The cult section of the literary world

Five Directors Bizarro Fans Should Know About

Bizarro is a genre that gets a lot from film. Not only is it referred to as “the literary equivalent of the cult section of the video store”, but the genre of each individual Bizarro book is flexible and often inspired by a film genre or a kind of cult film. Here are five directors that fans of Bizarro ought to know about for one reason or another.

Tod Browning

One of the progenitors of American horror, first of all, and a great director of silent films known for his collaborations with Lon Chaney, the Man of a Thousand Faces. His films combine an Americanized Expressionist aesthetic with unique actors and weird imagery that borders on gothic but just seems out of place. There is an armadillo crawling around the tomb in his iconic Dracula. Opossums roam the haunted castle in Mark of the Vampire. But what really makes Browning a godfather of Bizarro and a director of interest to the Bizarro audience are the films that reflect his time spent in the carnival business. Unsettling circuses full of deformed misfits, the kind of deformed misfits we see in today’s Bizarro films engaged in behaviors that one could only call Bizarro and very pulpy situations. In his film, The Unknown, Lon Chaney plays a circus knifethrower who chops off his arms because the girl he loves is afraid of arms. No, really. In Freaks, which is my opinion, Browning’s masterpiece and a Bizarro must-see, a rich midget is seduced by a tight rope walker and her strong man boyfriend. The feast at their wedding is a scene of cinematic weirdness you must witness to believe, and quite frankly, you MUST witness. For Bizarro fans, a film that shows the humanity of a cast of real sideshow freaks, leaving you rooting for the Freaks and cheering for their grisly revenge on the normal people around them that seek to fuck them over is a dream come true. Browning was an American original.


Herschell Gordon Lewis

Herschell Gordon Lewis is known as The Godfather of Gore. One cannot invent bloodshed and exploitation, but one can certainly reinvent it. And Lewis did. His movies are weird, candycoated slaughterfests. Stiff protagonists fall into the hands of raving eccentrics, several of whose personas have pretty much no place in reality. His first gore film Bloodfeast features a crooked caterer who has been sacrificing girls to the Goddess Ishtar to make a grim ritual feast. In this movie, you see a newspaper headline reading “Legs Cut Off”, scenes of Bizarre ritual torture and both a villain and a victim whose acting is wrong in the most unlikely of ways. The illogic and grue of this movie make it a Bizarro prerequisite, particularly to fans of Carlton Mellick and Jordan Krall. Later films of his like Two Thousand Maniacs, The Gore Gore Girls and The Wizard of Gore feature more insane gore, weird characters, puzzling leaps out of genre and outrageous porn caliber acting. Lewis was also a big influence on John Waters. Not just a Godfather of Gore, but a godfather of American cult and trash cinema.

Jan Svankmajer

While the first two directors I mentioned are people you might have heard of and there’s a good chance you’ve seen one of their films. There’s a fair chance you haven’t been graced with Svankmajer’s cinematic presence yet. If you didn’t go to film school, hang out with film students or take movie recommendations from Bizarro authors, you may have missed out on him and that’s a shame. Svankmajer is a puppety lunatic from Kafka’s homeland, a surrealistic Czech maniac who takes no prisoners in the war on realism. In short, our kind of guy. A couple carve a son out of wood in his chilling Little Otik. Carnivalization reigns supreme in his short films. But, personally, I think the thing of greatest Bizarro interest is his Alice, a puppet powered and offputting interpretation of Alice in Wonderland. Alice in Wonderland is hard to film. It’s a book with its own internal world of logic, where plot is virtually nonexistent and most action occurs through logical arguments. Though obviously more entertaining than Dante’s Inferno or a medieval morality play, it shares some of the weaknesses of both. Svankmajer, through the use of puppets and found objects brings Wonderland to life in a way that challenges its weaknesses and plays off its strengths without being disloyal to the spirit of the book.

Peter Jackson

“Lord of the Rings ain’t Bizarro! GET ‘IM!”

Put down your pitchforks, torches and halberds. I’m not talking about elves. I’m talking about vomiting aliens, chainsaws, lawnmowered zombies and fucked up muppets. Peter Jackson used to be cool. Not like how your dad used to be cool, more like how Alice Cooper used to be cool. You know, actually really cool as opposed to somebody who was sort of cool who won’t let you borrow the car to go to a strip club because you’re twelve or something so you’re saying that they used to be cool. He made such films as Bad Taste, Dead Alive and Meet the Feebles. Gory, weird, depraved, over the top shit. Before Hobbits, he was a low budget wild man like Sam Raimi and now he’s like…Sam Raimi. At least Lynch and Waters stayed crazy.

Jorg Buttgereit

The director of the dark, satirical and magical film Nekromantik, Jorg Buttgereit is a director who you should know. Not just for the experience of his films, but for his fanboy passion for horror films and giant monster movies, for his ingenuousness and his ability to create provocation without being cruel and mean spirited. Reminds me of some people I know. If you haven’t seen Nekromantik and you’ve got the stomach for it, I highly recommend it. He took the influences of H.G Lewis and John Waters and ran with it and ran and ran and ran and ran.

Enjoy the works of these five very unusual artists and let us know what cult filmmakers you feel led you to an interest in Bizarro.

Garrett Cook is the author of  the Wonderland Nominated novella Archelon Ranch and the upcoming Jimmy Plush, Teddy Bear Detective. Keep up him at

16 responses

  1. Excellent roundup. Believe it or not, they used to show Svankmajer’s films on USA’s old Night Flight series. That’s where I first heard of him.

    May 31, 2011 at 1:18 pm

  2. Wow. That’s really cool. Svankmajer on television is hard to wrap my head around. Of course, Buttgereit on television would make it explode.

    May 31, 2011 at 1:29 pm

  3. Nice list! Buttgereit is crazy. Der Todeskin and Schramm are great. I have not seen the Nekromantiks yet but they are on my must watch list. This may be slightly heretical but with Svankmajer, despite being visually amazing, I always end struggling through his films, I’ve seen Alice, Little Otik, and Faust. Probably enjoyed Otik the most.

    Have you guys heard of a Greek films called Dogtooth? It’s a little bizarro and I only watched it two nights ago and it’s still messing with my brain.

    May 31, 2011 at 5:35 pm

  4. Nekromantik is a must see. Gorgeous, sick, movie.

    May 31, 2011 at 5:46 pm

  5. nice list Garrett!

    May 31, 2011 at 8:59 pm

  6. Dustin Reade

    Great list, but what about Jodorowsky?

    May 31, 2011 at 10:57 pm

    • Tracy Vanity

      Jodorowsky is amazing. Because of the midnight movie craze that started with El Topo, people tend to talk about that movie more than his others. Holy Mountain changed me life, I enjoyed El Topo but Holy Mountain is epic.

      June 1, 2011 at 8:11 am

  7. Jodorowsky was left off because he’s one of the first directors people think of when they think of Bizarro and is referenced a lot in the Bizarro community. I’m a big fan of his films, but I felt like imparting information and helping people discover directors in a Bizarro context was the aim of the article. Hence no Lynch, Jodorowsy or Stuart Gordon. All among my favorite directors and all basically perceived in a Bizarro context.

    June 1, 2011 at 9:45 am

    • Have you seen Crispin Glover’s films?

      June 3, 2011 at 7:32 pm

      • I’d love to. He’s one of my favorite creepy actors.

        June 3, 2011 at 7:42 pm

  8. Bradley Sands

    I’ve seen Dogtooth.

    Herschell Gordon Lewis is great, but you occasionally need to wait through the boring stuff to get to the good stuff. I don’t know of any other movie that was more worthy of a remake than The Wizard of Gore considering it’s really something special, yet highly flawed because Lewis really isn’t that great of a director. Unfortunately, the remake seemed really conventional to me and I preferred the original (even with Crispin Glover as the wizard).

    I’d definitely add Russ Meyer to this list. And Pedro Almodovar back when he was younger and making John Waters-esque comedies rather than his recent melodramas. What Have I Done to Deserve This? and Dark Habits (nuns dealing heroin) are of particular note

    Other movies that I would recommend are Love Exposure, The Forbidden Zone, The Dark Backward, and Ex Drummer.

    I also read the book, Incredibly Strange Films long ago and found a lot of good movies through it. For instance, The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed Up Zombies.

    June 1, 2011 at 11:02 am

  9. Edmund Colell

    He may not have done feature-length works, but I found the animated shorts of Vince Collins to be pretty damn nifty.

    June 1, 2011 at 1:26 pm

  10. I agree that the Wizard of Gore remake with Glover isn’t as great as it could’ve been especially with Glover (who could be on this list in his own right).

    If anyone’s interested this is an awesome book for any H.G Lewis lover –

    I was thinking about other directors that may fit into the Bizarro genre and Japanese filmmaker Koji Wakamatsu is pretty incredible. I also thought of early experimental filmmakers like Jack Smith and Kenneth Anger etc…

    June 1, 2011 at 4:27 pm

  11. Also Shinya Tsukamoto. TETSUO!

    June 1, 2011 at 4:28 pm

  12. NICK

    Sticking with the Japanese theme what about throwing Takashi Miike in the mix as well.
    I would venture to say that Ichi The Killer and Imprint as well as Sukuyaki Western Django and Visitor Q can be considered bizarro in some way.

    June 1, 2011 at 6:52 pm

  13. Miike’s films are a big part of Bizarro consciousness. Lynch, Miike and Jodorowsky make up sort of a Bizarro holy trinity.

    June 3, 2011 at 7:45 pm

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