Inspired by previous lists of bizarre, hard-to-find movies recently posted here [if you missed our first and second installments, check those out ASAP], I’ve compiled my own collection of obscurities. The five films below are rarely seen and mostly unknown, but cinematic explorers who seek ‘em out will be rewarded with strange delights unknown to the average person.
WHEN YOU COMIN’ BACK, RED RYDER?
This criminally under-seen movie tells the story of a crazed, drug-dealing Vietnam veteran who takes over a middle-American diner and systematically psychologically tortures its customers. Released in theaters in 1979, RED RYDER had everything going against it; it came out just as the gritty, difficult cinema of the ’70s auteurs was giving way to feel-good Hollywood pap. Its director, producer, and star, Marjoe Gortner, was an early example of the “why is he famous again?” breed of celebrity. Also, “WHEN YOU COMIN’ BACK, RED RYDER?” is a weird, long title. Audiences ignored it and critics panned it… but everyone was wrong!
RED RYDER is a “crazy vet fucks with people” grindhouse exploitation movie on the surface, but just underneath is an examination of the fear, hostility, and brutality that we all work hard to suppress. It’s basically a Quentin Tarantino flick, released decades before Tarantino a film of his own — violent, strange, hypnotic, and brilliant all at once. Plus, Marjoe Gortner’s performance is batshit awesome.
The cost of licensing RYDER’s music (The Doors, Tammy Wynette, B.B. King, and more!) probably means it will never see a DVD release, and while it was put out on VHS in the 80s, it’s long out of print. You might be able to track down a bootleg, but you didn’t hear it from me.
CORNMAN: AMERICAN VEGETABLE HERO
In CORNMAN, a dude falls into a vat of radioactive waste and awakens with the ability to talk to corn. Along with his sidekick Butter Boy, Cornman fights the evil Doctor Hoe.
I hate Troma-style, intentionally campy, “We know our movie sucks! We’re laughing at it too!” films… but CORNMAN is an exception. Made by bored high school kids with a VHS camera, CORNMAN somehow manages to be funnier than it is annoying — which itself is practically a miracle.
Director Barak Epstein maintains an infectious, “we’re dumb kids making a dumb movie because there’s nothing to do in farm country” vibe that elevates CORNMAN into something nostalgic and weirdly touching… plus he keeps it moving and ends it before it gets tiresome.
I’m not actually sure if the movie is called CORNMAN: AMERICAN VEGETABLE HERO or CORNMAN II: DAY OF THE LOCUST, but it really doesn’t matter. Either way, I saw it on a DVD collection of cheap-ass “hick flicks” called Rural Folk 4… but there seems to be a standalone DVD release too.
Italian filmmakers Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi invented the shockumentary “Mondo” genre with 1963’s seminal MONDO CANE. Their documentaries can be found on Blue Underground’s excellent, seven-movie Mondo Cane Collection. But one film is missing: MONDO CANDIDO.
Made in 1975 and only released in a limited theatrical run in Europe and Asia, MONDO CANDIDO drops the partly-fake documentary format in favor of a narrative based on Voltaire’s Candide. If that sounds like a pointy-head movie for cine-snobs, I promise, it isn’t. It’s got electric-guitar-playing knights, naked nuns, cats and dogs being thrown in a meat grinder, and tons of gratuitous sex and violence.
Like Jacopetti and Prosperi’s documentaries, it’s a baffling mix of high-minded intentions, extravagant imagery, beautiful music, outright racism (that may be meant to be ironic), and nihilistic tastelessness. It’s as if Fellini directed a 42nd street grindhouse flick: Truly one of a kind.
Good luck tracking this one down, though… there was never a VHS release, and the sole DVD version of the movie seems to be unavailable, even used. If you do find this movie, please let me know. I’ll buy you a beer just to see it again!
TRIBULATION 99: ALIEN ANOMALIES UNDER AMERICA
Lowbrow cult meets highbrow art in Craig Baldwin’s TRIBULATION 99. Released (I guess?) in 1992, TRIBULATION 99 uses found-footage from B-movies, science-fiction flicks, propaganda, and newsreels to weave an epic conspiracy theory that begins at the formation of the earth and touches every major historic event in Western History.
It’s a parody of the crazed connections that nutballs use to explain history — but also a condemnation of the USA’s foreign policy towards South America. Plus the visuals pull out some of the greatest footage of monsters, flying saucers, and robots ever filmed between 1930 and 1965. It’s awesome, even with the sound off.
TERROR IN THE HAUNTED HOUSE
As you might have guessed from the lame title (Terror? In a haunted house? You don’t say!), this is not a good movie — but it’s got a great gimmick: It’s shot in “Psycho-rama,” also known as subliminal messaging. Decades before Captain Howdy showed up for a frame or two in THE EXORCIST, TERROR IN THE HAUNTED HOUSE added single frames of skulls and monsters in an attempt to frighten moviegoers’ subconscious minds.
TERROR’s director seems to have shoved all the “Psycho-rama” into the first few minutes of the movie — which was nice of him, because the beginning sequence is the only worthwhile part of this molasses-slow flick. But it’s such a scary opening that it’s stuck with me since I first saw it on TV when I was 12.
“But Steve, this is just a cheap rip-off of Rebecca!” You might say. Sure… but I didn’t know that when I saw it when I was 12. Plus, did Hitchcock scatter random monster faces like this all over REBECCA?
Anyway, YouTube has the whole thing… and you can even freeze-frame on the “terrifying” subliminal images, if you’re quick with the pause button.