GARRETT COOK’S TOP TEN BIZARRO HORROR MOVIES
As a teacher of Bizarro, sometime critic and head of the New Bizarro Author Series, I’ve waded often and deep into the waters of weirdness. If all weirdness were created equal, however, I’d be out of the job. Sometimes the strange, the ugly, the grotesque and the frightful come together and form something truly amazing. Here’s a list of my ten favorite examples of when my two favorite genres come together.
1.The Gore Gore Girls
We recently lost the great HG Lewis. Lewis figured out that there are people who would be as likely to pay to see blood at the drive-in as they were to see tits. But if Lewis just offered blood and entrails, he wouldn’t be the genius or godfather of Bizarro that he was. Lewis does things like combine slasher movies with Nancy Drew in the Gruesome Twosome or redneck horror and comedy in Two Thousand Maniacs. For me The Gore Gore Girls is his masterpiece. A snooty detective and a reporter investigate murder on the burlesque scene, encountering delightfully absurd gore, a cast of weirdos that puts John Waters to shame and plenty of awkward vintage stripping.
Japanese schoolgirls in an acidrock haunted house. Floating heads. Killer pianos. A soundtrack that could have come out of The Banana Splits. This is one of those movies where it feels like the director was handed a giant sack with a dollar sign on it, then dashed off giggling with glee and tossing the cash into the wind as he drove by in a Beverly Hillbillies style jalopy. If you love Bizarro or you just bought a pre-roll the size of a burrito, then I highly recommend you bring your night to Technicolor life with this masterwork of weird. This turns a generally serious and somber sub-genre on its head.
A sort of ideological descendant of Hausu, this is a film that feels like a John Hughes slasher movie re-imagined for Adult Swim. Bizarro writers who watch this get one feeling deep in the cockles of their heart- bitter, bitter jealousy. Weird, gory, funny and hard to classify, Detention is a mishmash that needs to be seen to be believed. Recommended to any devotee of the weird.
No Bizarro horror list would be complete without Jodorowsky. This touches on Psycho and Freaks while simultaneously bringing up the conflicts between Catholicism and Mexico’s pagan past. It’s the story of a circus knife-thrower, his armless mother and his descent into madness and murder. This is not for the intellectually, spiritually or physically squeamish. This film will test your resolve and challenge your perceptions but that’s what Horror and Bizarro should be about. It’s beautiful, it’s unhinged, and it’s shocking.
Dwain Esper is the guy who brought us Reefer Madness, everyone’s favorite bit of anti-drug propaganda and alarmism. Reefer Madness takes the dangers of smoking pot into the stratosphere to sensationalize drug culture for the squares. Esper’s sideshow and roadshow past makes him a forefather to HG Lewis and to the carnival of crazy that is Bizarro. Maniac takes that same hysteria and brings it to the subject of mental illness. We have a down on his luck actor who kills and impersonates a mad scientist, a guy who thinks he’s an orangutan and a creep that sells cat skins supported by stock footage from Haxan for no fucking reason. Esper makes a compelling argument about not…I don’t know, deciding to go insane? Fuck you, Dwain Esper, I do what I want.
6.Lisa and the Devil
Mario Bava is one of the great gothic stylists. Black Sabbath gave us Boris Karloff at his creepiest, Black Sunday, Barbara Steele at her most magnetic and chilling. This tells a strange gothic story at a strange gothic mansion where reality and the bounds of life and death break down. Telly Savalas is great as the devil and the set-pieces never disappoint. This is eerie and off-putting in the same way a film like Carnival of Souls is but Bava’s eye captures the breakdown between this world and hell like few other directors can.
Takashi Miike is an artist I have more respect for than pretty much anyone else alive. He displays something very artists do: versatility. Miike can make a stunning samurai film like Harakiri, a gory gangster movie like Ichi the Killer or a miniseries where reality and manga squeeze together like MPD Psycho. Visitor Q is a film about media obsession and a camera that drives a family into insane decadence. The ending of this movie is as crazy and problematic as any other but still, in its own way, beautiful and inspiring. Not for the faint of heart, it’s a mind-bender of the highest caliber too.
What happens when a surprisingly ingenuous German monster kid tries to make a gore comedy in the tradition of HG Lewis? A sexually explicit story of erotic necrophilia full of tears, pathos , blood and sex, of course. Jörg Buttgereit has created a world where you are left rooting for a sad crime scene cleanup technician whose girl has left him for a corpse. The tonal shifts, lack of easy answers and strangely satisfying resolution take this from horror and art-house into the realm of Bizarro. Not just one of my favorite weird horror films but one of my favorite films, period.
9.Valerie and Her Week of Wonders
This is a Czech New Wave erotic coming of age vampire film. The dreamlike mutability of this world is a place where the gothic crosses once more into Bizarro and reality becomes poetry. A teenage girl discovers herself sexually in a town full of vampires, shape-changing and madness, a fairy tale world of magic and predators alike. It’s hard to describe this movie beyond that it is as beautiful as it is eerie, as sensual as it is unique. Watch for its delights and its excesses.
A story about family, loyalty, love, and the freedom to be who you are, told with a cast of actual sideshow freaks. This might not be the weirdest film on this list but it captures what it means to be weird and to be loved for who you are, as well as showing some genuinely nightmarish imagery. There’s controversy over the movie because of the exploitation involved but this movie not only got this actors a paycheck but tells a story that teaches a lesson in human dignity. I think this is a perfect way to close out this list. Happy Halloween to all my Bizarro family. ONE OF US.
Garrett Cook is the Wonderland Award winning author of Time Pimp, Archelon Ranch, Murderland and A God of Hungry Walls. He is the editor in of the New Bizarro Author Series from Eraserhead Press. He both loves and hates you all in a Jesus kinda way.