We all have a handful of lesser known films that we love and wish more people knew about. So, here’s a list of 10 films that I want to bring your attention to. (Films are listed in descending order from having the most logged views on Letterboxd to having the fewest logged views.)
The Doom Generation
Does a heterosexual film (as is clearly stated in the opening credits) with gay overtones, sex, violence, and nudity sound like a good time? Well, look no further, because Gregg Araki’s 1995 film has you covered. The second film in his “Teen Apocalypse Trilogy” The Doom Generation features a teenage couple who pick up an unlikely partner, then head out on a road trip that will change them forever. With actual signs of the apocalypse looming everywhere they go, the three teens weave their way through sexual exploration, mistaken identity, teen angst, torture, murder, and a head that won’t stop talking (all to a great selection of 1990s industrial and electronic music).
Murder by Death
One of the not-so-politically correct comedies (it was released in 1976) that helped form my own sense of humor in my youth. Written by Neil Simon, the film is a play on the great fictional detectives in mystery novels. Each has been invited to the house of Lionel Twain (Truman Capote) to solve a murder that has not yet been committed. As egos clash, ideas get muddled, and situations become ridiculous, it’s easier to laugh and harder to figure out exactly what’s taking place onscreen. If you need more convincing, check out the cast: Eileen Brennan, Truman Capote, James Coco, Peter Falk, Alec Guinness, Elsa Lanchester, David Niven, Peter Sellers, Maggie Smith, Nancy Walker, Estelle Winwood, James Cromwell, and Richard Narita. A recipe for great comedy disguised as a murder mystery gone wrong.
Imagine an Italian 1994 version of the Evil Dead Trilogy (minus the chainsaw), with a beautiful woman who randomly gets naked, and a sidekick who doesn’t talk (but falls in love with a girl’s severed head), that’s Cemetery Man (aka Dellamorte Dellamore) in a nutshell. Francesco Dellamorte (Rupert Everett) is cool and confident while killing zombies like it’s just another day at the office. His sidekick, Gnaghi (François Hadji-Lazaro), grunts and resembles Curly from The Three Stooges. I really couldn’t tell you what the point of the movie is (if there is one), and it’s ending will leave you scratching your head for days (in a good way), however, it’s one of the best and most often overlooked zombie/horror films I’ve ever seen. If you’re a fan of Evil Dead‘s campy blend of humor and horror, you’re sure to enjoy Cemetery Man.
I don’t often get upset about a film’s acceptance or rejection in the public eye, but the general rejection of the 2003 version of Willard annoys me. With Crispin Glover in the lead role as a modern day Pied Piper who leads a legion of rats to do his bidding, the unmistakable acting style of R. Lee Ermey as the drill instructor boss (whose relentless abuse drives Willard further into isolation), and the lovely Laura Harring (who brings warmth, light, and her stunning beauty to an otherwise dark and dismal existence) makes for a film I enjoy more and more with each visit.
The Legend of Hell House
Richard Matheson penned both the screenplay and the novel upon which this 1973 film is based. The screenplay had to be toned down as the vivid pornographic imagery in the novel would have made it near impossible to get the film made at the time. Despite this, the film does not lack in presentation. There are many great moments, and lines, that keep me coming back again and again. It’s the ultimate haunted house movie. A group of four are selected to explore Hell House (so named because of all the debauchery that took place there over the years) to prove if there is life after death. The scientist is determined to prove there is no life after death, his wife is a neutral party, the medium rapidly connects with the house and its ‘presence,’ and the fourth visitor is the only survivor from a previous venture several years earlier. This fourth character, played by Roddy McDowall, is where the most acting gold is found.
If you like Michael Keaton and campy period pieces about gangsters this is the movie for you. In order to pay for his mom’s many life threatening operations, Johnny (Keaton) is forced into a life of crime, but unlike other gangsters, Johnny’s a straight shooter and does right by everyone, even his mother. He gets the girls, the money, the fame, and, you guessed it, even his very own arch nemesis, greatly played by Joe Piscopo. This 1984 comedy is so campy they even had ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic write the opening title song. I should warn you, you’ll be calling people “fargin iceholes” for weeks after watching this overlooked and underrated comedy.
Originally titled The Incredible Torture Show (but later renamed by Troma), this disturbing 1976 film is a bizarre and graphic display of an off-off-Broadway venue that tortures and murders its actresses on stage, while the paying attendees think it’s all an act (there’s even a theater critic that gets caught up in the mess). Master Sardu (Seamus O’Brien) and his ‘little helper’ Ralphus (Luis De Jesus) take pleasure in enslaving, torturing, and killing their victims, all for the sake of art. If you make it past the ‘straw sequence’ you may want to contact a therapist.
The Saddest Music in the World
This 2003 film by Winnipeg native, Guy Maddin, is a true work of art. Maddin is one of the few directors who can pull off a story about a legless beer baroness who holds a contest to see who can write and perform the saddest music in the world. It’s just as crazy as it sounds and the characters make no apologies for who they are or what they want. Two men love the same woman while brother battles against brother to win the contest (each with their own unique motives). Shot in black & white with a visual style that almost fools you into thinking you’re watching a silent film, it could play with title cards as easily as it does with dialogue, which is one of the greatest achievements in the art of cinema in recent years.
The Road to Wellville
A fictional retelling of the life of Dr. Kellogg, the same Dr. Kellogg whose name is now synonymous with breakfast cereals. In short, the man was a nut, but a very eccentric nut. Played by Anthony Hopkins in a performance that rivals Hannibal Lecter in its confidence and insanity, the film focuses on Dr. Kellogg’s wellness center, the Battle Creek sanitarium, known simply to its visitors as The San. The sanity ends there, however, as Dr. Kellogg’s abhorrence of sex and sexual desire is coupled with bizarre methods to treat such desires along with equally bizarre treatments of other ‘ailments’. The 1994 cast is rounded out by Bridget Fonda and Matthew Broderick, as visitors to The San. Meanwhile, John Cusack, Dana Carvey, and Michael Lerner, ‘work’ to make money off Dr. Kellogg and his product. The humor is infections and the treatments cringe-worthy, you’ll never think of breakfast cereal the same way again.
Based on one of my favorite novels in Terry Prachett’s Discworld series, the 2006 adaptation of Hogfather is one of my favorite films. The Hogfather is the Discworld version of Santa Clause and he’s disappeared right before the celebration of Hogswatch. That’s where Death comes in to save the day, because that’s the kind of thing that happens in the Discworld. Hogfather has become a holiday classic at our house and we watch it every year around Christmas.