Top 10 Bizarre Early Films of Famous Directors


Anyone who has ever watched some cheesy B-movie on SyFy, or some aspiring college kid’s weird and stilted little video, probably never would have thought anything would come of the directors responsible for those.  Well, as we’ll see, perhaps these now-famous directors shouldn’t be written off so quickly.

10. Bedhead (Robert Rodriguez)

From the creator of the Spy Kids franchise, Sin City, Grindhouse, and Machete comes this short film that he made for $800 back in the very early 90’s.  It would win numerous small awards that would help Rodriguez finance his indie hit El Mariachi.  The plot of this movie features a little girl with a jerk brother who gets telekinetic powers from a head injury he accidentally inflects on her.  Her first order of business: getting rid of that enormous hair spike he has.  Probably still the most mature thing Rodriguez has ever made.

9. Time Piece (Jim Henson)

Having six years of television experience making the TV program Sam and Friends (which is basically proto-Muppets to the extent that a Kermit who looks and talks the same was in it) from 1955 to 1961, Jim Henson was in a position to make his first movie a bit more polished than most.  Finished in 1966, it was released to theaters as a short film.  Looking at the preview, you can tell that the movie is all strangely symbolic of the stresses of modern life, although why Henson went to the trouble of being so abstract about it is anyone’s guess.  It was an Academy Award nominee for Best Short Film that year.

8. Whatever Happened to Mason Reese? (Brett Ratner)

masonreese (Not suitable for children)

Brett Ratner is definitely more powerful than, you know, respected or even liked. He is the guy who made those grating Rush Hour movies, that unpopular X-Men 3 movie, and Tower Heist. Watching this movie will make you wonder how he ever got so far. While the premise of “child actor has cute screen persona but is unpleasant behind the scenes” was kind of old even at the time, this movie does take it in weird directions when a little person shows up with a samurai sword.

7. Piranha 2 (James Cameron)

James Cameron may be the man who directed the highest grossing movie of all time (Avatar, if you hadn’t heard) and the second highest grossing movie of all time (Titanic), but he’s never going to outrun the fact his first credit as a director was for a movie about flying piranha fish.  At least Cameron has a bit of a sense of humor about it.  He said in a 2008 interview that he is confident it’s the “best flying piranha movie ever made.”  So it is, Cameron.  For now.

6. Look At Life (George Lucas)

Technically an animated movie, this project of Lucas’s from 1966 when he was at the University of Southern California consists of nothing but various mildly evocative photos of the time set to drum music with a vague and arrogant “will we survive?” message at the end.  It’s about as long as Star Wars: Clone Wars should have been and at least as deep.

5. Stalk of the Celery (Tim Burton)

Made for the California Institute of the Arts in 1979, it’s neat to see how Burton’s style of character design had pretty much crystallized even then.  Burton himself wasn’t too happy with this one, dismissing the movie in later interviews as “stupid,” but it did draw the attention of Disney Corporation and essentially got his career started.  Weirdly, it was presumed lost for decades but then showed up on Spanish Television.  Burton was probably glad it was this movie that happened to re-appear, and not the…other one.

4. Mae Day: The Crumbling of a Documentary (Kevin Smith)

mae day – the crumbling of a documentary by… by shonanjunaigumi

A documentary about a transsexual singer. That’s what this 1992 movie Kevin Smith and longtime producer associate Scott Mosier made for the University of Vancouver was supposed to be about.  Instead the advocate of slacker filmmaking did what he did best and half-assed the project into being about its own failure (although in the movie it’s also implied the subject was just uncooperative, but Smith and Mosier probably thought the movie would seem funnier if they implied the failure was all their own faults.)  The documentary also has the distinction of probably being the first one to feature outtakes during the end credits.

3. Bring Me The Head of Charlie Brown! (Jim Reardon)

headofcharliebrown (NSFW)

You might not know the name Jim Reardon, but does a certain show entitled The Simpsons ring a bell?  Jim Reardon was the director of forty-one of the best regarded episodes by both casual and serious fans.  If that’s not enough for you, consider that he was one of the co-writers for the Pixar hit Wall-E. All that came from a guy whose first movie looks exactly like some unpleasant viral video that a thirteen year-old would write. The fact it was the thing that got him the director job for The Simpsons could just serve as a lesson to all you arty types who want to really influence this world.

2. Battle Beyond the Sun (Francis Ford Coppola)

Back before his Godfather franchise and Apocalypse Now phase, Coppola had to work for Roger Corman, which is at least a few steps below starting at the bottom.  His first credited job was this 1962 film, and he didn’t even have the satisfaction of directing the entire film.  The movie is mostly a big re-cut of a Soviet movie from the space-race era called The Heavens Call.  It features numerous scenes played repeatedly, redubbed in multiple different ways, and a randomly spliced in space monster fight.  All those choices would have been handy when he made Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

1. Bad Taste (Peter Jackson)

badtaste (As NSFW as these clips get)

You wouldn’t expect a movie about human-eating aliens that descend to Earth to collect samples for a fast food franchise to be weird, but that’s just the surprising touch a young Peter Jackson brought to this 1987 film.  The shoot spanned all of four years because Jackson didn’t bother writing a script until he decided to wrap.  In addition to constant gunplay, mountains of gore, and some very non-PC throwaway jokes, the movie contains probably the strangest example of a director acting in her/his movie.  Jackson not only plays one of the aliens and one of the humans who is part of a strike force sent to stop them, the human character actually physically tortures the alien. That’s something you don’t get from Woody Allen movies.

Written by Dustin Koski

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  1. Danny Elfman did the music for his brother’s “The Forbidden Zone”, his first score. Now that is one hell of a bizarre freaking film.

  2. Spielberg doesn’t belong on the list as his early work may not have been great, but it was not bizarre. David Lynch can’t be on it because his later work remained bizarre. John Carpenter should be here because… well, just because.

  3. What about Alexander Payne’s Playboy shorts? Todd Haynes’s Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story?

  4. The first 2 movies directed by Steven Spielberg. 1). “Night Gallery” (1969, which eventually became the pilot for the TV series of the same name with Rod Serling as your humble narrator). Serling acts as a tour guide through an unusual art gallery consisting of Portraits that reflect people’s greed, desire, and guilt. Three stories, including “Eyes” which saw novice Speilberg directing movie legend Joan Crawford. Also starring was Roddy McDowall, Tom Bosley, Barry Sullivan, Ossie Davis, and Richard Kiley. And the other movie movie entitled “Duel” (1971) starring Dennis Weaver. A truly scary made-for-TV exercise in paranoia. A docile traveling salesman is repeatedly attacked and threatened by a huge, malevolent tractor-trailer on an open desert higghway

    • Thanks Peter for clearing that up about Steven Spielberg. Duel was the movie that I was thinking of. Duel was not all that bad, just overly long. There was about 15 minutes of real action in Duel. The rest was just cheating in my view. I had forgotten that Spielberg was involved in Night Gallery in his early days. Night Gallery was just a rip-off of the far superior Twilight Zone in my view. In any case thanks for the info on the early days of Spielberg. By the way, the picture of Mason Reese reminds me of Bruce Vilanch! Ha ha ha!!

      • Hello Little Sam : Another Spielberg movie that you can also throw into the mix is the movie entitled “The Sugarland Express” (1974) starring Goldie Hawn. Her character wants to save her son from being adopted and in order to do that, she must help her husband escape from prison. He escapes, and an APB is sent out on them as the law enforcement tries to find them. Its main focus is on the couple’s desperation and is based on a true story. And Yes, Mason Reese does have a very uncanny resemblance to Bruce Vilanch and I got a very good laugh at it. So I guess the next question is Mason Resse “out of the closet” like Bruce Vilanch ???

        • And my other question is who did those paintings for The TV show, “Night Gallery” or was it a group of artists. My favorite episode was entitled “Ring With The Red Velvet Ropes” with the late Chuck Connors.

  5. interesting list…tho for number 4 I believe you mean the Vancouver Film School because the University of Vancouver doesn’t exist
    British Columbia only has four universities; University of British Columbia(UBC), University of Northern BC(UNBC), Simon Frasier U and the University of Victoria and I don’t think Smith and Mosier went to any of them but they did go to film school.

  6. I am glad you mentioned Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas. Correct me if I am wrong, but wasn’t Steven Spielberg involved in some less than memorable films early in his career? Seems like I vaguely remember that he was. If so, these early Steven Spielberg films probably should be on this list somewhere.