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by Matt Berry

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Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Let's face it. The 90's had a drug problem. After 8 years of "Just Say No," some said "Yes." And while that embrace was tragic for the music business...at the movies, it was magic! (Mushrooms, that is.)

But the mover-shaker cokehead of the 80's was "as dead as...dead," and the new drugs of choice were stupor inducing, mind expanding, hallucinatory. As a result, a litany of drug addled directors let their psychedelic freak flags fly. Building on a tradition that began in the German Expressionist movement, gained an American sensibility in the 50's and 60's with flicks like PULL MY DAISY, THE TRIP, and YELLOW SUBMARINE, and was later given the auteur treatment by the likes of Jim Jarmusch and David Lynch, the Absurdist inspired movies of the 90's were being made to evoke the enveloping, swirling anarchy of an LSD experience, a fever dream, or a Salvador Dali delirium.

And in that lysergic spirit, I give you...




Before he became a critic's darling with comparatively coherent fare like BLACK SWAN and THE WRESTLER, Darren Aronofsky was known more for his style than for his substance. But, oh what a style it was!

The young Harvard Grad established himself with his first full length feature, PI, a wild, freewheeling ode to the famously never ending number. And as if mixing math, religion, and quasi-cosmic secret societies wasn't mind-melting enough, the movie's visuals flicker and flash across the screen as though some over-calculating supercomputer has gone on the fritz, spitting out a strobe-light panorama that, even though confined to black and white, still manages to overload the senses and overwhelm the cerebellum.

Aronofsky's next film, 2000's REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, would take those visuals to new heights of trippiness and tie them to actual drug use, but something about PI's intense neo-Hitchcockian narrative, it's blurting and bleeping techno score (one of the first
Natural Born Killers

Natural Born Killers
of its kind), and its ever increasing insanity finds its way into your psyche and stays there, haunting, howling, and always searching for the meaning in the chaos.


Aside from giving us the best "shrooming" scene ever committed to celluloid, NATURAL BORN KILLERS offers a carnival of eye candy from FADE IN to FADE OUT.

What had originally been a segment of Quentin Tarantino's TRUE ROMANCE script (a movie within a movie being written along the way by TR's Elvis worshiping hero Clarence) was later excised and turned into the story of Wayne Gayle, a tabloid TV reporter chasing the Big Story. Oliver Stone took that screenplay and spun the focus to the Thrill Killing Teen-Agers whom Gayle is trailing, Mickey & Mallory Knox. Stone then took the opportunity to make the film a raucous, roiling indictment of tabloid media, mainstream media, and their accomplices / audiences.

And in doing so, Stone unfurls a mad, rampaging road movie that spends 2-plus hours assaulting the audience with a mix of cinematographic styles and film stocks, a mash-up of mediums (the Family Sit-Com sequence is one of the movie's most brilliant conceits), animation inserts, background projections, superimposed images, and a non-stop audio collage of sound and score. The end result is a movie that burns itself onto the retina, oozes into the eardrums, and takes the viewer right the hell along on that mad, rampaging road trip.


"First there was darkness. Then came the Strangers." So begins the nightmarish mind-f*#k that is DARK CITY. Film noir, with its emphasis on shadows and mood lighting, is a trippy genre to start with, as is the harder side of Sci-Fi...but DARK CITY is in another league of imagistic, impressionist art.

Staged like a graphic novel come to life (before it was fashionable to do that), this underrated work operates almost entirely on mood and atmosphere, telling it's story of lost memory and reclaimed identity through the intensity of an almost purely cinematic approach. And try
Dark City

Dark City
keeping The Strangers out of your nightmares once you've been exposed to their teeth chattering, corpse burrowing ways!


I'll admit it. I don't fully understand all the intricacies of MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO, but I know what I hate. And I don't hate this movie.

In fact, you could say I love its semi-Shakespearean language, its unfolding origami visuals, and the weird, drug-fueled performance of River Phoenix, who propels an already strange tale of street urchins and narcolepsy into the stratosphere of hallucinatory oddities.

Whatever it's REALLY about, IDAHO is a beautiful poem of a movie that kaleidoscopes in front of you like film unspooling backwards through the capstan 'til it flitters out of the projector altogether.


Not one of the more visually dazzling movies on this list (in fact, SLACKER is as determinedly low-fi as the DIY Indie Rock of its day), but Richard Linklater's ode to Texas weirdoes ambles along with the same random intensity of a sprawling acid trip.

And there's something infectious about the movie's rhythm and rhyme. It gets into your head and takes you on a stream of consciousness carpet ride through the dark and the light of the early 90's (Southwestern) American experience.

I remember watching SLACKER over the course of 2 days shortly after its release to video, and I was soon dreaming in those same ambling rhythms.


Time travel's pretty trippy to begin with, but 12 MONKEYS makes an art out of messing with its viewers' minds.

Additionally, bravura turns by Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt give the proceedings an extra dose of cartoonish kick. And, of course, Terry Gilliam brings his trademark Fractured Fairytale cum Kubrick production design.

And even for a Gilliam flick, 12 MONKEYS percolates with an overabundance of psychedelic quirks.


As if WILD AT HEART'S hyper-sexual take on THE WIZARD
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me
wasn't weird enough, David Lynch also gave the 90's TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME, the excessively bizarre prequel to his seminal Cult-TV series. Together, the two films present a Freudian fever dream in which Lynch does his usual song and dance of subconscious imagery and surrealist storytelling. And watching them back to back, the two movies give you the distinct impression that there is indeed sex in violence, salvation in love, and darkness around every corner.


Nothing says "Bad Trip" like a dead baby crawling across your ceiling. And that's just one of many, many skeevy, scummy, and just plain gross images that grace the rotting, decaying canvas on which TRAINSPOTTINGsplatters its sordid story of squalor and addiction.

No matter what drug you're on, Danny Boyle's depiction of life and death in a circle of Heroin users is a feast for the eyes (and ears) that begins with romping and frolicking, dissolves to euphoric drifting, and finally collapses into images of death and desperation.


Rock 'N' Roll is all about excess, and no movie revels in excess better than Oliver Stone's lyrical Jim Morrison biopic. One long, strange trip from start to finish, THE DOORS whisks the viewer through a whirlwind of sex, drugs, and reptile fetishism.

And what the movie lacks in quality (a lazy script, a terribly miscast Meg Ryan, an undeniable cheese factor), it more than makes up for with its mesmerizing, kinetic, wild-child bravado. The Peyote/Desert scene alone is one of my favorite sequences in all of rock music moviedom.


Hands down, the trippiest movie of the 90's. Possibly of all time. Terry Gilliam's adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson's love letter to the death of the 60's is so accurate a representation of the hallucinogenic experience (the bliss, the absurdity, the horrors [the horrors!]) that you may need to take a shower and sleep it off after the movie hits its final reel.

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They Called Them The Rebel Kind
Every other Tuesday

The 90ís was one of the great decades in American Cinema, and I intend to explore it one film, genre, or director at a time.

Other Columns
Other columns by Matt Berry:

The Top 10 Most Influential Films of the 90's

Lookin'California:the Top 5 Cult Movies of the 90s

The Darkness Reaching Out For the Darkness


Let's Get Ramblin': the words of Tarantino (VOL 2)

All Columns

Matt Berry
Matt Berry is a copy writer, music journalist & occasional author of Weird Tales-inspired short fiction from Illinois who loves talking and writing about movies and music almost as much as he loves the music and the movies themselves. And the more coffee, pie, and cigarettes consumed during those discussions, the better!

If you have a comment, question, or suggestion, you can send a message to Matt Berry by clicking here.

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