How is it that sometimes worse is better? We don’t really know. But we do know that this wonderful cinematic paradox is most enjoyably exemplified in the B-movie genre. When acting is awful, sets are unstable, direction non-existent and production value valueless, that’s when we crack out the popcorn and get comfortable.
So, here lies a list of lost loves, of incredible incredulities, of amazing wonders the likes of which you’ve never seen. Or wish you’d never seen…
1. Plan 9 From Outer Space (Edward D. Wood, 1959)
The mother of all grade-Z 50s sci-fi movies, Plan 9 long held the critics’ title of ‘worst film ever made’. Thanks in part to Tim Burton’s fantastic 1994 biopic, Ed Wood, it has more recently been reconsidered a B-movie classic. And rightly so.
Wood, a legend of the genre, also made such eminent disasters as Bride Of The Monster, a film in which a drug-addled Bela Lugosi fudges lines and which Wood oversold, later unable to re-pay his investors. Much like in Mel Brooks’ The Producers. Only real.
Then there’s Glen Or Glenda? Where Wood portrays his own transvestite habits in some of the most shockingly surreal and mad sequences ever produced. Legend has it that Wood fought as a WW2 marine in Iwo Jima with a bra and pants on under his uniform.
So, to Plan 9. Lugosi, famous for his earlier portrayal of Dracula, had just died. Wood wanted to make Plan 9 Lugosi’s last film so he used two minutes of footage he had previously shot of the actor, then got his wife’s doctor to stand in as Lugosi for most of the film by holding a cape over his face.
Paper plates and hubcaps with visible string are used as flying saucers, cardboard gravestones wobble and fall as actors walk by, continuity is so bad that scenes hop from day to night, and actors can be seen reading scripts. Plan 9 confirms Wood as heavyweight champion of the good/bad B-movie genre.
2. Attack Of The Crab Monsters (Roger Corman, 1957)
It’s almost impossible to choose a best Roger Corman B-movie. He’s such a leading figure and pinnacle director of these kind of films that his nickname is ‘King of the Bs’ (also famous for trippy 60s oddities, low budget horrors, Edgar Allen Poe adaptations). But if we don’t go into detail about The She-Gods Of Shark Reef, Teenage Caveman, Swamp Woman, Viking Women And The Sea Serpent or Creature From The Haunted Sea, then it must be Attack Of The Crab Monsters.
The complex plot involves scientists, and, well, big huge crab monsters. Using much war-time stock footage, the brilliant dialogue includes lines such as this, spoken by an actual crab monster: “So you have wounded me! I must grow a new claw, well and good, for I can do it in a day, but will you grow new lives when I have taken yours from you?”
But more than just a silly movie maker, Corman is one of the true innovators of his ilk. He won a lifetime achievement Academy Award in 2009, and places great emphasis on teaching and supporting young and new filmmakers. Protégés of Corman’s include some of the world’s finest directors, such as Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese and Ron Howard. Few from any genre come close to his vision, courage and inspiration as a filmmaker.
3. Samurai Cop (Amir Shervan, 1989)
If your favourite food is either ham or cheese, then we’ve got a treat for you. Not only one of the most inept action films of the 80s, Samurai Cop may seriously be the (unintentionally) funniest movie ever made. Watching it, you feel it would almost be difficult to make a movie so badly.
Garth Marenghi has nothing on this heap of brilliantly steaming ‘produce’. It’s laugh-out-loud ridiculous from start to finish. The acting is ludicrously deplorable, the editing ham fisted, the continuity isn’t continuous in the least, the sound dubbing worse than a Columbian soap opera, and the script is pure unadulterated gold.
We are told he’s an expert samurai who speaks Japanese, but our protagonist cop is an American, mullet-haired, fake-tanned, denim-wearing heartthrob Joe Marshall (played by Matt Hannon). It has tits, racist stereotypes, bad action sequences, a moronic plot, hilarious dialogue…I could go on. It’s shockingly amusing. You must see this cult classic to believe it, or renounce your geek moniker immediately.
4. Destroy All Monsters (Inoshiro Honda, 1968)
No self-respecting B-movie list would be complete without a Japanese inclusion. Or, more specifically, one from the Godzilla franchise. Destroy All Monsters is the ninth of Toho Studio’s Godzilla movies and one of the most successful. It wasn’t made on a tiny budget. The studio put a few quid into it, thinking it may be the last in the legendary series. But it certainly has the feel and tone of a classic B-movie.
Perhaps because we are treated not just to Godzilla himself, oh no, that would never satisfy our over-stimulated-monster-loving brains. This offering also features monsters Mothra, King Ghidorah, Rodan, Manda, Angurus, Spigas, Kumonga, Minilla, Baragon, Gorosaurus and Varan. Yes! Bring it on!
The film is set in 1999. Monsters on Earth have broken free from monster island and are partying like Prince by attacking the world’s greatest cities. With some monsters under human control, some rogue, and some just outright monsterly, big giant monster fights ensue across famous (cardboard) skylines. But eventually our favourite, Godzilla, and all his nice mates return to monster island to live happily ever after.
5. Class Of Nuke ‘Em High (Richard W. Haines and Samuel Weil, 1986)
Troma Industries is a 30 year old independent distribution and production company who, over the years, has brought us such luminary titles as Poultrygeist: The Night Of The Chicken Dead, Nazi Surfers Must Die, The Toxic Avenger, Rabid Grannies, Tromeo & Juliet and Pot Zombies. Needless to say, it specialises in low-budget, spoof-tastic, over the top, tits ‘n’ ass, gorey madness.
I once went to the counter of a high-brow film rental shop with two Troma titles, asking which was better. The response I got from the nerd behind that desk was that he wouldn’t classify either of them as films, let alone attempt to recommend one. À la ‘comic book guy’. So, that’s how Troma is regarded within the world of cinema, and Class Of Nuke ‘Em High is one of its crowning glories.
Tromaville’s high school is located right beside a leaking nuclear power plant. I’m sure you can imagine the subsequent adventures. One such scenario involves a bunch of teenagers smoking radioactive pot, followed by a couple having radioactive sex, culminating in the girl coughing up a radioactive mutant demon baby into the school jacks. ‘Nuff said.
6.The Plague Of The Zombies (John Gilling, 1966)
Founded in 1934, the UK’s famous Hammer Film Production Studios produced some genuinely great films. Most notable would be The Curse Of Frankenstein, Dracula and The Mummy (1957, 1958, 1959 respectively, all directed by Terence Fisher and starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing).
But this is a good/bad film list. So, it would probably be more apt to mention the many woefully brilliant sequels to the aforementioned, such as The Horror Of Frankenstein, The Evil Of Frankenstein, The Revenge of Frankenstein, Countess Dracula, Scars of Dracula, Brides of Dracula, Curse Of The Mummy’s Tomb, Blood From The Mummy’s Tomb etc.
But 1966’s Plague Of The Zombies is actually a criminally under-rated zombie flick, often overlooked within the saturated genre. The look of the zombies and subject’s treatment were undoubtedly a huge influence on many subsequent zombie films, such as George A. Romero’s early ‘Dead’ releases. On saying that, the look, feel and production value of all Hammer films satiate fans, no matter how bad or good they are. When a Hammer comes on Channel 4 at two in the morning, just when you’re about to go to bed, it’s always a joyous couple of hours.
7. Braindead (Peter Jackson, 1992)
Before he had a heap of money to make Lord Of The Rings or The Lovely Bones, Peter Jackson was quite the low-budget gore impresario. His first feature film, Bad Taste (1987), was made with the help of mates working for free. It was shot mostly over weekends as Jackson was working full time.
A few years later he unleashed his brilliant black (and by black ,we mean blood-soaked-red) comedy Braindead. In a turn of typically bizarre Antipodean cinema weirdness, Braindead is as gorey as it is tongue ‘n’ cheek. Slapstick humour delivered in exaggerated blood ‘n’ guts packaging.
The plot involves a rat-monkey hybrid that bites the lead character’s mother, turning her into a murderous zombie. Of course. This inevitably results in hundreds more zombies, and a scene in which they are chopped up by a lawn mower during a particularly unappetizing dinner party.
At one stage his mother, now a huge zombie monster, pushes Lionel, her son, back into her womb. So, he has to hack his way out to be free (she was an over-bearing mother in her pre-zombie days).
Braindead is not actually bad at all, so perhaps shouldn’t be on this list. It’s a fantastic example of good ol’ zombie gore fun done well. Illustrating an early incarnation of the talented Mr. Jackson we all know today.
8.The Wild Women Of Wongo (James L. Wolcott, 1958)
With a title like that and a tagline which reads ‘Savage! Primitive! Untamed!’ you just know that this film, like any decent 50s B-movie, is going to be replete with racist and sexist stereotypes.
Woven through an intricately fleshed-out plot, of course…the wild women in question live on the island of Wongo. They have been bestowed with ugly, brutish men by Mother Nature (yes, of course,she’s a character). On a nearby island live handsome, dashing men. But, you’ve guessed it, their women are mingers.
One day the dreamy men-tribe are attacked by ape men, so they send for help. And when the wild men of Wongo see the messenger they try to kill him, but their hot women protect his gorgeousness. Thus insulting their tribe.
The crocodile god has been offended. Luckily enough, there was some stock footage of a crocodile lying around to illustrate this.
Then the women are exiled, just as the pretty men also go into the forests for a ritual…then…oh hell, does it really matter? It’s all completely asinine. After some hot-tribal-women cat fights, wooden acting and bulging pecks, the beautiful people end up with the beautiful people, and the ugly with the ugly. And so the attractive-ratio-harmony-matrix of the universe is restored. Phew.
9. Troll 2 (Drake Floyd, 1990)
Over the last couple of years Troll 2 has become an adored cult classic among followers. Its child star, Michael Stephenson, made a documentary about it in 2009 called Best Worst Movie and that title stuck.
The first indication that it’s no Raging Bull may be that the director used the pseudonym Drake Floyd instead of his real name, Claudio Fragasso. Secondly, that this is not a sequel at all. It was originally called Goblin. In order to market such a hunk of junk they decided it would be best to try and pass it off as a sequel to another shit film which no-one really cared about – Troll (1986).
So, the two films have no connection and don’t relate to each other. Thirdly, that it is an Italian production, with an Italian crew, but Fragasso used non-actors and armatures from Utah in the lead roles. This caused huge communication problems during production, and results in a stilted, badly delivered script.
It’s in English and set in American, but Troll 2 certainly looks and feels like a typical cheap 80s Italian horror. The plot revolves around a family who come upon a village of goblins disguised as humans (not a troll in sight) who are strict vegetarians, so turn people into plants to eat them. Vegetarian cannibal goblins. Have you ever heard of anything more chimerical and absurd in your life? Fabulous.
10. The Barbarians (Ruggero Deodato, 1987)
Among lovers of bad movies, The Barbarians is genuinely rated as one of the worst, or best. Or worst. Surely the phrase ‘camp humour’ was created for this homo-erotic, muscle pumping, Italio-American hilarity.
The Wikipedia entry for this film shows the calibre of Barbarians fans (and I realise I’m insulting myself here). In its entirety it reads: “Twin brothers attempt to save their people of entertainers against Kadar who lust for the ruby that ensures their talents.”
In some other world and time, where magic reigns and the sword is worshipped, we have the Barbarians, two ‘roid-raging brothers whose acting is some of the worst captured on screen. But they make a mean ‘errrughhhhhhhh’ noise.
The ridiculous costumes, greased-up brawn, hammy script and funny, funny fight scenes make this a real sensual treat. It also stars B-movie mavens Richard Lynch and Michael Berryman, adding to the authentically cheapo feel. Body building twins Peter and David Paul were discovered as ‘actors’ by a young Joel Schumacher in one of his first films, 1983’s DC Cab (starring Mr. T). Peter and David went on to star in some bad, bad films. Atrociously awful pieces of garbage next to impossible to sit through, such as Twin Sitters and Double Trouble. By then the glory days of their cinematic peak, The Barbarians, were long behind them.
11. I Was a Teenage Werewolf (Gene Fowler Jr, 1957)
Not necessarily one of the best (worst?) 1950s B-movies, but I Was A Teenage Werewolf is perhaps the most famous. And it sums up the zeitgeist perfectly. It was an American International Pictures (AIP) production, a company instrumental in helping create the 50s US B-movie scene, along with, perhaps, RKO, the other stalwart production company of the genre.
It was produced and co-written by cult film producer Herman Cohen, and starred a twenty-year-old Michael Landon (yes, that dude from Bonanza/ Little House On The Prairie/ Highway To Heaven).
It has teen rebellion, a mad scientist (doctor, in this case), human-to-animal transformation, tragedy, wooden acting, cheesy unintentional humour, and it is parodied and mimicked to this day.
Aliens and monsters were already prevalent in the paranoid sci-fi era of 1950s anti-communist America, often representing and symbolising political, social or cultural threats. The shock factor for US audiences here was that the subject was a teenager rather than an adult.
Obvious subsequent references to the film include 80s flick Teen Wolf, The Cramps having a song of the same name, by appearing in the Stephen King book It, etc. An episode of Highway To Heaven was even called I Was a Middle Aged Werewolf, in which Landon’s angel character turns into a werewolf. Urgh.
Devil Girl From Mars (1954) Flying saucers. Check. Scientists. Check. Alien women. Check. Dashing men. Check. Classic 1950’s FX and robots. Check.
Seventh Voyage Of Sinbad (1958) Remember loving Sinbad when you were a kid? Well, why not revel in stop-motion glee once more.
The Crawling Eye (1958) Good quality 1950s cheap sci-fi, said to have helped inspire John Carpenter’s The Fog.
Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter (1965) If the title isn’t enough to entice you, probably not the kind of thing you want to watch.
The Incredible Melting Man (1977) He melts. He chases nurses in slow motion. He is gooey SFX. He’s the incredible melting man.
Disco Godfather (1979). As well as kicking ass, the disco godfather stands behind a DJ booth repeatedly shouting, “Put ya weight on it” to the disco dancers. Cheap blaxploitation fun.
Demons/ Demoni (1985). Fun 80s Italian gore, where demons rampage a cinema to a soundtrack of Saxon and Motley Crue.
Deadly Prey (1987). A classic bad movie, loved by people who love to hate. Think Rambo made for the price of a bag of chips.
Add your own suggestions below!