Locating the weirdest films of the public domain is no easy feat. After all, what is one man’s trash may be another man’s genius; one woman’s exploitation may be another ladies’ titillation.
Weird is hard to define, difficult to pin down. From sexploitation to sleaze, vintage educational films to retro horror and sci-fi, here’s our list of the Weirdest Films Of The Public Domain, for your next strange movie night!
Spider Baby (1967)
1967’s Spider Baby, directed by Jack Hill and starring the legendary Lon Chaney Jr., is The Strange Case Of Benjamin Buttons meets The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, in this bizarre exploitation romp through mental illness, the dangers of in-breeding, cannibalism, and corporate greed!
Brain That Wouldn’t Die (1963)
It’s hard for a woman to get ahead in this world, especially when she doesn’t have a body. Perhaps the schlocky title “Brain That Wouldn’t Die” might leave you underwhelmed, but don’t judge a film by its title (or many, many alternate titles), this surreal mad scientist love story has a lot of charms.
Half serial-killer stalkfest, half bizarro Silver Age sci-fi, the Brain That Wouldn’t Die is Eyes Without A Face meets Frankenstein, pre-saging other cult masterpieces like H. P. Lovecraft’s Re-animator.
Witchcraft Through the Ages (1922)
1968’s Haxan: Witchcraft Through The Ages answers the questions – what if Disney were to dramatize the Malleus Maleficorum? Originally shot in 1922, the 1968 version of Haxan features legendary Beat Author William S. Burroughs narrating the history of witchcraft like a 1950’s classroom film/PSA, all scored by a fiery free jazz soundtrack from Daniel Humair. The crisp, artsy, surreal black & white film is, quite frankly, stunningly beautiful, with every frame a work of art, and the slightly updated feel makes Haxan more approachable to modern viewers.
The Harrad Experiment
“The best things in life are free,” according to Sam Cooke. But nothing comes without a price – in physics, every action has an equal and opposite reaction and in economics, if someone’s offering something gratis, you best look for the small print before signing the dotted line.
The Harrad Experiment is a slow-burning ‘70s docu-drama about Harrad University, a co-ed university where hooking up is encouraged! A young virginal co-ed sleeps with Stanley Cole, played by Don Johnson, who is sleeping with everybody on campus. The co-ed gets upset, naturally, which upsets Cole. Everybody’s upset in this strangely status quo sexpoloitation.
The Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959)
Infamous as “the worst movie of all time,” Plan 9 From Outer Space has its charms. It’s noteworthy as Bela Lugosi’s last film, whose scenes were initially filmed for Tomb Of The Vampire, causing the replacement actor to play the remainder scenes with a cape across the bottom part of his face – a very early, crude take on digital masking.
Plan 9 From Outer Space has wrestlers playing detectives; cardboard crosses being kicked over, on-screen; a woman named Vampira – anything you could want from cheap B-grade horror.
1934’s Maniac (not the 1980 video nasty) is a particularly early, exceptionally nasty update on Frankenstein, with a touch of Eyes Without A Face and an identity complex.
Maniac tells the tale of an ex-Vaudeville actor who finds gainful employment working for a physician. The actor decides being a doctor tops being a washed up Vaudevillian, so when the doctor perishes, the actor decides to make the switch. Maniac, aka Sex Maniac, is also noteworthy for its malice towards feline, with the quote “I think too highly of Satan to use cats for my experiments.”
“Let’s go, Jimmy, I’m red hot!” In these more enlightened times, when cannabis has been made legal in most of the United States, Reefer Madness, the most infamous pot-sploitation film seems almost offensive. Reefer Madness suggests Tetro-Hydro-Cannibinal users will eat babies when they have the munchies, or go on a murderous rampage. If you want an illustration of how the war on drugs in America came to be, watch Reefer Madness.
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians
The legend of Santa Claus is kind of sci-fi when you think about it – an overweight, ageless Elf who lives on the North Pole and shimmies down chimneys. Heck, his sled even flies without rockets or propulsion – the first UFO, perhaps? In Santa Claus Conquers The Martians, crabby Martians abduct Saint Nick and two scrappy children, when the kids of the Red Planet get obsessed with Earth’s TV. Santa overpowers the Martians with peace, joy, cheer, and goodwill. An essential for your next alternative Christmas party!
They Saved Hitler’s Brain
“What happened to Hitler’s brain?” is one of the most conspiracy theories of the 20th Centuryl. David Bradley uses this as a launchpad for this wacky Nazi caper, which wouldn’t see the light of day for many years after it was filmed.
USS VD: Ship of Shame
Fleet week is a long-standing tradition, when the seamen of the Navy decamp to land and try to get their rocks off before going back to Neptune’s realm. The U.S. government created USS VD: Ship Of Shame to warn sailors what happens when sleeping with “loose women” in other countries. Offensive and fascinating in equal measure!
The Terror of Tiny Town
Another weird film of the public domain that would never get made today, The Terror Of Tiny Town is a classic Western with an all-dwarf cast, riding around on Shetland ponies and roping cattle. The terror might be how cringingly insensitive and exploitative this film comes off as.
Lash of the Penitents
Like Ken Russell’s 1961 film The Devils, Lash Of The Penitents delves into the seamy underbelly of the Catholic church and its corruption. Also like The Devils, Lash Of The Penitents exists mainly exists to show off some breasts – nun breasts, at that! Lash Of The Penitents is thought to be a “lost film”, with the existing footage being heavily updated with a later story about a murder. Here’s your chance to see one of the weirdest films of the public domain – hard to find and difficult to forget.