Ten Great Bad Movies
I'm fairly convinced that Tyler Perry's Tyler Perry's Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor – reviewed with gusto and bemused outraged by William “Bibbs” Bibbiani and I on the last episode of The B-Movies Podcast (which is up to Episode #113, for those keeping track) – will rather quickly become a minor cult classic. It is already being discussed in hushed circles by certain film critics (Dave White awarded the film no stars before recommending that you see it anyway), and it will no doubt end up on several "Worst of 2013" lists. Be sure to read this piece from Marc Edward Heuck, which is the finest rundown on the film I have seen yet.
The film is entertaining from beginning to end, and for none of the reasons that the filmmakers intended. Not a scene passes without an overwrought moment of ham-fisted pseudo-erotic hyper-melodrama, punctuated by equally ham-fisted moralistic speeches that shoehorn JEE-Sus into a flick that could easily share a title with a particularly smutty chapter in Zalman King's long-running "Red Shoe Diaries." It also has non-cocaine cocaine, and no small amount of hunky shirtless men. Shirtless women, not so much, despite a guest appearance by Kim Kardashian's buttocks. Corny, awkward, awful, finger-wagging, and bugnuts bonkers, Temptation: Confessions of a Guidance Counselor is one of the better times I've had at the movies this year.
I have said before that a great film is a universal experience; greatness will be spread amongst all people – but an awful film is a very personal experience. A great film is something you want to share, and feel good that other people have experienced it. A bad film can feel like a personal affront, and you don't necessarily want to share that experience with people. This is why top ten lists are always vaguely similar (Citizen Kane still regularly ranks high), and bottom ten lists are always different (how many of you would include something like Sextette on your own bottom ten list? 'Cause I would).
But Temptation: Confessions of a Schoolgirl hits that rarefied golden mean: It's the bad film that is also hugely entertaining. It is the kind of film that incurs nothing but laughs of mockery and derision, yes, and I'm sure Tyler Perry would be miffed to hear the guffaws that I experienced in my theater, but it cannot be denied that the audience wasn't having fun. When I left Jack The Giant Slayer, I was grumpy, mad that I had to sit through another howlingly empty CGI-based actioner from the Hollywood cookie-cutter. When I – and the rest of the audience – left Temptation: Confessions of a Volleyball Instructor, we were all smiling and giggling. There was more honest enjoyment to be had from that film than from a dozen summer blockbusters of just about any caliber.
This all boils down to a very simple critical theory: Some bad movies are good. I'm not just talking about guilty pleasures (that's a discussion that has been had in the pages of B-Movies Extended), but films that are legitimately bad by all traditional standards, and yet can be enjoyed openly and universally. No mere cult films, I would like to brainstorm a list of films that I feel are wholly and fully enjoyable directly because of their incompetence. Bad films that can be held with esteem and affection for any and all audiences. You don't need to be indoctrinated into a subterranean group of nutcase cultists to love these movies. Sometimes you want a nice meal, and sometimes chocolate nachos fit the bill. I've talked about some of these movies in the past, but I hope you will indulge me as I rave about them again.
Showgirls (dir. Paul Verhoeven, 1995)
Yes, I'm bringing it up again. Paul Verhoeven's famed sex bomb need no more introduction to most audiences, as its infamy now precedes it. But, dangit, if the film isn't glorious from beginning to end. Hugely ambitious and intended to be a new way to re-up the flagging credibility of the NC-17 rating, Showgirls is wrong in every possible respect. None of the story beats were set up in a way that makes sense, none of the characters behave like humans, the acting is all off-the-wall (even the awesome Gina Gershon behaves like she's been spliced with panther DNA), and even the promisingly titillating nudity is oddly cloaked in haze of unrecognizable Martian sexuality. I admit that it took me several viewings to really appreciate the glorious clunky comedy of Showgirls, but I think it speaks volumes that I was constantly lured back in. It's possessed of that awful, inhuman dialogue that you find yourself quoting. Large parts of you mock, but every part of you is having a great time, and none of you is feeling outright hatred. A joyous film that is trashy fun for the whole family (that is over 17)!
The Apple (dir. Menahem Golan 1980)
I'm surprised that I've never written about The Apple before in the pages of CraveOnline, so this seems like the perfect time. Produced in West Germany in 1980, The Apple is a science fiction glam-rock musical retelling of the Adam & Eve story. And it's just as bonkers as it sounds. In the distant future of 1994, the world will be ruled by an evil music corporation, run by the devilish Mr. Boogalow (Vladek Sheybal). He spends the bulk of the film seducing an innocent Canadian couple into his fold, luring Bibi (Catherine Mary Stewart) into a world of green drinks and songs about speed, and spurning Alphie (George Gilmour in his only film performance) who is left to sing painful ballads of lost love. On an objective level, the film is rotten and moralistic and obnoxious. On the levels that count, the film is a wonder to behold. I saw it at a midnight screening several years ago, and I have been preaching the gospel ever since. I don't want to quote any lyrics here, as I feel you deserve to discover the film on your own. Please seek it out. Because you'll love it.
Hard Ticket To Hawaii (dir. Andy Sidaris, 1987)
Last May, I watched all 12 films in Andy Sidaris' L.E.T.H.A.L. Ladies series, and wrote about every single one of them. Andy Sidaris had a very straightforward ethos when it came to making movies: If you stuff them with enough guns, explosions, and all-important bare breasts, then they're going to be entertaining to the bone. While many of the films are vague and interchangeable, the clear winner of the series was the second, Hard Ticket to Hawaii, which is, in many ways, the Die Hard of B-movies. The story makes no sense, scenes drag, and characters behave without rhyme or reason, but there is still a glorious purity to Hard Ticket that cannot be denied, and can be clearly seen by any and all fans of action movies. Starring a pair of Playboy playmates (Dona Speir and Hope Marie Carlton), this is a film that features a killer snake, some creative rocket-launcher-related deaths, and no less than a dozen freely-bared breasts (much of the film's exposition is given in the jacuzzi – no bikini tops allowed). Throw in a brief torture scene wherein a female body builder wags nunchucks at a damsel in distress, and you know you have something special. Campy and wonderful, Hard Ticket to Hawaii is a must-see.
Miami Connection (dir. Y.K. Kim, 1987)
This film may be dipping into cult film territory, but I feel that it can – and perhaps should – be enjoyed by audiences the world over. The people over at Drafthouse Films recently unearthed this forgotten action cheapie, and gave it a brief theatrical run last year to the pleased cheers of all the audiences. The film follows a rock band named Dragon Sound who ends up on the wrong side of a ninja gangs' temper. Luckily, they're also all martial arts experts, allowing them to fight endlessly with their foes. During the breaks, they perform oddly catchy hair metal tunes in a night club. As someone who was a kid in 1987, I have a weakness for cheesy ninja action films from the era (Ninja III: The Domination is a favorite), so seeing Miami Connection not only inflamed my nostalgia gland, but presented me with a new work by a truly incompetent mad auteur. Another case of plotless weirdness and oddball dialogue, Miami Connection clearly came from a place of love. I think. Even if it didn't, though, I think most audiences can become pumped by the fight-filled glory and wonderful rock 'n' roll. Beyond mere mockery, it's just a wacky night of fun.
Revenge of the Ninja (dir. Sam Firstenberg, 1983)
And speaking of ninja nostalgia, let's throw one on this list as well. Revenge of the Ninja, another film from the Cannon Group (who did The Apple) is a bonkers, super-violent crime drama with more plot twists than any sane mind can recall with clarity. Martial arts superstar Sho Kosugi plays a ninja who is trying to have a peaceful life in America with his young son, when he learns that a local doll shop is being used as a weight station for heroin smugglers. The heroin smugglers are, naturally, led by a martial arts expert, leading to the eventual showdown between the good guy and the bad guy. That Sho Kosugi plays them both in the fight scenes should only add to the wonderful weirdness of some of the fights. This is also a film that features a full-grown adult woman pummeling the snot out of a nine-year-old boy in one of the best fight scenes in all of martial arts cinema. There were an awful lot of bad ninja films made during the 1980s and early '90s, and Revenge of the Ninja is probably one of the most spectacular. Well, I would also recommend Ninja III: The Domination (the one about the aerobics instructor who gets possessed by the ghost of an evil dead ninja warrior), but that's varsity-level camp.
Dangerous Men (dir. John S. Rad, 2005)
I cannot really describe Dangerous Men to you. Over 20 years in the making, Dangerous Men had a brief theatrical run in Los Angeles at certain theaters that were personally rented by the mysterious filmmaker, John S. Rad (who is credited as the film's writer, director, producer, editor, composer, set decorator, and production designer) and was only seen by lovers of the odd. Some scenes take place in 1984. Others in the early 1990s. Stock footage would have you believe that it's the late 1950s. Only it was released in 2005. Characters vanish without reappearing. Ostensibly, it's a revenge drama about a young woman (Melody Wiggins) who turns vigilante after her fiancee is murdered right in front of her, but there are also bizarre comic asides (a naked man in the desert is given a lot of screen time, and new subplots are introduced very late into the flick, causing the entire film to feel like a fever dream. Clearly not meant to be experimental despite its out-there tone, Dangerous Men is certainly a curiosity for anyone who has seen a movie before. It's one of those movies that is so incompetently made, that it begins to take on a surreal quality. It's as if someone watched a lot of old action films, and then made their own in their sleep. It's like the first step on a path to film analysis. What went wrong? And why is it so right? This is Olympic-level camp.
Butterfly (dir. Matt Cimber, 1982)
Pia Zadora was often ostracized in 1982 for her very public wedding to a much older and very wealthy man, and her subsequent fame was often cynically credited to her sugar daddy than it was to any talent she herself possessed. I will defend Ms. Zadora for being a fierce actress, a talented singer, and a woman possessed of a bottomless well of good humor. In interviews, she is very up-front about her involvement in the notoriously campy incest potboiler Butterfly, her debut as a leading actress (she infamously appeared in Santa Claus Conquers the Martians as a child). Zadora plays a feisty, barefoot teenage belle who returns home to her previously unknown father, Stacy Keach, who was unaware he had a daughter. Keach is receptive to his daughter at first, and that turns slowly into a bubbling incestuous attraction on both their parts, leading to bathtub massages, titillating undressing, and an eventual fantasy about sex in a nearby cave. The plot machinations are unimportant, suffice to say that Orson Welles plays the judge who condemns Keach for his child-lovin' ways. I can't tell if the film is meant to be sexy or what, but it's darn fun to watch.
Santa Claus (dir. René Cardona, 1959)
This is one hauled out of mothballs every Christmas, and rightfully so. I defy you to think of a great film to feature Santa Claus. Beyond Miracle on 34th Street and The Nightmare Before Christmas, I can't think of any. The only pleasures a Santa Claus movie can provide usually come in the form of mind-melting weirdness like this 1959 Mexican oddity, noted for being featured on “Mystery Science theater 3000.” José Elías Moreno (better known in his native Mexico for his roles as heavies and monsters) plays the titular Jolly Fat Man, as he sits in his cloud castle, spying on the world's children with his anthropomorphic spy equipment. He has no elves, but actual children he somehow kidnapped from Earth. His reindeer are creepy, cackling robots. His main helper is a batty Merlin the Wizard. When Santa sees that The Devil has dispatched an acolyte to sow discord on Christmas Eve, Santa must use his magic spells to do jolly battle with him. I swear I'm not making any of this up. The plot description sounds like the fantasy of a child on an ice cream bender, but the film itself is even more hallucinatory. This is a great film for any time of the year.
Southland Tales (dir. Richard Kelly, 2006)
Remember Richard Kelly? He was once poised to be the Next Big Thing in the genre film world, thanks to the impact and underground cult success of his rather good time travel/mental illness film Donnie Darko. Kelly decided to do something even bigger with his next film outing, and started to pen a script that also involved time travel, but was to be an enormous extra-long sociopolitical expose that would tackle the Bush administration, media over-saturation, pornography mainstreaming, the cult of personality, underground ultra-left wing terrorism, the sad state of downtown L.A., and would star several "SNL" alumnae. The resulting film was so top-heavy and bizarre and bloated and preachy, that it became decidedly difficult-to-watch, and Kelly famously had to re-edit the film and delay its release for a year following its infamous Cannes debut. Kelly had, with Southland Tales, clearly started to believe all the Hollywood types who flattered him endlessly over Donnie Darko, and became convinced his was an important voice of a generation. This film is one of those ultra-clunky vanity projects that is way over-funded and is so ambitious it becomes awful. There can be a engrossing fascination in that level of failure. As such, Southland Tales actually becomes something of a wonder to behold. Not campy, not fun, but so, so weird.
Plan 9 from Outer Space (dir. Edward D. Wood, Jr., 1959)
What can I say about the grandaddy of all the Best Worst Movies? If you haven't seen it, see it. You'll finally learn what the hype is all about.
Witney Seibold is a featured contributor on the CraveOnline Film Channel, co-host of The B-Movies Podcast and co-star of The Trailer Hitch. You can read his weekly articles B-Movies Extended, Free Film School and The Series Project, and follow him on “Twitter” at @WitneySeibold, where he is slowly losing his mind.