1. ERASERHEAD. THE SECOND TIME I saw David Lynch’s mewling, puking masterpiece, I began to scream as soon as the opening credits rolled. It’s a dark, dark vision into the little world and lonely life of Henry, a printer whose misbegotten mutant child keeps him up at night with its mewling and you get it. But the lady in the radiator sings to him of Heaven, where “everything is fine.” So that’s something.
2. Tideland. Her little-girl-gone-weird’s broken home is peopled by doll heads, visions, and her father’s slowly wasting corpse. But somehow, she survives and even flourishes. The only Terry Gilliam film of which I’ve never seen the ending, and he’s one of my favorite directors, because it was bleak as only Gilliam can be. The man is just too brilliant.
3. El Topo. Jesus as a vengeful gunslinging Zen monk, wandering through a wasteland of limbless peasants. Alejandro Jodorowsky’s qabala/koan mashup operates on the principle that disturbing images induce a quasi-psychedelic state in the viewer. That’s not entirely a good thing. (The second time I saw this was with a fellow difficult cinephile. He refused to even discuss it afterward.)
4. The Blair Witch Project. Original concept flawlessly executed, as were the victims. Bonus points for a compelling blur of the in-world/out-world levels, as this tale of local-folklore-or-is-it touches such disparate phenomena as the Jersey Devil and Cardiff Giant. The final image haunted my nightmares for weeks, and still gives me a shiver just writing about it.
5. Anything by or emulating Nora Ephron.