Return of the Living Dead (1985): “Did you see that movie Night of the Living Dead?” So begins Dan O’Bannon’s classic, which beat Shaun of the Dead by two decades in re-envisioning George A. Romero’s zombie opuses as dark (or darker) comedy. Turns out zombies are real, but the gas that causes them has been not-so-safely locked up in a Louisville, Ky., medical supply warehouse. When clumsy employees let it loose, endlessly inventive havoc results.
Lightning Over Braddock: A Rustbowl Fantasy (1988): Documentarian Tony Buba could have been Michael Moore if he weren’t actually funny and insightful. While covering, humorously, the decline of his Western Pennsylvania hometown following the closing of its integral steel factory, Buba jokily traces the wholly fictitious rise of one of its residents, Sal Carollo. The subject of Buba’s acclaimed 1979 doc Sweet Sal , Carollo uses the film’s popularity to become a 72-year-old Hollywood prima donna—a running gag that comments on the dim afterlife of popular doc subjects. (In real life, Carollo had a short Hollywood stint, appearing in Romero’s Knightriders, Moscow on the Hudson and an episode of Miami Vice.)
Life and Nothing More ... (1991): Concerned that the stars of his 1987 film Where is the Friend’s House? perished in an earthquake, Iranian master Abbas Kiarostami (late of Certified Copy) decided to fictionalize his quest, turning it into another of his meditations on the cruelties and joys of existence.
New Nightmare (1994): The post-modernism of Scream revived Wes Craven’s career. Thing is, he’d tried that trick before, having breathed life into the desiccated corpse of the Freddy Krueger series by making a film where he, Robert Englund and some of the original film’s actors were terrorized in “real life” by the “real” Freddy Krueger.
Adaptation (2001): Without Being John Malkovich, Charlie Kaufman never would have done his own 8½ .
The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence) (2011): Is Martin—the porcine copycat who, obsessed with the first Human Centipede film, tries to make his own man-’pede—intended as a condemnation of fanboys? Or is the real target director Tom Six himself, who, after all, conceived this Martin’s unprintable atrocities? Either way, it’s a clever meta sequel idea.
2014 Films: The Year’s Most Likely