As my year of movies keeps chugging along I find myself searching for different and unique film experiences. Movies that don’t follow an easily discernable formula or which challenge an audience accustomed to spoon-fed stories. Movies that leave an emotional mark once the credits start rolling.
People like to quip that all movies are just rehashes of older films. They dismiss the possibility of something new because they only seek out films which support their narrow viewpoint. The two movies discussed in this article are far from your traditional Hollywood fare. They can be disturbing, forcing the viewer to observe things they’d rather not encounter. They can be existential, questioning reality and man’s place in the world. They can also be provocative, triggering emotions which might surprise you. They all have a spot close to my heart. Favorites that I always recommend to those looking for something new and intriguing.
Buyer beware: I will be discussing plot points and spoilers in this article. If you haven’t seen the films please don’t let me ruin them for you and instead watch them as soon as you can.
Dellamorte Dellamore (aka Cemetery Man)
DELLAMORTE DELLAMORE is not your usual Italian horror film. Yes, it contains fantastically gory special effects, but the plot plays out more like an Albert Camus story than a Lucio Fulci splatter-fest. Starring Rupert Everett as Francesco Dellamorte, our protagonist is the guardian of a cemetery in a small Italian town. Assisted by his grunting companion Gnaghi, they must put down the bodies of the deceased who have risen from their graves 7 days after their burial.
There are a couple of elements in this film that elevate the story beyond its horror trappings. First is “She,” the nameless woman who enters Dellamorte’s life. He is instantly struck by her beauty when she visits the graveyard for her husband’s funeral. His obsession is immediate, but their connection is not. He screws up their first conversation, being used to dealing only with the dead, and is luckily able to salvage the second encounter when he shows her the graveyard’s ossuary. From that moment on, surprisingly, the sparks begin to fly.
This wouldn’t be a decent horror film if the protagonist were to win so easily. As the lovers enjoy their first tryst, the husband decides to reanimate and takes a chunk out of “She.” Of course, his one true love dies. Many more people die, resulting in a new Mayor, and upon their first meeting Dellamorte’s introduced to the Mayor’s assistant… “She.” Again nameless and again drawn to Dellamorte like a moth to flame. This reoccurring theme was one of the most intriguing pieces. Each time “She” appears it’s with a different personality, but the same passion for our hapless hero. It ties in beautifully with his questioning of reality in general which brings us to the second point.
Another element which stands out is the utter pointlessness of Dellamorte’s actions. His frustration with the town coupled with his feelings of imprisonment lead him on a dreamlike rampage in the village, killing scores of the living in the same detached manner with which he dispatches the undead. The next day the police knock on his door, with Dellamorte fully expecting them to slap on the handcuffs, only to find out that they don’t consider him a suspect. Later he indulges in a little more killing—college girls this time—but the rap for the murders is taken by his only friend, Franco (Gnaghi doesn’t really count). Even when he screams out a confession to the crimes there’s no one around to hear him. His inability to affect his own life pushes him to desperation and results in a very strange yet oddly poignant movie ending. The existential dread that the protagonist feels, in his actions and in his life, mixed in with the absurdity of his world adds a fantastic layer to what would otherwise be a run-of-the-mill zombie film.
James Spader plays a bored TV producer in a bored marriage to an equally bored Deborah Unger. They take to having illicit affairs and then describe them to each other in an attempt to renew whatever spark they once had. One night Spader’s distracted driving leads to a head-on collision, killing a man and leaving his wife (Holly Hunter) alive. They both end up at the same hospital, Hunter hobbling around on a crutch and Spader sporting serious metal pins in his leg. This is where Vaughan (Elias Koteas in yet another stellar role) enters the game and things get very weird.
When it comes to creating stories that challenge your preconceptions there’s few better than David Cronenberg. This movie will make a vast majority of people very uncomfortable. It intertwines graphic sexuality with intense automobile accidents and their subsequent fetishization. James Spader is once again fearless with his portrayal of the emotionally detached yet sexually supercharged protagonist.
CRASH pulls us into a subculture that takes auto-eroticism to a whole new level by using car crashes as “a fertilizing rather than a destructive event, a liberation of sexual energy mediating the sexuality of those who have died with an intensity that’s impossible in any other form.” (as per Koteas’ monologue). Puts a whole new spin on le petite mort. What I find incredibly fascinating about this film is that these characters are utterly detached from everything. The few moments they actually come alive are either post crash, reliving their crash moments, or during clothes ripping sex… in cars. At times the film feels like a documentary following these damaged creatures with a passive interest and no judgment regarding their actions.
That’s another thing I find wonderful about the film, there is no commentary on the character’s behavior. It just is, without filter and without criticism. This leaves all the processing of themes and subtext to the audience. Of course your typical audience will never give this movie a chance instead dismissing it as “extreme car porn” while bemoaning its graphic nature, never realizing the multitude of layers they’re ignoring. You can’t put this film in a box and for many that automatically disqualifies it.
A slight warning, this movie falls firmly into “the journey is more important than the destination” territory. There’s no big reveal or explosive climax at the end. The story is presented as a slice of life to be experienced and absorbed. Some people enjoy this kind of film while others are driven batshit crazy by it.
There are many other films I could dive into that are equally off the beaten path (i.e. ERASERHEAD, BOXING HELENA, DEAD RINGERS, THE FOUNTAIN, etc.) If you’re a fan of these types of articles I’ll gladly whip some up. There’s nothing I love more than sharing hidden gems of cinema greatness.
What off-kilter films do you enjoy? Let us know in the comments or shoot me a tweet @gabrielnovo. If you enjoy these articles then feel free to have them delivered directly to your inbox or share them with a friend using the buttons below.