What do a pregnant Arnold Schwarzenegger, a pansexual soccer himbo, a horny orangutan (with a dubious grasp on consent), and an impeccably dressed mean girl played by Rose McGowan have in common? In addition to being our dream blunt rotation, they’re the kinds of cinematic heroes you’ll only find at IndieWire After Dark.
Our weekly column exploring the funkiest fringe cinema is for anyone who can’t bring themselves to sit through one more midnight screening of “Rocky Horror.” Every Friday night at 11:59pm ET, we take a feature-length beat to discuss an unapologetically bold movie that we fear is falling through the cracks in the age of streaming. From boundary pushing new works to insane misfires of yesteryear, IndieWire After Dark is an ongoing reminder that, yes, there is still something out there that you haven’t seen.
The rise of streaming has been a mixed bag for cinephiles who like to get weird. On the one hand, it’s never been easier to access a litany of pop cultural oddities. But as we’ve learned over the past year, anything that streaming libraries give us can be just as easily taken away. That hidden gem someone is raving about today can be unceremoniously removed from all platforms faster than one can ask, “Who is David Zaslav?” So, with the state of media distribution looking more uncertain than ever before, it’s time to build a new canon of midnight movies that are worth preserving.
Our definition of a midnight movie encompasses a variety of genres, from masterful avant-garde works from arthouse directors to bloated studio disasters that make you question if a single person who worked on them had ever seen a movie. But every IndieWire After Dark selection is a film that swings for the fences and makes a sincere effort to show us something we haven’t witnessed before. Some achieved their goals and others missed gloriously, but every title emraces the ideas that filmmaking is an art form that deserves to be taken to its furthest possible extremes.
Keep reading for a roundup of our midnight movie picks, ranked by how much they embody the IndieWire After Dark ethos. This list will update as we keep pushing our sanity to the limit by forcing each other to watch the strangest movies that we can’t help but love.
10. “The Perfection” (dir. Richard Shepard, 2019)
What it is: Allison Williams and Logan Browning star in this straight-to-streaming shocker about two lesbian cellists, whose sexy hookup in Shanghai suddenly spirals into a feminist body horror caught somewhere between “Whiplash” and “Boxing Helena.” What begins as a potential Leighton Meester “The Roommate” situation blossoms into a would-be viral pandemic featuring vomit-covered maggots — which in turn becomes a fiendishly feminist metaphor for sexual abuse scandals and the institutions that cover them up. (U.S. Gymnastics, anyone?)
Why it’s IndieWire After Dark: In competition with “Brand New Cherry Flavor” for grossest Netflix original, “The Perfection” is mainly worth seeing for its shocking final image. Director Richard Shepard takes his sweet time getting to the end of this sometimes maddeningly meandering and illogical saga. But the gob-smacking views along the way are well worth taking in (meat cleaver scene!) — and you can’t help but smile thinking some diversity-minded Netflix exec had no idea what they were getting into when they greenlit… this. —AF
‘The Perfection’ Is a Gayer, Gorier, Goofier ‘TÁR’ — and Fringe Netflix at Its Finest
9. “Cool World” (dir. Ralph Bakshi, 1992)
What it is: Ralph Bakshi, the brilliant filmmaker and animator behind 1978’s “The Lord of the Rings,” delivers a wildly misguided (and somehow, like…sticky?) adult rip-off of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” in this spectacular flop from 1992. Starring an early-days Brad Pitt, “Cool World” is a part live-action, part cartoon film noir hybrid about horny illustrations and the human men who want to fuck them. Also featuring Gabriel Byrne and instant fan-fic sensation Holli Would: a gogo dancing villainess, voiced by a bimbo-fied Kim Basinger, whose 75-foot-tall likeness was erected above the “H” in the Hollywood sign that summer in Los Angeles. Really.
Why it’s IndieWire After Dark: “Cool World” is more like a junk drawer of cinematic oddities than a properly rendered film. Its production was infamously tortured — a thing blended medium movies really can’t be — and the result is one of the weaker quality projects in our collection. You’d be forgiven for finding it tiresome, considering its story is more of a narrative scribble than a proper character arc. But Bakshi’s genuinely striking design (Holli’s look is iconic, sorry not sorry!) set side by side with screamingly apparent studio interference makes for a fascinating misfire worth preserving to pick for parts. It’s not every movie on this list that made an IndieWire editor feel like they “caught an STD from watching it.” —AF
‘Cool World’ Is the Slimy, Adult Answer to ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit?’ Best Watched After Midnight
8. “Kuso” (dir. Flying Lotus, 2017)
What it is: Flying Lotus’ directorial debut is a surreal series of vignettes set around Los Angeles after a deadly earthquake reduces the city to rubble. While best remembered as the movie that shocked Sundance by showing George Clinton shitting out a giant insect and a sentient boil performing fellatio, the nauseating film is a nuanced piece of media criticism that explores the way television distorts our perception of tragedies — and how utterly unprepared Los Angeles citizens are for a natural disaster.
Why it’s IndieWire After Dark: Plenty of filmmakers are able to create shocking images — though it’s hard to think of a single film that crams more gross-out weirdness into 90 minutes than “Kuso.” But what separates great midnight movies from their wannabe counterparts is their ability to justify their weirdness with substance. Flying Lotus and his murderer’s row of avant-garde collaborators offer such a distinct vision that we’re more interested in what the anuses are saying than the fact that they’re talking. It’s the rare gross-out movie that gets richer each time you watch it. —CZ
‘Kuso’ Is Pure Cinematic Jazz That Just So Happens to Include Full Frontal Nudity and Talking Boils
7. “Parents” (dir. Bob Balaban, 1989)
What it is: Selected in honor of IndieWire’s ‘80s Week, Bob Balaban’s “Parents” is a surrealist portrait of suburban cannibalism as inexplicable as it is intoxicating. Randy Quaid and Mary Beth Hurt star alongside former child actor Bryan Madorsky (who Wikipedia claims is now an accountant?) in a chilling mystery of nuclear family that boils down to the simple question: Is mom serving human meat for dinner? Plus, a little girl at school, played by London Juno, claims she and her parents moved to town from the Moon. Meanwhile, Sandy Dennis’ social worker character struggles to intervene.
Why it’s IndieWire After Dark: Along with the leggy “Secretary,” “Parents” is remembered by countless former VHS store patrons for its supremely striking cover. But if you’re bothering to cue it up, do your best to go in with as few expectations as possible. With tracking shots zooming out of vent systems and a 10-year-old kid launching himself into a bed of blood (no explanation given), “Parents” is best likened to a chunky stew of meaty ideas spiked with cinematic LSD. It’s not entirely satisfying as a feature-length meal, and it’s certainly no “Blue Velvet” — despite its Angelo Badalamenti score. But you just won’t get a sampling of horror hors d’oeuvres like this anywhere else. —AF
‘Parents’ Is the Middling ’80s Cannibalism Classic Worth Reheating — Again and Again
6. “Entertainment” (dir. Rick Alverson, 2015)
What it is: Gregg Turkington’s noxious anti-comic Neil Hamburger gets the feature film treatment in Rick Alverson’s portrait of a broken performer trying to survive in small-time entertainment purgatory. When he’s not clearing his throat and cracking “jokes” about Madonna’s children sucking dog food out of her breasts, the comic slowly drifts aimlessly between dive bars and tourist attractions as he tries to reconnect with his daughter while holding onto what’s left of his sanity.
Why it’s IndieWire After Dark: Turkington’s brilliant subversion of stand-up comedy tropes has been the stuff of legend among comedy geeks for decades. But by teaming up with Alverson and co-writer Tim Heidecker, he was able to craft a character study that humanizes the Neil Hamburger persona without sacrificing any of the vile humor that made him so beloved. You’ll never look at Crosby, Stills, and Nash the same way again. —CZ
‘Entertainment’ Built a Greek Tragedy Around a Phlegm-Spewing, Hairspray-Coated Anti-Comic
5. “Junior” (dir. Ivan Reitman, 1994)
What it is: Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito tried to repeat the success of “Twins” with a bizarre comedy about a scientist who develops an experimental fertility drug and tests it on himself. What’s supposed to be a brief experiment turns into a nine month pregnancy that nearly concludes with the future governor of California giving birth through his ass.
Why it’s IndieWire After Dark: “Junior” has everything you could possibly want in a midnight movie — along with quite a few things that nobody asked for. You have a beloved actor going against type (Arnold never gave birth in any of the “Terminator” movies), bodily mutations (nobody gives birth through their colon ever), and some strange sexual politics (Schwarzenegger still gets laid while he’s eight months pregnant living in drag at a nunnery). The day we can’t enjoy shit like this together will be the day the midnight movie officially dies. —CZ
It’s Time to Revisit Arnold Schwarzenegger Nearly Giving Birth Through His Ass in ‘Junior’
4. “Diamantino” (dir. Daniel Schmidt and Gabriel Abrantes, 2018)
What it is: After missing the most important shot of his career at the World Cup, a sexy-but-dim-witted Portugese soccer player tries to rebuild his life by adopting a refugee son. What he doesn’t know is that his “son” is a female secret agent in a lesbian relationship trying to infiltrate his life before a nationalist group can turn him into their inadvertent figurehead. Oh, there’s giant puppies too.
Why it’s IndieWire After Dark: One of the beautiful things about midnight movies is their ability to blur the line between the arthouse and the grindhouse. It doesn’t matter if your film is composed like a stunning painting or hastily slapped together on a shoestring budget — if you’re weird enough, we’ll find you. “Diamantino” might have been a hit on the Croisette in 2018, but a wild plot about geopolitical polyamory and an elite himbo performance from Carloto Cotta make it more than worthy of midnight screenings. —CZ
‘Diamantino’ Is the Surreal, Anti-Nationalist Himbo Sports Cinema to Cure Your World Cup Blues
3. “Why Don’t You Play in Hell?” (dir. Sion Sono, 2013)
What it is: With sentimental sweetness akin to “The Fablemans” and giddy action best described as an even gorier “Kill Bill,” Sion Sono delivers his blood-soaked, meta-masterpiece “Why Don’t You Play in Hell?”
In what would be Sono’s best movie if “Love Exposure” didn’t exist, amateur filmmakers attempt to capture the brutal fallout of a real yakuza war when an attempted assassination of a gang leader’s wife (Tomochika) leads to her imprisonment — and the unceremonious removal of her daughter’s (Nanoka Hara/Fumi Nikaidô) toothpaste commercial from local TV. The rogue cinephiles, known as the Fuck Bombers, soon find themselves caught between the dangerous bosses (played by Tsutsumi Shinichi and actual “Kill Bill” actor Jun Kunimura), but remain determined to deliver the best movie ever made.
Why it’s IndieWire After Dark:“Why Don’t You Play in Hell?” evokes the exact spirit that motivated this column, and will leave even the most gore-averse action fans touched by its sincere love of the movies. Sure, it’s got buckets upon buckets of blood, both prop and digital, and some of the gutsiest kills to ever grace the organized crime subgenre. (Seriously, Sono practically paints in dismemberments.) But it’s the Fuck Bombers’ genuine desire to capture an unforgettable snuff film, and all the little Hollywood-loving details Sono leaves for his audience to find (Oscar Cannes t-shirt!), that makes this a must watch for movie clubs. —AF
‘Why Don’t You Play in Hell?’ Is a Love Letter to Cinema, Dismemberment, and Toothpaste Commercials
2. “Jawbreaker” (dir. Darren Stein, 1999)
What it is: Rose McGowan absolutely eats as the villainous Courtney Shayne in “Jawbreaker”: Darren Stein’s fabulously noxious mean girl movie from 1999. When Courtney and her two closest minions (Rebecca Gayheart, Julie Benz) “kidnap” their best friend/shoe-in for prom queen Liz Purr (Charlotte Ayanna), a seemingly harmless prank leaves the teens with a dead body in the trunk of their convertible. With Carol Kane’s Principal Sherwood and Pam Grier’s Detective Vera Cruz breathing down the girls’ necks, the so-called Flawless Four — now three! — attempt to escape responsibility. But the tables turn when mousy Garden Club President Fern Mayo learns the truth, and Judy Greer sets in on the most underrated performance of her career.
Why it’s IndieWire After Dark: We recommended “Jawbreaker” as a chaser to Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie,” but you can enjoy this exquisitely color-blocked, queer-coded cult classic anytime. Just ask the countless twenty and thirty-something women who accidentally saw it aired on ABC in the middle of the day. Fearlessly fun in its spiky satirization of young womanhood, “Jawbreaker” is the epitome of a midnight movie made for the girlies: sexy, scary, sardonic, and stylish. You just can’t get a makeover montage-turned-“Bride of Frankenstein” homage off the rack. And that popsicle blow job scene? One of a kind. —AF
‘Jawbreaker’ Is the Perfect Candy-Coated ‘Barbie’ Chaser — and a Venomous Midnight Movie Snack
1. “Any Which Way You Can” (dir. Buddy Van Horn, 1980)
What it is: The bigger, wackier, and infinitely hornier of Clint Eastwood’s two monkey movies sees the “Unforgiven” star breaking into a zoo to tranquilize a sexual partner for his pet orangutan, Clyde. And that might not even be one of the top five strangest things that happens in this gonzo sequel to “Every Which Way But Loose,” which centers around Philo Beddoe (yep, we’re all agreeing to pretend that sounds like a real name) taking a trip to Jackson Hole for the most well-publicized underground boxing match in history.
Why it’s IndieWire After Dark: “Any Which Way You Can” is the epitome of an unintentional masterpiece. What began as an ill-advised vanity project and an excuse to string a bunch of country music cameos together now feels like one of the most entertaining films of Eastwood’s career. Everything from the static acting to the needless sexual tension between man and ape to the fact that a real snake fights a real ferret (not a mongoose!) melds together to form a glorious symphony of weirdness that’s best enjoyed after midnight. —CZ
‘Any Which Way You Can’ Has More Monkey Sex Scenes Than Every Other Clint Eastwood Movie Combined