Total Recall: It's a Bad, Bad, Bad, Bad World

Celebrating the best of so-bad-it's-good cinema: Plan 9 From Outer Space, Manos, the Hands of Fate, Alone in the Dark.

It's January, Hollywood's annual dumping ground for the most mediocre titles on the studios' shelves. Thus, we at RT thought it was a good time to get into the spirit of things by taking a closer look at some of the most misbegotten, perversely wonderful films of all time.

The appreciation of so-bad-it's-good cinema is not new. As Village Voice critic J. Hoberman noted in his seminal essay "Bad Movies," "The Surrealists loved bad movies, seeing them as subversive attacks on the tyranny of narrative form." And as the great critic Pauline Kael wrote in "Trash, Art, and the Movies" in 1969, "Movies are so rarely great art that if we cannot appreciate great trash we have very little reason to be interested in them." However, it was the publication of Michael and Harry Medved's book The Fifty Worst Movies of All Time that helped to usher in a new, codified fondness for cinematic ineptitude; a few years later, the institution of the annual Golden Raspberry Awards and the popularity of Mystery Science Theater 3000 brought ironic movie appreciation to the mainstream.

However, in the ensuing years, it's become increasingly difficult to determine that certain je ne sais quoi that distinguishes a merely mediocre film from a sublimely bad one. Hollywood churns out plenty of laugh-free comedies and unexciting action flicks each year, but many are made with at least a semblance of proficiency and feature competent actors. Lapses in craft don't necessarily make for bad movies, either; the many supporters of the film noir classic Detour (100 percent) will concede that it is riddled with technical imperfections. Intentions are important, too: films with camp followings, like Road House (30 percent) and R. Kelly's Trapped in the Closet may be loaded with absurd dialogue and overheated plotting, but it's pretty clear that's what their makers were going for. And for every perversely hilarious folly like Valley of the Dolls (36 percent), there are theoretical so-bad-they're-good entries (From Justin to Kelly, nine percent, or Myra Breckinridge, 26 percent) that are, in reality, pretty much unwatchable. (Frankly, I'd be surprised if RT's worst-reviewed film of all time, Ballistic: Ecks Vs. Sever, has any ironic defenders.)

What makes for a truly stellar so-bad-it's-good movie is a gulf between conception and execution so wide it helps audiences to reconsider the notions of what constitutes good filmmaking. No essay on bad movies is complete without mention of Edward D. Wood, Jr., the master of delirious cinematic wrong-headedness. So enamored was Wood with the process of directing (and so tight were his budgets), that he would rarely, if ever, reshoot a scene. Utilizing every cut-rate trick in the book (hubcaps stood in for flying saucers, stock footage abounds), Wood crafted a series of anti-masterworks that brought to light his obsessions; Glen or Glenda? (33 percent) was a plea for the tolerance of transvestites (of which Wood was an enthusiast), and Bride of the Monster (29 percent), the last speaking role of Bela Lugosi, whom the director considered to be a great star, even years after his prime. Wood's films were so weird and so seemingly incompetent they stayed well below Hollywood's radar during his lifetime.

But a funny thing happened on the way to obscurity and posthumous derision. Slowly but surely, Wood's films were absorbed into the cinematic cannon, not because of their quality but because of their singularity: nobody made bad movies like these. Hoberman has called Wood an unconscious avant-gardist, and he's something of a patron saint for against-all-odds indie filmmakers. (Tim Burton's brilliant, Oscar-winning biopic didn't hurt matters, either.) Wood's most famous work, Plan Nine From Outer Space (60 percent!), was long considered the worst movie ever made. But how bad is it, really, more people today have seen it than, say, How Green Was My Valley? Featuring an all-star ensemble of Wood regulars (including former wrestler Tor Johnson, ghoul girl Vampira, and charisma-free narrator Criswell), Plan 9 tells the story of aliens who want to reanimate the dead into an army that will conquer the world. After shooting only three minutes with Lugosi before his death, Wood hired a chiropractor friend to flesh out the role (which he did -- by covering his face with his cape). The mistakes are too numerous to count: characters call each other by their real names, daytime and nighttime scenes butt against each other (sometimes in alternating shots), cardboard tombstones shake in the graveyard scenes, and the fight sequences are some of the stiffest ever captured on film. But Plan 9's badness is so pervasive and so original that contemporary critics find it -- gasp! -- pretty impressive. "Like the greatest cinema poets, [Wood] always managed to work in his own particular pet pleasures or concerns, and that odd, ear-bending dialogue is almost like a bizarre kind of open-verse poetry," wrote Jeffrey M. Anderson of Combustable Celluloid.


Plan 9 from Outer Space: The best lines.

Comments

alarson37

Aaron Larson

1st Post, WOO HOO.

And one of my favorite topics too, alful movies....

My current fave bad movie is "Gorgo" a 2nd rate Godzilla (if that's possible). I remember seeing it the 1st time about a year before it was on MST3K and thinking "This has to be on there". Nothing better than guys in rubber suits destroying cardboard cities.

Jan 9 - 05:25 PM

Jimbo93

Conor Holt

haven't seen Plan 9 yet, but Ed Wood the movie is great.

Jan 9 - 05:28 PM

Matanuki

Matanuki .

What's funny about "Alone in the Dark" is the trailer looks kinda cool. But then you see the movie...

Maybe Boll reversed it this time. The trailer for his "In The Name Of The King: A Dungeon Siege Tale" (a title that's probably longer than the script) looks incredible bad. So maybe the movie itself is actually... Naw, probably not.

Jan 9 - 06:39 PM

witherwings

Jamie Lynn

Manos. The Hands of Fate.

Jan 9 - 06:49 PM

Mr. Bowler

Joseph Tomlinson

Why does Uwe Boll keep making movies? He makes some of the worst movies and then gets insulted when critics don't like them. Get a clue Boll.

Jan 9 - 07:11 PM

Young Turk

Joe Massino

He isn't making them for critics or for viewers. The whole thing is a sham, there is a tax law in Germany where movie investors can write off their investment as a tax deduction if it tanks (which all of his movies have so far). This is specifically for movie production however, it does not apply to anything else, therefore he is using it for what it was intended for. If you think the man is a douche, stop watching, whining, paying attention to him and eventually he might go away, but probably not. Though this way you can practically deny his and his horrible work's existence.

Jan 10 - 12:36 AM

walkingdead09

Justin Dean

Godzilla IMO. So much hype for it to be sooo bad. Casting was bad, plot was bad. Raptors in MSG. Just awful. I hate hollywood, yet can't turn away.

Jan 9 - 07:12 PM

quigonjim1

James Mullaney

Try Luthor the Geek. Dumbest thing ever filmed.

Jan 9 - 07:44 PM

Nick Hershey

nick hershey

So the Manos director was a fertilizer salesman. I believe that was also Scott Peterson's profession.

Jan 9 - 11:16 PM

vaodsi

john irvine

a friend of mine saw Alone, and i asked him how it was... his answer was "BOLL-*****!"
whatever happened to that very disturbing looking comedy(?) POSTAL? was that even released?

Jan 9 - 11:36 PM

Young Turk

Joe Massino

He isn't making them for critics or for viewers. The whole thing is a sham, there is a tax law in Germany where movie investors can write off their investment as a tax deduction if it tanks (which all of his movies have so far). This is specifically for movie production however, it does not apply to anything else, therefore he is using it for what it was intended for. If you think the man is a douche, stop watching, whining, paying attention to him and eventually he might go away, but probably not. Though this way you can practically deny his and his horrible work's existence.

Jan 10 - 12:36 AM

arik1969

arik iczkowski

Without a doubt the worst movie I've ever seen has to be "The Aurora Encounter." It is truly, jaw-dropping-ly bad. It is almost on an Ed Wood level. You sit there and wonder how anyone could think, at any time, that what they were making was even remotely watchable. My mother subjected my brother and I to this movie when we were kids, and we only made it through 45 minutes. That had to have been at least 20 years ago, and the movie became, over time, a joke in our family. So much so, in fact, that when I gave my brother the DVD for Christmas, the response was so great that it was worth every penny, even if it never makes it into the player. Yes, it was THAT bad.

Jan 10 - 01:28 AM

kenny356

Kenneth Roos

What, no mention of "Howard te Duck?"

Jan 10 - 05:54 AM

Spencer1951

Toni Spencer

Attack of The Killer Tomatoes ranks up there with Plan 9. And then again, there's The Fearless Vampire Killers starring the tragic Sharon Tate. I was just a kid and my dad took me to see Gorgo. I was hooked on monster flicks - but after seeing Gorgo, I always felt bad for the monsters. I am also of an age to have seen the Ed Woods movies in the theaters and not just seeing them in later years as part of a cult group. They wowed me then and they still wow me now. And Johnny Depp as Ed Wood in an angora sweater doesn't hurt the eyes either - LOL.

Jan 10 - 06:51 AM

Ophiuchus

KJ T

Actually, Wood didn't film those three minutes of Lugosi specifically for Plan 9 - he just decided to use the last footage he'd ever shot of him and build a film around it. Also, the stand-in was actually Mrs Wood's chiropractor.

*is a bad movie geek*

Jan 10 - 06:58 AM

Tim Ryan

Tim Ryan

Good call. my bad. it's been changed.

BTW, it appears Postal is getting a spring release.

Jan 10 - 09:32 AM

Ophiuchus

KJ T

Actually, Wood didn't film those three minutes of Lugosi specifically for Plan 9 - he just decided to use the last footage he'd ever shot of him and build a film around it. Also, the stand-in was actually Mrs Wood's chiropractor.

*is a bad movie geek*

Jan 10 - 06:59 AM

alarson37

Aaron Larson

Another MST favorite of mine..."Santa Claus Conquers the Martians"...the title alone is classic, and the movie is equally awful.

Jan 10 - 09:10 AM

Tim Ryan

Tim Ryan

Good call. my bad. it's been changed.

BTW, it appears Postal is getting a spring release.

Jan 10 - 09:32 AM

Blade501

First Last

You guys want bad, I got bad for you.

Killer Condom

No joke. It's a real movie. Check it out. Be either drunk or high when you see it too. It's THAT bad.

Jan 10 - 11:09 AM

Blade501

First Last

You guys want bad, I got bad for you.

Killer Condom

No joke. It's a real movie. Check it out. Be either drunk or high when you see it too. It's THAT bad.

Jan 10 - 11:10 AM

acton acton

matt hall

I saw the trailer for in the name of the king and it looked really good then i saw directed by boll. damn it damn it damn it damn it, what in the hell, all his trailers look great, then you see the film and it sucks. And usaully ruins the careers of the actors involved in it, I like stathum, and ray I guess i mine as well see this expected crapfest cause it will probally be the last time to see those actors, thanks ewe boll I really hate your guts I hope someone assasinates you really soon, you have destroyed too many careers I hope someone destroys you, your name even says S*H*I*T*.

Jan 10 - 11:31 AM

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