You know the deal. You’ve gathered in the warm, family hearth and home for the holiday season, you’re gorged on meats and sweets and faced with the prospect of sitting down to watch The Great Escape or Harry Potter for the umpteenth time.
Suggested by my friend, Maria Kreutzmann (hey, Maria) allow me to present you with ten alternatives to Steve McQueen or Daniel Radcliffe (although the latter does crop up here, albeit in a much gassier form). These are films which have tickled my cinematic fancy, both in decades past and of more recent vintage. Whether you’d term them cult movies (a much bastardised phrase) is down to your own viewing habits, but you’ll find these choices both close to and way off the beaten track.
Season’s greetings and you’re welcome…
Brotherhood of the Wolf/Le Pacte des loups (2001)
A genuine pleasure from start to finish – a French horror/action, werewolf, martial arts, sexy historical drama featuring Monica Belluci, Vincent Cassel and low rent but personable action star Mark Dacascos. Loosely based on a real-life series of killings that took place in France in the 18th century and the famous legend of the Beast of Gévaudan, this is a fever dream for lovers of exploitation movies and art house films, as it falls squarely between the two, producing something unique and utterly lovable.
Bone Tomahawk (2015)
Reviewed fully here on Out of Dave’s Head. Kurt Russell, Kurt Russell’s moustache, a Western/cannibal hybrid. What more do you need to know!?
Despite massive tampering from the studio (script rewrites, massive reshoots), Wim Wenders’ American debut remains an interesting curio. Produced by Francis Ford Coppola, Hammett is a post-modern homage to and an attempted deconstruction of both pulp fiction mysteries and of author Dashiell Hammett (The Maltese Falcon, The Thin Man, etc), that features an excellent cast (Frederic Forrest, Peter Boyle, David Patrick Kelley and cinema stalwart Elisha Cook Jr) and ends up messy but stylish. It also has another of John Barry’s beautiful, late period scores. Well worth seeking out.
Lady in White (1988)
Criminally underrated and fully deserving of a decent blu-ray release, Lukas Haas stars in a spooky, atmospheric campfire tale that is deliciously layered and will have fans of 1980s Amblin’ and Netflix’s Stranger Things eating out of its hand. Put it together with the recent Woman in Black for a perfectly colour coordinated night of chills.
Bigger Than Life (1956)
Nicholas Ray’s film packs a powerful punch, a mighty melodrama that gives a full-on Glasgow Kiss to stultifying 1950s morality. Featuring James Mason (who co-wrote and produced) as a hapless schoolteacher whose frustrations at life become more heightened as he becomes addicted to cortisone. This is Breaking Bad for the Rebel Without a Cause generation (not surprising since that was Ray’s previous film), and has a lot to say about our modern attitudes towards addiction and mental illness. It’s also beautiful to look at, featuring beautiful complimentary and contradictory widescreen photography.
Swiss Army Man (2016)
Another film with a full review here on Out of Dave’s Head. Up there as a contender for best film of 2016, right alongside The Greasy Strangler.
Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008)
So many wonderful things in this film – the Barry Manilow/drunk sequence, the forest elemental sequence (which should bring a tear to your eye), the beautifully nuanced climax, great performances (Perlman, Doug Jones, Anna Walton, Luke Goss), fabulous practical effects monsters and a gorgeous Elfman score. Not only a vast improvement over the original (which is already a lot of fun) but a brilliant movie in its own right. A monster movie with a great big, soft old heart. Now then, GDT, where the heck is Hellboy 3!?
Pépé le Moko (1937)
A romantic thriller that raises the genre to poetry. A possible inspiration for both Casablanca and The Third Man and a close relative of the soon-to-be-born Film Noir, Pépé le Moko (Jean Gabin), is a criminal on the run in metropolitan France, living in the Casbah quarter of Algiers, where he is out of reach of the local police. Inspector Slimane (Lucas Gridoux) sees a way to lure Pépé out of his refuge when the criminal falls for Mireille Balin’s Gaby, the mistress of a rich businessman. Sensual, intriguing and essential, and Gabin’s character was also the inspiration for cartoon star, Pepe le Pew. Now you have to see it, right!?
The Unknown (1927)
One of my favourite silent movies, starring the incredible Lon Chaney (“the man of 1,000 faces”) as an armless carnival knife thrower (who throws with his feet) and a young Joan Crawford as the object of his affections. Crawford has a fear of being held in a man’s arms, which would be lucky for Chaney except for the fact that he’s actually a criminal on the run (which might make it a good double bill with the aforementioned, Pépé le Moko) who hides his fully functioning arms by keeping them bound to his torso. Needless to say, this affair doesn’t go well and The Unknown features a climax just as gruesome as director Tod Browning’s perhaps better known, Freaks.
The Baby (1973)
Director Ted Post is a firm favourite of mine, with his filmography covering the likes of Hang ‘em High and Magnum Force (with Clint Eastwood), Beneath the Planet of the Apes and a veritable smorgasbord of great TV work (The Twilight Zone, Thriller, Gunsmoke and, um, B.A.D. Cats). But nothing else he did was quite as out there as The Baby, a horror thriller that features an eccentric family which includes “Baby”, a 21-year-old man who acts like an infant. Best seen on a double bill with Jack Hill’s wonderful Spider Baby, which might put you off of families for life. Ideal Christmas viewing, in fact.