We may hate ourselves in this day and age for watching movies that were never intended to be seen on screens smaller than a microwave door, but there’s something exciting about revisiting crazy-sexy-cool obscurities of American cinema on YouTube. Just a click away and boom: You’re experiencing avant-garde (and often NSFW) discoveries in bed on your iPad or on the couch with a laptop singing hairs off your thigh. What can I say? It’s a special feeling. And, for when you don’t know which title to turn to, here’s a guide to further your film literacy when it comes to those unpopular and important classics.
Way ahead of its time! Paul Bartel’s 1975 black comedy is like “The Hunger Games,” only drivers get points for running over pedestrians. David Carradine (above) plays the scarfaced champion named Frankenstein, and Sly Stallone, who moons the camera in a gratuitous massage scene, is his nemesis. “Death Race 2000″ was re-released one year later so its producers could capitalize on Stallone, after he had won Oscars for “Rocky.” At the time of casting for “Death Race,” Sly was a no-name who had dabbled in porn.
Songwriter James Taylor and Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson play two long-haired motorheads who haul ass across the U.S. in a ’55 Chevy street racer and, eventually, bump into a middle-aged crazy drifter (Warren Oates) for a week-long drag race. Diner French fries and hipster soliloquies in between.
Yes, this was actually a movie that had a theatrical release in the 1930s to try and convince the public that marijuana would turn you into a homicidal-suicidal maniac. You probably won’t watch to watch the whole thing, but it’s definitely worth scrubbing around for the mental parts.
Long before Japanese tentacle porn became a footnote in popular culture, B-movie magnate Roger Corman pieced together a shoestring budget in 1980 to grab some of those hot “Jaws” and “Alien” dollars. The result? An accidental stroke of genius about mutated fish monsters in rubber suits that impregnate bikini-clad victims and wreak havoc on a sexy beach town.
This was Brian DePalma’s first time to share his hardon for the suspense-thriller mind games of Alfred Hitchcock. “Sisters” is DePalma’s ode to “Rear Window,” shortly followed by his oversexed Hitchcock copycats “Obsession” (“Vertigo”), “Dressed to Kill” (“Psycho”) and “Blow Out” (which is really more like Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Conversation” or Antonioni’s “Blow-Up” but whatever). You should watch them all.
I’m really not sure “Black Dynamite” belongs anywhere near this crop of obscure titles, but I feel like every week I run into perfectly intelligent and well-cultured moviegoers who have still not sat down with this 2009 blaxploitation spoof. So, I feel it my duty to include before Crenshaw Pete comes after me with a coat hanger.
Sam Peckinpah’s personal masterpiece places Warren Oates (“Two-Lane Blacktop”) south of the border as the alter-ego of our tortured director. After years of hard-drinking and spinning complex morality tales on film (“Ride the High Country,” “The Wild Bunch”), Peckinpah’s leading man finds himself chasing down rapist bikers (one played by Kris Kristofferson) and basically spitting pages of boozy monologue to a decapitated Mexican for half the screen time. A must-see.
Just wait for the part when Keanu hits up his mom for a joint. Also, Taylor Negron’s in it!