When it comes to the trippiest and most mind-scrambling movies of all time, it’s no surprise that some of the same filmmakers come up time and again. Whether it’s David Lynch, Terry Gilliam, David Cronenberg, Ari Aster, Charlie Kaufman, or others, the most surreal filmmakers can tap into the human subconscious in ways the audience is often unaware or ill-prepared for, inevitably leading to a profoundly unforgettable cinematic. experience.
While horror movies often provide rife settings for surreal stories, the best examples aren’t always limited to the genre, especially in the eyes of online fansites such as Ranker.
The Man Who Killed Don Quixote (2018)
From the director of such surrealist tales as Brazil and Tidelandthe great Terry Gilliam one-upped himself with The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, an adventurous dramedy that plays to the director’s strongest sensibilities. Adam Driver stars as Toby, a film director who goes on a series of trippy misadventures with a disillusioned cobbler named Javier (Jonathan Pryce) who believes he is Don Quixote.
Despite the messy, chaotic story, the film was hailed for being daringly original, bearing Gilliam’s surrealist signature, and capturing the quixotic spirit of the original Cervantes novel that remains so celebrated. Gorgeous, uncompromising, and wonderfully strange, it’s good to see Gilliam return to his bizarre corner of the sandbox.
Charlie Kaufman has made a career out of being one of the most original and offbeat cinematic voices who has created some of the weirdest art movies Hollywood has ever seen. While Being John Malkovich and Adaptation certainly count, Ranker favors his 2015 stop-motion dramedy Anomalisa instead.
Co-directed by Duke Johnson, Anomalisa follows Michael Stone (David Thewlis), a customer service agent who cannot make human connections. But when Michael meets Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh) during a business trip, the joyless nihilist finds a ray of hope and begins to experience happiness. Bizarre, disorienting, and oddly uplifting, Kaufman’s popular and well-received movie manages to mix the jarring visuals with grounded human emotion, resulting in a surprisingly warm and welcoming way.
Meshes Of The Afternoon (1943)
Dreams are always rife for the most surreal stories committed to celluloid, with one of the earliest examples coming from experimental filmmaker Maya Deren. Co-directed with Alexander Hammid, Meshes of the Afternoon tracks The Woman (also played by Deren) who returns home, falls asleep, and experiences intense nightmares that blur the line between conscious and subconscious, waking life and sleep, in the most effective ways imaginable.
The head-spinning avant-garde film is unlike anything people have seen before or since, with the German expressionist use of light and shadow, canted angles, jarring music, and unnerving editing style all coalescing to create a truly terrifying dreamlike experience.
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992)
Since his feature debut in 1977, no filmmaker has earned a reputation for being as surreal as David Lynch. Able to tap into the human subconscious in the most disturbing and thought-provoking ways, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me is the movie adaptation of his cult TV show Twin Peaks, essentially serving as a prequel to the mysterious Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) saga.
In depicting the final week of Laura Palmer’s life, Lynch manages to create one of the strangest, knottiest, most unpredictable, and nightmarish cinematic experiences on record. The twists and turns and easy-to-miss hidden details that the story entails have a cryptic dream logic that is hard to decipher, but it’s the oddball characters that make the movie so unforgettably hypnotic.
Mulholland Drive (2001)
Often hailed as David Lynch’s finest film, moviegoing experiences do not get more surreal than Mulholland Drive. Dreams, nightmares, memories, and psychic amnesia are all blended into one noirish, mind-blowing tale of a woman named Betty (Naomi Watts) trying to make sense of her life following a devastating car crash in Los Angeles.
The cinematic puzzle piece is challenging narratively yet deeply rewarding for those who can crack the film’s encoded meaning. Few filmmakers know how to tap into the unventured corners of the human mind like Lynch while delivering consistent entertainment. Seductive, sexy, strange, and highly replayable, Mulholland Drive is as twisted as the road it’s named for.
In his second feature film, Ari Aster explored the lasting lore of Scandinavian folk horror in Midsommar. While not quite as scary as Hereditary, Midsommar is much more maddening in the way the viewers vicariously unravel spiritually and psychologically through the main characters as it progresses.
Plot-wise, the film finds a troubled American couple attempting to work out their problems at a sunny Swedish summer festival during vacation. The local customs and rituals turn increasingly bizarre and violently unsettling, making audiences squirm and writhe in their seats while also scratching their heads for answers to the overall meaning. Ambitious, creepy, and full of freaky Freudian imagery, Midsommar is a top-tier mind-scrambler.
The only outright comedy to make the grade, Daisies is an obscure Czech movie from writer / director Vera Chytilova. The story tracks two women named Marie (Jitka Cerhova, Ivana Karanova) who begin robbing older men and using their money to have as much fun as humanly possible. The indulgence, debauchery, and mischief that ensue lead to a crazy and delirious curio of a conclusion.
The visual whirlwind of imagery was cutting edge for its time, its rare female perspective as refreshing as can be, and the unadulterated hedonism depicted is done in a way that plot and character seem irrelevant. All add up to a dazzling montage of remarkable surrealism every film fan should experience at least once.
David Lynch shocked the world with his nightmarishly surreal feature debut Eraserhead, an industrial black-and-white, avant-garde assault of the senses. It’s hard to overstate the importance and influence of the movie, not just among Lynch’s filmography but for an entire generation of filmmakers as well.
The film centers on Henry Spencer (Jack Nance), a strange man living in an impoverished industrial wasteland. When his mutated child arrives, he tries to keep it alive while dealing with his angry girlfriend and her ultra-bizarre parents. As only Lynch can do, the film plumbs the darkest caverns and most remote recess of the human psyche to create a waking nightmare onscreen.
Naked Lunch (1991)
Like David Lynch, David Cronenberg has authored several wildly surreal cinematic experiences. Also known as the master of body horror, Cronenberg fused the two tenets in the perfect source material, adapting William S. Burroughs’ insanely surreal novel. Naked Lunch to the big screen.
The hallucinatory story follows Bill Lee (Peter Weller), a bug exterminator who becomes addicted to the lethal substance he uses to extinguish creepy crawlers, leading to a kaleidoscopic array of visual projections he can not quite get a grip on. A cult classic in every sense, Cronenberg’s highly-acclaimed Naked Lunch blends styles, tropes, periods, and more in ways bound to leave an irreparable dent in one’s brain.
Hopefully, everyone comes away willing to seek out House, the best surreal movie of all time, according to Ranker. The highly amusing and mind-boggling Japanese horror-comedy goes places that need to be seen to be believed, taunting and tickling every psychological node in the human brain.
Directed with great vim and vigor by Nobuhiko Obayashi, the story finds seven schoolgirls convening in one of their aunt’s haunted ancestral abodes, where the most unbelievably bizarre, mind-bending, and illogically nightmarish supernatural phenomena take place. The explosion of color is one thing, being eaten alive by an animated piano is quite another, and that may be the tamest scene in the movie.
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