are part of the problem? Deconstruction aside, it’s an amazingly perfect little film visually, audibly, and acting wise. Not for everyone but certainly worth the watch.
GYO: TOKYO FISH ATTACK (2012): Aside from other cult but notable anime films like Paprika and Perfect Blue– the rarest and weirdest recent anime film is Gyo: Tokyo Fish Attack, based off of a manga just named Gyo by Junji Ito, the master of horror in manga. The story is about rotting fish and sea creatures coming onto land by virtue of mechanical spider legs, and it only gets weirder. The manga explains the story and cause more, while the film has an ending I prefer in terms of character and Lovecraftian horror. It’s weird, disgusting, and sometimes makes no sense. It’s kinda like if Piranha 3D, Resident Evil: Apocalypse, and World War Z were the same film. It’s an apocalyptic film, a horror film, and a film that may feel a little underwhelming by the end. I will say the CGI in this anime fits better than earlier attempts, but it may not please everyone.
LOST HIGHWAY (1997): David Lynch is the most famous cult filmmaker along with Sam Raimi and John Carpenter. But while his truly great films like Eraserhead, Elephant Man, Blue Velvet, and Mulholland Drive have been greatly shown, Lost Highway is his greatest forgotten masterpiece. Duality, dreams, and perception are presented in the neo-noir psychological that was Enemy, sixteen years before Enemy came out. It’s weird in Lynch’s unique way and is tricky to decipher for sure: but when you start re-watching and putting everything together- it becomes that masterpiece I spoke of.
RAMPAGE (2009): Uwe Boll, the shit merchant director behind terrible video game movies like Alone in the Dark, House of the Dead, Bloodrayne, In the Name of the King, and Far Cry has actually made some decent films. Tunnel Rats, Heart of America, Seed, Darfur, and even Postal are decent watches, but Rampage is his best film. That anger from criticism received internalized in a mass murder film about the petty white American boy fed up with the world, made in a pseudo-documentary (Paul Greengrass-esque) style that suits Boll’s run-and-gun cheap approach more than others. It’s a genuinely thrilling, disturbed, insightful and even darkly funny film. Maybe it took the mind of an angry individual to explore the mind of an angry individual but it works, and it works like hell. It’s his best film and worth the watch.
ENTER THE VOID (2009): Many of you may know director Gasper Noe for Irreversible, the infamous French film with a 10 minute, uncut shot rape scene. But Enter the Void is his ambitious fever dream that replicates a first person perspective that wouldn’t be completed well enough until Adam Wingard’s segment in V/H/S/2. With the visuals of a drug trip, it’s a story about sex, family and love in the most visually extreme way. I’m someone who loves the neon color pallet of Tron: Legacy, Suspiria, Spring Breakers, and Only God Forgives. Enter the Void is that mixed with insane camera and editing that makes you forget you’re watching a film and makes you just experience. It’s too good not to watch. See it.
8MM (1999): The final film is one of the most criminally underappreciated films I’ve seen. I know that saying this film was directed by Joel Schumacher is going to make people think of his bad Batman and Robin, but please remember Joel has made other, better movies. A Time to Kill, Falling Down and Phonebooth are his most well-known and well-done dramatic thrillers that you should watch. And while Tigerland is an underrated good film, 8mm is my favorite of his. A story of a snuff film investigation with Nicolas Cage as your detective may sound silly, but it’s a truly amazing story on exploring the psychology and reality of dark minds and disturbed acts. Snuff films as believed may not be real, but in the modern internet age they are- and this film’s answer to what depraved person makes murder porn is something both simultaneously relieving and terrifying. Monsters aren’t really monsters as it’s said, but you should watch to truly find out (don’t bother with the sequel though).
So, that’s my list. Hope you liked it, and have some more interesting stuff to watch while big blockbusters duke it out every week. Any underrated or cult films you feel should be seen more? Let me know.