Weekend Roundtable: “WTF?” Movies

If the trailers are even remotely representative of the actual film, this week’s theatrical release of ‘Cloud Atlas’, which apparently has a narrative that spans multiple timelines from the 19th Century to the distant apocalyptic future, promises to be the biggest “WTF?” movie of the year. You know what I’m talking about – the kind of wacko movie that leaves you utterly confounded as to what the &^(# you just watched. Cinema history is littered with such oddities. Perhaps the movie just had a really out-there twist ending, or perhaps it’s a total mind-screw from beginning to end. In today’s Roundtable, we’ll highlight some that have really stuck with us.

Brian Hoss

There may be no right way to watch ‘Zardoz‘, except to catch it unexpectedly on cable as I did many years ago. As the giant, speaking and flying stone idol head spews firearms from its mouth in exchange for grain cultivated by a group of awkwardly-attired primitive “Exterminators,” I was utterly fascinated. Then Sean Connery emerges from his hiding place within the grain, only to accidentally knock the person most likely to supply answers out of the idol as it sails high above on its way back to a hidden, malformed super society. Each new revelation is quickly outdone by the next until the climax, which seems to deliberately try to erase any hope of understanding the narrative.

When the DVD was released, I gathered a few friends to hear the commentary, hoping for a proper analysis of that undeniably weird ending. Unfortunately, director John Boorman, rather than offer any kind of insight, was quiet and finally just said, “Thanks for watching my movie.” For my part, I can only offer the trailer’s tagline: “I have seen the future, and it does not work.”

Daniel Hirshleifer

I’m a total sucker for “WTF?” movies. Surrealism and absurdism are my favorite art movements. I strive to seek out the weird, possibly maligned and unloved films of the world. One of my favorites is Michele Soavi’s ‘Dellamorte Dellamore‘, or as it’s known in the U.S., ‘Cemetery Man’.

Based on a novel by Tiziano Sclavi, author of the comic book ‘Dylan Dog’ (the basis for the recent failed Brandon Routh vehicle), ‘Cemetery Man’ is an English-language Italian production starring Rupert Everett as Francesco Dellamorte, the caretaker of a small town graveyard where the dead come back to life as flesh-hungry zombies (or, as Dellamorte dubs them, “returners”). At first, the film seems to be a straightforward comedy, with Dellamorte and his manchild assistant Gnaghi (whose only word is “Gna!”) shooting or impaling zombies through the head. But then it takes an unexpectedly surreal and existential turn. Dellamorte falls hard for a mourner, unnamed and played by the Italian model Anna Falchi, and begins to see doppelgängers of her everywhere. Trying to be with these women almost always proves fruitless, which drives Dellamorte further to the brink of despair. He sees the spectre of Death, who tells him that in order to stop the returners, he must shoot the living in the head. Doing so, he discovers that the local police consider him so meaningless that they won’t even listen when he confesses to his crimes.

‘Cemetery Man’ combines surreal imagery with Kafka-esque situations to highlight the existential crisis that Dellamorte finds himself in. By the end, what seemed like a silly romp becomes a complex and rather serious and fascinating examination of the human condition.

Tom Landy

The original ‘Saw‘ is one of my personal favorite “WTF?” movies. I mean, you have two characters – Adam (Leigh Whannell) and Dr. Gordon (a slightly pudgy Cary Elwes) – who are abducted by a twisted psychopath and wake up with their ankles chained inside the most disgusting bathroom on the planet. Other “WTF?” moments from the film include the pig head mask, the cringe-inducing body part severing scene, and the creepy little clown puppet. I’m pretty sure that Adam actually even utters the phrase “WHAT THE FUCK?!” a couple of times. And we can’t forget that twist ending that absolutely no one saw coming (pun not intended). At the time of its debut in 2004, ‘Saw’ pretty much invented the torture porn genre. It’s still the smartest horror flick we’ve had in a very long time.

Mike Attebery

I guess I’d have to say that the “WTF?” genre just isn’t my cup of tea. I’m struggling to think of a film that fits this category that I’ve actually enjoyed. The closest I can come is, of course, a Woody Allen film. ‘Stardust Memories‘ is an odd little movie, probably more surrealist than “WTF?” calls to mind, but it’s the nearest I can get to a bizarro cinematic journey that I both enjoy and find more interesting with each repeat viewing. The fact that casual Allen fans don’t get the film, and thus take great offense at what they see as his irritation at folks who prefer his early, funny films is proof enough that there’s much more to this movie than early audiences perceived.

Shannon Nutt

One should know better than to walk into a David Lynch movie expecting coherency, but after the cliffhanger conclusion to what remains one of the best television series ever created, I expected something much different from ‘Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me‘. Granted, I knew that it was a prequel to the television show going in, but I expected a much more linear story… Yes, even with the knowledge that this was a movie directed by Lynch.

Instead, I was treated to over two hours of a time-traveling G-man, a dancing dwarf, a hopscotching kid, a barking dog, a screaming one-armed man, formica tables, creamed corn and even an angel. Remember Agent Cooper’s odd dreams on the television series or, better yet, the strange finale that almost exclusively took place in the Black Lodge? Imagine a whole movie full of that, and you might be able to fathom the bizarreness of this film.

This isn’t to say that the movie doesn’t grow on you after a while. After twenty years and probably as many viewings, I’m still not sure if ‘Fire Walk With Me’ is a disastrous mess or a complete masterpiece. I do know one thing, though: It’s a lot more interesting than ‘Inland Empire’!

Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)

“Can a person become happy through striping evil?”

Here’s a quick summary of everything that happens in the first five minutes of ‘Zebraman 2: Attack on Zebra City‘:

  1. A middle-aged teacher dressed up as a zebra-themed superhero does a headplant on some random bad guy.
  2. A dwarven Japanese super-scientist, complete with one of those old-timey doctor reflector headset thingies, stabs a little girl in the neck with a pencil.
  3. As what little remains of Tokyo is devoured by a zebra-stripe-painting energy bubble, an older, amnesiac version of that superpowered teacher is hunted down by zebra-masked stormtroopers.
  4. The movie smash-cuts to a zebra-centric music video for no reason whatsoever. As the crowd exuberantly pumps their zebra towels up in the air, that aging former-Zebraman putters across the bottom of the screen in a mobility scooter.

Nothing in ‘Zebraman 2’ threatens to many any sense, but that’s kind of what’s so entrancing about it. The whole thing is just an excuse for screenwriter Kankurō Kudō and director Takashi Miike to indulge every hyperstylish and gleefully unhinged idea that pops into their heads. If you know and love Nobuhiko Obayashi’s ‘House’ and the deranged rock-‘n-roll/zombie/horror/comedy ‘Wild Zero’, you desperately need to add ‘Zebraman 2’ to your wish list.

Josh Zyber

I just recently finished up a David Lynch marathon, so my criteria for what qualifies as a “WTF?” movie may be a little more rigid than most people’s. One particular film that really got under my skin, to the point that it not only left me questioning what I’d just watched, but questioning the very nature of reality itself, was the anime feature ‘End of Evangelion‘.

Even the circumstances of the movie’s creation are ridiculously bizarre. Somewhere in the middle of his popular anime series ‘Neon Genesis Evangelion’, creator Hideaki Anno had a nervous breakdown. That, coupled with budgetary and scheduling issues, resulted in two final episodes that basically set aside all of the show’s major storylines for a perplexing, deeply internalized conclusion that took place entirely inside the main character’s head, with next to no explanation for what was going on out in the characters’ “real world.” Part dream sequence, part clip show, entirely enigmatic and confusing, the finale had some defenders, but left most fans frustrated and upset.

That alone was enough of a “WTF?”. However, in response to the backlash, Anno decided to give the series a proper conclusion a couple years later with a feature film called ‘End of Evangelion’, which is broken into two halves known as “Episode 25: Movie Version” and “Episode 26: Movie Version.” That would seem to imply that the movie replaces, or at least contradicts, the last two episodes of the show. But no, that’s not the case either. Technically, the movie takes place concurrently with the finale of the series, and both are considered official canon.

Anno really pulled out all the stops for ‘End of Evangelion’, which magnifies all the religious and philosophical themes of the TV show by about 7,000%. This thing is totally nutso. Nothing I could say to describe it would do the movie justice. Ostensibly the story of a small team of young teenagers who pilot giant robots to fight monsters, the narrative spins wildly out of control to encompass both the destruction and re-creation of the entire universe, as depicted in a final string of balls-out crazy, mind-warpingly surreal images and scenes. Oh, and part of the movie is even live-action, for reasons that are never even remotely explained.

Before we go, I need to toss out an Honorable Mention to the granddaddy of all “WTF?” movies: Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece ‘2001: A Space Odyssey‘.

Tell us your picks for this topic in the Comments. If you have trouble thinking of any, Total Film recently put together a list of suggestions.


  1. Alex

    It doesn’t qualify as a WTF movie, but it is my favorite WTF moment: Wesley Snipes silently mouthing “WTF?” in Blade when he chops Deacon Frost in half and the Frostmeister comes floating back together.

  2. paramedic0112

    The Fountain. This movie sounded like a cool idea on paper, but the whole thing was just WTF? the enitre time. I hated it.

  3. paramedic0112

    Stardust Memories is brilliant. One of my favorite Woody Allen’s. Hopefully a blu ray release is near. I like that line when he’s chasing the bird out of the apartment, “I think I saw a swastika on it’s tail!”

  4. JM

    ‘The Magic Christian’ (’69) – Starring Peter Sellers and Ringo Starr, with John Cleese, Richard Attenborough, and a drunken Roman Polanski. With Yul Brynner as a transvestite cabaret singer. Christopher Lee as a vampire waiter. Laurence Harvey as Striptease Hamlet. Graham Chapman with an anti-aircraft gun. An unsuccessful transplant of a black person’s head onto a white person’s body. Gorilla kidnappings. And a luxury liner powered by hordes of topless rowing slave girls, under the command of Raquel Welch, Priestess of the Whip.

    • Barsoom Bob

      JM, you forgot the fixed World Heavy Weight title bout where the contenders came out and started making out instead of boxing. Or the gross out ending, a swimming pool full of raw sewage with a million dollars in $1,000 bills floating on top and everybody running out of their houses to franticly, determinedly jump into the pool to get all that they can.
      That scene is what the badgfinger song “If you want it, there it is, come and get it.” was written for.

      I think mine is a toss up between Jadowsky’s “Holy Mountain” which was good, but was truly out there, even by his standards. It featured a fade to white, you the audience are the end of the movie, type thing that derailed his directing career for a few years. Dennis Hopper tried the same thing with his “Last Movie” ending and it did pretty much end his directing career I think.

      The other one is South Korean film “Who Will Save the Green Planet”. Even I can not begin to summarize that one. It is sort of like the third tale in the Doomsday Book, but more whacked out and filled out to feature length.

  5. Evan Withrow

    Inception and Memento. When I finally got over both of those movies’ endings, I started to think about how in the heck they fit together from beginning to end. Christopher Nolan is a master of organized confusion.

  6. Jon D

    Source Code. Great movie up until the WTF?!? moment 10 minutes before the end. Completely ruined the film and made me swear to never watch it again.

  7. There are many movies with a pretty big WTF moment (The Crying Game comes to mind). But, movies that are so filled with WTF moments that it’s simply one giant clusterWTF? Hmm, I haven’t actually seen it, but I bet the Human Centipede would qualify. I’ll also nominate Wing Commander. I spent the entire movie wondering why I didn’t just leave.

    The ultimate WTF movie has to be the Norwegian love story “Dis” (A story about love), though. The movie is full of the most childish and sickeningly sugary sweet cliches about love. One movie critic from the largest newspaper in Norway refused to rate it, as he felt that giving it the lowest possible rating would acknowledge its producer’s right to call it a movie. It didn’t do horrible at the box office, though. After a few weeks with almost no attendance, teenagers found it entertaining to ridicule the movie before having a night out.

    “Dis” is currently number 18 on imdb.com’s bottom 100 list.

  8. Cal

    Agree on End of Evangelion. I hated it when first watching it, but after my second viewing, I found it kind of incredible.

    Bring on a Blu-Ray release already!

    I’ve heard a theory that because of the way it ended, Rebuild of Evangelion is actually a sequel to the original series. Interesting way to view it.

    • hurin

      Second that, I would really wan’t to have it on Bluray. To make matters worse my DVD is letterboxed making the quality worse than it has to be.
      Asuka vs. the dummy plug eva units is the best robot battle in anime ever!
      It’s just to bad it didn’t include the part from eps 26 where Shinji imagines a world where the second impact didn’t happen, because that scene was the final episodes only redeeming feature.

  9. William Henley

    It’s a bit early in the morning, still trying to get my brain going, so I may think of others later, but there is one that comes to mind, one that I show to others as being one of the worst movies ever made – Santa Claus and the Ice Cream Bunny. This movie is so bad, most people canont even make it through the Rifftrax.


    The plot makes no sense whatsoever. Basically, Santa is in Florida in the summer, on the beach, and his reindeer somehow unhitch themselves from the sleigh and fly back to the North Pole on their own, leaving Santa stranded. So Santa uses some telepathic powers to call children to the beach to help him pull the sleigh out of the sand. Santa never once helps the kids during this, except once trying to back a horse or something into the sleigh. Santa also seems to have crapped himself – apparently no one ever thought to have the Santa suit cleaned.

    When the kids can’t seem to get the sleigh out of the sand, Santa then breaks into an hour long story about Thumbilina, complete with it’s own credits. Now remember, Santa is telling the story of a girl at an amusement park who walks into a very bad exibit and decides to imagine that she is this girl Thumbilina. This is where it gets really confusing – Santa is telling the story to the kids on the beach about a girl at Pirates World who walks into a Thumbilina exhibit and pretends that some strange talking animal is telling the story of her as Thumbilina.

    This goes on for about an hour. You are then presented with the end credits, and think “Thank God, this movie is finally over” before you realize that, no, that is the credits for Thumbilina, we are still going to break back to the kids on the beach for about another 20 mintues of story.

    On top of the horrible story is the even worse produciton values. The entire movie looks like it was shot on 16mm with no sound, and that they dubbed voices and sound in later. Sound is often way out of sync with what is going on in the movie, there are scenes where characters are moving their lips (particularly at the end with teh kids on the truck – it looks like they are singing, but all you hear is a siren). The Thumbilina insert is sadly of higher production value, which isn’t saying much – sound quality is horrible, and I have seen elementary school plays that have better actors and more convincing scenary and costumes.

    The person running the camera I don’t think had ever operated one before that first day of shooting. The iris on the camera was open too high, camera is often positioned where Santa is blocking what the camera is supposed to be shooting, horrible pans, focus, and zoom shots.

    It looks like they did not even look at dailys, and very well may have shot the entire movie in a day. At the end, they show the amusement park that this movie is supposed to be advertising, and it looks like they shot the movie the day after the area was hit with a hurricaine – they didn’t even bother to clean anything up for the fim shooting.

    Some other films that made me think “WTF” that I may go into later are:
    The Whiz
    A Clockwork Orange

  10. Scott Hunvald

    8 crazy nights, I thought man, finally a Chanukah movie, but after leaving the theater I was like wtf, what a waste of time. Every thing in that movie was awfull and I couldn’t wait to get out of the theater.

    • William Henley

      Well, now, if we are going to go into a “WTF, What a waste of time” topic, there are TONS more movies I can add to the list:

      Blair Witch Poject
      Apollo 18
      Twilight 2
      Hound Dog
      Hansel and Gretel
      Year One
      Any Rob Schneider movie
      Any Will Farrel movie

      Just to name a few.

  11. JoeB

    I risk the ire of the current generation, but I consider several overrated directors to be the WTF’s of today’s cinema: The Two Andersons (Wes and Paul) and the emperor with no clothes, Terence Malick spring immediately to mind.

  12. There are a few bizarre movies over the years that have made me think ‘WTF?’ but consistently I have to pop most anime/manga movies in there. They rarely have a coherent plot or characters or structure. I’ve got friends who rave about them and I’ve tried watching quite a few to give them a chance, but they usually have tenuous stories at best with characters and structure that would get a normal film panned in seconds, but are claimed to be almost high-art because they’re anime. 😉