Some horror movies are terrifying. Some ride like rollercoasters. Others are cheap and fun and perfect for date night. Some are wordy and smart and sad, with loads to say about the world and our place in it. But some are just really, really fucking weird.
With Ari Aster’s terminally strange Beau Is Afraid hitting UK cinemas soon, here are 10 of the most disturbing, unusual, downright odd horror films ever made.
‘Inland Empire’ (2006)
David Lynch has done more than most for the weird horror genre – starting right from his debut, Eraserhead (about a lizard baby and a woman who lives in a radiator…) He peaked in 2006 though with a three-hour surrealist horror all shot on a camcorder without a script. There’s a sort of plot about an unfinished Polish film getting remade after a murder, but it’s really all about watching Laura Dern walk through her own nightmares. Or maybe it’s about a sitcom with giant rabbits in it. Or a shitting monkey. Or the most harrowing jump-scare smile ever shot.
It’s easy to forget how odd Midsommar really is after seeing that “crying Florence Pugh” meme pop up on every feed ever since it came out, but Ari Aster’s follow-up to Hereditary is something much weirder than the multiplexes were prepared for. How do you follow up a film that ends with a shrine to the pagan King Paimon made out of a severed head? How about sewing a man up inside a bear, sitting him in a big yellow pyramid, and burning him alive while everyone sings and dances?
Another oddity that often gets a free pass by being a classic, David Cronenberg’s banned body horror opus is the kind of thing that predicted the dangers of social media in the most disturbing way possible. Sure, it’s all about the dangers of new media and our obsession with violence and porn, but it also features a shot of James Wood digging around inside his own stomach and motorboating Debbie Harry’s lips inside a big rubbery TV screen.
The closest thing to E. Elias Merhige’s grainy black-and-white experimental debut is probably the video that kills everyone in Ring. The first thing you see is God disembowelling himself with a straight razor. A woman falls out of his intestines, wanks off the body and err, gets herself pregnant – later giving birth to a deformed creature who coughs up his own lungs and gets tortured to death by druids. Mirhage’s metaphysical splatter movie later inspired a Marilyn Manson video, making it all so much worse. Maybe just stick to the murder video in Ring…
Not all horrors have to give you nightmares – some just make you never want to change a car tyre again. Quentin Dupieux’s surreal monster movie comes with a twist, in that the monster is just a tyre called Robert. Silently rolling through the California desert, exploding people with psychokinetic mind powers, Robert isn’t even the weirdest part of Rubber. Opening on an audience of people being told they’re about to watch a film about nothing, the (real) film ends with Robert being shot off-screen and reincarnated as a killer tricycle, before everyone in the fake audience starts complaining about the anticlimax.
‘Tokyo Gore Police’ (2008)
How much worse would COVID have been if it meant that everyone sprouted chainsaws, robot swords and alien heads from their body every time they got a cut? That’s the reality of an infected future world Japan in Yoshihiro Nishimura’s breathtakingly violent splatter film – the only horror you’re likely to see that features a man with a mutated penis cannon, a woman with a crocodile mouth for legs and a chair made of moving human flesh? If you’re a fan, be sure to check out Nishimura’s manic sequel, Meatball Machine: Reject Of Death.
At the same time George Lucas was making Star Wars, Nobuhiko Obayashi was making a film about a bunch of schoolgirls who get eaten by a killer piano. Not just about a killer piano, to be fair, as there’s also a floating severed head who bites bums, an evil mattress and a bleeding portrait of a cat that floods a whole room with acid blood. It’s creative spin on the haunted house movie – and it’s now a cult classic, thanks to Obayashi’s use of animation and collage special effects – but House is probably best enjoyed with a big old bag of LSD.
The Tall Man doesn’t get the credit he deserves alongside Freddy and Jason, but he’s no less of a horror icon. Essentially an evil alien undertaker, The Tall Man made his debut in the first Phantasm movie as a man with a plan to kill horny kids having sex in graveyards, reanimate their corpses into evil zombie dwarfs, and then force them to work as slaves in his mine back on his home planet (that may or may not be Hell). Four sequels followed, including 2016’s Phantasm: Ravager, that ends with everyone driving off in a classic car with onboard machine guns.
‘The Beyond’ (1981)
Lucio Fulci had to make this list. The mad Italian genius behind some of giallo’s most eccentric deep cuts (see also A Lizard In A Woman’s Skin, Don’t Torture A Duckling, and A Cat In The Brain), Fulci’s masterpiece is about a woman running a rural B&B that also happens to be a gateway to Hell. Much more than just a video nasty with Daily Mail-bating levels of gore (although there is plenty of that – someone even gets eaten alive by spiders), The Beyond still stands as one of weird horror’s great masterworks because it runs like a fever dream; dripping blood and colour and oddness from every slightly incoherent turn.
You know you’re about to watch something good when the special effects supervisor is listed as Screaming Mad George – the man behind the best bits of Predator, Nightmare On Elm Street 3 and Freaked. He did his best work, though, with director Brian Yuzna – designing the effects for a film about a kid who discovers his parents are part of a rich Beverly Hills alien death cult that suck the nutrients out of poor people. The film’s final grotesque slime orgy still fills one of the most unpleasantly strange 15 minutes in cinema history.