Blockbuster movies and their bargain basement equivalents

Some of cinema’s most classic movies have spawned some awe-inspiringly bad low budget rip-offs. Here’s our look back at some of the worst...

Every now and again, a film will come out of nowhere and clean up at the box office. Regardless of budget, there are some ideas so potent that, with the deft handling of a talented director, can be made into films that immediately capture the imagination.

The Terminator and Halloween are two examples of films made with meagre resources that went on to have a lasting cultural impact, and whose ideas have been shamelessly copied and regurgitated in countless cheap, hurriedly made cash-ins in the years after their release.

Here’s our list of seven influential blockbusters, and the very worst films inspired by them…

The Terminator

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A seminal 1984 sci-fi thriller that launched James Cameron’s directing career and made Arnold Schwarzenegger a star. Inspired by two episodes of The Outer Limits, both written by legendary SF writer Harlan Ellison, the movie’s unrelenting pace and cyborg design inspired numerous homages of varying quality.

….which inspired: Eve Of Destruction

Anticipating Terminator 3’s deadly female cyborg by more than a decade, Eve Of Destruction was clearly modelled on The Terminator‘s template, with a humanoid military robot who cuts a swathe through an unsuspecting city, this time New York.

Released in the same year as Terminator 2, it’s remarkable just how dated Eve Of Destruction now looks, with its killer cyborg, Eve (played by Dutch actress Renée Soutendijk) decked out in a fabulously kitsch red miniskirt and matching leather jacket.

Despite her wardrobe malfunction, Eve’s a crack shot with an Uzi, has a neat line in one-liners (her favourite motto is a tremulous “I’m very sensitive”), and can only be terminated with a bullet through the eye…

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Jaws

Steven Spielberg’s first box office success, Jaws went on to form the template for Hollywood blockbuster movies ever since. A masterpiece of suspense, Spielberg wisely kept his unconvincing shark hidden for much of Jaws‘ running time, allowing John Williams’ classic theme (which surely ranks alongside Bernard Herrmann’s Psycho as one of the most memorable Hollywood scores of all time), to imply a greater sense of dread than a constant fountain of blood ever could.

….which inspired: Barracuda

The success of Jaws went on to inspire an entire ocean of similar films, some watchable  (Joe Dante’s Piranha was cheesily entertaining), most dire. Alligator, Blood Tide (which featured James Earl Jones) and, more recently, Deep Blue Sea were all similarly fun in a disposable, B-movie sort of way.

For pure camp thrills, meanwhile, look no further than 1978’s indescribably awful Barracuda, a film that restages entire scenes from Spielberg’s classic with hilarious ineptitude.

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Described as “Ice cold action about the misuse of power and strange events”, the barracudas of the title go berserk after a chemical spill alters their tiny minds. Cue plenty of blood in the water, and extraordinarily bad acting.

Watch the trailer, and take note of just how many times they can work the title into its two-minute running time:

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial

Steven Spielberg’s touching, semi-autobiographical tale of a lonely young boy and his friendship with a stranded alien was one of the highest grossing movies of the 80s, and still regularly rated highly on ‘greatest film’ top ten lists.

…which inspired: Mac And Me

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A horribly cynical exercise in product placement, this shallow rehash of  E.T., in stark contrast to Spielberg’s 1982 classic, has been dubbed one of the worst movies ever made by Rotten Tomatoes. Even the alien’s name (Mac) is a blatant reference to a popular brand of cheeseburger, and is quite possibly one of the grottiest creatures ever designed.

For further proof of Mac And Me‘s awfulness, look no further than the film’s central song-and-dance number, which takes place inside a branch of its sponsor’s burger joints. It’s thoroughly vomit-inducing stuff…

Star Wars

It’s inevitable that a series of films as successful as Star Wars would spark an entire wave of similar films, and it was the colossal box office takings of George Lucas’s all-conquering franchise that hastened films such as The Last Star Fighter and even Alien.

…which inspired: Starcrash

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When choosing the very worst Star Wars clone, it’s a close-run race between this film and Roger Corman’s Battle Beyond The Stars. And while both films are mind-numbingly dreadful, it’s Starcrash that wins the battle thanks to its hilarious set design and model effects, which look approximately 20 years older than they actually are, and a pompous star turn from Christopher Plummer in a fetching cape.

Written and directed by Luigi Cozzi, spaghetti sci-fi Starcrash is nevertheless worth a watch for a glimpse of a young David Hasselhoff, its imaginative range of bikinis, as well as the extraordinary range of films it borrows ideas from. There are alien designs from Invaders From Mars, costumes apparently inspired by Jason And The Argonauts, and spaceships stolen from Flash Gordon. For evidence, just check out the awesome trailer…

The Exorcist

William Friedkin’s deadly serious and meticulously crafted possession horror film scared the hell out of 70s audiences, and became one of the most profitable horror films of all time.

Considering just how cheaply an exorcism movie could be made (assuming you ditched Friedkin’s expensive refrigerated sets and special effects, of course), it’s unsurprising that, within months of The Exorcist‘s release, an entire wave of similarly themed films appeared, most of them proving to be the wrong kind of diabolical. These included the Turkish possession effort Seytan, blaxploitation homage Abby and veteran Italian director Mario Bava’s Lisa And The Devil.

….which inspired: Beyond The Door

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For an Exorcist knock-off at its most uninspired, look no further than Ovidio G. Assonitis’s Beyond The Door. So similar to The Exorcist that Warner Bros attempted to sue for copyright infringement, Beyond The Door was made for a fraction of the cost of Friedkin’s classy studio production, and boy does it show.

Ostensibly set in San Francisco, but shot mostly in Rome, the film contains all the drawer rattling, spinning heads (which has clearly been achieved by rotating the entire actress beneath a thick duvet) and scary contact lenses you’d expect from the genre.

Beyond The Door is also notable for its brilliantly wooden script, which is quite quotable in its own inept way. Check out the moment, in the trailer below, where actress Juliet Mills utters, “Is that all you’re going to do to help me?” in an unexpectedly demonic baritone…

Halloween

Itself a natural progression from the pared-back shocks of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, John Carpenter’s low budget slasher movie sparked a colossal number of cheap rip-offs. Almost bloodless by today’s standards, Halloween was followed by a slew of imitators that increased the body count, but lacked Carpenter’s stylistic flare in almost every instance.

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And while Halloween undoubtedly inspired a few horror movies that were classics in their own right (see Friday The 13th, A Nightmare On Elm Street and Wes Craven’s self-referential comedy slasher Scream), most were uninspired or downright terrible.

…which inspired: Drive-In Massacre

There were so many bad slasher movies released in the wake of Halloween that it’s difficult to choose just one, but Drive-In Massacre was quite possibly the worst I’ve seen, and so inept that its makers couldn’t spell its name correctly on its trailer.

The acting’s roughly on a par with a local amateur dramatics production, and the gore effects are non-existent…

Alien

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A simple haunted house in space thriller it may be, but there’s enough classy direction from Ridley Scott, Freudian imagery courtesy of artist H.R. Giger, not to mention an iconic turn from Sigourney Weaver as alpha female Ripley, to make 1979’s Alien a classic of sci-fi cinema. So distinctive was Scott’s sleek, prowling direction, in fact, that it inspired an entire generation of lesser imitators.

…which inspired: Contamination

When you consider that Alien, arguably, inspired a legion of similar yet awful movies, including Creature, Inseminoid, Galaxy Of Terror and Deep Star Six, picking just one truly awful one is quite tricky.

For true bargain basement cheese, however, connoisseurs of crap should look no further than the brilliantly terrible Contamination, also known as Alien Contamination, Toxic Spawn and Alien On Earth.

Directed by the incomparable Luigi Cozzi, the man responsible for the equally dire Starcrash, Contamination is notable for its extraordinary number of exploding people.

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The film may utterly lack Ridley Scott’s slick direction, but Contamination made up for it by subjecting the viewer to relentless fountains of hilarious gore, stunningly bad dialogue and numerous risible creature effects.

Have some cringeworthy copycats of your own? Add them to the comments!

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