A fixation on bad movies is sometimes difficult to explain to other people. “Why would you want to watch a bad movie? Isn’t it… bad?” And while for most terrible films that’s true, there is a special breed of film in which its sheer atrociousness can make more compelling viewing than your average movie. Usually these films are the singular artistic vision of an eccentric, foolhardy director, who sets out to make an artistic masterpiece but instead comes out with a glorious trainwreck. I’ve spent a lifetime trawling the rough, and here I share with you my five favourite diamonds.
Plan 9 from Outer Space
Perhaps the first major cult movie famous for its ineptitude, Plan 9 from Outer Space is an inspiring example of making the most of the resources you have. Billed as legendary horror actor Bela Lugosi’s last film, Lugosi had in fact died before the start of the film’s production, and could only really claim to be his last film by virtue of a tiny scrap of footage of him standing outside Tor Johnson’s house, which through director Ed Wood’s ambitious narration manages to weave into the narrative. The rest of Lugosi’s part is played by Wood’s wife’s chiropractor, who covers his face with his vampire’s cape for the whole movie in order to hide the fact that he isn’t Bela Lugosi. Given the flimsy sets such as the ‘cockpit’ made by putting two chairs in front of a curtain, and flying saucers that are clearly just hubcaps dangling from strings, it might surprise you that the movie cost as much as $60,000. But the real treat of the movie is Ed Wood’s hilariously loquacious, redundant dialogue. “And remember my friends, future events such as these will happen to you in the future…”
The movie that stopped the world from smoking marijuana for good, Reefer Madness is a frantic public service film from the 1930s warning of the disastrous consequences of smoking dope. These include murder, rape, suicide, hallucinations, and playing some insane piano. Far from being an effect deterred to drug use, the film now works as a hilarious example of the fear surrounding drugs and the lengths its critics will go to convince people not to take them. This movie is in the public domain so you have absolutely no excuse not to see it.
Dunyayi Kurtaran Aram (Turkish Star Wars)
Turkish Star Wars is the closest thing to a fever dream ever captured on film. It’s completely nonsensical, yet it doesn’t feel completely random; you feel there must be, lurking beneath the surface, some logic to what’s unfolding before you. What you’re hearing – or rather, the subtitles you’re reading – are definitely words, in a grammatically correct order, that appear to be about something. But somehow the meaning is just out of your grasp. Like a dream, it incorporates things you recognise. Some things are eerily familiar, like characters and plot ideas, and some things are just flat out stolen, such as music and whole scenes from other movies such as Star Wars, which gives the movie its street name. And it’s all stitched together into a nightmare that makes David Lynch’s Eraserhead look like Herbie Goes Bananas.
The 80s was fertile soil for enjoyably bad movies, the best example of which may be Samurai Cop. The movie was not released for the longest time until, as legend has it, a print of it was discovered in a castle. Samurai Cop is at its heart just a Lethal Weapon knockoff, but it’s special in that it feels like it was made by an alien with no other reference points other than other 80s cop action films, and who really likes seeing men without their trousers on. Like all of the best bad movies, it was written, produced, directed and edited by the same guy, in this case Iranian filmmaker Amir Shervan. His movie is testament to his lack of expertise on editing, the English language, and basic human relationships. The film went through hasty reshoots, during which the star Matt Hannon had already cut his hair, so a fun game you can play whilst watching the movie is ‘is Matt Hannon wearing a wig in this scene or not?’
Most bad movies are bad in a particular way, but The Room earns its monicker as ‘the Citizen Kane of Bad Movies’ by constantly finding, and inventing, new ways to be awful. The Room is the brainchild of Tommy Wiseau, a man so mysterious and bizarre that only he could have made a film this mysterious and bizarre. There are five sex scenes in the first half an hour. Characters repeatedly stop the movie to throw a football about. The apartment has framed pictures of metal spoons. And that’s just the tip of the goddamn iceberg. There is a 30 second scene in which Tommy Wiseau’s character, Johnny, enters a shop to buy some flowers. Simple enough, right? Yet somehow every single aspect of the scene, every line of dialogue, movement and idea, doesn’t work at all. The dialogue, despite being awkward and inexplicable, is somehow even more quotable than The Big Lebowski. I sometimes lie awake at night wondering how this movie exists, but I’m so glad that it does.