Movies — from Bad to Worst
by Phil Noir
In any discussion of the worst movies ever, the general consensus always seems to be “Plan 9 from Outer Space” (1959). It’s so bad it’s good; in fact, it’s a masterpiece of ineptitude and unintentional hilarity. It qualifies as maybe the worst-made film ever, but that’s something entirely different. There are a multitude of movies that are so bad they’re really fun, like “Ishtar,” “Pink Flamingos,” or “Teenagers from Outer Space.” There are a ton of bad sci-fi movies from the 1950s, but one I’d like to single out gives you a hint of its quality in the title, which I think was meant to be “Attack of the Eye Monsters.” But as it appears on screen, written across the top in smaller letters we see “Attack of the,” then the main title in big letters, “The Eye Monsters. So is the title “Attack of the the Eye Monsters?” I thought that was hilarious.
In this category the one I’d pick to challenge Plan 9 is the 1936 classic “Reefer Madness.” Made to scare young people away from the wretched evils of smoking marijuana, it shows several nice teenagers going from babbling incoherently to turning psychotic. I don’t see how anyone could ever have taken it seriously, but that was a different time and there was lots of hysteria over “dope” of all kinds. None of these, or others of their type, should fall into the category of worst, or worst ever. To attain that status, I think a movie should have to be mentally and emotionally difficult to sit through; it shouldn’t be any fun at all. I have some beauties to offer later, but first I want to pay respect to another class of movie.
Probably inspired by the unintentionally bad, a host of films were intentionally made badly, and a new genre was born. “Nuke-‘em High” was one of the first, which was alright, but it doesn’t rise to the camp-ability of a gem like “Chopper Chicks in Zombietown” (1991). There’s this old mine, see, and it was dynamited closed years ago to trap a bunch of zombies, see. But there’s just been a cave-in, and now the zombies are loose, and they’re slouching towards town. In the meantime, a bus breaks down right in the path of the shambling horde. And it’s full of blind kids. Sheer artistry. But for me, the Mona Lisa of this class has to be “Killer Klowns from Outer Space” (1988). It’s an amazingly clever and innovative film. The spaceship looks like a big top, with red and white stripes. Their guns fire popcorn, but not just any kind of popcorn. People they capture end up inside big cocoons that look like pink cotton candy hanging from the ceiling. These Klowns have very klever ways of offing people. Great fun for the whole family!
Well, enough with the jocularity. Now let’s get to the movies I dare you to sit through. I should begin with “Manos: The Hands of Fate,” because many will argue it belongs in the category above. I honestly couldn’t say, the thing was such a mess. This one is always high in lists of worst ever. “Battlefield Earth” (2000), from the story by Scientology’s founder, L. Ron Hubbard, is high on the lists, although I haven’t seen it, nor have I seen “Leonard Part 6” or “Norbit,” also contenders. Some have even put “The English Patient” on worst lists, but others loved it. Go figure. “Shanghai Surprise” (1986), starring newlyweds Sean Penn and Madonna, is right up there too, I’ll testify to that. There was a futuristic flop called “Solarbabies,” where the teenagers were always racing around on roller skates. That’s really all I can remember. Oh, and we mustn’t forget “BOOM!” (1968). It was going to be the ultimate Burton/Taylor film, shot on a beautiful tropical island. How could it miss? She plays a boozy, pill-popping, dying millionaires with a household of bizarre servants and a wandering poet who calls himself “The Angel of Death.” Angel of Mess is more like it. Now I’m going to give you a three-fer. The first two films by Aram Shyamalan were brilliant: “The Sixth Sense” and “Unbreakable.” And then I guess he must have lost his mind, or something. The next three were “The Village,” “Lady in the Water,” and “The Happening.” Here’s a challenge for you: watch all three (if you can), and try to decide which is the worst. I can’t make up my mind.
These are all amateurs, in my opinion. You want movies that are painful to sit through? I’ve got four solid fool’s gold candidates. I’ll begin with “American Anthem” (1986). I know — let’s get two beautiful young celebrities and make a romantic movie around them. Recent gold medal winning gymnast Mitch Gaylord, and a rising young singer-dancer named Janet Jones, were perfect. Who cares if they can act (they couldn’t), aren’t they just gorgeous? He plays a beautiful young gymnast preparing for a big competition while dealing with a lot of family baggage. She plays a beautiful young gymnast who shows up just at the right time. It’s a real pity party, and my self pity became part of the party. I try not to think about it.
Okay, then, let’s get two established acting legends, Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood, and put them in a really sappy love story, adapted from a really sappy novel by the same title: “The Bridges of Madison County.” While I was reading that novel, I was reminded of an old quote from Dorothy Parker: “This isn’t a book that should be tossed aside lightly; it should be thrown with great force.” I wouldn’t have imagined the movie could be as bad, till I was watching it. Then I couldn’t keep myself from thinking, what the hell am I doing here? I guess it could have been worse — it could have been “The Piano.” (Oh I get it now! The piano represents her sexuality, and the remote location symbolizes her isolation! I call this the rubber-chicken-over-the-head school of symbolism. Spielberg does it all the time — in “E.T.” the keys are the bad guys, the keys, the keys, jingle jingle. We get it. But I digress).
Our runner up award goes to “Ed Gein: the Musical” (2010). Ed Gein (pron. Geen) was a serial killer in Plainfield, Wisconsin, in the 1950s. He was a lot more than that. He had a habit of snatching female corpses from graves throughout the area and making little souvenirs of their sex organs, heads, and fingers. He allegedly also flayed the skin off them and made clothing to wear and prance around in. Sound familiar? “Silence of the Lambs”, right? The film is really strange to watch, because there’s this edgy feeling that it doesn’t know for sure if it’s a spoof or not. Although it’s not overdone, exploitative, or gratuitous, I found myself squirming all the way through it. Oh wait. I didn’t make it all the way through.
And now, the grand finale — trumpet fanfare, please! My worst ever candidate, the most difficult to sit through movie is “The Legend of Bigfoot” (1976). This was the fever dream of Ivan Marx, a hunter and tracker who spent his life trying to prove its existence. It’s Marx’ Grizzly Adams or Sam Elliott type western drawl you hear all the way through. As it begins he tells us that it chronicles the past ten years of his research. Bill Nye the Science Guy he ain’t. Here’s how his logic works: Bigfoot is an animal, and animals survive. Bigfoot has survived, therefore he exists. It looks like it was shot with Super 8 film, but there are lots of pretty nature scenes, as he comments on both the savagery and beauty of nature . . . oh, sorry, I dozed off there for a minute. It seems that Marx got pranked by some Native American elders, because his thesis is that Bigfoot migrates through the mountain wilderness from Alaska to California and back again, following the seasons. And there’s something in there about their migrating way back North to die, and that’s why we never find any remains.
When we finally get a glimpse of “the creature,” it’s Marx himself shambling along through a green meadow. Towards the end — oh God! Finally! — he sings some supposedly Eskimo song around a campfire and it brings the beast; well, two really shiny “eyes” in the distance, anyway. The feeling I got during those times I could remain conscious is that Marx desperately wants to believe. The film is really more about him than it is Bigfoot. Whoever it’s about, I literally thought it would never end.
Maybe you have some favorite bombs and stinkers, or disagree with me. Let me know!