Gregory J. Smalley is not only the driving force behind the amazing 366 Weird Movies List, but he is also the founder and editor-in-chief of the 366 Weird Movies website, which is a wellspring of all things past, present, and future in strange cinema. His film writing has appeared in “Pop Matters” and “The Spool,” and he is a member of the Online Film Critics Society.
So far this year (August 2020), I’ve watched 282 of the 366 movies on the List. It’s been quite a ride to say the least: educational, enlightening, entertaining, and of course, though less often than you might think, baffling. So you can bet when given the slightest excuse to ask this man some questions, I took it!
AMY VAUGHN: Hello! Let’s start with the list. What an enormous undertaking! A lot of people love weird movies, but they usually keep it casual. What made you decide to take on a project of this scale?
GREG SMALLEY: Like a lot of film fans, I got into the subgenre of “bad” movies at an early age: things like Plan 9 from Outer Space or Mystery Science Theater style cinema, films that you watch specifically to make fun of. At the same time, I was interested in “cult” movies, especially movies made by outsiders like John Waters or Alex Cox, like the ones you’d find in Danny Peary’s wonderful “Cult Movies” series. And I would take in art films, too. So in my 20s I would rent a bunch of VHS tapes from our local independent rental store and I’d watch triple features like Eraserhead, Repo Man and a random kung fu flick. And I started to recognize that there was a common denominator to the movies I was drawn to: their absurdity and weirdness, whether intentional or unintentional. There were a few people investigating the same area at the time I started on the web, but not many.
As for the scale of the project, when I started I didn’t realize how long it would take to complete the List. If you told me it would take a decade to complete, I probably wouldn’t have begun it.
I published a post on the site after I reviewed our 366th movie candidly admitting that I started this project during a period of depression, and working on it gave me purpose. I’ve never been acutely suicidal, but I still feel it’s quite possible that this project saved my life. It’s certainly given me a better life than I would have had without it. I heartily recommend massive undertakings of this sort to anyone.
AV: When you started, were you on your own? From the looks of it, you have a dedicated group of reviewers working with you now. How did that team come together?
GS: I started on my own. Early on, I met Alfred Eaker on an online forum. He wanted me to review his movie, and he also talked about wanting to write about movies. I was moving slow on creating my own reviews and he was willing to add a new post every week, so I jumped at the chance. Later on, I held writing contests where people would recommend weird movies and write reviews, and I’d give the best one a DVD prize. Every now and then I’d come across a blogger who seemed to be a decent writer and have the right kind of tastes and I’d invite them to contribute. And others volunteered their services through our contact page. I’d generally let any serious person write a “Reader Recommendation” review, and if I thought their writing was high-enough quality, I’d invite them to become a regular contributor. (People are still invited to join the contributor’s list by submitting reviews today, though a query first is appreciated.) At the height of the project I had enough content to post something every day; it has slowed down a little bit now, mainly so I can work on a few side projects.
Over time, we started earning enough money through ad revenue to offer writers a little something—not a serious wage, because profits aren’t that high, but at least enough to say “thank you—cash this check and buy yourself a six-pack” once or twice a year.
AV: The List is static now, right? Could you talk about the Apocrypha and the criteria movies had to meet to be on the List or to be considered Apocrypha?
GS: The List itself is complete. Is it perfect? No, but it represents the spectrum of weird movies, from the arthouse to the grindhouse to unclassifiable curiosities. And I don’t think we missed any of the giants: Bunuel, Lynch, Jodorowsky, Ken Russell, Bergman, Fellini, all well accounted for.
My criteria has always been to ask first, is this movie weird? If not, I don’t care how outstanding the film is, I won’t consider it for the List. Then, I ask if the movie is either good or otherwise notable enough to demand to be mentioned among the best weird movies ever made.
After writing that 366th review I knew that weird movies would continue to be made in the future, and that older movies would continue to be uncovered from the vaults. So I came up with the idea of Apocrypha, movies that could be on the List but failed to make it either because they were bumped off by other, more representative movies, or simply because they were released after the project “concluded.” Apocryphal movies aren’t necessarily worse or lesser films, or held to a lower standard, they’re just Johnny-come-latelies.
AV: “I Remember That Movie . . . ,” the spin-off site from 366WeirdMovies.com is an undeniably valuable public service. Have there ever been any real gems (re)discovered because of it? Do you have other stories of coming across cinematic treasure in unlikely places?
GS: I haven’t personally discovered any films from “I Remember That Movie.” Most of my new discoveries came from 366 Weird Movies’ “reader suggestion” box. I always felt it was important to listen to and collaborate with the readers and include the movies that they loved. Readers first tipped me off to the existence of Hausu, the 1977 Japanese pop-art haunted house film which had only recently been rediscovered in the early 2000s. Readers and contributors led me to a lot of what have now become some of my favorite films. I still have a list of literally hundreds of movies readers have submitted to go through, so there’s not much room for other sources—although the Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal has been a great source to find upcoming films and filmmakers, though perhaps not an unlikely one.
AV: What’s your favorite kind of weird movie? Do you think the List and/or Apocrypha lean toward one type or another?
GS: I have tried not to make the List lean towards my particular tastes, and to keep it as varied as possible. I suppose it’s inevitable that my tastes influence the List’s composition, however. Since I started out in “bad movie” fandom, I suppose I’m more partial to “so-bad-they’re-weird” films than most. A movie like After Last Season or Manos: The Hands of Fate can be hard for an average moviegoer to take, and if they tend towards the art film end of the weird movie spectrum, even more so. I am also partial to crazy, over-the-top, excessive spectacles of the kind Ken Russell specializes in: movies that favor brute force passion over intellectual subtlety.
AV: I read that you watched around five films for every one that became “canon.” Is that right? How has watching so many movies—weird and not-weird-enough—affected your relationship with movies on the whole?
GS: That figure sounds about right, I haven’t done the calculation lately. I actually force myself to watch mainstream movies, usually once a week. Due to my membership in the Online Film Critics Society, I also screen all or most of the year’s critical darlings at the end of the year. It’s important to keep a baseline on what’s considered normal and acceptable in the movie world: it’s key to not getting jaded. You have to know what’s normal to know what’s weird. I love a solid, well-plotted and acted conventional narrative—but only as a changeup from a weird movie!
AV: What’s next for 366 Weird Movies?
When Covid-19 struck, we stumbled upon the idea of our fans screening movies together weekly as a group. Netflix and Amazon Prime both offer the ability to host group screenings, with an accompanying chat. That’s something I’ve come to look forward to and would like to expand the base if possible. Readers vote on the movies we’ll screen and we post updates on 366weirdmovies.com, Facebook and Twitter each week.
We also publish a Yearbook every year chronicling the year’s strangest cinematic offerings, with the 2020 edition scheduled for late November/early December release.
Then, we’re working on a big print version of the entire List, which is approaching the halfway mark as we speak. Fingers crossed, may be a year or two from completion.
After that, we may migrate to the popular podcast/webcast format, which would allow us to focus on new releases and feature more guests. Although by the time we reach that point podcasts may have given way to virtual reality experiences hosted by A.I. bots! At any rate, we’ll keep plugging away for the foreseeable future.
Amy M. Vaughn is the author of Skull Nuggets (Bizarro Pulp Press) and the editor of Dog Doors to Outer Space (Filthy Loot). Her forthcoming books include Freak Night at the Slee-Z Motel (Thicke & Vaney) and The Shelter (Cabal). She is also a contributing editor at Babou 691.