Features

Bleeding Skull 50: The Best Something Weird Horror Films

In Midnight Movies, authors J. Hoberman and Jonathan Rosenbaum describe underground movies as “redolent of danger, secrecy, subversion, resistance, and liberation; not to mention perversity, alienation, and even madness.”

They didn’t know it, but they were also defining Something Weird.

Founded by the late Mike Vraney in 1990, Something Weird changed our lives. Vraney—along with spouse and collaborator Lisa Petrucci, filmmaker Frank Henenlotter, and dozens of heroic weirdos behind the scenes—rescued, preserved, and shared an entire subset of cinema history through the Something Weird Video imprint. Without their hard work, the cinematic legacies Doris Wishman, Donn Davison, and David F. Friedman would have been forgotten or destroyed. Life would be much less happier. And perverted.

We could write 60,000 words gushing over our love and appreciation of Something Weird, but that still wouldn’t be enough. The identity of Bleeding Skull! owes as much to Something Weird’s horror catalog as it does to 1980s triumphs like Hallucinations and Tales from the Quadead Zone. So to show our appreciation, we’ve compiled this list of our 50 favorite horror movies from Something Weird’s mammoth history. Haunted swamps! Bible-thumping murder! Bigfoot sex! It’s all here to astound, inspire, and guillotine your skull.

Something Weird continues to change our lives. Through home video collaborations with AGFA, Severin Films, and others, and new vinyl and book releases, boss Lisa Petrucci is making sure that Mike Vraney’s legacy will continue to inspire (and disturb) many generations to come.

We love you, Something Weird. Never change.

50. Follow That Skirt (Richard W. Bomont, 1965)


This is a master class in bad taste that would make John Waters proud. A creepozoid voyeur wearing Ray-Bans follows women home and murders them with a butcher knife. A monotone narrator tells us why: “He’s a man who hates women because he wants to be one himself.” With its free jazz soundtrack, collage-like structure, and deranged sexual politics, Follow That Skirt serves as the perfect introduction to the nether-reality of Something Weird. This is a 27-minute mash-up of the “true crime” style of The Zodiac Killer, the pop-art violence of Blood Feast, and the queer-tinged camp of Sometimes Aunt Martha Does Dreadful Things. Something for everyone! (JZ)

 

49. The Geek (Unknown, 1971)


Camping has never been more terrifying. Filmed by unknown scumbags somewhere in the state of Oregon, The Geek follows the “true story” of some campers and their encounters with Bigfoot. But unlike more famous Sasquatch exposés like The Legend of Boggy Creek, this movie features hardcore sex scenes with Bigfoot, who looks like a hobo with strips of filthy brown carpet tied to his legs. Droning, gross, and unforgettable, The Geek feels like a snuff film from Dimension X that was never meant to be seen by human eyes. (JZ)

 

48. Teenage Strangler (Ben Parker, 1964)


Teenage Strangler is set in a quiet suburb, in a time when young people drank pop, did the twist, and, when things got rough, they challenged each other to a drag race. Bad girls kissed bad boys, and bad boys wore matching leather jackets with a bulldog on the back. But then terror grips the town when a strangler begins targeting young girls. Could it be one of the Bulldogs? Could it be the toughest kid in school, a strapping lad named—you guessed it—Curly? Teenage Strangler is a proto-slasher that’s one part Scooby-Doo and sixteen parts teen drama. The message is clear: when teens sneak out past curfew, the punishment is death. It’s juvenile delinquency packed with sweet charm, a little murder, and the catchiest of theme songs, “Yipe Stripes.” No, I don’t know what it means either. (AC)

 

47. The Mad Love Life of a Hot Vampire (Ray Dennis Steckler, 1971)


By the early 1970s, Ray Dennis Steckler (Rat Pfink A Boo Boo) had left the Hollywood hills for the Las Vegas gutters. And like most DIY heroes who cut their teeth in the early 1960s, Steckler paid the bills by churning out hardcore. The Mad Love Life of a Hot Vampire is a delirious hallucination that plays out like an X-rated version of Tod Browning’s Dracula as envisioned by the staff of Mad magazine. That is to say, Steckler’s wit, energy, and inventiveness were still in full force. The movie also features the immortal Carolyn Brandt (The Lemon Grove Kids Meet the Monsters) as “Elaina, Wife of Dracula”—a makeshift horror host who delivers the equally immortal line: “Dracula is grooooooovy.” (JZ)

 

46. Evil Come, Evil Go (Walt Davis, 1972)


What are the biggest threats to women? Is it cancer? Heart disease? Stroke? Sure, those are all threats. But the biggest threat is men. They prevent equal pay for equal work, cut funding for reproductive health services, and commit, like, all the homicides. So Sister Sarah Jane is tipping the scales the other way. She preaches the good book on street corners by day, and murders men by night. Her mission is to kill and “rid the world of evil men.” She sings hymns while she’s getting head and stabs her lovers during their throes of passion. Evil Come Evil Go is a fun romp in the sack, mixing humping and Bible-thumping. It joyfully explores that classic sexploitation theme: murderous, hypocritical religious freaks getting down to clown. There’s lesbian trysts, prayers, a fluffy white cat, and yes, accordion-playing. (AC)

 

45. Asylum of Satan (William Girdler, 1972)


William Girdler lived fast, died young, and left behind a treasure of Kentucky-fried movies like Abby and Grizzly. But he never made another movie like this. A no-budget take on the “crazy female in a nuthouse” trope that’s filtered through the stoned haze of a Rudy Ray Moore movie, Asylum of Satan is slow, but crammed with details. Papier-mâché monsters! Stick-on mustaches! Rubber spider attacks! Hooded cult killers! Actors in drag! Accepted for what it is, this movie remains a go-to for everything that was fun about pop culture’s fascination with Satanism in the early 1970s. (JZ)

 

44. The Monster of Camp Sunshine (Ferenc Leroget, 1964)


An axe-wielding maniac named Hugo goes on a killing spree in a nudist camp. Hooray! While that covers the general set-up of The Monster of Camp Sunshine, it does nothing to explain the surreal execution. Having more in common with underground experiments like David Holzman’s Diary than nudie cuties like The Bare Hunt, this movie explodes with stock footage, silent movie intertitles, drunken narration, and honesttagahd social commentary about the dangers of atomic war. There’s also a scene where two characters have a conversation about a fictitious movie called Dracula Meets the Beatles. Sign us up! (JZ)

 

43. Death by Invitation (Ken Friedman, 1971)


If Peyton Place had more witches, it would feel a lot like Death by Invitation. A slowburn soap opera shot on Staten Island and produced by adult film wildman Leonard Kirtman (Carnival of Blood), this movie lives and dies by the magnetic and touching performance of Shelby Leverington as Lise—a reincarnated witch out for revenge. Although it was written by a man, Death by Invitation features a refreshing depiction of woman protagonist in a position of power. And that, combined with the experimental touches (freeze frames, primitive synthesizers, artsy photography) and sudden stabs of gory violence, is what makes this movie so satisfying. (JZ)

 

42. Hallucinations of a Deranged Mind (José Mojica Marins, 1978)


In the early 1990s, Something Weird released twelve movies from the incomparable José Mojica Marins (aka Coffin Joe, which was the name given to him by Mike Vraney). This was the first time that anyone outside of Brazil was introduced to the deranged dream-blasts of this black-cloaked, top-hatted boogeyman with four-inch fingernails. A mixtape of outtakes, banned footage, and scenes from the first fifteen years of Coffin Joe adventures, plus a meta-fueled wraparound story featuring Marins himself, Hallucinations of a Deranged Mind is a precursor to Wes Craven’s New Nightmare as channeled through the spirit of Kenneth Anger’s Invocation of My Demon Brother. A fascinating trash-art mood piece. (JZ)

 

41. Caged Virgins (Jean Rollin, 1971)


Don’t let the title fool you. A remixed version of Jean Rollin’s Requiem for a Vampire produced for American audiences and released by Harry Novak’s Box Office International, Caged Virgins was a revelation for adventurous horror-heads during Something Weird’s initial VHS boom. This version of the movie retains the visual elegance of Rollin’s original, but cuts to the chase when it comes to bloody fangs, lesbian vamp-outs, and dungeon torture chambers. Our decades-long love affair with Rollin’s work started with Caged Virgins and we’ll always be grateful. (JZ)

 

40. Swamp of the Ravens (Manuel Caño, 1974)


This is a lunatic love story concerning Dr. Frosta and his failing marriage, experiments on recently deceased corpses, and a lounge singer named Robert who is obsessed with mannequins. Holy shit! Swamp of the Ravens is an inscrutable, swamp-set creepshow that does an excellent job of setting a perverted midnight mood. Everyone in the movie is drenched in sweat, there’s a necrophilia subplot, and the soundtrack mashes together lo-fi prog rock and spooky library music. We’ve never been able to confirm if the autopsy scene in this movie is real. Since it was filmed in Argentina, we’ll assume that it is . . . along with everything else that happens. (JZ)

 

39. The Touch of Her Flesh (Michael Findlay, 1967)


The opening credits of The Touch of Her Flesh shows you exactly what you’re getting: flesh. When a husband catches his wife with her lover, he plummets into rageful despair and ends up with an eyepatch, a bottle of Old Crow, and a wheelchair. From there he exacts bloody revenge on all the loose women of New York City. There’s spastic piano accompaniment, a barnburner of a dance break, and a whole lot of nudity. Beautifully shot in black and white, you can freeze any frame of this movie and it’ll look like a Robert Mapplethorpe photograph. It’s easily the most gorgeous film in Michael and Roberta Findlay’s impressive catalogue. (AC)

 

38. Satan’s Children (Joe Wiezycki, 1975)


Made by one-and-done filmmakers in the gutters of Tampa, Satan’s Children is an after-school special from depths of hell . . . literally. After deflecting his father’s insults and his stepsister’s come-ons, teenager Bobby unknowingly ends up at a gay bar. Before long, he’s sexually assaulted by four guys in the backseat of a car. With nowhere else to turn, Bobby joins a cult of Satanists to enact his murderous revenge. A truly deranged gut-punch, this is a gritty and baffling “experience” that could have only happened in Florida. (JZ)

 

37. Another Son of Sam (Dave Adams, 1977)


Filmed in Charlotte, North Carolina by one-time director/writer/producer/editor/stunt coordinator/casting director Dave A. Adams, Another Son of Sam is a dirt-cheap “true crime” rip-off that has no connection to Son of Sam, let alone another Son of Sam. But it does have an escaped mental patient named Harvey, sweet speedboat jumps, SWAT troopers, and a lounge singer named Johnny Charro. This is 74 minutes of mid-sentence freeze frames, drunken camera tricks, big fat synths, bloody deaths, and slow motion chases, all conspiring to build a ridiculous facsimile of reality. (JZ)

 

36. The Blood Beast of Monster Mountain (Massey Cramer & Donn Davison, 1975)


This is legendary huckster Donn Davison’s magical, schizophrenic ‘squatchploitation triumph. It was cobbled together from a 1965 movie called The Legend of Blood Mountain (starring Bestoink Dooley, FYI), footage of Davison playing himself (“Meet Donn Davison: World Traveler, lecturer, and psychic investigator”), and the most dire Bigfoot reenactments since The Geek. To this day, the only way you can see this unequivocal fun-bomb is via Something Weird’s long out-of-print VHS. (JZ)

 

35. The Witch’s Mirror (Chano Urueta, 1962)


A magical mirror powered by Lucifer shows Helen her destiny. It involves her mad scientist husband, poison, death, and a new wife. Now Helen’s ghost haunts the new wife and seeks revenge. There’s fire, missing bodies from the morgue, banging coffins, and a devil-worshipping godmother. Witch’s Mirror is a lovely mood-piece filled with foggy cemeteries, creepy idols, and amputated hands. With its macabre themes and melodramatic touches, it feels like an Edgar Allan Poe story come to life. This is classic horror; part of the bedrock of the genre. (AC)

 

34. The Love Goddesses of Blood Island (Gordon H. Heaver, 1964)


The world’s first Blood Feast rip-off! A collaboration between distributor Richard S. Flink (The Weird World of LSD) and one-time director Gordon H. Heaver, Love Goddesses of Blood Island is a treasure trove of sun-baked, trash-gore kitsch. Recycling the plot of Doris Wishman’s Nude on the Moon, the movie combines ferocious dismemberments with A+ dad jokes to forge a dreamy island refuge off the coast of Black Hole, USA. Though a complete version has yet to be located, the 40-minutes that we do have provide enough joy to fill at least three lifetimes. (JZ)

 

33. The Horrors of Spider Island (Fritz Böttger, 1960)


It’s too bad that every airplane tragedy can’t be as fun as this one. En route to a gig in Singapore, a group of showgirls (and Gary, their agent) crash-land on an island. What happens when you crash on an island in Horrors of Spider Island? Stripping! Sex! Death by quicksand! And last but not least, an adorable mutant spider! With its otherworldly dubbing, breezy pace, and focus on travelogue footage, this movie plays out like your grandpa’s version of Anthropophagus—only with more making out. The Horrors of Spider Island also features the first appearance of a werespider in motion picture history. (JZ)

 

32. The Crypt of Dark Secrets (Jack Weis, 1976)


A super-heroic team-up between Jack Weis (Mardi Gras Massacre) and Donn Davison (The Blood Beast of Monster Mountain), Crypt of Dark Secrets is the swamp-iest swamp-set horror movie you’ll ever see. The movie follows the life of Vietnam vet Ted Watkins, as he buys an island, deals with robbers, shows off some astonishing denim fashions, and falls in love with the naked voodoo spirit known as Damballa. With its butter knife murders, vibrant swamp photography, drowsy mood, and cheap levitation effects (which came from Davison’s actual magic show) this is the closest we’ll ever get to a real-life manifestation of a 1970s Charlton comic book. (JZ)

 

31. Santo Versus the Vampire Women (Alfonso Corona Blake, 1962)


Nefarious vampire women are summoned from the depths of hell under moonlight. They have pasty, cracked skin and unruly long hair. By the power of Satan, they are converted into hot babes. Evil is unleashed. Who will save us? Enter Santo, the famed folk-hero wrestler and his iconic silver mask. Bat transformations, suplexes, blood-curdling screams, and bloodless corpses abound. Santo Versus the Vampire Women is a beautiful tale that unites Earth’s favorite luchador with coffins, creepy music, and decrepit dungeons. The plot is simple, but the mood that unfolds is transfixing. (AC)

 

30. The Haunted Pussy (Doris Wishman, 1976)


Doris Wishman was an unstoppable spitfire, an overlord of bad taste, and the most prolific female director of all time. History says that the trash-horror benchmark known as A Night to Dismember was Wishman’s only horror movie. Wrong! The Haunted Pussy is Amityville Horror by way of Kenneth Anger by way of Wishman’s patented blend of disconnected dubbing, overlapping library music, and cameos by inanimate objects. Plus lots of sex. As legend has it, Wishman left the room while the hardcore scenes were being filmed. In a later interview for the book Incredibly Strange Films, she said, “It’s beyond me why any person would want to see such filth on a screen.” (JZ)

 

29. Love After Death (Glauco Del Mar, 1968)


Unbeknownst to anyone, a tiny interdimensional portal exists between George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and Doris Wishman’s Bad Girls Go To Hell. And it’s called Love After Death. This Argentinian/NYC co-production tells the story of Montel—an impotent nerd who seeks revenge on his cheating wife after she accidentally buries him alive. A schizophrenic mash-up of crude sex, graveyards, inexplicable jokes, and senior-citizen voyeurs, this is a sleazy, head-spinning vortex that could easily pass as a lost Doris Wishman movie. Don’t miss the greatest karate chop ever delivered in a tiny bathroom. (JZ)

 

28. Death Curse of Tartu (William Grefé, 1966)


If Florida was more like Death Curse of Tartu, I’d move there tomorrow. An early appearance of the white-people-messing-around-with-Native-American-burial grounds trope, this movie combines director William Grefe’s knack for transforming fetid swamps into a degenerate Disneyland with spookshow veteran Doug Hobart’s exceptional homemade creature effects. Though it moves slower than an 18-year-old cat with diabetes, Death Curse of Tartu is a comforting, sun-drenched mood piece that feels like a precursor to Amando de Ossorio’s Blind Dead adventures. There’s also a scene where someone gets knocked over by a snake. (JZ)

 

27. The Black Cat (Harold Hoffman, 1966)


Axe murders! Chuck Berry covers! The big screen debut of Pluto the Cat! If you want to do Edgar Allan Poe right, you obviously have to go to Texas. An alcoholic shitheel named Lou neglects his wife, drinks whiskey, and hates his cat. After murdering both cat and wife, Lou is plagued by unsettling visions. Is it his imagination? Or is the undead cat back for revenge? A loose adaptation of Poe’s short that was filmed in Fort Worth, The Black Cat is southern-fried goth of the highest order. The shadowy black-and-white photography, psychedelic garage rock soundtrack, and disconnected narration form a time capsule from an alternate version 1966 that never existed, but should have. (JZ)

 

26. Monstrosity aka The Atomic Brain (Joseph Mascelli, 1963)


The decrepit Mrs. March is on a quest to transplant her brain into a fresh body. Luckily, a psychotic scientist named Dr. Frank lives in her basement. When Dr. Frank’s failed experiments yield a murderous man-beast and a killer cat-woman, Mrs. March has only one option: TRANSPLANT MORE CAT BRAINS INTO NUBILE YOUNG VICTIMS! Co-written by Vy Russell and Sue Dwiggins, Monstrosity is a gutter-goth charmer that’s filled with spooky tombs, outrageous dubbing, and a refreshing sense of warped sexuality from a female perspective. It should also be noted that this movie features the debut starring role of Xerxes the Cat. (JZ)

 

25. Night of the Bloody Apes (René Cardona, 1969)


Crudely crafted by Mexico’s Cardona family, this movie hits maximum overdrive in the realm of morally bankrupt trash. What starts as a standard lucha libre wrestling adventure morphs into gross-out excess, as a mad doctor transplants the heart of an orangutan into the body of his ailing son. From there, the shirtless ape-man embarks on a brutal psycho-sexual rampage, as innocent people are disemboweled, skinned, de-eyed, and decapitated for no good reason. Plus we get a wrestler/super-heroine who wears a red Catwoman suit and real-life open heart surgery footage. Now that’s a night at the movies! (JZ)

 

24. The Gruesome Twosome (Herschell Gordon Lewis, 1967)


This is a lesser-known entry in the legacy of sludge from director H.G. Lewis (The Wizard of Gore) and writer Allison Downe (Blood Feast), but that doesn’t mean it’s anything less than insane(ly awesome). The story of Mrs. Pringle, her son Rodney, and a questionable wig shop, Gruesome Twosome shovels on scalpings and disembowlings. It also shovels on padding. But where most no-budget filmmakers pad their movies to feature-length with scenes of people talking on the telephone or driving cars, Lewis takes it twenty steps further. This absurdist gore-comedy is filled with talking mannequin heads, people eating potato chips while making out, and people eating Kentucky Fried Chicken while go-go dancing on a bed. Genius. (JZ)

 

23. Axe (Frederick R. Friedel, 1974)


Three goons beat a man to death and watch his male lover jump out of a window. Seeking refuge from the cops, they end up at an abandoned farmhouse. But things aren’t what they seem, as somnambulistic house-dweller Lisa and her straight razor don’t take kindly to unexpected guests. Towing the line between assured craftsmanship and disorientating mood, Axe is as though the Overlook Hotel from The Shining were relocated to the town from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, then given a makeover by Jean Rollin. With lots of synths. Crafted with confidence by director Frederick Friedel, this is a mysterious amalgam of gritty joy. (JZ)

 

22. Monsters Crash the Pajama Party (David L. Hewitt, 1965)


Not a day goes by where we don’t think about how grateful we are for the existence of this 30-minute miracle. Written and directed by the mighty David L. Hewitt (The Mighty Gorga), Monsters Crash the Pajama Party tells the story of some teenage goobers who spend the night in a haunted house. But the real draw is that this movie was custom made to be screened as part of live spookshows, complete with a “black out” sequence that cued rubber-monster-mask-wearing actors to invade the audience. Charming, hilarious, and the perfect midnight lullaby for discerning creeps, Monsters Crash the Pajama Party also has more gorilla action than the entire silver age of DC Comics. (JZ)

 

21. Confessions of a Psycho Cat (Herb Stanley, 1968)


Jean-Luc Godard and Roberta Findlay never collaborated on a movie. But even if they did, it wouldn’t be as unstoppable as Confessions of a Psycho Cat. An art-horror perversion that feels like it was stitched together at random by a recovering heroin addict, Confessions of a Psycho Cat alternates between a woman hunting humans for fun in NYC and hippies having sex in a skid row tenement. The best of both worlds! The haphazard structure, stoned photography, and nonstop outrageousness make this gutter-noir massacre one of the tip-top examples of the Something Weird aesthetic. (JZ)

 

20. The Curious Dr. Humpp (Emilio Vieyra, 1969)


Something Weird’s first-ever print catalog said it best: “Brace yourselves, folks—this one’s a jaw-dropper.” Dr. Humpp utilizes an army of robots (and one alarmingly strange monster) to abduct sex-crazed humans and bring them to his castle. Once there, the doc’s floating-brain-in-a-jar drains “the blood forces of sex” from his victims so that he can discover the fountain of youth. So you know, just another day at the office! Directed with style by Emilio Vieyra (The Deadly Organ), The Curious Dr. Humpp is so far removed from any known space-time continuum that experiencing it causes our brains to shut down from sheer joy—just like they would if Beetlejuice invited us out for tacos. (JZ)

 

19. The Ghastly Ones (Andy Milligan, 1968)


A blatant middle finger to humanity, The Ghastly Ones is a 72-minute blast of damaged no-fi dementia from legendary queer filmmaker Andy Milligan. The Crenshaw sisters are on a mission to claim an inheritance . . . despite the protests of a bloodthirsty killer wearing a black hood. Death by saw! Death by pitchfork! Death by straight sex! Filled with Milligan’s patented blend of DIY costumes, creaky Staten Island locales, and schizophrenic photography, this somber, proto-slasher soap opera is not the filmmaker’s most ruthless or explicit movie—but it’s by far his most accessible. A true weirdo classic. (JZ)

 

18. The Brainiac (Chano Urueta, 1962)


If you’ve spent your life searching for the most impossibly grotesque no-budget monster next to the turkey-headed killer in Blood Freak, the search is over. In The Brainiac, a reincarnated baron appears in mid-century Mexico City to destroy the ancestors of his enemies . . . by sucking out their brains. Literally. An unmissable combination of artful gothic mood and outrageous camp, Brainiac is not of this Earth on a number of levels. But that feeling is mostly due to the presence of the title creature—a hairy wererat who wears a dinner tuxedo and uses his three-foot-long tongue to eat the brains of victims. (JZ)

 

17. Carnival of Blood (Leonard Kirtman, 1970)


Coney Island is under attack by an anonymous psychopath. Heads lopped off in the spookhouse! Teddy bears filled with entrails! Does it have anything to do with creepy carnival barker Tom? Or Gimpy (Burt Young aka Paulie from Rocky!) and his tendency to rip stuffed animals in half with gimpified rage? Carnival of Blood is a wild, semi-cinéma vérité snapshot of Coney Island in the 1970s. It’s also an ominous no-budget horror movie that feels like it was created on another planet by stoned cavemen . . . or adult film fringe-dweller Leonard Kirtman. The jury is still out on that. (JZ)

 

16. The Child (Robert Voskanian, 1977)


Rosalie is a typical all-American eleven-year-old. Except when she moves objects with her thoughts and feeds cats to zombies. When a new nanny named Alcianne arrives, it seems that Rosalie’s weirdo habits will be curbed. But then Halloween approaches . . . and Rosalie decides that her undead friends need new playmates. Produced by sleaze kingpin Harry Novak, The Child is a pure regional horror joy. Packed with creaky synths, mutilated faces, dreamy photography, and senior citizen abuse, this movie feels like Lucio Fulci re-envisioning Carnival of Souls on the set of Night of the Living Dead for $10. (JZ)

 

15. Shriek of the Mutilated (Michael Findlay, 1974)


Dr. Prell is obsessed with capturing Bigfoot, who is wreaking havoc in upstate New York. Prell has a history of “getting people killed” on his missions, but that doesn’t deter a group of students from joining him to seek out the crazed beast. Directed, photographed, and edited by power couple Michael and Roberta Findlay (The Taste of Her Flesh) and written and produced by Ed Adlum and Ed Kelleher (Invasion of the Blood Farmers), this movie is jam-packed with sleazy-yet-quaint surrealism. Case in point: the Yeti looks like a giant-sized epileptic Shih Tzu that is capable of decapitating humans with its bare paws. (JZ)

 

14. The Rider of the Skulls (Alfredo Salazar, 1965)


From Santo’s crusades against werewolf wrestlers to little people clowns who attack children with butcher knives, low budget Mexican genre movies feel like they escaped from an alternate dimension. Rider of the Skulls is a special distillation of this spook-folk paradise. A werewolf! A vampire! A headless horseman! And a masked cowboy, dressed in black and sworn to protect the world from skull-faced cult members, cackling witches, and a dismembered head in a box! Smitten with 1940s Universal horror and exploding with ambitious make-up effects, this is the Mexican horror-western bash that can’t be contained or explained. (JZ)

 

13. Satanis: The Devil’s Mass (Ray Laurent, 1970)


This is the unbelievable exposé documentary on Anton LaVey, America’s favorite leader of the Church of Satan. Feeling like a bedtime story as told by Kenneth Anger and Russ Meyer, this is a wild glimpse into the witches, black masses, and sex lives that built San Francisco’s most infamous cult. From LaVey’s daughter (“I think they’re nuts!”) to a woman who performs a satanic rite with a boa constrictor, you’ll meet numerous proto-goths, midnight maniacs, and daytime Draculas— and even a pet tiger named Togare! In the words of LaVey, “If you’re going to be a sinner, be the best sinner on the block.” (JZ)

 

12. Doctor Gore (J.G. Patterson Jr., 1972)


Doctor Gore contains one of the finest lines of dialogue in motion picture history: “Greg! Put on this lab coat, so they don’t know you’re a hunchback!” A vanity project from H.G. Lewis protégé J.G. “Pat” Patterson, this is a splatter-filled reimagining of The Brain That Wouldn’t Die—just with more comb-overs, faux-artsy interludes, and early experimental electronica. The homemade gore is ghastly and the sexual politics are questionable. But what blasts this movie into another dimension of fascination is Patterson’s choice to cast himself as Dr. Gore, a homely, middle-aged ding dong who spends most of his time making out with beautiful ladies. (JZ)

 

11. The Zodiac Killer (Ton Hanson, 1971)


Directed by Tom Hanson, who had previously owned a chain of Pizza Man restaurants, The Zodiac Killer was made to capture the real-life Zodiac Killer. That plan didn’t work. Instead, we got the most outrageous and compelling “tabloid horror” vortex in history. And beyond. During theatrical screenings, Hanson constructed in-theater “traps” to lure the killer from hiding. These included the use of an ice cream freezer filled with rent-a-cops and a raffle with a motorcycle as a prize. You won’t get insight like this by watching a David Fincher movie. But you will get it while watching the nihilistic, no-budget majesty of The Zodiac Killer. (JZ)

 

10. Indecent Desires (Doris Wishman, 1968)


On the streets of NYC, a scumbag named Zeb finds a doll and a ring in a trash can. Naturally, these items give him supernatural powers. Now, whenever Zeb beats, tortures, or molests the doll, the same thing happens to Ann, his uptown girl-crush. Written and directed by the mighty Doris Wishman, Indecent Desires has a deranged premise that’s filtered through her equally deranged style—otherworldly dubbing, lots of foot shots, manic edits, and a complete refusal of human logic. The coup d’état occurs when someone sits on the camera lens and their ass fills the screen. In other words, this is an archetypal Wishman experience. (JZ)

 

9. This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse (José Mojica Marins, 1967)


This is the ultimate distillation of José Mojica Marins’ nightmare aesthetic. While At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul—Marins’s debut—set the stage conceptually for his “Coffin Joe” character, it was relatively straight forward in terms of execution. That all changes with this sequel. A multi-layered seizure of rage and lysergic imagery, This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse presents Coffin Joe as a fully-formed master of evil as he lashes out against class, religion, and all humankind. When the movie switches from black and white to color, we’re treated to one of the most impressive depictions of hell this side of Julian Roffman’s The Mask. And that’s why we’ll always consider this movie to be a milestone in horror history. (JZ)

 

8. She Freak (Byron Mabe, 1967)


Carnivals might be a dying breed, but we’ll always have this movie to remind us of their inherent magic. A love letter to Tod Browning’s Freaks and the carny lifestyle that defined the career of producer David F. Friedman (Blood Feast), She Freak is an incomparable snapshot of life, love, and backstabbing on the grounds of a seedy carnival in Smalltown, USA. And if that’s not enough, there’s also a mutated chicken lady. Like Devo’s music and Ron Haydock’s novels, She Freak creates a synthetic reality that is often preferable to our own. We love this movie with all our hearts. (JZ)

 

7. Psyched by the 4-D Witch (Victor Luminera, 1973)


We’ve never seen a home movie that was made by the ghost of a serial killer, but we’re pretty sure it would look like this. Cindy is unable to have an orgasm. So she enlists her aunt Abigail—a practitioner of “sexual witchcraft”—to help. From there, Cindy seeks harmony through encounters with herself, a gay man, a rubber snake, a dead body, and Dracula. Possibly shot on Super 8 and obviously spiked with homemade acid, Psyched by the 4-D Witch is an experimental skull-splitter that feels like an adaptation of Vampirella filmed by Mike and George Kuchar in Andy Warhol’s cousin’s garage. You’ll never hear the phrase “fantasy fuck” the same way again. (JZ)

 

6. Blood Freak (Brad F. Grinter, 1972)


The back cover of the Something Weird VHS said: “The World’s Only Turkey-Monster-Anti-Drug-Pro-Jesus-Gore-Film!” Shock Cinema’s Steve Puchalski wrote: “It’s as if H.G. Lewis was a raving Bible freak who made anti-drug films.” They’re both right. Blood Freak is the greatest thing that ever happened to Miami, an extraterrestrial dispatch that combines the innocence of 1930s exploitation with the cynical nihilism of post-Manson culture. Filled with unsettling violence, uniformed depictions of “reefer parties,” and a killer with a giant turkey head, the movie’s disturbing-yet-hilarious grandeur will never be equalled. If Jesus died for our sins, it was all worth it because we’ll always have Blood Freak. (JZ)

 

5. Blood Feast (Herschell Gordon Lewis, 1963)


In his book Shock Value, John Waters summed it up perfectly: “I first saw Blood Feast at my local drive-in. When I saw teenage couples hopping from their cars to vomit, I knew I had found a movie after my own heart.“ After the nudie cutie trend had run its course, director Herschell Gordon Lewis, producer David F. Friedman, and writer Allison Downe decided that there was only one way to go—SPLATTER!! Erupting with pop-art brain-bludgeonings and pitch-black gallows humor, Blood Feast is a cinematic riot that paved the way for everything from Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead to Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive. (JZ)

 

4. Ship of Monsters (Rogelio A. González, 1960)


It’s no secret that all mid-century Mexican genre movies are magical. But Ship of Monsters is beyond magical. Combining delirious sci-fi themes, gothic horror visuals, weirdo dance breaks, and Western motifs, this movie tells the story of two lady aliens who zoom across the universe to collect jaw-dropping monsters and find love. The monsters themselves are triumphs of imagination, somehow combining the playful puppetry of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse with Coffin Joe’s subconsciousness. Truly essential. (JZ)

 

3. Dracula (the Dirty Old Man) (William Edwards, 1969)


This movie should be an American institution. Escaping from the brain-baked wasteland of Las Vegas and the wasteland-brain of producer Whit Boyd, this inadvertent experimental sleaze-bomb follows Dracula and Irving Jackalman (a werewolf-hobo with claws), as they kidnap people, kill people, have sex, have more sex, and complain about heartburn. As if that wasn’t enough, the entire movie was dubbed by two people who were clearly improvising without the benefit of an editor. Plus Dracula has sex through his dress slacks. Twice. (JZ)

 

2. Basket Case (Frank Henenlotter, 1982)


Something Weird’s VHS release of Basket Case introduced us to a new form of recreational drug. And we’re forever grateful. Stealthily filmed in the toilet bowls of Times Square and chock-full of demented fury, Frank Henenlotter’s debut is a celebration of real-life NYC sleazers, stop-motion shocks, and the beautifully grotesque puppet monstrosity known as Belial. Basket Case is disgusting, hilarious, and over-the-top in every way possible—kind of like if Herschell Gordon Lewis directed Freaks on the set of Taxi Driver. Henenlotter is a national treasure, and it’s all thanks to this gutter-trash symphony. (JZ)

 

1. The Wizard of Gore (Hershell Gordon Lewis, 1970)


Montag the Magnificent’s Grand Guignol nightclub act is making waves . . . OF DEATH! The crown jewel of the partnership between director H.G. Lewis (Blood Feast) and writer/splatter FX artist Allison Downe (She-Devils On Wheels), The Wizard of Gore is a sludge-horror carnival ride that retains the power to shock over forty years later. With its ferocious gore effects, experimental aesthetic, and annihilation of all earthly logic, this dream-like opus joins Multiple Maniacs and Night of the Living Dead as one of the most unforgettable midnight movies in history. In the words of Montag, “Are you certain you know what reality is?” (JZ)

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