15 must-see WTF films
Slack Bay and other quirky, crazy masterpieces
There aren’t likely to be many films released this year with a higher WTF quota than Bruno Dumont’s beautifully shot, utterly barking Slack Bay (from 16 June). The trailer does an admirable job in conveying this wildly entertaining film’s look and tone, but Dumont’s period comedy drama has to be seen in full to appreciate just what a wonderfully eccentric piece of cinema it is.
Defying strict classification but drawing heavily on farce, melodrama, the serial killer genre, and a study of class, it belongs to a group of films that divide audiences and have them talking for hours after the credits roll.
It features a stellar cast, including Juliette Binoche, Valeria and an hilarious Fabrice Luchini, who immerse themselves completely into Dumont’s recreation of upper class life on the northern French coastline in 1910. This world, in which the poor feast at the expense of the – mostly stupid – rich, a police officer finds he has otherworldly gifts (being good at his job is not one of them) and love thrives in the oddest of places, guarantees Slack Bay a place among this list of films that are more than a little mad with a divisive, Marmite quality to them.
In celebration, check out our 15 most WTF, bats**t crazy films of all time...
15 of the best WTF films
1 - Santa Sangre (1989)
By the time he made Santa Sangre, Alejandro Jodorowsky had already won over cult cinema audiences with his El Topo (1970) and The Holy Mountain (1973). But there remains something uniquely deranged in his story of a bizarre circus serial killer. When his mother finds his father having an affair she pours acid onto his genitals and he cuts her arms off. A decade later and she becomes the force battling against her son’s sexual desires. Imagine a delirious version of Psycho (1960) and you’re half-way there.
2 - The Happiness of the Katakuris (2001)
After wowing audiences with the unsettling Audition (1999), Takashi Miike made his first musical, about a family who open a rural hotel whose guests all end up dead. To save their business, the family keep hiding the bodies. But with the count increasing all the time space is becoming a problem. Like Slack Bay, Miike’s film plays with generic conventions
3 - Even Dwarfs Started Small (1970)
Herzog’s second feature is the tale of a group of dwarfs who run amok in a psychiatric institution on a remote island. There is no logic to the place. There’s no story, even. But the film is compulsively watchable.
4 - Trouble Every Day (2001)
Riding high on the critical success of her most acclaimed film Beau Travail (1999), Claire Denis took on the vampire genre for her most critically divisive film to date. Vincent Gallo plays an academic on honeymoon in Paris, but whose real reason for being there is to seek out a neuroscientist. The man’s wife, played by Béatrice Dalle, craves blood and her husband has to hide the bodies of her victims to protect her. It’s an intoxicating mess, but Dalle is perfect casting and the Tindersticks score is one of their best for Denis. (Available on Curzon Home Cinema.)
5 - Naked Lunch (1991)
Drawing on many of William S. Burrough’s fictional sources in addition to his titular novel, David Cronenberg’s journey into the Interzone in search of the mysterious Dr. Benway plays to the filmmaker’s corporeal obsessions. Perhaps buoyed by the critical and commercial success of The Dead Zone (1983), The Fly (1986) and Dead Ringers (1988), it still seems remarkable that Cronenberg was able to get major studio financing for this film. And every dollar is up there on the screen, in the form of insects, mutations and a typewriter that is part machine-part human anatomy.
6 - Society (1989)
As a producer, Brian Yunza had already shocked audiences with the visceral horrors Re-Animator (1985) and From Beyond (1986). But the brilliance of society lay in holding the expectations of gore fans at bay for almost the entire film’s running time. Billy Warlock (then of Baywatch fame) discovers that in Beverly Hills the rich literally do feed off the poor. It’s a smart satire that, like John Carpenter’s They Live (1988) revels in its schlockiness as it deconstructs Reagan’s America.
7 - Zardoz (1974)
Viewed more with affection now, John Boorman’s wacky sci-fi epic starred a post-Bond Sean Connery and Charlotte Rampling in a fantasy adventure whose lack of narrative logic made the film a popular choice for stoners, while the rest of the world watched on in befuddlement. The arousal scene is one of the many memorable moments and the claims that it’s Boorman’s worst film are generally countered with the reminder that the filmmaker next made Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977).
8 - P’Tit Quinquin (2014)
Originally produced for television, Dumont’s 206-minute police procedural, set in rural northern France, is best savoured in one viewing. It marked a tonal shift in the filmmaker’s work, from his earlier darker material and towards comedy – of sorts. It follows a series of disappearances in a small town and the arrival of an eccentric detective and his sidekick. The crimes become less important in the narrative as Dumont delves deeper into the town’s life and the psyche of the investigating officer. As with Slack Bay, one’s initial immersion in this world is strange but as it progresses P’Tit Quinquin becomes increasingly fascinating and hilarious.
9 - Leningrad Cowboys Go America (1989)
They were formed for this film, whose title was inspired by the Marx Brothers’ Go West (1940), but they became a bona fide band. Aki Kaurismäki’s road movie is little more than a series of sketches and might lack the nuance of other films from this period such as Ariel (1988) and The Match Factory Girl (1990), but it is a thoroughly eccentric take on an outsider’s view of America.
10 - Wake in Fright (1971)
Small town life is more threatening in Wake in Fright. Ted Kotcheff’s thriller tells the story of a teacher in a tiny school in the Australian Outback who sets off for his Christmas break in Sydney, only to be sidetracked into a mining town and has to endure two weeks of debauchery and indignity before school resumes. Martin Scorsese saw the film at its premiere in Cannes and it’s impossible not to draws parallels with his later After Hours (1985).
11 - Multiple Maniacs (1970)
Of course, you don’t have to be an outsider to have a unique viewpoint on American culture. John Waters is testament to someone witnessing the rot on the inside. His breakthrough film is a taboo-busting exposé of the hypocrisy of American middle class life and an outrageously camp comedy. It features Waters regular Divine and like the equally shocking Pink Flamingos (1972), it has lost none of its power.
12 - Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992)
David Lynch had already divided audiences with his otherworldly vision. Eraserhead (1977) remains one of the strangest and unsettling feature debuts. But the feature-length postscript to the popular TV series took eccentricity and mutated it into perversity. What was a strange dream-like place that found audiences having doughnut parties before each new episode, was transformed into a nightmare world of sexual perversion and abuse. Like much of Lynch’s work, Fire Walk with Me has only improved with time.
13 - The Forbidden Room (2015)
Guy Maddin has long been fascinated by the qualities of silent cinema. (Watch 1992’s Careful for a literal play on the idea of a silent film.) This sprawling collection of stories, co-directed by Evan Johnson, is like a Russian doll, each story or character peeling away another layer to reach its centre, before gradually returning to the original narrative strand. It’s shot with tinting and filters, as though D.W. Griffith, Abel Gance and Erich von Stroheim experienced a combined dream following the copious consumption of LSD.
14 - Enter the Void (2009)
Gaspare Noé’s Tokyo-set film is a cinematic hallucinogen. It’s main protagonist dies in the film’s opening ten minutes and from there we adopt the perspective of his spirit as it travels in, around and through the city and its inhabitants. It would be an unholy mess were it not for Noé’s extraordinary gifts as a filmmaker.
15 - Slack Bay (2016)
Of course our WTF list wouldn't be complete without crowing Dumont's pièce de résistance. It's the 1910s and the degenerate bourgeois Van Peteghem family return to their towering mansion above ‘Slack Bay’ every summer. Despite taking care to keep the peculiar locals at arms length, an unlikely romance blossoms between the mischievous Bille Van Peteghem and local mussel-gatherer, Ma Loute. As the police investigate, confusion and hysteria descend on both families and a crime-caper of comic proportions unfolds.