17. Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare (1987)
Filmed in just seven days, Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare is an exception to the rule that movies with rubber-suited baddies can not be essential, in part because everyone in the film just takes themselves so damn seriously. Enter The Tritonz, a Canadian rock band lead by John Triton (Jon Mikl Thor), who want to record their new album in a studio/barn. Unfortunately for everyone involved, their music opens a portal to Hell.
With lines like, “Men, tune your weapons!,” Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare fits squarely in the lil’ known genre of Canadian Heavy Metal Movies, which also features a second film from the same director, Black Roses (1988).
Favorite Scene: By far, the best scene in the film is the final battle, a four-minute duel that has no sound save for the song: “We Accept the Challenge.” In it, Triton duels with the main demon who attacks him by throwing rubber starfish and shaking a lot. It is more a work of calisthenics than acting, as Triton makes every movement look like an intense struggle, including an extended take of him ripping a starfish in half.
16. Johnny Mnemonic (1995)
Based on one of the first stories from prolific science fiction writer William Gibson, Johnny Mnemonic also starred Keanu Reeves in his first post-Speed (1994) role. Basically, the $26 million film should have exploded at the box office, and in a way, it did – bombing with just $19 million in total ticket sales. It also ended Director Robert Longo’s short career, as in this was his one and only feature film.
One of the joys in watching Mnemonic today is its hilarious vision of 2021, in which the United States has been turned into a neon jungle, filled with exciting new drugs and dangers, including the main plot point of the film – a disease, Nerve Attenuation Syndrome (NAS), that has infected half of Earth’s population. Mnemonic, who is a data courier, must carry the digital cure to this disease in his head through hostile Yakuza territory in order to upload it, transmit, and save humanity.
A host of ridiculously over-the-top allies and foes parade through Mnemonic’s adventure, including Dolph Lundgren as an assassin dressed like Jesus Christ, Ice-T as a wise-cracking computer hacker, and Henry Rollins as the surgeon/conspiracy theorist who has some of the best lines in the film.
Favorite Scene: Mnemonic stands atop a pile of garbage and gives an amazing monologue about how he does not want to live in this world, but instead wants “Mexican beer, a $10,000 a night hooker,” and most importantly, with arms spread wide, screaming at the Heavens, “ROOOOOOOMMM SERVICEEE!”
15. Over the Top (1987)
Sylvester Stallone, fresh off of his recent bomb Cobra (1986) – the winner of 6 Razzies – did not really want to be in this movie about an arm-wrestling truck driver that tries to reconnect with his son. “Menahem Golan kept offering me more and more money, until I thought, ‘What the hell – no one will see it,’” said Stallone. And so began the aptly named Over the Top, which hits all of the underdog, sports story tropes, in part because Stallone co-wrote it. Montages, rock ballads, an early defeat, a reason to keep struggling, and finally, an against-all-odds finale all seek desperately to make a movie about arm wrestling into the new Rocky (1976). It fails on all counts.
Favorite Scene: John Grizzly (Bruce Way) prepares to wrestle Lincoln Hawk (Stallone) by drinking a quart of motor oil. And he doesn’t keel over and die. Seriously.
14. Leonard Part 6 (1987)
“The worst movie of the year. They certainly were not reluctant spending a lot of money looking ridiculous. The whole movie is a mess. Bill Cosby, the richest man in show business, reduced to holding a bottle of Coca-Cola next to his face in order to get a picture made. He ought to be ashamed of himself.” – Roger Ebert, from his TV review.
Hated by audiences, dismissed by critics, and publicly ridiculed by the star himself, Leonard Part 6 leaves its viewers wondering why Cosby even agreed to do the film, but then again, his film choices have never been great (see Ghost Dad).
Favorite Scene: Whether it’s rescuing and riding an ostrich off the roof of an exploding building, or cutting wires with live lobsters, Leonard (Cosby) manages to out-cartoon cartoon heroes like Inspector Gadget in a live-action film.
13. Zardoz (1974)
John Boorman, who scored major critical and financial success with Deliverance (1972), used his new found Hollywood clout to film Zardoz, a science fiction film about future Earth, a place now ruled by high-society types who dismiss sex, violence, and anger. He asked Burt Reynolds to star in the film, but the actor bowed out due to “illness,” and in his place, Sean Connery (who had recently turned down a second run at James Bond) was hired very cheaply and out of desperation.
It would go on to be one of Connery’s most visually arresting roles (a loincloth will do that). The film, too, is a pot overflowing with insane ideas, from floating stone heads, to dream-video, to prisms that can trap people’s souls. Oftentimes, it serves more as a fever-dream than meditation on social issues (its intent), one which universally confused critics who had expected a more grounded production.
Favorite Scene: A giant stone head floats over a crowd of primitive fighters. A booming voice emits from it: “Zardoz. Zardoz. Zardoz speaks … to you.” Then, it cascades automatic rifles, shotguns, and assault weapons out of its mouth, which the primitives use to shoot one another. All except for Connery, who manages to hop on board and find the wizard that lives inside.
12. Howling II: … Your Sister is a Werewolf (1985)
In 1981, both Howling and An American Werewolf in London were released, but despite being successes, a wave of werewolf films did not follow. It took Michael Jackson revisiting werewolves in 1983 with his smash-hit “Thriller” to set up the cash-ins. Teen Wolf, Silver Bullet, Ladyhawke, and … Howling II were all released in 1985, yet one of them is not like the others.
Featuring rubber masks, terrible transformations, an incompetent director, gratuitous nudity, and a mind-numbing new-wave song that plays at least 10 times throughout the film, Howling II wrecks the werewolf genre with ridiculous new powers (sonic screams), new weapons (wax earplugs formed from the “sacred candles”), and an indeterminate European setting that is never fully understood. It is also the only film that Christopher Lee has ever apologized for.
Favorite Scene: The ending credits show the same scene of Sybil Danning flashing her breasts 17 times, inter-cutting it with context-less reaction shots of various characters from the film. It is a tastelessly remarkable act from a film that thrives on getting the cheapest possible thrills.
11. The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
The musical film was based on a successful stage production from 1973. Both were written and directed by Jim Sharman, who wanted to create a send-up and tribute to horror and sci-fi films from the 30s through the 70s. It initially bombed at the box office upon its release, but it was revived when audiences started to watch it, and more importantly … interact with it, during midnight showings in England. The trend carried overseas, with Rocky Horror becoming the first, true success of the “so bad, it’s good” movie.
Favorite Scene: Dr. Frank N. Furter (Tim Curry) commands Magenta (Patricia Quinn) to turn his guests into statues using a machine. The statues are clothed, un-clothed, clothed again, and finally revived and made to dance in a bizarre musical number.
10. Battlefield Earth (2000)
John Travolta’s pet masterpiece was supposed to be an expansive trilogy that transformed L. Ron Hubbard’s pulp sci-fi into high art. Instead, it went millions of dollars over budget, and transformed the careers of its actors and screenwriters into living jokes.
Set in the year 3000, Battlefield Earth suggests that humanity, post-Apocalypse of course, has devolved into cave-people wearing rags. Language has ceased to be, and amazingly, almost all of the ancient buildings and technology from the year 2000 still exist, some in perfect working order with electricity. Set to take advantage of this sorry state is Terl (Travolta) and a race of Psychlos, who have descended to mine all of the world’s gold, because gold is the most precious element in the galaxy.
It would be difficult to point to mark where the movie “goes off the rails,” because it never really rode on the rails in the first place. The dialogue, in particular, is endlessly quotable using scores of hyphenated, compound words like; breath-gas, skull-bone, man-animal, and cave-brain.
Favorite Scene: Terl and Ker (Forest Whitaker), after watching the man-animals in captivity, deduce that their favorite food is rat. Terl later grabs Barry Pepper (cave man Jonny) by the hair, shakes a rubber rat in his fist, and screams in falsetto, “Do you want lunch?” He then shoves the whole rat into Jonny’s gaping maw.
9. Glen or Glenda (1953)
Glen or Glenda was Ed Wood’s first feature production, and it is an overstuffed wonder, filled with dream sequences, multiple plots, and an earnest window into the director’s proclivity for women’s clothing. It opens with macabre, pseudo-philosophical musings on life, death, and the modern human before focusing on the aftermath of a shamed transvestite’s suicide. The inspector on the case (Lyle Talbot) seeks out Dr. Alton (Timothy Farrell), an expert on cross-dressing, who tells two stories – one of Glen (Wood) who fetishizes his girlfriend’s angora sweater, but is terrified to admit it, and the second about a soldier getting a sex-change operation.
It would be easy to say that Glen or Glenda was ahead of its time in dealing with social stigmas, but the truth of the matter is that the whole film was spawned from a producer’s want to cash in on a current-day story of Christine Jorgenson, who awed the nation by having a sex-change. The second story is filled with 14 min. of stock footage for that very reason … after seeing Ed Wood’s more personal tale, the producer felt it necessary to tack a sex-change plot onto the end of the movie, as well.
Favorite Scene: One can not go wrong with Glen’s infamous dream sequence features Bela Lugosi as a morose narrator who utters, “Beware, beware, beware the green dragon that sits on your doorstep.” For 10 minutes, Glen struggles to come to terms with his love of women’s clothing in a dream that features Satan, a wedding, a mob-attack, and stock-footage of a sex worker whipping someone.