by Bob Freville
Here at the Motorist, our Films That Fell Through the Cracks column has covered a number of movies that might have become cult classics if they hadn’t vanished before they had a chance to penetrate the pop culture consciousness.
Those titles have included flicks about a killer in a bunny mask, a creepy farmer and homophobic preppie murderers, among others. All of these movies are peculiar in their own ways, but today I’d like to take a look at some of the strangest flicks to ever disappear faster than a fart in a cyclone.
The following are some of the weirdest and most wonderful anti-classics to ever come out of the mainstream machine. To see the big studio logos at the head of these movies leaves one completely astonished, not just at Hollywood’s involvement in their productions but at why such entities would even bother with things that were far too bizarre for them to be able to properly market.
To be clear, these are not the kinds of movies that loan themselves to multiplex movie posters. And, yet, here they are, sterling testaments to the gnarly reality that some films are too weird to live and too rare to be relegated to development Hell.
Read ’em and weep at the foregone conclusion that such pictures could never be made today.
A DIRTY SHAME (2004, Fine Line/New Line Cinema)
John Waters fans certainly wouldn’t find the plot of A Dirty Shame to be all that shocking. Given the so-called Pope of Trash’s track record for larger-than-life characters and overall bad taste, it was a no-brainer that this one would be perverse and absurd.
After all, nothing could really out-yuck Waters’ legendary singing sphincter scene from Pink Flamingos. But that doesn’t negate the fact that A Dirty Shame was released by New Line Cinema at a time when the distributor was in financial straits.
Why they would get behind a sex comedy that served as a vehicle for the mindbogglingly mismatched Tracy Ullman and Johnny Knoxville is anyone’s guess. It’s hard to imagine the same executives who signed off on the Lord of the Rings acquiring a picture about a housewife who becomes a sex maniac after suffering a concussion.
To make matters more bizarre, the film’s risque content, which includes a sequence in which Emmy award-winner Ullman inserts a bottle into her vagina during a game of hokey pokey, required so many cuts to allude an NC-17 rating that the studio agreed to release two versions on DVD—the Neuter (read: R rated) Version and the theatrical NC-17 cut, respectively.
Standout Sequence: The Pussy Cat Song scene.
FREAKED (1993, 20th Century Fox)
At the heart of Freaked is the nefarious mad scientist Elijah C. Skuggs and the group of strangers he’s turned into hideous mutant freaks. But the real monsters in this off-the-wall satire aren’t the sideshow freaks or their batshit creator but a corporate collective known as E.E.S. or…Everything Except Shoes.
The E.E.S. brass want to reinvent their image in the wake of news reports about their chemicals being dangerous to the environment, so they pay an obnoxious washed-up TV star named Ricky Coogan five million big ones to visit their factory HQ in Santa Flan (“Santa ‘Flan’? What kind of a shitty name for a country is that?” “It is named for the patron saint of creamy desserts.”).
If that sounds ludicrous you haven’t seen nothing yet; Freaked is chock-a-block with silly, strange and idiosyncratic sights and sounds, the likes of which include an unrecognizable Keanu Reeves as Ortiz the Dog Boy, an old Rotarian in Coke bottle glasses wandering around with an “I Like Ike” sign (for no apparent reason) and yes, a giant mutant shoe.
And how weird is this? Turns out the first draft of the script, then entitled Hideous Mutant Freekz and intended to be a hardcore horror movie, was originally developed by co-directors Alex Winter (Bill S. Preston, Esq of Bill & Ted fame) and Tom Stern (Winter’s Idiot Box collaborator) along with Butthole Surfers singer Gibby Haynes.
At some point the rather straight-forward concept the three conceived of morphed into a B-movie inspired black comedy brimming with hideous celebrity cameos, outlandish sight gags and indelible lines like “To the right of the aircraft, you can see a great view of the Grand Canyon. And to the left you can see a panic-stricken little troll.”
Standout Sequence: Ricky Coogan (Winter) goes full beast mode, tearing a corporate executives head off as green toxic chemicals squirt from a pustule on his mutated forehead.
HUDSON HAWK (1991, TriStar Pictures)
In today’s post-9/11, post-Tarantino world, it would be easy to see a movie like this doing well, but when it was first dropped on an unsuspecting public back at the advent of the Nineties, no one knew what to make of it.
Equal parts live action Roadrunner cartoon and slapstick social justice warrior comedy, Hudson Hawk is like five different flicks all rolled into one. For Die Hard fans, Bruce Willis returned to the screen brimming with witty asides and action hero moves. Only there was something markedly different about Eddie “Hudson Hawk” Hawkins compared to Die Hard‘s John McClane.
Hudson Hawk isn’t a cop or a good guy, rather he’s a smooth-talking cat burglar with a yen for pork pie hats, black dusters, Bing Crosby and cappucino. In lesser hands, the character might have seemed a little fey, but this wasn’t the crinkly Mr. Potato Head Willis that we’ve grown accustomed to in the new millennium. This was old school Bruce, the man who could make mayhem funny and mocha lattes seem macho.
I’ve met lots of people familiar with the Bruce Willis body of work and only one of them—besides myself—counts this among his crowning achievements. At the time of its release, it flopped harder than a flounder in a drought. The convoluted plot, bugfuck humor and steampunk set pieces were decades before their time.
Add the hatchet-faced Sandra Bernhard and Withnail & I‘s Richard E. Grant as the serpentine villains at the dark heart of the flick and you’ve got a baffling witch’s brew on your hands. Of all the curious choices Willis has made over the years, whether we’re talking about his toupee-wearing turn in Breakfast of Champions or his affectatious performance as a drunken lech in Four Rooms, this one remains his absolute weirdest.
Standout Sequence: The ambulance scene.
I HEART HUCKABEES (2004, Fox Searchlight)
Technically this one didn’t fall through the cracks so much as paint itself into a corner of bemused notoriety. In the wake of Three Kings‘ massive critical and box office success, director David O. Russell could have made any kind of movie he wanted, likely at any budgetary level.
That he chose to make a mid-budget studio indie about existentialism and celebrity is almost as insanely admirable as it is laughably inane. The pic, which tells the story of an idealistic environmentalist (Jason Schwartzman) who hires “existential detectives” (Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin) to investigate corporate malfeasance, is a rather airy-fairy indictment of corporate America and the male ego.
This is fitting considering the mind from which it sprang. David O. Russell may be known for many things, debuting with an incest flick called Spanking the Monkey chief among them, but more than anything he’s known for his massive sense of self-importance.
Today audiences don’t remember the movie so much as they do the infamous behind-the-scenes YouTube clip of director Russell flipping out on set. In the footage, veteran comedic actress Tomlin inquires about her character’s motivation, explaining that she doesn’t understand the material. Russell responds by pitching a fit and calling the screen icon a cunt.
If the clip in question sounds cringe-worthy just wait until you check out this meandering 106 minute philosophical cluster fuck.
Standout Sequence: Mud fucking with Isabelle Hubbert’s nihilist siren.
SOUTHLAND TALES (2006, Samuel Goldwyn)
Far and away the strangest movie on this list, Richard Kelly’s follow-up to the sleeper smash Donnie Darko is a lot of things…for not a lot of people. Like many of the greatest examples of auteur filmmaking, Southland Tales is, first and foremost, a film for its director. To say that this sprawling genre-defying exercise in extremes is self-indulgent is like saying Idi Amin had a little bit of a temper.
From copulating cars and neo-Marxist nutjobs to levitating ice cream trucks and a baby messiah whose farts can make the world literally quake, Kelly’s sophomore effort is nothing if not weird.
Consider this: The intricate plot, which largely takes place within a Tangent Universe, is based loosely on the Book of Revelation. Its characters quote liberally from the poems of T.S. Eliot and Robert Frost, and the passages of the New Testament.
Given how hesitant the studio system is to take risks on original material, it’s hard to believe that someone at Samuel Goldwyn was all in on distributing a movie featuring a baby savior who’s never had a bowel movement, a Republican leading man who injects himself in the neck with “Fluid Karma” and a porn star psychic who emerges as the prophet of the End Times.
Standout Sequence: Justin Timberlake’s Pilot Abilene, a facially-scarred war veteran and turret gunner, guzzling white trash beer from the can and lip-syncing to The Killers’ “All These Things That I’ve Done” while blood pours from his chest and USO girls shake their legs atop skeet ball machines. Weird, weird, weird and wonderful.