For the purpose of this article I’m going to make a clear rule: Obscure (in this particular case) is a movie which has less than thousand votes on IMDb as of this writing (because several have close enough to 1,000 to potentially cross that line in the near future). The problem with this approach is that obviously older movies don’t get the same attention on IMDb as newer movies. These might have been cult hits back in the day, but I’m just not aware of it.
Can I actually recommend all of these? No. Clearly none of these are for the general audiences. Some might be kind of out there. It does make you think, however. How many of these great little movies are out there? You just don’t hear about them, because they receive no publicity. There are hundreds of thousands of movies and I’ve seen only a few thousand of them. That leaves 99% of them out there, many receiving little to no notice just because they don’t conform to the ideas of a very small group of people who get to decide what’s worth seeing.
Anyhow, these are my favorite movies below that point.
Dr. Caligari (1989)
This was a hard movie to find. I actually located it on a webstore, which turned out to be a shop specializing in erotic movies. Is the movie porn? There’s nudity, especially in the early movie, but it doesn’t really feel like a porn movie. There’s also some stuff which will porn to someone…
As the name implies, this is an unofficial sequel to the iconic Das cabinet des Dr. Caligari. The movie feels a bit like Rocky Horror Picture Show set in the world of that expressionistic movie. It’s actually pretty fun, because it doesn’t really seem to take itself very seriously.
The Exorcist III: Legion (1990)
Maybe I shouldn’t have included this, as it is pretty much the same movie as Exorcist III, but unlike most director’s cuts, this is listed as it’s own entity on IMDb, so I listed it here.
While Exorcist II is pretty much a joke, this is a strong return to the ideas of the original movie, except that it’s much more dark and hopeless. This version was Blatty’s own cut and he is a strong believer in this stuff, so he did not try to make a horror movie, he was trying to make a warning. While I don’t personally believe in this stuff, it does make for an interesting view.
Fanny Lye Deliver’d (2019)
This is very new and with the on-going pandemic, it still has a strong chance to find an audience with only a handful of new movies coming out. The movie has a lot of problems, but it is still an interesting feminist take on a period piece. Fanny Lye has never known anything besides her role as a maid and a wife at an isolated farm, but when a younger couple turns up, she finds a new perspective on life.
One interesting point of the movie is that it almost has sequel-bait in the end. Somehow I doubt this will ever receive a sequel, but I wouldn’t necessarily mind one.
L’homme qui ment or The Man Who Lies (1968)
I thought Alain Robbe-Grillet was some sort of cult hero moviemaker, but apparently not, as his movies have very few votes on IMDb. He is mentioned in Sideways briefly. Also, his work as a writer is probably better known than his directorial work.
A man in contemporary clothing is being pursued by WWII German troops. He is seemingly killed by them, but soon stands up again and moves on to a village, where he tries to gain some influence on the local population by claiming to be resistance fighter, which may or may not be true. We receive so many contradictory stories that we don’t exactly know what’s going on. Maybe this is just the man’s dying brain trying to grasp whatever memories it can in order to keep itself going. Or some sort of limbo. Does it matter?
L’hypothèse du tableau volé or The Hypothesis of the Stolen Painting (1978)
Two people discuss a series of paintings while they speculate on the one missing. One of the men has actually hired a bunch of people to play out the paintings in real life in order to solve the mystery. It’s not really a narrative movie, but more like a contemplation of narration through trying to understand the paintings, which are not normally a narrative art form (well, early visual art often was, but that was lost at some point in history).
In order to maintain the feel of a true art movie, this was shot in black and white. I guess it was also cheaper to do in -78, but that couldn’t have been an amount significant enough to matter.
This one is weirdly dark. It’s about this 4-year-old, who lives with her mom in an isolated cabin. One day, when she comes back from school, her mother is gone and she just goes on with her life as well as she can. This is just beautifully understated. We feel the horror of the situation, but Nana hasn’t really learned the emotional side of things yet. As an adult, this is a weird feeling. We feel the need to protect her, but at the same time, she seems very unaffected by the situation.
Nuit noire (2005)
The world has been in darkness for a while (there’s something blocking the sun). Oscar’s life is filled with insects in his job at the natural museum and discussing his childhood traumas with a therapist. This all changes when a woman from his work appears in his apartment.
Admittedly, I might have missed some of the intricacies of this movie, since I was only able to get a German version which does include the original French audio as well. The problem is, I speak neither of these languages outside of what little I’ve learned just by being exposed to these languages during my travels. (THere’s also a little bit of some Slav language, which isn’t even listed on IMDb, but I think it’s Russian.)
Does my inability to understand the language limit my experience? Somewhat, but there isn’t actually that many lines of dialogue in the movie. It’s more about the weird atmosphere.
A lot of people actually seem to hate this, so take this with a grain of salt. I get why someone might not enjoy the movie. It’s highly stylized, extremely violent and sexual in a manner we should feel uncomfortable with. Still, it works for those of us who are numb enough emotionally to take it.
It begins with a veteran, who has trouble readjusting to society. His sister, with whom he lives, pushes him back into the world, where he finds a gig where he is paid to have sex with a woman, but he is only one of three to be invited into this little party. There it turns out that the men behind the whole thing have different ideas about where all this is going to go.
Samurai Rauni Reposaarelainen (2016)
I’ve talked about this movie before, because I actually want to promote it, if possible. It’s a Finnish movie about a Finnish samurai. Yes. Don’t ask too many questions. From what I’ve understood, people outside of Finland don’t really seem to get this, so there might be a cultural barrier to this movie.
The story is actually pretty interesting. Besides being a samurai, Rauni is also a drunk and thus a problem for the community. Therefore, some unidentified entity known as Häpeäkyynel (that would be Shametear, but words work differently in Finland, so it works better) offers to pay a huge sum of money to whoever kills Rauni. Thus Rauni goes on a rampage trying to find out who Häpeäkyynel is.
Most of the movie is pretty uneven. Each scene seems to have its own style, but I also like that.
The Telephone Book (1971)
Ever heard that old joke that some specific director (I guess I heard this first about Spielberg) could make a movie on the phonebook and make it good? Well, someone did that almost 50 years ago. I guess the joke isn’t very current any longer, as phonebooks aren’t really a thing these days.
As Alice is a bit of a pervert (as pretty much everyone else in the movie), she gets excited about an obscene phonecall. They sort of click on the phone, so they make arrangements to have these calls regularly. In the end, she decides to track down the caller.
The movie is a bit of weird fun. I guess it would have been scandalous in those days, but by today’s standards, it’s pretty harmless. On the other hand, it does also contain some elements that aren’t okay these days, so tread carefully.