Forget Pineapple Express, these are the best surreal flicks to absorb after lighting up
With the latest coming-of-age stoner drama American Ultra (starring Adventureland pairing Kristen Stewart and Jesse Eisenberg) unleashing itself upon cinemas next week, we revisit some of the underrated stoner films that either punctuated happy hot-boxing days and nights of yesteryear or ones we are still discovering today which blazed a trail for stoners the world over. Move over Yellow Marine/Pineapple Express.
OVER THE EDGE (1979)
Even the CEO of The Lad Bible would find it hard to deny the charms of an action-packed adventure that marries brotherhood, the romance of youth, discovery of adulthood and all the little trinkets of joy that lie in-between. Released in 1979, it received average critical acclaim on its small theatrical release but has since provided artistic stimulus and emotional reference for countless youths, including a teenage Kurt Cobain. This gripping and tender high school rebellion drama was inspired by a real-life San Francisco newspaper article encircling a pack of unruly movers and shakers about town, who revel in drinking and smoking to their heart’s content and seek danger in fast cars, crime and girls.
Jason Bloom (of straight-to-DVD Overnight Delivery fame) hit the jackpot in 1996 with this classic “dunces find obstacles on a road trip” adventure, following the haphazard gorm and dabblings of two lazy, farting boys named Squirrel and Stubs who happen upon and break into an enclosed mall, sealed from the public for a year while five scientists exist within a man-made ecosystem. Offered no option but to stay and exist within the experiment for its duration, the boys wreak every predicted havoc and more – destroying experiments and abusing any substance they can sniff out and ordering pizza in through a secret window to satisfy their munchies. See if you can spot Kylie Minogue deep-throating a carrot.
Fulfilling every stoner cliché a laugh a minute is this thrillingly entertaining Snoop Dogg documentary – highlights include Snoop reaching with ease for a piece of fruit from an insanely high branch as we are invited to observe what is sold as Snoop’s cheeky vacay to Jamaica as he embarks on his first reggae record while immersing himself 100% in Rastafarian culture. Oh, and he is reincarnated as Snoop Lion. This journey is nothing if not heavy on the irony and ever-so-slight smacks of exploitation – but in turn it is littered with honest revelations of recovery, growth, remorse and rebirth from the hip hop legend.
HOLY MOUNTAIN (1973)
It’s hard to pass by alchemistic weaponry such as this 1973 Mexican-American surrealistic goldmine. Jodorowsky was tutted at and accused of blasphemy on its release: surely the best PR any film can ask for. With its blatant LSD allusions, if this can’t appease a trip, nothing can. Along the way we meet indigenous communities, assertive prostitute warriors with pet chimps, power-hungry fraudulent conjurers – plus some aliens for good measure – all set against an elaborate sequence of ever-changing sets full of colour, costumes and plenty of phalluses. What else would you expect from a former clown? It’s little coincidence that this visual feast was backed by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, and produced by Beatles manager Allen Klein. George Harrison was set to play the lead until he discovered a scene where his character visibly has his anus scrubbed.
UPSTREAM COLOR (2013)
Shane Carruth’s golden moment came in 2013 with this strangely soothing drama of labyrinthine plots around human biology and the terrors of imagined science. There are countless tales of genetic manipulation, mutation and engineering, but Carruth’s authorship is quite special as instead of launching into unnerving thriller or horror territory, he explores the more peaceful and powerless side of giving yourself over to technology. In the end, its plot surrounding a human parasite becomes an emblem for fragmented loss and hopeless romance. It’s not without arresting moments, but all in all a dreamlike story that’s both stimulating and gentle on the consciousness.
O LUCKY MAN! (1973)
If you’re looking for comedy, drama, fantasy and quintessential 60s Britishness, and think Malcolm McDowell’s best role was in A Clockwork Orange, then situate yourself on the sofa for Lindsay Anderson’s O Lucky Man! A seemingly regular coffee salesman (disgraced schoolboy Mick Travis) embarks upon a philosophical journey from alert and unusual salesman, to government torture toy, to heralded medical experiment subject. It features live music interludes from Alan Price and a delightfully spritely, young Helen Mirren. It’s a matchless experience, somehow titillating and profound in equal measure, thanks to an original screenplay first drafted by McDowell about his own experience of being a coffee bean merchant.
SANS SOLEIL (1983)
A landmark documentary that dually traverses human geography and ideologies on a globetrot of how we compartmentalise image and memory by way of director Chris Marker’s own worldview. The eye-opening journey features a likeable companion in the form of its tranquil female narrator. Marker’s journalistic/travelogue documentarian legacy was shaped by his own experiences of army service, and such huge ideas and projects (he is most famous for La Jetée) paved the way for entirely fictional adaptations by the likes of Terry Gilliam. Sans Soleil is a majestic, anthropological pool of thought, unfussy or academic in its lessons.
This film is enduringly weird and wonderful, oozing unparalleled kitschy French bravado alongside an almost musical pace of shots and scenes. Cinematographer Darius Khondji shot Se7en, The Beach and a host of Woody Allen films, but definitely displays his finest hour in this surreal black comedy. We meet a butcher-cum-landlord whose daughter falls in love with a clown. The colours and weirdos in this cleverly mastered post apocalyptic back pocket of society are unmissable. The humour is at times so shady you can’t help but choke-laugh.
LIQUID SKY (1982)
Liquid Sky is a definitive alien movie. A true and visceral menagerie of both the then-firmly underground New Wave and Post Punk scene and vast comment upon 1980s sexuality in NYC. Decades on, the style is really cheap and often slapstick but its freak factor is undeniable. I won’t spoil the bizarre plot, but there amongst non-mortals, orgasms and drugs, there are some quieter moments that place almost profound, transgressive comment on contemporary consumer culture. It also features a lesbian sex scene more visceral than anything you saw in Blue is the Warmest Colour, superb costume party ideas and a hypnotic rhythm and pace syncopated by throbbing synths.
It may not feature any smut or gore but you can satisfy your guilty pleasures in the purest of fashions with this Disney classic. The animation department of Fantasia was made up of a uniquely international team for 1940, and its magnitude is shoved into visual orgasm with its selection of compositions. One huge advantage of this film is its family-friendly attributes; bored during the holidays? You might find yourself acquainting your great aunt with a bong. After all, that’s what being high is all about. A nice, all-round happy space with the people you love. Throw in some multi-coloured unicorns, a blissful departure from the wonderful but slightly nightmarish imagery of its predecessor Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
American Ultra is out in UK cinemas September 4