Josh Johnson is a contributor at Daily Grindhouse as well as one of the filmmakers behind the upcoming documentary on VHS and it's impact called REWIND THIS!(which I am very much looking forward to). Follow the film's Twitter and check the website for updates. He's put together a fantastic list of fascinating flicks for your viewing pleasure.
CRIME WAVE(1984) This Canadian oddity burrowed deep into my psyche. It tells the story of a screenwriter named Steven Penny who wants to write a crime film but struggles to come up with the middle section of the story. The film shows us the myriad beginnings and endings he concocts while pushing forward towards a variety of unexpected scenarios within the main narrative. We are pulled back and forth between a naive, hyper-colorful suburban wonderland and a putrid, threatening, downright weird outside world. The frequent stylistic shifts are jarring in the best possible way, pumping you full of the electricity of breaking all the rules. At a certain point there is no longer any concern for whether or not Steven will finish his script, it is too much fun to see what the next scene will have in store.
DEMON WIND(1990) A snowglobe drops to the floor causing an entire house to explode. Poorly defined characters wander about through the frame as though cut free from invisible cords that had been holding them in place. A martial-arts expert/magician/serious bro named Chuck shows up in a convertible and roundhouse kicks a beer can into somebodies head. Demons with dripping, formless faces fire lasers. You are in the world of DEMON WIND. It is a world that cannot be understood. You can only submit. YOU MUST SUBMIT.
ENCOUNTER AT RAVEN'S GATE(1988) Rolf De Heer creates an occasionally confusing but always engrossing account of extraterrestrial activity affecting a small township in Australia. De Heer mines the various phenomena occurring to create arresting images, most noteworthy being a rainstorm of dead birds. Everything starts out as a slightly odd tale of a punk mechanic struggling to find love and a place of his own in a community that doesn't understand him. Before too long the focus shifts to body possession, creepy sexual dynamics, cartoonish high-pitched arguments, and homicidal lunacy. Somehow it all comes together in a way that feels cohesive and precise. The outback is a perfect backdrop for this odd UFO melodrama, the landscapes are otherworldly enough for the events to seem possible in the environment where they take place. (Netflix Instant Link)
FLESHPOT ON 42ND STREET(1973) Bitterly angry and caustic, Andy Milligan's final sexploitation film is filled with the same contempt for the world as his earlier work but it hits harder than expected here. There are two broken figures at the center of things, a drag qeen named Cherry and a prostitute named Dusty. They pal around the city, pass off tricks to each other, use each other as sounding boards for their dreams, and so on. The violence they encounter in their professions is treated as expected and perhaps even deserved. The possibility of hope seems like a cruel joke from the moment it materializes. These two are damned to unhappiness and there will be no redemption for them in the end. Milligan's bleak worldview contaminates all of his film work but in the case of FLESHPOT it is front and center moreso than ever before. It is as though he is bleeding straight onto the celluloid, using his pain in the creation of the material like some crazed alchemist. Watching it won't ruin your life but it will almost certainly ruin your day.
FLOODING WITH LOVE FOR THE KID(2010) This $96 minimalist exercise is the most inspirational and emotionally powerful movie I watched this year. I gazed in stunned silence and had tears streaming down my face almost constantly. Zachary Oberzan adapted the novel "First Blood" by playing every character himself, using nothing but materials immediately available to him, completely within the confines of his 220-square-foot apartment. The finished product is shockingly effective, with Oberzan's various characterizations appearing to exist completely independent of one another. The primitive filmmaking techniques slip away from your consciousness almost instantly and the film propels itself to the finish line through sheer force of will. The audience walks away with the impression that a lack of imagination is the only limitation that truly exists for the aspiring artist.
HOUSE ON SKULL MOUNTAIN(1974) I made an effort this year to see everything that could be classified as "blaxploitation horror". This was the stand-out film from that experiment and it has really stayed with me. The production design and use of color is just lovely and the themes of racial identity it explores are far more insightful than one would have any reason to expect. I'll also be forever grateful to this film for introducing me to Janee Michelle, one of the most beautiful women to ever be captured by a camera. She turns in a terrific performance and defies you to take your eyes off of her. Despite it's obvious attachment to the post-SHAFT movement to capitalize on a new market by utilizing Afro-centric casting, this is more of a gothic horror story than an urban thriller. The reference points are closer to Corman's Poe adaptations than films like BLACULA. It catches you off-guard by always being better than it has to be.
MESSIAH OF EVIL(1973) When the credits roll at the end of MESSIAH OF EVIL you feel as though you've just awakened from a nightmare that will haunt you for the rest of your life. The film unfolds itself as a quiet but startling collage of dream imagery. The camera lingers for uncomfortable stretches of time as surreal scenes play out according to their own rules. The film brilliantly takes seemingly mundane environments and twists them into frightening locations fraught with danger. The mysterious town with a horrible past evokes Lovecraft but the style of the film is all art-house, like Bergman riffing on CARNIVAL OF SOULS. I can recall very little of the plot points in the film but there are images that will stay with me forever.
THE PROWLER(1951) Surely this is one of the least predictable noirs one is likely to unearth. The story of a corrupt cop obsessed with the unhappy wife of a night-time radio DJ goes in directions nobody could possibly anticipate. Written by black-listed screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, we are treated to a penetrating study of how unhealthy fixation can become an overwhelmingly destructive force when left unchecked. The third act pushes us over an edge we didn't know we were standing so close to. The conclusions arrived at are surprising in the modern era, imagine how shocking they must have seemed in 1951. Highly recommended for those looking to explore the darkest side of human nature.
SCIENCE CRAZED(1991) This film challenged my notions of how movies work like no other movie I saw in 2011. Imagine you are given 40 minutes of footage and asked to assemble it into a 90 minute feature. How would you go about recycling a limited number of scenes? How would you try to establish a rhythm to your cutting when 50% of the piece has no clear motivation for existing? If you are as inspired as filmmaking partners Ron and Donna Switzer you create hypnotic murder sequences that circle back on themselves and never-ending exercise montages. Regardless of the original intent, SCIENCE CRAZED plays less like a film and more like a museum installation or avant-garde theater piece. Very little happens yet we are constantly gripped, always fascinated, never feeling the sting of boredom. This is the cinema experience of 2011 that I cherish more than any other.
SOME CAME RUNNING(1958) Gambling, failed relationships, alcoholism, the long-term damage of combat experience. These are all elements that can be found in a variety of 50's melodramas. However, in the hands of Vincent Minnelli, these disparate issues are weaved into an all-too-believable story of human weakness getting in the way of best intentions. Alternately funny and tragic, the lingering sensation that is left by SOME CAME RUNNING is that being alive is a tremendous privelage. The warmth it projects is powerful because it acknowledges the pain of love and loss without diluting the feelings of pleasure and satisfaction that other human being can bring into our lives. It portrays concepts like romance and sacrifice in terms we can all touch, a noble accomplishment worthy of being seen.