On this week’s podcast we featured three of our favorite bad movies – Jim picked LASERBLAST (1978 – available to watch for free on Tubi), Jeff picked SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS (1964 – also available on Tubi) and Christina picked THE ICE PIRATES (1984 – available for rent on Amazon or iTunes). We’ve got a few more recommendations for you – three more from each of us, in fact! – so if you love bad movies as much as we do check these out. A number of these films (and a whole treasure trove of additional content) are available for free via the Tubi app – you should definitely download this app if you’re a bad movie connoisseur.
Let me start by saying that I am inexorably attached to slew of bad movies thanks to growing up in the easy, earthy tones of the 1970’s, when TV was not an evil, but rather a necessity. We were still years out from the family VHS recorder, so our watching choices were limited to the programming that the networks broadcast. There was no cable, only the channels that were available on the physical television dial – which amounted to about 5 or 6 options actually worth watching. We could not watch what we wanted to, but rather we watched what the network brass chose for us to watch – ah I’m sure today’s GOP longs for those days.
Anyway, the local networks seemed to have an endless library of films to choose from, both ‘good’ and ‘bad’, so it wasn’t out of the question to catch something like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid on one night, and then Tourist Trap the next, on the same channel, same ‘Million Dollar Movie’ program block. Because of this, as a kid I was unable to develop any sort of distinction between a top Hollywood movie such as Network, and amateurish dreck like Track of the Moon Beast. They were both movies being shown on TV – and thus on a level playing field. In fact, if given the choice ,I would of course pick Moon Beast every time. To aid in this confusion – top Hollywood actors of the past often resorted to appearing in genre movies as their careers softened. Hey, isn’t that guy in Tourist Trap and Soylent Green the same one from that TV show, The Rifleman? Good job, he made it into big time movies – with Charlton Heston and the girl from Charlie’s Angels, no less!
This background just serves to set the stage for my top 3 picks of ‘bad’ movies from this era. So hang on…
1) Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things (1972, available for free on Tubi) – One of the first (if not THE first, which is saying something) ‘homages’ to George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. The flesh eating zombies are here in full force (and full color), thanks to some meddling drama troupe kids in the grooviest sub-1969 attire you can imagine, who visit a graveyard island (?) and act out a fake spell to raise the dead, as some sort of practical joke/acting exercise. Of course, it actually works.
This movie is freaking bizarre, relying on strangely effective slow motion shots with equally slow, dragging audio during the attacks – giving the impression that one is in a sluggish nightmare which is played out to an excruciating, unavoidable conclusion. The mass grave explosion uses this trickery to the greatest effect, like an actually scary version of Michael Jackson’s Thriller. The cast are caught in a Scooby-Doo time warp, in that awkward era of ascots and pinstripes before the start of the ’70’s as most of us remember them, which itself lends to the surreal goings on here. Regardless of the day-glo colors of their outfits, they bleed quite red. Stranger still, the movie is directed by Bob Clarke – famous for also helming the oft repeated holiday classic A Christmas Story.
The TV rights to the flick were owned by WOR Channel 9 in the New York / New Jersey area. The first time I came into contact with it was while I was watching a TV special covering the Hollywood premiere of Saturday Night Fever in 1977. I remember an interview with Gabe Kaplan of Welcome Back, Kotter, and he was happily informing the audience how he always knew Travolta would do great things, and then they cut to commercial…”And tonight at midnight on WOR… ” Cue the slow motion zombies erupting from the ground in all their pancake make-up glory, reaching for the hapless victims.. and the camera… all the while, staring right through me to my soul. This imagery from the commercial seared itself into my brain, and fed many nightmares from then on. I had not even heard of Night of the Living Dead at this point, so it was truthfully like nothing I had seen before. Back at school, there was one kid that was foolhardy enough to stay up to watch it (probably via an older sibling that excelled in inflicting lasting psychological damage), and he walked us through the entire plot. It was another several years until I actually saw the movie (I am quite sure I would not have been able to handle it as a 7 year old), but I knew every turn of the story already. For me it is both unsettling and transportive, and it is extremely under-rated, even in bad movie circles.
2) Beware! The Blob (1972) – From the same year as Children… comes this sequel to the 1958 original. This also features a bunch of ill-attired hippies, who all end up as lunch to the red jello. It was made with tongue firmly in cheek with jokes aplenty, but the distancing self-aware humor did not register with my younger self at all, as I watched with incredulous horror at the events that inevitably, unstoppably unfold.
The movie starts with a title sequence featuring an adorable kitten frolicking in long grass with a goofy, kid friendly electronic music accompaniment. The kitten belongs to a married couple, and the husband has just come back from working on an Alaskan pipeline. He has brought back a curious soda can sized frozen sample destined for the lab, but first he must drink plenty of beer and sit in the teepee set up in his living room. The wife shakes her head and laughs as she puts her groceries away, and to make room in the freezer she takes out the sample, leaves it on the counter, and forgets about it.
The top pops off, we see the bright, blood red contents, and are first introduced to the sound that haunted hundreds of my nights – a high pitched single note, almost like a sustained version of that dog whistle sound from a hearing test. This is the Blob’s ‘theme’ and it indicates its presence all through the movie, and I swear it makes the monster 100 times more effective than it would have been without it. It makes short work of the cute kitten after hitting the floor with a resounding SPLAT! Then it rolls ridiculously like beach ball between the feet of the wife, and eats her too. The husband, oblivious in his drunken state, comes out of his teepee to watch some TV. As he fiddles with the TV dial, the blob fills up his easy chair silently behind him – just at this moment, our hippie heroine, who is a friend to the couple, pops in for a visit and sees the nightmare vision of the husbands lumpen shape in his chair, surrounded by Blob with the exception of his face, frozen in a silent scream.
The poor hippie chick flees – and from that point on the movie becomes a fight between the hippies and ‘The Man’, as the kids try to convince the cops that something strange is going on. Along the way a surprising amount of B-listers get absorbed: Cindy Williams, scream queen Carol Lynley, Sid Haig, Dick Van Patten, Burgess Meredith, and JR himself, Larry Hagman (did I mention he also directed this movie?)! The end sees a now giant Blob attacking a combination diner/bowling alley/ice hockey rink – and our heroes, while caught in the hockey commentators booth, manage to freeze the lake of Blob outside the glass by turning on the ice.
The TV rights to this one were owned by WPIX Channel 11, and the movie always played on a Saturday afternoon, targeting all the kids that had just completed their exhausting run of weekend morning cartoons. The Blob was my most feared childhood movie monster, thanks to this movie. The 50’s original was too sanitized by the Technicolor era it was made in to be truly frightening to me, but this sequel was a different story. The amateurish execution served to make the proceedings more human, more realistic. Plus the movie shows that the Blob could get you anywhere – in any comfort zone or mundane environment that a kid might frequent. Witness the horrific scene in which a hippie goes into a barber shop to get a hair cut, only to have his head lowered into a sink-full of Blob. The bowling alley climax sees the blob pouring past the pins, barreling down every alley, consuming the bowlers en masse, with relish. These places were regular haunts of mine – and believe me, haircuts were from that point on a traumatic experience.
3) The Creature From Black Lake (1976) rounds out my terrible triumvirate. This is a Bigfoot movie, which in the 70’s was a sub-genre unto itself. The lack of any type of personal devices back in the day meant that magic and mystery were still possible – the eyewitness accounts of Sasquatch, Nessie, and UFOs featured in docu-series like In Search Of were absolutely valid, as were dramatic recreations. Bigfoot could get you if you dared to step foot in the woods – and without a smart phone to document it.
This is my favorite of the Bigfoot movies, as it features two college ‘students’ (perhaps ‘adult learners’ might be a better description), with the inexplicable names of Pahoo and Rives, who are doing research on the hairy bi-ped in Arkansas. They interview locals and sleep in barns, gathering more evidence as they go along (footprints, scary night noises, etc) until they have a climatic confrontation with the big guy – and he does NOT like their van.
I believe this one was also a WOR Channel 9 exclusive, and again I choose to include it here as its perceived badness did nothing to dull its uneasy impact on me – in fact it only served to heighten it. The presence of Jack Elam (frightful by himself) elevated this even more – this was the googly-eyed ambulance guy from Cannonball Run! What a production! It also puts two likeable, goofy characters in real danger after setting them up as comic relief for the first hour – so your notion of what’s funny and safe gets turned on its head when Bigfoot starts to pummel them. A real gem (or turd, depending) that not a lot of people know about, at least in my circles.
So there you have it, just the tip of the iceberg in terms of ‘bad’ movies that have had some sort of lasting effect on me, mostly in the form of hazy fever dream imagery that appears out of my subconscious and puzzles me, until the memory comes flooding back of it’s source, of the movie itself. These types of movies almost universally all have downer endings as well, which is another reason they had such an impact. Here come some major spoilers, but none of the kids make it out alive in Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things. The Blob is frozen at the end of Beware! The Blob, but a TV crew’s lights cause it to escape as the credits roll. Pahoo and Rives end up alive, but in the ICU after their encounter with Bigfoot. The apprehension that grew in me while watching did not have the cathartic outlet of a happy ending, so that tension stayed bottled up inside until it manifested itself in my nightmares. But yet I HAD to watch, every time these movies were shown. Therein lies the appeal. The myriad of emotions that they continue to bring up serve to remind me that I’m a living and feeling human being, just as much as a picturesque sunrise would. And isn’t that what cinema is supposed to do?
THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK – 1972
My lifelong obsession with Bigfoot may have ignited with an episode of ‘In Search Of’, which first exposed me to the famous Patterson/Gimlin film footage of the wild and hairy creature, but this movie definitely cemented it!
If you are of a certain age, you probably saw this movie on HBO as I did. And as such, you probably had the crap scared out of you as well! You can’t tell me the scene where the creature punches his arm through the bathroom window doesn’t make you jump right out of your seat every time! Seriously, this movie freaked me out – and yet I couldn’t help but watch; again and again and again…
Shot as a documentary-style drama – the movie depicts various residents in Arkansas who have encountered a Bigfoot-type creature known as the ‘Foukes Monster’ in their local swamp region. The movie has no plotline whatsoever and some of the reenactments are ACTUALLY played by the real persons involved in the encounters, so as you can imagine, the acting is pretty amateurish. Much of the film is shrouded in murky darkness, making it hard at times to even make out what is going on, but I guess it was all part of the lure (or perhaps it had more to do with the poor production values of the 70’s) Either way, it’s not a good movie by any means.
Interestingly enough, the director’s daughter, Pamula Pierce, recently unearthed a pristine copy of the original 35mm print and with the help of the Eastman Kodak Museum, lovingly transferred the film using 4K scan technology. I can attest that the transfer is incredible! Lush colors and bright vibrant details abound.
While it’s still not a ‘good’ movie, it DOES hold a place in my heart. And yes, I STILL jump when that damn hairy arm pops through the window, scaring the poor fellow right off his toilet!
SPACE HUNTER: ADVENTURES INTO THE FORBIDDEN ZONE – 1983
I actually saw this stinker in the theater… with my cousins… in Ohio… IN 3D! Why? Because Return of the Jedi was SOLD OUT and my mom and aunt had already dropped us off at the theater. We were abandoned and simply had no choice. Looking back, I realize my grudge against this had less to do with its contents and much more to do with the fact that IT WAS NOT STAR WARS!
Its plot is pretty standard post-apocalyptic movie nonsense in which Peter Strauss (doing his best Han Solo rogue scoundrel) and a perky but whiny Molly Ringwald band together to help rescue three women from the bad guy Overdog, played by the ever reliable Michael Ironside. Its cheesy 80’s aesthetics have grown on me over years – although it’s been quite some time since I’ve revisited it. Think we need to rectify that in an upcoming episode!
BATTLESHIP – 2012
I’m thinking this choice will bring a LOT of heat from my podcast partners in crime – but damn if I don’t watch it EVERY SINGLE TIME IT’S ON. Sorry, not sorry. It’s big, it’s dumb, and currently sits with a 34% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. To say this is a guilty pleasure is an understatement!
Based on ‘Battleship’, the board game – yes, the board game – you get mindless action mixed with cheesy dialogue from all four corners. An all-star cast (for 2012, that is) of Taylor Kitsch, Rihanna, and Alexander Skarsgard can’t save this sinking ship. Hell, even reliable Liam Neeson phones his performance in – literally! I think he spent 1 day on set filming his role.
If you like big explosions, cool aliens who don’t really do anything and giant missiles that actually LOOK LIKE THE PEGS FROM THE GAME – this one is for you. Here are three simple rules to surviving this movie:
1. Plop yer @ss on the couch
2. Take out brain
1) Xanadu (1980) – I remember loving this movie like crazy when I was kid, possibly because I loved Olivia Newton-John’s music like crazy (I was 6 years old in 1980, if that explains anything). In fact, my first memory of Xanadu is not seeing the film but listening to the soundtrack nonstop. My mother recorded the film at some point – probably from HBO – and I wore out the videocassette with my ONJ fangirl enthusiasm.
The plot (I use the term loosely) involves a frustrated artist named Sonny (played by Michael Beck of The Warriors fame) who falls in love with Kira (ONJ, with the fluffiest hair you’ve ever seen). Kira is not actually human but a muse, a source of creative inspiration for humans. Of course, this relationship is Not Allowed by some important deity-type people, but Kira and Sonny keep trying to work it out. In the meantime, Kira uses that muse ability to inspire Sonny to build a roller disco. For real.
Gene Kelly is also in this movie, for reasons I do not fully understand.
There’s a totally weird mishmash of 1940s and 1970s aesthetic going on in this film and an awful lot of ELO and the soundtrack overall has not aged as well I hoped. But I defy anyone not to be swept away by the final strains of Olivia Newton-John singing, “Now that I’m here, now that you’re near, in Xanaduuuuuuuu”. I’m listening to it right now.
2) Real Genius (1985) – Real Genius is only Val Kilmer’s second movie but you get a taste of the charisma that would later make him a star in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s.
Kilmer plays Chris Knight, a student at the fictitious Pacific Technical University. Chris is amazingly smart, but his new roommate Mitch finds that Chris is more interested in goofing off than working hard. In the meantime, the CIA wants to develop a super laser and they covertly hire Professor Jerry Hathaway (played by William Atherton, at his smarmy best), head of the physics department, to do this. Hathaway uses his best physics students (which include Chris and Mitch, natch) to develop the laser without telling them the reason for the project.
Many hijinks ensue, and of course in the end the students discover the plot and outwit their professor – to wit, they use the laser to pop large amounts of popcorn in Hathaway’s house, thus destroying it (all while “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” by Tears for Fears plays in the background – this is my strongest memory of the film).
Michelle Meyrink stands out as Jordan, a female member of the team who falls in love with Mitch. She’s weird and hyper and nerdy and talented and the best part about it is that she’s allowed to be all of those things and still be happy – no duckling-into-swan transformations necessary.
3) The Legend of Billie Jean (1985) – I’m starting to think my sense memory of movies is tied to music, because the number one thing this film has going for it is the awesome Pat Benatar song “Invincible”. Helen Slater, as the titular Billie Jean, is also exceptional in a film that probably doesn’t deserve her.
Billie Jean Davy and her brother Binx (played by a very young Christian Slater, no relation to Helen) tangle with a local kid named Hubie and his buddies, which ends with Binx tossing a milkshake in Hubie’s face. Hubie retaliates by stealing Binx’s scooter. Billie Jean reports the incident to a detective, who doesn’t take her concerns seriously. Later Binx tries to retrieve his scooter and is beaten up for his trouble. His scooter also ends up damaged. Binx and Billie Jean try to get the scooter repaired and the store owner sexually assaults Billie Jean. Binx shoots the store owner and they flee.
This series of incidents somehow leads to Binx and Billie Jean becoming fugitives from the law, and later Billie Jean becomes an icon for disaffected youth. None of it really makes sense but the cast is surprisingly good and the movie has that marvelous ‘80s energy.
Bonus for all you ‘80s kids – a recent Blu-ray release comes with a keen retro VHS style sleeve: https://www.amazon.com/Legend-Billie-Jean-Retro-Blu-ray/dp/6317632596/