Six-String Samurai (Palm Pictures, 1998)
Check out Nineteen 1950’s SF Movies To Help Get You Through the Next Few Weeks, posted at Black Gate in April.
A mix of genres this time around, not all sf/fan. The thing these films all have in common is that they’re weird. Off the beaten track. Cock-eyed and sideways. The “weird factor” is rather unmeasurable by scientific means, but then what isn’t when you’re dealing with the arts? You’ll note that all these films have a dual rating, 10+ to 1, best to worst. Since this list (by any measure) does include some bad movies, the first number refers to entertainment value rather than quality, since some (I stress, some) bad movies can be very entertaining. The second number refers to weirdness factor, my best effort at evaluating this vague, but important component. YMMV.
19. Six-String Samurai (1998: 8/8) A good example of Indie film-making which spoofs Mad Max movies, after the apocalypse films in general, Lone Wolf and Cub, and The Wizard of Oz. Decent martial arts action set on a bizarre alternate world where Russia attacked the U.S. in 1957 and wiped out every city except Vegas, where Elvis had ruled for forty years as king. Well, Vegas needs a new king, baby.
18. Wild, Wild Planet (1966 Italy: 8/8) Doesn’t quite make sense, but is entertaining in its brashness and set design (basically 1960’s kitsch for the clothes and under-whelming Thunderbirdesque cities, buildings, rocket ships, etc.). The bad guys are an evil corporation who, with the aid of four-armed bald guys in plastic raincoats and gorgeous models with bouffant hairdos and ‘60s clothing, kidnap people to transplant their organs into other people to create a master race. Or something. Other things to look for: organ miniaturization, butterfly dancing, gender blending (not bending), and a young Franco Nero.
17. Mongolian Death Worm (2010 SyFy network: 8/8) Now this is how you make a bad movie (3.3 rating on IMDB). There’s these Mongolian Death Worms guarding the treasure chamber of Genghis Khan which is conveniently located in the basement of an experimental oil refinery that looks pretty much like it’s in Texas. This impression is encouraged by the white pick-up truck (with the word SHERIFF stenciled on the door) driven by the sheriff, who’s played by George Cheung. He gets a special shout out here because he’s (probably) the only actor who appears in two movies on this list (Big Trouble in Little China).
16. Teenagers From Outer Space (1959: 8/8) A good example of guerilla film-making by producer, director, writer, editor, and actor Tom Graeff on an even-then minuscule $14,000 budget, this movie concerns an invasion of the Earth by aliens who want to use our planet to breed their main food source, giant lobsters. Where they’ll get boxcars full of melted butter is unexplained.
15. Confessions of An Opium Eater (1962: 8/8+) Vincent Price as a descendant of Thomas De Quincey (author of Confessions of an English Opium Eater) and opium-smoking action hero. What more do you need? Price is summoned to late 1800’s San Francisco and takes on the human trafficking trade. An atmospheric fever dream where you’re not quite sure what’s real, what’s a dream, and what’s a drug-induced fantasy.
Vincent Price and Friend
(Confessions of An Opium Eater, Allied Artists Pictures, 1962)
14. Big Ass Spider! (2013: 9/8) Criminally low rating on IMDB (5.3) really disses this comedy/horror flick that has an entirely unconventional exterminator hero and an even more unconventional Hispanic sidekick. The spider special effects are pretty good and the spider probably is the biggest assed arachnid in cinematic history.
13. Big Trouble In Little China (1986: 9/8): One of John Carpenter’s best efforts and a thrill ride through a Chinatown that never was. Kurt Russell channels a somewhat incompetent John Wayne as the nominal hero, but James Hong steals the show as the long-lived (if not ageless) Chinese sorcerer villain, along with a great supporting cast.
12. The Ship of Monsters (Mexico 1960: 9/9) Venus wants our men, though only after two of their scouts – Ann Bertha (Gamma) and a particularly delightful Lorena Velazquez (Beta) – have scoured the solar system picking up a selection of thoroughly inappropriate alien mates. They land in Mexico and both set their sites on singing vacquero Eulalio Gonzalez (aka Piporro). Craziness ensues. By measure of IMDB (258 ratings), this is by far the most obscure film on this list. I got my copy, nicely subtitled, from the Trash Palace website. I assume copies are still available.
Velezquez and friend (The Ship of Monsters, Producciones Sotomayor, 1960)
11. Plan Nine From Outer Space (1959: 9/11) If I was a betting man, I’d bet that this film is the one most of you have seen. That “11″ is not a typo. The weirdness factor for this movie is off the charts. Everything about this film is weird, from the casting (that they replaced a deceased Bela Lugosi with an actor who looks nothing like him is only one bizarre casting choice), costuming, dialog (“Earthmen are stupid, stupid, stupid!”), sets, and, of course, the plot, which could only have come from the fevered brain of Ed Wood. This is, indeed, his masterpiece, the Citizen Kane of bad movies, a fact noted by film-maker Tim Burton in his bio-myth pic Ed Wood when Ed meet Orson Welles and they discuss the difficulties of life as a film arteur.
10. The Call of Cthulhu (2005: 10/10) An extraordinary achievement for an independent film, this movie rates high on the weirdness scale because, a) it’s a silent black and white movie made in 2005, and, b) it faithfully adapts “Call of Cthulhu.” A little low on the list because it runs only 47 minutes, but then, that’s about as long as it needed. I recognize the Catch-22, but there it is.
9. Bunraku (2010: 9+/9) Bunraku is a form of traditional Japanese puppet theater, Bunraku is a movie that takes a lot of chances and mostly succeeds. Nice cast, particularly Ron Perlman as the villain and Josh Hartnett as one of the protagonists. Nicely stylized sets that for some reason seemed to put off a lot of reviewers and a reasonably delineated plot (Despite one review I read that began: “Bunraku is as hard to describe as it is to pronounce.” Really?).
8. A Chinese Ghost Story 1 (Hong Kong 1987: 10/10) Starring the ill-fated Leslie Cheung (one of Hong Kong’s greatest actors who committed suicide in 2003) as a feckless tax-collector and the incomparable Joey Wang as a ghost. Generally regarded as a classic of Hong Kong cinema. It’s a sweetly sad love story replete with bizarre fantasy sequences and nice martial arts action provided by Cheung’s Taoist swordsman sidekick. Don’t get fooled into watching the 2011 film of the same name.
A Chinese Ghost Story (Film Workshop, 1987)
7. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang (2005: 10/10) Loosely based on a Brett Halliday Michael Shayne PI novel entitled Bodies Are Where You Find Them, this mystery/black comedy has weird characters, a weird plot of which the mystery itself is only a part, and a weird narrative style with protagonist Robert Downey, Jr. breaking the fourth wall and narrating this complex tale set mainly in a Hollywood gone wrong. Val Kilmer as his gay private detective sidekick is terrific.
6. Streets of Fire (1984: 10/10) I’m not a huge fan of musicals, but this is my favorite. Walter Hill’s striking alternate world fantasy can be simply summarized: The queen of the hop (Diane Lane) is kidnapped by the leader of the pack (Willem Dafoe) and soldier boy (Michael Pare) does something about it. Brilliant cinematography, a great supporting cast (including Amy Madigan, Rick Moranis, and Bill Paxton) and terrific musical set pieces (the opening and closing scenes are fabulous).
5. Cold Comfort Farm (UK 1995: 10+/9) Kate Beckinsale, before she discovered leather lingerie armor, is superbly supported by a cast including Stephen Fry, Joanna Lumley, Rufus Sewell, and Ian McCellan (one Hugh Laurie short of perfection). She’s a recently orphaned young woman forced to live with her eccentric (read: weird) relatives, the Starkadders. (“There have always been Starkadders at Cold Comfort Farm.”) We all need a good laugh right now. (Remember, “There is no butter in Hell!”)
4. Field of Dreams (1989: 10+/9) I’m not going to punch the next reviewer who says this isn’t a baseball movie, but I will put a high hard one right under his chin (at least as hard as my arm will currently allow). Based on one of the greatest baseball novels of all time (W. P. Kinsella’s Shoeless Joe) this is the story of Iowa farmer Ray Kinsella who hears a voice in his cornfield tell him, “Build it and he will come.” But who, really, is “he”? (Parenthetically, this film has amassed the most dumbass reviews on IMDB of any movie I’ve yet run across.)
3. Spirited Away (Japan 2001: 10+/10) I wanted at least one animated movie on this list, and it had to be a Miyazaki. The only question was, which one? Spirited Away wins on a coin flip. Incredibly beautiful and imaginative animation, this is a sweet coming of age story filled with magic. No real explanation as to how and why, and none needed.
Spirited Away (Studio Ghibli, 2001)
2. Kung Fu Hustle (China 2004: 10+/10) Stephen Chow’s masterpiece set in Shanghai in the 1930’s. Chow and the denizens of Pig Sty Alley run afoul of the Ax Gang. I expect a lot of you might have seen this one, too. See it again.
1. The Good, the Bad, the Weird (SK 2008: 10+/10) You didn’t expect a list of movies called “The Good, The Bad, the Weird” not to contain The Good, The Bad, and Weird, did you? The elevator pitch: The best western set in 1940’s Manchuria made by South Koreans, ever. The most important question answered, who is the Finger Chopper? The initial train robbery sequence alone is worth the price of admission. There are several cuts of this film available. Get the one pictured below.
The Good, the Bad, the Weird (CJ Entertainment, 2008)
John Jos. Miller’s last article for Black Gate was Nineteen 1950’s SF Movies To Help Get You Through the Next Few Weeks. His latest publication is “The Ghost of a Smile,” in Dreamforge Magazine #4, December, 2019 (Tangent recommended reading list 2019). Next up: “An Annotated Long Night at the Palmer House” at Wild Cards Blog, Tor.com (May 2020) www.facebook.com/john.j.miller.9883