Other discussions from our weekend with friends made me think about the fact that we have what you might call a Secret Movie Club. When we meet someone we like, we have a simple litmus test to try to judge whether they have similar likes and senses of humor to ours – we show them some of our “club” movies. Most people have them, but they may not be as conscious of them. Every group of friends I’ve ever met has had a handful of movies that you’ve “gotta see” or that are “soooo funny” or that all their in-jokes are from. You’re probably thinking of your own list right now.
The thing is, our list includes some amazingly obscure and bizarre films. When we find someone who responds positively to one of them, we know we’ve made an awesome new friend. If they don’t like the film, we don’t stop hanging out with them or anything like that, but we might just acknowledge that their sense of humor or their personal taste may lie in a different direction from our own.
Here, then, in no particular order, is our list. We love movies, so narrowing it down was no small feat, but I feel confident that these movies are the ones that define us…bizarre as that may be.
Long before The Nightmare Before Christmas, Batman, or even Beetlejuice, Danny Elfman was part of a performance/art band called the Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo, which later evolved into the band Oingo Boingo and gained commercial success. As this transition was happening, Danny’s brother, Richard Elfman, decided to make a film to celebrate the kind of performances they’d been doing. Danny scored it, and it actually starred minor celebrities such as Susan Tyrell, the Kipper Kids, and Hervé Villechaize.
The resulting black and white film has been compared to a live-action R-rated Fleischer cartoon…which is not wholly accurate, as parts are animated. In short, Marie Pascal-Elfman, Richard’s French wife, is Frenchie Hercules, who finds her way through a door in her family’s basement into the 6th Dimension, ruled by the diminutive King Fausto (Villachaize) who instantly begins lusting for her because she’s French (“ze master race…a direct descendant of God”), and the angry and jealous Queen Doris (Tyrell) who wants to get rid of her at once because she suspects Fausto will be unfaithful to her (“Direct descendant of God? You just wanna slip her the pork!”) Frenchie’s friends and family come to the rescue, Danny Elfman appears as Satan, and it’s a musical. Really, what more need I say?
God of Cookery
Long before most American fans got to know him through Shaolin Soccer and Kung-Fu Hustle, Steve introduced me to the comic genius of Stephen Chow through his earlier film, God of Cookery. I have literally lost track of how many times I’ve seen this movie. I’ve seen it so many times and researched the background of it enough that I can explain this mistranslated idioms to people and explain strange references like “Fukien dialect”.
Stephen Chow plays…well…Stephen Chow. In this reality, however, Stephen Chow is a corrupt business man who holds a special award in cooking…the title of God of Cookery. Technically, this translates more accurately as “the Kitchen God”, the little enshrined figure you see in many Chinese kitchens. Saying God of Cookery is much more fun, though. Stephen’s arrogance ultimately opens him up to betrayal, and he sinks to the lowest of the low – begging in Hong Kong’s rough Temple Street night market. From there, he has no place to go but up, and his return to glory involves his number one crazy fan, a bunch of street thugs, “pissing beef balls”, a Shaolin temple, a mysterious floating monk named Wet Dream, and the best bowl of rice of all time.
The movie’s hilariously funny, sometimes inadvertently, due to bad translations, but more often than not because of the script and acting. It shows that a lot of humor is truly universal. The movie’s also incredibly beautiful, and if you don’t crave Chinese food after the opening sequence, then I have to assume you don’t like Chinese food.
The Return of Captain Invincible
When we showed this movie to our housemate Jay for the first time, he said, “I can’t believe this movie exists.” Alan Arkin stars at Captain Invincible, or just Vince, a superhero who was beloved in the U.S. in the 30s and 40s, but who was blacklisted during the McCarthy hearings for trumped up charges like claiming a captain’s rank without being in the military, flying without a license, and wearing underwear in public. He disappears and becomes an alcoholic, living in Australia, until a Ronald Reagan-esque President calls him out of retirement in the 80s to deal with the fiendish plot of his arch-nemesis, the evil Mr. Midnight, played by the always amazing Christopher Lee.
And it’s a musical.
With hilariously bad special effects, Lee spouting amazingly cheesy dialogue as if it were Shakespeare, and songs by Richard O’Brien…yes, Rocky Horror’s Richard O’Brien…this movie just feels like it shouldn’t exist…but it does. And I’m ever-so-pleased that it does.
You can blame my brother for this one. Peter Bergman and Philip Proctor of Firesign Theater fame provide a flimsy framing sequence for this movie, which involves a fiendish villain called the Lightning Bug who intends to take over the world with Rock and Roll music. Arrayed against him and his army of Moon people are the J-Men, members of a secret division of the government.
Here’s the fun part…except for the scenes with Bergman and Proctor, which pretty much take place in an office with no other characters appearing, the rest of the movie is made up of clips from old movie serials with redubbed and extremely funny dialogue. The Lightning Bug orders his lackey to pack all of his disguises, thereby explaining why he never looks the same from scene to scene. The J-Men who take him on range from normal agents like Sleeve Coat and Juicy Withers to special agents like The Lone Star (from a Captain America movie serial), Rocket Jock (from “Radar Men on the Moon”), Spy Swatter (Spy Smasher), and The Caped Madman (Captain Marvel).
The Caped Madman sequence in particular is absolutely astonishing, with a constant stream of random comments and random violence, including crushing a man’s head with a thrown car engine and hurling another man off of a sky scraper (“See you on the street, Punk!”)
Okay, this one is recent, and it’s not a movie. The animated TV show Adventure Time hit our collective taste buds like a piece of well-cooked foie gras, and it immediately became a hit in our neck of the woods. It feels like it was written by someone we know just for us, and it’s rife with D&D references, which makes it feel even more like that.
The show takes place in the Land of Ooo. Its creator, Pendleton Ward, describes Ooo as a post-Apocalyptic earth where magic has returned. The two main characters are Finn, a 13-year old boy who is the last human (as far as we can tell), and Jake, a dog with shape-shifting and stretching powers. Finn is noble and heroic, if very violent and immature, and Jake is a bit self-centered and a dubious source of wisdom, but loyal to his friend. Together, they have adventures, right wrongs, have a great time together, and often rescue Finn’s not-entirely-secret crush, Princess Bubblegum, from the unwanted attentions of the Ice King.
Finn and Jake have dealt with dungeons, manly minotaurs, a murderous heart voiced of George Takei, a hero named Billy voiced by Lou Ferrigno, and a Lich King voiced by Ron Perlman. They’ve been evicted from their home by Marceline the Vampire Queen, rescued a (we assume) sentient watermelon, escorted their friend Tree Trunks the Elephant to find the Crystal Gem Apple (and were horrified when she took one bite and exploded), been turned into giant feet by a demented Magic Man, and occasionally broken into song.
If you watch nothing else from this list, watch this show, and you’ll have a very strong idea of what my tastes and sense of humor are like.
Do you have a secret movie club entry of your own? Have you seen any of our secret movie club choices? Tell us about it!