Velveeta’s Ten Favorite Forgotten Films

Velveeta spends an inordinate amount of time watching and doing things that are both extraordinary and intellectually liberating. And for this we can greatly benefit. Here she offers a collection of non-mainstream films that will result in you saying aloud "Damn, I've got to get 'fill in friend's name here' to see this."  They're that good.
— d'G

Looking for a respite from the tawdry actioners and tired shoot-em-ups that Hollywood spoon-feeds an unsuspecting public? Take a peek at my ten favorite side trips off the mainstream highway. If you look hard enough in your local video store, you’ll find a few of these- I guarantee an offbeat night of cultish fun for discriminating Revelwooders, and not a Steven Seagal flick or Kevin Costner bomb in the bunch! Would a purple cup ever lie to you?

Love and Moonshine,

1. The Loved One (1965)
Touted as ‘the motion picture with something to offend everyone’, no one will ever accuse The Loved One of false advertising. It’s a trenchant look at life and death in Hollywood through the eyes of British poet Dennis Barlow (played by toothy Robert Morse), as he arranges his expatriate uncle’s funeral at the sinister Whispering Glades cemetery. Lots of wacky cameos in this one, from Jonathan Winters (as twins!) to Rod Steiger as Mr. Joyboy, a toupeed, bikini-briefed embalmer who competes with Barlow for the love of a flighty cosmetican who gives the ‘loved ones’ their last rosy glow. Look for ‘70s singer Paul Williams as a pint-sized genius, Liberace (as- well, you tell me), and Mrs. Joyboy- who tips the scales from black humor to grotesquerie in a single bite! 

2. No Way to Treat a Lady (1968)
Can poncy, mother-fixated serial killer Rod Steiger (again!) -a rotund master of disguise- evade nebbish New York detective Mo Brummel (George Segal), whose mom just wants him to find a nice Jewish girl and settle down? This little film mixes grisly murders and black humor with a breezy, offhand balance that many movies try for but few succeed at. Lee Remick is the killer’s dishy WASP neighbor who transforms from shiksa to perfect daughter-in-law in a riotous scene to win Mama Brummel’s favor. Add in Steiger’s over-the-top cameos as a cop, a priest, a gay hairdresser and a ‘woman’ in distress (he’s slicing the ham thick, folks) and you’ve got a nice movie to settle down with…but why don’t you ever call?

3. Wild in the Streets (1968)
When teen rock Idol Max Frost runs for President, his method of getting elected is much simpler then all this Bush/Gore business…simply dose the Washington water supply with LSD and let a stoned Senate appoint him prez! This campy, druggy AIP time capsule lets the teens take over, as everyone over thirty is put into concentration camps (including Max’s mom Shelley Winters, “the biggest mother of them all”). Too bad Max forgot what can happen when the twelve year olds start getting restless…

4. Some Call It Loving (1973)
This fractured fairy tale is one of the strangest trips you’ll ever take, courtesy of Kubrick producer James B. Harris (Paths of Glory, Lolita), who wrote and directed this downbeat spin on Sleeping Beauty. Hipster jazz musician Zalman King (later softcore creator of Red Shoe Diaries) ‘buys’ a sleeping mermaid from a sideshow carnival and awakens her from a drug-induced coma, installing her in his harem of three lucious hippie chicks. But this Beauty (British actress Carol White) is a rebellious one, so what’s a Prince Charming to do…just guess. Like her character in this film, White never found her real Prince Charming- after a few leading roles as she slipped into alcohol, drugs, three unhappy marriages and an early grave.

5. Scarecrow (1973)
The seventies were a great time for men to get in touch with their feelings for each other- but only if they were losers (Midnight Cowboy), hopeless dreamers (The King of Marvin Gardens) or hillbillies (Deliverance). This modest gem of a movie has drifters Max (Gene Hackman) and Lionel (Al Pacino) sharing a trip across the country: Max hopes to open a car wash, and ‘Lion’ is in search of an old flame and a son he’s never seen. Their journey is by turns funny, thoughtful and heartbreakingly sad.  A Cannes Film Festival winner that was ignored in the States, director Jerzy Schatzberg gives us a gritty look at an America that has no use for little men with humble dreams.

6. Phantom of the Paradise (1974)
Before big budget hits like Carrie, Scarface, and The Untouchable, Brian De Palma turned out a perfect little rock-and-roll movie that spoofs every era from doo-wop to glam. A twisted take on Phantom of the Opera and Faust, De Palma charts the rise and fall of nerdy but talented composer Winslow Leach, who ‘sells his soul for rock and roll’ to sinister Death Records impresario Swan (Paul Williams!)-but what price glory?  With Jessica Harper as an innocent singer seduced by Swan and Gerrit Graham as cowardly glam-rock star Beef (“Thith plaith givths me the creepths!”), this candy-colored look at the satanic side of fame features truly memorable songs, all written by Paul Williams- just ask the Vicar, he knows ‘em all.

7. Winter Kills (1979) 
An incredibly layered (read: confusing) conspiracy thriller- when Nick Keegan (Jeff Bridges) tries to discover the truth behind his president brother’s assassination, this thinly veiled JFK tale goes off on maddening tangents. He encounters leads false and true- from decrepit patriarch John Huston to cryptic, masochistic CIA man Anthony Perkins (“Now you’ve done it-you’ve broken my arm,” he replies blandly during a fight with Bridges). The ending is one of the most powerful you’ll ever see in an American film, which may have kept this one on the shelf for years after completion. Don’t miss a silent cameo from Liz Taylor, who only sticks around long enough to give a blowjob!

8. The Ninth Configuration (1980)
William Peter Blatty (writer of The Exorcist) wrote and directed this ambitious, bizarre film (adapted from his own 1966 novel Twinkle, Twinkle, "Killer" Kane) about an Army Colonel (Stacy Keach) put in charge of a military asylum housed in a forbidding castle. His experiences with the crazed ex-‘Nam inmates leads to the classic movie madhouse question… who is the doctor and who is the patient? Full of black humor and unexpected twists, the cast is excellent- from bulldog tough guy Neville Brand to Jason Miller (Father Karras in The Exorcist) and Scott Wilson (The Right Stuff) as an astronaut who is committed for refusing to travel to the moon! Filmed in a cold blue palette, this unsung gem is waiting to be rediscovered – it will engage viewers in hours of debate afterward. Plus, where else can you see an all-dog production of Hamlet? 

9. White of the Eye (1987)
Director Donald Cammell (Performance) gives us another look into a surreal emotional landscape, as loving husband and tender father Paul White (David Keith) slowly reveals his true nature as a psychotic serial killer to his dedicated but terrified wife Joan (Cathy Moriarity). Cammell’s non-linear story shows us the couple’s past and present intertwined as Joan’s old suitor reappears, now a brain-damaged drifter with “a TV in my head” who knows the truth behind the brutal murders. Full of bloody, stylized set-pieces, soaring camera angles and psychedelic imagery, White of the Eye is a powerful and brutal classic that, like its director, refuses to compromise. My only complaint is the ending…I would have gotten out of that house a lot faster.

10. Cemetery Man (1994)
Four Weddings and a Funeral star Rupert Everett headlines in this warped but rewarding gore-a-thon that could be called No Weddings and Lots of Funerals! He’s the caretaker of a cemetery with a grave secret: All of the recent dead spring back to life…and they’re very hungry. So, shotgun in hand, he re-dispatches ‘em with alarming blasé along with his bald, drooling sidekick Gnaghi, who’s best described as a necrophiliac Baby Huey! Plot twists and turns include a gorgeous and horny widow, a touching romance with a severed head and an extreme cure for impotence that will make strong men weep like Q at the sight of the last Guinness. Highly recommended.