The Not Quite Adventures of a Professional Archaeologist and Aspiring Curmudgeon

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Cinema of Pain

Okay, a detour from the usual talk.  This one is just for fun...

Every now and again, I meet someone who informs me that they have seen the worst film ever made.  They will then go on at great length about how some big-budget, low-concept film is well and truly terrible, and it wouldn't be possible to make a movie that's worse than it.  Or, perhaps it's one of those people who has heard that Plan 9 From Outer Space is the worst film ever made, and is actually gullible enough to believe this.

Whenever this happens, I chuckle, look at the person who announced that they have found the worst movie ever, and announce "my DVD collection can hurt you."

I have stated before that I enjoy B-movies, so it will probably come as no surprise to anyone who is a regular reader that I have racked up a fair number of bad movie notches on my television side over the years.  Whenever the person who announced that Wild Wild West was just too terrible for words insists on their point, I try to show them one of the films below.  If you enjoy crappy movies, then you probably already know about these.  If not, then proceed with caution.

I've included the trailers for all of these movies, but be warned - if you watch the trailer and think "that doesn't look so bad", it is because trailers are mareting tools, and one is can be designed to make a movie look significantly better than it really is.

Manos the Hands of Fate

Probably best known as an episode of Mystery Science Theatre 3000, this is allegedly a horror movie.  It was made by a fertilizer salesman, Harold Warren, who thought that audiences were stupid enough that any crap he put on screen would satisfy them.  He was proven very, very wrong.

On the one hand, many of the people involved as actors and crew apparently were proud of their work and really tried, and so it's a bit of a backhand to laugh at them.  On the other hand, the overall artisitic vision was provided by someone who was apparently something of a dick who thought that he was the smartest man in the country and the only one who would know that this film was dreck, so laughing at the film feels kind of good in that way.

This movie centers on a family (father, mother, and daughter) who are trying to find their way to a hotel, and eventually end up at a place called the Valley Lodge.  The caretaker of the Valley Lodge, Torgo (a fawn, but limited makeup results in him simply looking like Arlo Guthrie with huge knees), tells the family that they can not stay there, but the man (who is played by the fertilizer salesman - so he cast himself as the star of his movie as well...tells you a bit, don't it) insists that they stay despite the caretaker's wishes and unloads their luggage. 

Over the course of the evening, Torgo falls for the wife, the Master (Torgo's boss, a demon or sorceror who looks like Frank Zappa) awakens and decides that the wife and daughter (who was around 5 years old) would make fine additions to his harem, and the man who got his family into this mess is pursued by allegedly demonic dobermens before being turned into the new caretaker.  Oh, and for no apparent reason the viewer is treated to routine check-ins on a couple who are making out in a sports car and have nothing to do with the plot.

The script is bad, the production values nonexistent, the implications of demon-induced sexual slavery and pedophilia icky and disturbing, and the film was done without audio, so all of the voices are dubbed in by two or three people after the fact.  This one is bad.  Bad, bad bad.  Not the worst movie I have ever seen, but still pretty terrible.

The trailer:

The Galaxy Invader

Contrary to the title, no galaxies were at any point invaded during this movie. 

This is a micro-budget movie produced by Don Dohler, a Maryland-based film maker who made many low-budget grindhouse-level movies (back when Grindhouse referred to low-budget quickie/cheap films and not hipster film makers trying to "get back to their roots").  One the one hand, make no mistake, this is a bad movie from almost every standpoint - the acting is amatuerish (probably because it is filled with amateur actors), the budget is nonexistent, and the dialogue is often laughable, and even the film stock is poor...but Dohler didn't seem to be under any illusions as to the type of film that he was making, and while the movie is bad, it's also fun, and fun in a way that I suspect Dohler would have approved of. 

The basic premise of the movie is that an alien spaceship has crash-landed on earth, and the alien has lost his gun and power source in the crash.  A college student and professor witness the crash, as do a set of good ol' boys (led by a guy who comes across as a drunken, over-sexed redneck Jimmy Stewart wearing a permanently torn white t-shirt) who find the gun and power source, all the while the alien (while searching for the lost items) goes on a killing spree.  Although the film seems to want to make this into a treasure hunt/game of cat-and-mouse between the science crew and team redneck, that never quite gels, and instead it seems like two completely different movies that are spliced together without rhyme or reason.  Meanwhile, we are supposed to feel some sympathy for the alien, but as it seems more interested in killing innocent people than in getting its stuff back, that's difficult.  Weirdly, the most satisfying part of the movie is the family drama amongst the would-be-Jimmy Stewart's relations, which resolves in a way that is both hilariously poorly done and nonetheless actually rather satisfying. 

The film is probably best known for providing the clips that were (for no apparent reason) used in the opening and closing credits of another low-budget movie, The Pod People (which featured no pods, and arguably no real people, despite its title), which ended up on Mystery Science Theatre 3000.

Incidentally, the only person who has managed to site through the full film with me is my good friend Liberty.  Libby is also a professor of literature, meaning that she may be teaching your children the finer points of the greatest writing in the English language, but she's warped enough to enjoy something like this.  I have the coolest friends.

The trailer:

Highlander II - The Quickening

This is one of the few blockbuster, major-release, studio films that really is just as bad as it's made out to be.  Most of them are bad, but bad in a "come 10 years, people will forget that this movie was ever made" bad...Highlander II, however, is both hilarious (at least initially, see below) and legendary in its badness.  There are worse films, to be certain, but they weren't made by major studios working with an existing franchise with some well-known actors.  And so, as a friend of mine likes to say, Highlander II has probably the highest money-to-suck ratio of any film ever made. 

Now, some people will insist that, yes this movie doesn't really work with the story established in the original Highlander, but it's pretty good if taken as its own piece of work.  These people are wrong.

Some people will insist that the theatrical release or the television edit or the original video release were bad, but if you see the director's cut (AKA the Renegade Version because the director thought that using the term "renegade" made his movie sound badass rather than just plain bad) or the producer's cut.  These people are deeply deluded and in need of immediate psychiatric help.

It's worth noting that one of the later (and also terrible) Highlander films actually explained this one away as a fever dream had by the film's "hero" Connor MacLeod.  Yeah, a crappy movie in an increasingly crappy franchise even tries to disown this one.

At its core, Highlander II's problem is that its basic premise, that an alien (or time-displaced, depending on which version you're seeing) warlord comes to Earth (or the future, again depending on which version you are seeing) to prevent his arch-nemesis from returning to the Planet Zeist (or the distant past), makes no sense as the hero (such as he is) of the film has made it clear that he has no method of transportation or intention of going to Planet Zeist (or the distant past) to challenge the warlord (I like parentheticals).  Even the warlord's lackeys point this out!  Out of this nonsensical plot, add in an evil corporation that has no clear way of making profits off of it's only product, the fact that the "love interest" falls for a guy apparently because she saw him regain youth through decapitating someone (which you would think would be her cue to avoid him), and Sean Connery of all people using his "life force" energy to zap evil ceiling fans...and, well, there's just no way that this movie could be anything but bad. 

I love watching bad movies, but Highlander II begins to have a numbing effect after a while.  It is so bad that, at about the halfway mark, it ceases to be fun and starts to get boring.  If you watch it in bite-sized chunks, it remains fresh and entertaining in its own bizarre way, but trying to watch it straight through actually sucks the fun out of the bad movie experience. 

There are many big-budget major releases that get labelled as the "worst movie ever" (Ishtar, North, the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Gigli, etc.), but Highlander II has all of these beat.  Anybody who is so sheltered as to think that Gigli is as bad as a movie-going experience can get is likely to be killed by exposure to Highlander II.

For the hardened lover of the cinema du crap, however, Highlander II can provide some great post-movie jokes to crack with your friends.  Indeed, 2-hours of crappy movie lead to a 10+ hour session of making jokes about the movie with one of my college room mates.

A detailed, and wonderfully funny, scene-by-scene review of Highlander II can be found at Jabootu's Bad Movie Dimension.

The trailer:

Flowers in the Attic

Like Highlander II, Flowers in the Attic is one of the few major release films (and an adaptation of a popular novel) that is pretty much just as bad as it's reputation holds.  The premise: a woman who married her uncle has been widowed and is financially ruined, and is coming home to her parent's house in order to make ammends and get back in her sick father's will.  As he considered her marriage sinful (for obvious reasons), she must prevent him from knowing about the children she had with her uncle/husband.  So, the children are locked away, and slowly poisoned, until the oldest twins (who it is implied have begun their own incestuous relationship) break free and kill the mother.

If you think that sounds over the top, I have been told by those who have read them that the novels on which the movie is based have exactly the same plot, but that the incest is much more blatant and graphic, and includes elements of sibling-on-sibling rape (which is is later stated that the victim enjoyed).  Oh, and these books were popular in the 80s with teenagers who are now taking on leadership roles in our society.  Let that sink in a bit, and then shudder and weep for humanity's future.

What saves us from the ick factor in this movie is the sheer ineptitude.  The dialogue is both ham fisted and hilarious, and the delivery is truly awful.  Kristy Swanson, the star, speaks like a robot version of Keanu Reeve.  Oh, and the make-up effects for the "sick children make them look like Oompa-Loompa mimes.  It's really something to behold.

A personal note:  When I was a kid, my sisters loved this movie, which they were introduced to by a friend of our mothers (some friend).  They would rent it on a routine basis and would get upset to the point of physical violence if you pointed out that it was a bad movie.  They even were convinced that Kristy Swanson's performance was a thing of beauty.  Now none of them admit to having liked it, and all of them insist that it was one of the others who wanted to rent it all of the time...but the truth is, it was all three of them.

Once again, Jabootu provides a hilarious scene-by-scene review.

And, the trailer for this schlock:


This Swedish/North American/African co-production is so terrible that I wasn't allowed to view it until I had completed my hazmat training.

The basic premise, clearly inspired by E.T. (which was actually, you know, good): a pair of energy-based life forms are flying through the cosmos and come too close to Earth.  One of them, Nukie, decides to buzz the planet out of a sheer desire to joyride.  This results in the other alien crashing, and being captured by the U.S. military.  Nukie lands in Africa, and begins a trek to recover his brother before he dies at the hands of evil scientists.

Now, with this premise, you would have a difficult time making a great movie (though this could be done), but you could easily make a decent movie, one that was fun, enjoyable, and provided you with a passable way to spend 90 minutes.  Instead we end up with a movie that is truly awful.  The writing alternates between hackneyed and hysterically bad.  The special effects are "special" in the same way that the surface of the sun is cold and wet.  And the acting...oh, the acting.  In a turdball film like this, it is usually difficult to figure out what the worst aspect is, but in Nukie, it's the acting.  Now, mind you, this movie could have been cast entirely with the greatest actors ever to have lived, and it would still have been awful, but with these actors, it crosses over into a very strange type of bad that I had not previously thought possible.

To accurately describe the acting in this film, I have to provide you with the following:  Imagine that you have a set of sub-par animatronic puppets that are constructed for Disneyland's cheap Bakersfield knock-off Darbyland.  Now imagine that the local community theater group were to take acting lessons that consisted entirely of watching these knock-off animatronic puppets.  You now have a very rough idea of just how bad the acting in Nukie really is.

The trailer:

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