USA, 1973, 99 minutes, Dir. Bernard L. Kowalski
In the two years we've been doing Unstreamable, somehow Sssssss has become one of my favorite not-streaming discoveries. Is it because of the plot? The acting? No, and no. It's because it represents, to me, the perfect unstreamable film—a good-bad movie that is not widely beloved or seen, but freaky enough that I think people should have an opinion on it. From its absolutely ridiculous title to the preposterously weird final act, it's one of the unstreamable films that I almost always recommend to people who ask.
Naturally, the film is about snakes. Kooky herpetologist Dr. Stoner (Strother Martin) is obsessed with melding snakes and humans to become a superior race of creatures that can withstand the treacherous years on Earth to come. He focuses on turning his derpy hot assistant David (Dirk Benedict) into a man-snake creature through—GET THIS—vaccinations and booster shots that he tells David are for inoculating him against king cobra snake venom. During my 2019 viewing, I missed that evil vaccination context, but it smacked me in the face this time around. Though if a vaccine turned me into a snake, I think that'd actually be pretty cool?
And, again, I'll stress that the main thing that makes the movie work so well is John Chambers (of Planet of the Apes fame) and his incredible makeup on the human-snake creatures in the final third of the film. The moment when (spoiler alert) David finally turns into a snake is one of the trippiest and genuinely strange sequences I've seen in a movie of this (low) caliber (click here for some GIFs of the holy moment). It's Big Florida Energy, in the absolute best way possible. JAS KEIMIG
Japan, 1991, 55 min, Comic by Rumiko Takahashi
My first introduction to expert mangaka Rumiko Takahashi was through Inuyasha, her shōnen (boy's) manga that became popular in the US early, likely due to its themes of fantasy and violence. Takahashi is one of the few women that the manga-making business has lifted up to superstar status—and the Eisner Hall of Fame inducted her in 2018, after being nominated four times, becoming the only female mangaka to earn the prestigious spot.
Still, a lot of her work has been hard to come by in English until recently, especially titles like Maison Ikkoku (my favorite) and Urusei Yatsura (a game-changer). To make things right, VIZ has spent the last few years churning out fancy collector's editions of Takahashi's titles, which are worth your time and money. One of those is the dark and magical Mermaid Saga, a story about mermaid flesh that can make an exceptional person immortal if they eat it. There's lots of blood, fishtails, boobs, and freaky sea sorcery to go around. (I’m convinced Takahashi is queer, but that’s a rumor for another post.)
Mermaid Saga splits across time since its protagonist can live forever—which he hates; he just wants to die and stay dead. Two of the saga's arcs, Mermaid's Scar and Mermaid Forest, were adapted into OVAs (original video animations) in the early '90s. Mermaid Forest is strange and gruesome, following two lovers as spooky twins trap them in their long-running scheme to eat some damn mermaid flesh. Takahashi is skilled at creating evil diva witch characters, and the divas at this saga's center are some of her most delightfully wicked. CHASE BURNS
New Zealand, 1992, 104 min, Dir. Peter Jackson
During my first viewing, the copious amounts of blood, zombie fucking, heads in blenders, shredded appendages, and sentient internal organs distracted me from the very heart of Peter Jackson's hilarious and gory Dead Alive: the Oedipal relationship between the main hero Lionel (Timothy Balme) and his zombified mother Vera (Elizabeth Cosgrove).
Vera's smothering need for her son to remain faithful to her and her alone pushes her to follow Lionel and Paquita (Diana Peñalver) on their date to the zoo, where she gets bitten by an evil rat monkey, turning her into a zombie. Lionel tries to keep his undead and abusive mother alive, partly due to their parasitic relationship. In the final scenes, zombie Vera—juiced up on animal stimulant—screeches "NO ONE WILL EVER LOVE YOU LIKE YOUR MOTHER!!" as her giant zombie womb opens and encompasses Lionel inside. Talk about subtext!!!!!
Dead Alive—or Braindead, as other countries called it—was Jackson's third movie and made for $3 million, his biggest budgeted film at the time. Though it was a comparatively low budget, Jackson got wildly creative with it, from having some of the most disgusting gory scenes to stop-motion animated sequences. While watching this film, it's easy to see how just eight years later, Jackson would successfully take on one of the biggest fantasy film franchises ever to hit the screen and build a vivid, believable world inside it. My second time watching this, I am even more convinced that literally everyone NEEDS to see Dead Alive—as long as they have the stomach to stand it. JAS KEIMIG
Hong Kong, 1980, 102 minutes, Dir. Sammo Kam-Bo Hung
Like plenty of '80s-era Hong Kong horror films, Encounter of the Spooky Kind (great title) is feverish and nonsensical, with a nonstop run of gags and stunts. There are magical arms that extend across rooms, exploding chickens, and zombies who are afraid of eggs for some reason.
Encounter of the Spooky Kind is known for being the father of the jiangshi film genre, based around a unique type of "hopping" zombie that originates from Chinese folklore. These aren't basic-ass zombies; these freaks are reanimated corpses controlled by Taoist priests. They hop, which is kind of cute, but they're also menacing—if something can be both menacing and dumb. Encounter takes its source folklore and mixes it with comedy, kung-fu, and horror, creating a mishmashed genre that's very fun. (Regrettably, the whole thing spoils in its final moment by ending with a "joke" about wife-beating.)
This film is a vehicle for director-writer-actor Sammo Hung, who helped lead the Hong Kong New Wave movement with his daft and silly fighting style. Encounter was my first encounter with Hung, and I initially, reductively, saw a little Seth Rogan in him, but Hung's style stands on its own. His Lucky Stars comedy series, which features Jackie Chan (in rollerskates! and a daisy-yellow jumpsuit!), is a must-watch.
A colorful limited edition blu-ray of Encounter, featuring a brand new 2K restoration plus new subtitles, just came out from Eureka. Trick or treat yourself to it this weekend before they're all sold out. CHASE BURNS
*Unstreamable means we couldn't find it on Netflix, Hulu, Shudder, Disney+, or any of the other 300+ streaming services available in the United States. We also couldn't find it available for rent or purchase through platforms like Prime Video or iTunes. Yes, we know you can find many things online illegally, but we don't consider user-generated videos, like unauthorized YouTube uploads, to be streamable.