Films That Invite Paranoid Interpretation

Dear Spaghetti Western experts,

I hope you all are all doing as well as possible during this disturbing time.

I’m Ted, a fourth-year English major , and a lover of old genre movies. I just watched Django Kill!(If You Live, Shoot)! and I loved it, which led me to the “Spaghetti Western Oddities” page. Fantastic!

Now, I have an odd request for movie recommendations, but I completely understand if you’re busy. I’m looking for genre movies(preferably Spaghetti Westerns but not necessarily) that have an abundance of cryptic, mysterious details that are NOT part of the narrative(so not David Lynch type stuff). I’m working on a critical paper, and I’m hunting for movies I could read in a “paranoid” way as having a subliminal meaning(whose clues, indications of this meaning, are in reality probably accidents). Does anything come to mind? Anything remotely like this. I’d really, really appreciate any suggestions.

I like to think of these movies as genre-wobblers, not genre-benders or breakers, where the narrative accords with a genre, but there is an excess of signifying material-sometimes very subtle, sometimes obtrusive.

Here’s a list of movies that seem to fit into this criterion to give you some idea of what I’m looking for:

The Leopard Man(1943),Tourneur: (The drawn-out, seemingly irrelevant, suggestively ritualistic scene where a nameless relative of a victim of the “leopard” bestows the woman with a flower, the procession of villagers in hoods perhaps?)

Mr. Arkadin(1955), Welles:(the digressive comic scenes, come to think of it Magnificent Ambersons would probably count too-I just remember that its mood strikes a very discordant note)

The Birds(1963), Hitchcock:(The painted backdrops by ex-Disney animator, Ub Iwerks)

If only Hitchcock’s Kaleidoscope had been produced! I suspect it would have been one of these movies

.Marnie(1964), Hitchcock: (Several extended shots of the back of Tippi Hedren’s head, More matte painted backdrops by Iwerks, the tree branch that smashes through Sean Connery’s office window during the suspiciously artificial lightning storm)

Death Laid an Egg(1968), Questi: (As I recall there’s some sort of cabalistic symbol that has nothing to do with anything)

Bird With the Crystal Plumage(1970), Argento: (Argento’s artistic flourishes often have this effect, leading the viewer astray from the plot. beyond the more minute flourishes: the birds in cages, the repetition of the shape of a triangle in the architecture, the many shots emphasizing glass partitions(why this metaphor for screened perception?), dreamlike view of the city during the scene where the protagonist tails Reggie Nalder,)

Four Flies on Grey Velvet(1971), Argento:(the pulsating brain in the title sequence, many red curtains, the decapitation dreams)

Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie(1972), Buñuel: (the dreams within dreams have nothing to do with the satire celebrating the ruling class)

Sisters(1972), De Palma: (The many vignette shots that emphasize the focus of the shot with a circular border(the embryo, the peep-hole the vignette shots in the dream))

Deep Red(1975),Argento:(The recreation of Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks” in the background, the giant puppet, the birds in the steam murder scene).

The Shining(1979), Kubrick:(The inconsistencies in the architectural composition of the Overlook hotel, the Alex Colville paintings in the backgrounds)

Does anything come to mind? I understand completely if you’re busy, but I’d love to hear your thoughts.


A spaghetti western I would Recommend THE GREAT SILENCE (1968).
The film explores a cold, literally frozen and honourless west. Bounty Hunters kill mercilessly but keep it ‘legal’ working the system for their blood money their quarry and terrorised country folks have a protector in the mute gunfighter ‘Silence’. Who also works within the system, waiting for his opponent to draw his weapon before shooting them at lightening speed and IN SELF-DEFENCE.
The law is represented in a clumsy, bumbling Sheriff (played brilliantly by Frank Wolff). Who is unable and incapable of defending the town’s people.
The foremost concern of the film to me is the honour and code of the gunfighter against the utter ruthlessness of the Bounty Hunter. But director Sergio Corbucci uses these themes to explore materialism and profiting ethics.
The Bounty Hunters grow wealthier at the cost of human life. Klaus Kinski the main villain even keeps a ledger of the people he kills and their monitary worth. After shooting a wanted black man he simply marks it in his little black book.
The people oppressed turn to Silence representing insurrection.
Silence is a tragic figure mutilated as a child. But he has grown into a horrible man, provoking fights and maiming men or scarring them permanently. Not pure and heroic. But scarred and flawed.
The ending? Well you must see it, it is too good to spoil. Corbucci puts his isurrectionist against the ruthless force of Killers who will win. See what you think!

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For non-Western I would recommend Luis Bunuel’s Belle de Jour, Tristana, and Cet Obscur Objet du Desir (That Obscure Object of Desire). The first and third film go much deeper into Bunuel’s fascination with the blurring of what is real and what is imaginary, and Tristana is his excellent interpretation of lost innocence, some of which is done through the title character’s hallucinogenic dreams. I would also recommend checking out Indagine su un Cittadino al di Sopra di Ogni Sospetto (Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion) & Sbatti il Mostro in Prima Pagina (Slap the Monster on Page One) as both are a clever take on pointing out the flaws in the justice system, The corruption of the press, and the egos of megalomaniacs in authority. Pier Paolo Pasolini’s The Trilogy of Life (Il Decameron [The Decameron], I Racconti di Canterbury [The Canterbury Tales], and Il Fiore delle Mille e una Notte [The Arabian Nights]) pretty much attack everything, though now they’re seen as heavily dated. Pasolini’s other stuff is interesting, but I can’t really recommend them as I haven’t see them.

For Westerns, SW’s in particular, I would go with Garringo and Black Jack, both are about the distorted thinking of characters phycologically scarred by trauma.

Hope this helps you out.

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Look on the YouTube for videos on Spaghetti westerns and hidden meanings. There are a few out there.

Hey thanks Beaumont-Adam! This movie doesn’t quite sound like a genre film with an abundance of mysterious seemingly excessive details, but it does sound excellent. A rollicking review you pen, compadre.

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Thanks that means a lot as there are people who are more qualified to give you examples and analysis than me, but you are very welcome! :cowboy_hat_face:

I do love Buñuel, but I think his absurd satires rather than his psychoanalytic enigma films(such as BELLE DE JOUR and CE OBSCUR OBJET DU DESIR) are closer to what I’m looking for. Basically I’m looking for movies similar to Kubrick’s THE SHINING, in the sense that they are films firmly entrenched in a genre but offer a wealth of mysterious, seemingly excessive details that a paranoid viewer might see as clues(as the interviewees of ROOM 237 do). Does that bring anything to mind? A very picky criterion I know. Anyway, thanks for your suggestions, pardner!

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Not quite sure what you’re looking for but i try to think something:

Four of the Apocalypse is a kinda weird film that could be seen as a road-movie type western but it can be interpreted in different ways also. Maybe they’re all dead and their journey is their purgatory?

Keoma has lots of symbolism, old hag representing death and pregnant woman representing life while Keoma is crucified like Christ.

Yankee is a sort of pop-art western with distinct look which you might find interesting.

El Puro is sometimes referred as buddhist western.

Hmm… what else? There’s loads of spaghetti westerns with biblical references but often these themes are not treated that profoundly, more like using cool names and phrases here and there.

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Hi zelmoza! Welcome to the SWDB.

It’s not a spaghetti western but I think Kill List (Wheatley, 2011) meets your criteria. A fair few maguffins, red herrings and, as you put it, “cryptic, mysterious details that are NOT part of the narrative” in there; some intentional, some not. :+1:

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Weird, inexplicable things, random shots, endless horse riding scenes, characters with psychiatric disorders: Welcome to the westen wonderland of Dick Spitfire!


I liked Tomas Milian’s character. His psycho hippy look with the crosses etched into his face was creepy. It reminds me of the famous mugshot of Charles Manson with the swastika cut into his forehead.

Hey thanks, Bill_san_Antonio! I’m very, very intrigued by Yankee and Four of the Apocalypse in particular. I really appreciate your help, sheriff!

Whoa! Films with this guy sound perfect. Thank you!

Thanks, Last.caress. I remember all the mysterious stuff as being part of the narrative, but I’ll have to watch KILL LIST again. Thanks!

No problem Amigo. In thinking over your criteria, the one film I can think of is El Topo by Jodorowsky. I’ve never seen it myself, but I have heard all of Jodorowsky’s films are trippy so I hope this helps you out too.

Like all of Jodorowsky’s films, El Topo is so heavily laden with the director’s personal symbolism, it’s difficult to know how much one’s experience of the film is accidental. To some extent, that’s what makes it interesting.

I agree, Four of the Apocalypse seems to have some of the aspects you’re looking for, although I’m struggling a little with what that is. Two other spaghettis come to mind as more radically tilted than Django Kill: Mátalo! and Cut Throats Nine.

Mátalo! seems to run along a slightly displaced parallel track to the genre. Like Apocalypse, there’s a malevolent hippy vibe, amplified by the extraordinary sound track and music. In the opening sequence there’s a suicide, unexplained and subsequently unreferenced, while camera movement and focus seem deliberately loose. The film is interspersed with striking moments, for example the exultant music which accompanies Mary’s appearance in the ghost town on a white horse. There’s little narrative drive or character development, more a series of emphatic vignettes and a pervading mood of sun-drenched paranoia.

The Spanish-made Cut Throats Nine’s notoriety stems from its extra-spliced-in-gore sales gimmick. However, its journey narrative is comparatively straightforward; a relentlessly pessimistic spiral to destruction. The unremitting, start-to-finish intensity of its descent from Hell into the lower depths of Hell, via selfishness, paranoia, hallucination and ultimately self-destruction, seem to lift it above its genre conventions.

I’m not sure whether that qualifies it for your study though…


Sartana the first one specifically, always seems to me anyway that the character is either the Devil or the Angel of Death, Berger even starts to say something like that at the end