At this Sunday’s Academy Awards, one filmmaker’s life will change forever when they’re named ‘Best Director’. The helmer in question will become part of Hollywood history. They’ll get their pick of projects, for a brief time at least. And from that point on the words ‘Oscar-winning director’ will precede their name at events and appear on posters/in trailers.
But every moviemaker has to start somewhere, and for some directors – even Academy Award-winners – that means starting at the bottom. So, the following are the oddest, weirdest, and most messed up movies made by directors that would go on to reach the very top.
Meet the Feebles (1989)
Director: Peter Jackson
When Peter Jackson won the 2004 Best Director Oscar for Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, he commended the Academy for wisely overlooking Meet the Feebles, his 1989 celebration of all things obscene. The Feebles in question are a Muppet-like troupe of puppets desperately trying to land a TV show. But their exploits are quite unlike those of Kermit and Co. Instead, they revolve around drugs, porn, suicide, date-rape, vomit, and ‘nasal sex’.
A musical, the film features the songs ‘Sodomy’, ‘Dirty Movies’ and ‘Hippy Sh*t!’, while proceedings come to an ultra-violent conclusion when a Hippopotamus goes on a killing spree. Oscar fodder it ain’t.
Piranha II: The Spawning (1981)
Director: James Cameron
With Joe Dante’s Jaws spoof Piranha making a killing at the box office in 1978, a sequel was inevitable. Miller Drake was charged with the task of directing ‘The Spawning’ but he was soon replaced by the film’s special effects wizard – one James Cameron.
Featuring genetically modified fish that can fly, the film regularly appears on lists of the worst movies ever made. Indeed, Cameron claims to have been replaced by one of the film’s Italian producers mid-way through principal photography, allegedly breaking into the edit suite to try and cut his own version, and both trying, and failing, to have his name removed from the film’s credit.
He went on to have more success with another sea-based epic in the shape of Titanic, and seems to have mellowed with age when it comes to Piranha II, now calling it “the finest flying killer fish horror-comedy ever made.”
The Hand (1981)
Director: Oliver Stone
Future Oscar-winner Oliver Stone’s second feature was this adaptation of Marc Brandell’s novel The Lizard’s Tail. It stars future Oscar-winner Michael Caine as Jon Lansdale, a comic book artist who loses his hand in a car crash. While recovering, he starts to have dreams and hallucinations in which said hand kills. Coincidentally, people then start dying around him. Is Joe going mad, or is his former appendage really a homicidal maniac?
The fact that The Hand feels like a Twilight Zone episode stretched out over 104 long minutes means it’s hard to care when the denouement does finally come, but the effects – by industry legends Stan Winston and Carlo Rimbaldi – are good, and there’s fun to be had watching Caine do battle with a fist.
Caged Heat (1974)
Director: Jonathan Demme
Jonathan Demme achieved Oscar glory with Silence of the Lambs, the film winning the big five of Picture, Actor, Actress, Screenplay, and Director. But both before and after making that critical and commercial smash, he specialised in the strange and quirky, from music videos to Saturday Night Live segments to concert films.
At the start of his career, inspired by the success of Roger Corman’s ‘women in prison’ movies, Demme set out to make one of his own. Corman turned him down, believing that the fad had ended. But so determined was Demme that he raised the funds himself. The result was Caged Heat, which plays out like pretty much every other film of its ilk, but with just enough social satire and gender politics to suggest that Demme was capable of more than just quickie exploitation flicks.
Director: John G. Avildson
Before Rocky, there was Superdick. Just as star Sylvester Stallone had a porn past thanks to The Party at Kitty and Stud’s, so too did director John G. Avildson. Based on the marvellously monikered novel Lie a Little Lie, Die a Little Die, the film follows a private detective’s efforts to solve a mystery involving an eccentric millionaire and a murdered cocktail waitress.
But being an early Troma effort, it was really just an excuse to feature sex, drugs, and more sex in a movie. Oh, and a spot of necrophilia. Superdick – which also went by the names Cry Uncle! and American Oddballs – was banned in several Scandinavian countries, and features future Goodfellas star Paul Sorvino in an early role. As ‘Coughing Cop’.
The Bellboy and the Playgirls (1962)
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Mit Eva fing die Sunde an was a black-and-white German film from 1958. In 1962, future Oscar darling Francis Ford Coppola was asked to shoot colour sex scenes to wrap around the German action, thereby turning it into a nudie feature. The result was this frankly bonkers tale of a bellboy who wants to become the in-house detective at the Happy Holiday Hotel. Because that’s definitely a thing.
He trains himself by spying on the lingerie models that have checked into the hotel, and a theatre troupe that’s rehearsing a play next door. A play that just happens to be in German, and unfolds in black-and-white. The resulting film cuts between both stories, a structure Coppola applied to Oscar-winner The Godfather: Part II some 12 years later. Kind of.
The Academy Awards are handed out this Sunday, and we’ll be paying close attention to the moviemaking past of whoever wins Best Director.