The Dead List: Ten Oddball Horror Films


Films too strange for categorization or comps.  Embrace the bizarre with these ten unique horror oddities!

So, sometimes there are movies so strange that they defy easy explanation.  Or even if you are able to explain the premise, it defies all logic.  Sometimes these movies make your brain hurt!  Here are a number of movies that are all hugely ambitious, some of them perhaps a bit too ambitious for their britches, but are memorable for their strangeness.

Many of these movies can be categorized as completely absurd.  Many of them will make you reflexively wince.  (Body Horror is a common thread in my selections here.)  I think all of them deserve to be watched, though none of them made our top 100, and to be honest, I avoided any movies that made our list, though I was tempted to include Santa Sangre in this roster.

10. Basket Case (1982)
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Creepiest puppet ever made! Belial from Basket Case (1982)

Directed by Frank Hennenlotter
Starring: Kevin Van Hentenryck (Duane) and Terri Susan Smith (Sharon),

My brother in law just asked me, “What movie has given you nightmares?”  I am so hardened to horror movies that not much rattles me nowadays.  However, if I’m being honest with myself… one answer would be Basket Case. The freaky little evil mutant Belial, excised from his conjoined twin handsome brother, Duane, is pure nightmare fuel.  A zero budget lowbrow exploitation film, but extremely successful with its mix of puppetry, stop-motion, and a really horrific premise.  This is a unique shocker, in a very strange little basket.

9. Dave Made a Maze (2017)
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A quagmire or paper wads in Dave Made a Maze (2017)

Directed by Bill Watterson
Starring: Meera Rohit Kombani (Annie), Nick Thune (Dave), Adam Busch (Gordon), James Urbaniak (Harry), and Stephanie Allyn (Brynn)

This curiosity just recently showed up on my radar, and you may have heard me talking about it on our recent Podcasts. This is the story of one man’s obsessive creation, a magical cardboard maze that he built in his apartment flat.  It is unlike anything you’ve ever seen before, and the otherwise disturbing material both violent and sexual has been replaced by cardboard and paper substitutes.  It is a wholly original vision, though sometimes the direction and story go to some decidedly odd places, this is not a movie that you will likely forget.

8. Tusk (2014)
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The walrus man! And not the Star Wars action figure. From Tusk (2014)

Directed by Kevin Smith
Starring:  Michael Parks (Howard Howe), Justin Long (Wallace Byron), Genesis Rodriguez (Ally Leon), Haley Joel Osment (Teddy Craft), and Johnny Depp (Guy LaPointe)

Sometimes I wonder if it was a good thing that I decided to be a podcaster.  Take the story of Wallace, a Podcaster searching for crazy stories to report on, who stumbles across a reclusive man, Howard, full of tales from the sea.  Turns out Howard has an obsession with walruses and wants to recreate a walrus from a human.  Mad science ensues!  From the perennially odd sense of wickedness that is Kevin Smith, this is a truly weird tale, and certainly not for everyone.

7. The Stuff (1984)
The Stuff

Don’t eat The Stuff! (1984) It’ll mess you up, but good.

Directed by Larry Cohen
Starring: Michael Moriarty (Mo Rutherford), Andrea Marcovicci (Nicole), Garrett Morris (Chocolate Chip), Paul Sorvino (Colonel Spears), Danny Aiello (Vickers), Scott Bloom (Jason), Colette Blonigan (Jason’s Mom), Frank Telfer (Jason’s Dad)

One of the great unsung directors of the VHS era is Larry Cohen, who also brought us Q The Winged Serpent (1982), It’s Alive (1974), Special Effects (1984) and God Told Me To (1975). Cohen has a wry sense of humor, and a willingness to push the boundaries of good taste.  The Stuff was an underground cult favorite, that lured you in with the box art, but gave you a solid dose of consumerism critique as well.  The titular Stuff is a delicious marshmallowy goo that was discovered oozing out of a crevasse, and in addition to being very tasty, also has the side effect of making everyone who eats it into mutant zombie-like addicts of The Stuff…. and does some really nasty shit to your mouth and digestive track.  Ewww!

I mentioned that these films tend to be unique, but there is another similar film, Street Trash, which is about a liquor that dissolves humans into a Sherwin Williams array of goopy liquid.  The Stuff gets the nod for its more sophisticated take, and a step up in acting.  (Street Trash is truly trashy.)

6. The Lure(2017)
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Michelina Olszanska is a predatory mermaid in The Lure (2017).

Directed by Agnieszka Smoczynska (Poland)
Starring: Marta Mazurek (Srebrna), Michalina Olszanska (Zlota), Klinga Preis (Wokalitska), and Jakob Gierszal (Mietek)

I did a review on this on our site, and I will admit that I was lukewarm on it.  It is a very strange, and very Euro indie tale, that spins a fairy tale on its head.  If the little mermaid involved carnivorous man-eating mermaids who slum it as strippers/lounge singers in a run-down Warsaw nightclub, and between acts go luring local men to become fish food, then you’ve just about got it.  It still has the Hans Christian Anderson take of the mermaid who wishes to be a human so she can be with a man she loves angle… but this time with more devouring the locals.  Hugely ambitious and wildly inconsistent at times, this film still brings you a one-of-a-kind impression.  Don’t expect a Train To Busan like Western remake either.  This is about as under-the-radar as you can get.

Oh… did I mention that it’s also a musical, complete with music video numbers in it?  Yep.  This one is a special case.

5. Rubber (2010)
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The cops are in a lot more danger than they realize, in Rubber (2010)

Directed by Quentin Dupieux
Starring: Stephen Spinella (Lieutenant Chad), Jack Plotnick (Accountant), Roxanne Mesquida (Sheila), Wings Hauser (Man in Wheelchair)

Oh, those crazy French!  This is horror at its most absurd.  You can see my full review here.  There is an animated tire, with psychokinetic killer powers, and a severe sociopathic streak.  Wait, what?  Yes, that tire you see is a serial killer.  It kills with its… mind?  Jean Luc Godard would be proud of this film.  I am unsure what kinds of allusions the director was going for, but there’s a little bit of Raising Arizona, The Hitcher, and Scanners mashed together… and coated with some Spaghetti Western sauce.  Really funny at times, and head-scratchingly non-sensical at others.  This film is better than you would suspect it would be, but not as intellectual as it probably thinks it is.

4. Videodrome (1983)
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James Woods gets intimate with his television set in Videodrome (1982)

Directed by David Cronenberg
Starring James Woods (Max Renn), Debbie Harry (Nikki Brand), Jack Creley (Brian O’ Blivion), and Peter Dvorsky (Harlan)

Who likes fleshy bio-mechanical appendages? The undisputed king of body horror, with perhaps his strangest movie ever. A movie born at the beginning of the VHS pornography boom and the dawn of cyberpunk, and you get a violent mashup of technology and flesh that stands up as the Cronenberg bible.  He would later return to these ideas with films like Naked Lunch and eXistenZ, but he never hit the same boffo bizarro heights as he did with Videodrome.  I think this is one movie that is likely never to be remade… it’s too much of a movie of that era, and frankly so strange that only someone like Cronenberg could possibly pull off.

4. Teeth (2007)
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She has teeth where she shouldn’t, so play nice! Teeth (2007)

Directed by Mitchell Lichtenstein
Starring: Jess Weixler (Dawn), John Hensley (Brad), Josh Pais (Dr. Godfrey), Hale Appleman (Tobey), John Hensley (Brad), Vivienne Benesh (Kim O’Keefe), Nicole Swahn (Melanie)

It’s a coming of age film… and a rape-revenge film… and a body horror film.  And, in the Me Too era, it is a profound empowerment movie.  Dawn is a teenage girl who discovers that she has teeth where she should have teeth.  And she also happens to be surrounded by the worst kind of boys and men, who at best see her as an object of conquest, and at worst a rape target. She is armed, however, with the ultimate self-defense, a sausage grinder your neighborhood deli would be proud of.  The movie pushes boundaries about as far as you can go without being pure hentai nastiness, but it certainly gets its points across.  It doesn’t reach the depths of nastiness that something like The Human Centipede does, as Dawn is a very likable protagonist, but it definitely GOES THERE.  It is a little too on-the-nose to be a great film, but it occupies a category of one, making it a must-see for the curious.

2. Eraserhead 
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Henry Spencer is having a very bad hair day, and a very bad life in general in Eraserhead (1977)

Directed by David Lynch
Starring: Jack Nance (Henry Spencer), Charlotte Stewart (Mary X), Allen Joseph (Mr. X), Jeanne Bates (Mrs. X)

A nightmare put to the big screen.  Simply put, this movie is a waking nightmare.  The plot is barely there, as we follow Henry’s bleak life and all the surreal and utterly disturbing and grim circumstances that surround him.  He is suicidal, trapped in a bad relationship with bizarre parents, and THEN he finds out he’s the father to a mutant baby. that looks like a deformed amphibian.  There’s a rain of fetuses… or are they worms?  And a deformed dancer who does a soft-shoe routine squishing said fetuses.  This is a bad LSD trip swimming in a sewer of Dali-like non-sequiturs. This is David Lynch’s first movie, and if I were to swap out a movie from our top 100 horror list, I would have removed Blue Velvet (A movie I like more than this one, and which landed at #36 on our list) and would replace it with Eraserhead.  Not because I like it, but because of the truly unnerving experience that this movie.  Real back of the brain horror.

1. Freaks (1932)
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One of US! One of US! Tod Browning’s sad and magnificent Freaks (1932)

Directed by Tod Browning
Starring Leila Hyams (Venus), Wallace Ford (Phroso), Olga Baclanova (Cleopatra), Roscoe Ates (Roscoe), Henry Victor (Hercules), Harrey Earles (Hans), Daisy Earles (Frieda), Rose Dione (Madame Tetrallini), Daisy Hilton (Siamese Twin), Violet Hilton (Siamese Twin) , Johnny Eck (Half Boy), Frances O’Connor (armless Girl), Josephine Joseph (Half Woman-Half Man), Prince Randian (The Living Torso), Elvira Snow (Zip the Pinhead), Jenny Lee Snow (Pip the Pinhead), Elizabeth Green (The Bird Girl), and John Aasen (The Giant)

This is a sad and slightly scary triumph of a film.  It absolutely horrified audiences at the time, and to this day is a really hard film to watch.  It is hard because you see the plight of these Circus performers, the Freaks, and their deformities are real. I list all the performers here since this would be, for many of them, the only film opportunity they would have.  They truly are the geek show wonders, and your heart goes out to them as soon as you see them.  The movie is visually striking and the beneficiary of a wonderful double-cross plot, Freaks nevertheless suffered ignominiously for taking us behind the big top.  Tod Browning, who the previous year directed the seminal Dracula got blackballed for this movie, and his once-prolific career went careening into the gutter after the public outcry over this film.

This is an extraordinarily sinister film for the era, and when you realize that the true monster is the beauty, Venus, it makes for a wonderful twist.  I think it would be hugely difficult to make this movie today and have it at all sensitive to the performers within.  This makes you appreciate Warwick Davis, Peter Dinklage, Kenny Baker, Verne Troyer, and all the little people who would come to entertain us in Hollywood without making treat them as Freaks.  It disappoints me greatly that this didn’t get any votes in our top 100, and I may have to remedy that for the next issuance of the big list.

Categories: Dead ListsTags: , , , , ,

1 comment

  1. Some true classics, mixed with a few newer ones. Basket Case is a favorite of mine. Freaks is great too. I love a good sideshow freak horror. There’s an episode of The X-Files where they go to the Jim Rose Circus, and an episode of Tales
    From the Crypt about a ventriloquist with a mutant baby twin hand. Both pretty awesome. I flat-out hated Rubber. It was just so pretentious and arrogant. I wanted to like Teeth, but I didn’t agree with the actions of the main character, and the part where her stepbrother rapes her or whatever (I haven’t seen it in years) felt stupid and forced.

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