8. The Wicker Man (2006)
Continuing from where Glen or Glenda (1953) left off, The Wicker Man is a preposterous, layered piece of work that rewards repeat viewings. Neil LaBute, who had previously directed the successful, but controversial, In the Company of Men (1997), was no rookie at making films that doubled as social commentary. His revamp of The Wicker Man, then, a movie about a lone man who travels to a community run by women, tries very hard to be meaningful but is laughably zany instead.
Edward Malus (Nic Cage) is the “reason for the season,” as it were, overacting at a magnitude previously unseen, especially in the film’s final 30 minutes. Screaming at children, jump-kicking unarmed women, yelling about bees, wearing bear costumes and stealing bicycles, he is like a terrible, masculine tornado that strikes the shoreline of Summer Isle, but the little details are what keep fans coming back. For instance, when he enters a classroom to question kids, why does he erase the entire lesson off of the chalkboard to scrawl his own name? When he’s loading logs onto a cart, but the logs fall off, why does he then just walk away instead of helping to put them back? Deciding what was intentional and what wasn’t is part of the fun.
Favorite Scene: Malus dons a bear suit to try and sneak into a pagan celebration. The most famous bit comes when, as said-bear, he knocks out a woman with no prompting. Later, he attempts to mingle with the pagan parade, but lifts the head off of his suit, blowing his cover. And finally, in a wide shot, Cage is clearly dancing, even though no one else is.
7. Manos: the Hands of Fate (1966)
Manos was written and directed by Insurance Salesman Harold Warren, who bet a Hollywood scout that he could make a low-budget horror film with no prior experience. How many other films can claim such pedigree? Also, the amount of the bet has never been specified, but Warren spent $19,000 making the movie, and because of the low-budget, the entire movie was shot on a wind-up, hand-held 16mm camera incapable of recording for longer than 32 seconds.
Manos is better enjoyed after a brief lesson on its storied production. John Reynolds (Torgo), for example, was frequently high on LSD during the shoot, which helps to explain his erratic behavior. Also, the film was dubbed before its release by different actors than the ones on-screen, including Warren’s wife, who had little to do with production. To add insult to injury, compensation for the project equaled one bag of dog food for a Doberman and a bicycle for Jackey Neyman, a little girl who cried the first time she heard her character’s dubbed lines.
Favorite Scene: Torgo stumbles for 32 seconds in his horrible prosthetic legs (which he wore backwards, accidentally) as he fetches luggage from the a visiting family’s sedan. Also, he fondles the wife’s hair very awkwardly in an extended take that clearly represents how high the actor was throughout the filming process.
6. Road House (1989)
Dalton (Patrick Swayze) is a NYU Philosophy graduate who just so happens to work as a “Cooler,” a man who keeps bar patrons from getting out of hand. His skills are legendary, and a small-town bar owner (Kevin Tighe) asks Dalton to help fix his place – the Road House – for a substantial payment. Initially successful, Road House soon hits a wall in Ben Gazzara, a rich developer who demands fealty from all local businesses but doesn’t get it this time. He sends goons, orchestrates explosions, and generally acts like a wealthy maniac, until a final showdown that begs to be seen.
Favorite Scene: The climactic three-minute fight between Dalton and Jimmy (Marshall Teague) includes both of the film’s signature bad moments, one of which is the definitely not-safe-for-work quote, “I used to fuck guys like you in prison,” and also the oft-referenced, throat-ripping fatality from Swayze’s hero.
5. Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959)
It is the granddaddy of essential bad films, a film so inept that it defies description. Stock footage, makeshift mannequins, and spotlights that are supposed to be lasers inhabit Plan 9, but it is most famous for its use of Bela Lugosi footage.
Lugosi had in fact died long before filming began, yet Wood still wanted to use him in Plan 9. Undaunted by only having several recorded scenes of the real Lugosi (such as the one where he weeps near a funeral), he hired his wife’s chiropractor to play Lugosi in the rest of the film. The result is a lot of shots in which a Dracula-like figure shuffles slowly across the room, face-covered by his cape. It is never scary, though the actors on screen portray it as so.
Surprisingly, Plan 9 did not receive a lot of attention for being a bad movie, or even for being a movie at all, until the 1980 book “The Golden Turkey Awards” declared it to be the worst film ever made. Fitting then that the movie is about outsiders reviving the dead.
Favorite Scene: The now-famous “UFO on a string” descends on a graveyard following a weird conversation between two gravediggers.
4. Troll 2 (1990)
Troll 2 has absolutely no connection to Troll (1986), and it has no trolls, but what it does have are a bunch of plant-eating goblins who lure vacationers into their hometown of Nilbog in order to prep them for ingestion. The manner in which this happens is painfully slow and ridiculous, and involves a lot of poor special effects.
Because of its badness, Troll 2 has mustered a cult following, a fact that has both bewildered and awed its amateur stars, many of whom had never acted before. As documented in Best Worst Movie (2009), the Italian director, Claudio Fragasso, was initially pleased with the renewed interest in his movie until he realized that people were making fun of it.
Favorite Scene: Joshua Waits (Stephenson), after conferring with the spirit of his dead grandfather, urinates all over a table filled with poisoned food to prevent his family from eating it. The father (George Hardy) angrily carries the boy over his shoulder out of the dining room while ranting, “Do you see this writing? Do you know what it means? Hospitality. And you can’t piss on hospitality! I won’t allow it!”
3. Gymkata (1985)
Kurt Thomas stars as Olympic gymnast John Cabot, who is hand-picked and trained to be a government operative that will infiltrate the fictional country of Parmistan in order to secure land for a missile defense system. In order to secure the land, however, Thomas must compete in a brutal “game” that involves a lot rope-climbing, running through fields, and dodging arrows, all before entering into the dreaded “Village of the Cannibals.”
Thomas, an actual World Champion gymnast, was a heavy favorite to win Olympic gold in 1980, but the US famously boycotted those games, leaving the talented athlete without much to fall back on.
Favorite Scene: Cabot’s slow-motion journey through the Village of the Cannibals is, without a doubt, one of the funniest action sequences in movie history. Besides the amusing fact that the “cannibals” are actually just weird, crazy hobos who are naked, suicidal, and occasionally wearing the skin of other crazy people, Gymkata goes above and beyond the call of logic by placing a pommel horse in the town square. Cabot, of course, uses it to dance around on and kick his way clear of an assaulting mob. It is long and bizarre, and is the very definition of “must be seen to be believed.”
2. Abraxas: Guardian of the Universe (1990)
Jesse “The Body” Ventura, former governor of Minnesota and World Wrestling Federation star, plays Abraxas – an intergalactic cop in search of his former partner gone rogue, Secundus (Sven Ole Thorsen). The flimsy plot hinges on Secundus impregnating an Earth female in order to produce a prodigy (the comater) that will understand the meaning of the “Anti-Life Equation.” The answer will make Secundus immortal and all-powerful, and nothing will stop him (save Abraxas) from finding it.
Ventura, at this point in his career, had co-starred in Predator and Running Man (both from 1987) and had bigger plans of becoming an action star. This was that film – the breakout role designed to elevate him to super-stardom. The result is anything but. Nonsensical, pseudo-scientific jargon, inappropriate smooth jazz, Secundus crashing every vehicle he commandeers, a James Belushi cameo as the worst school principal ever, three separate narrators, police officers with uzis, and on and on – the film is truly a pot boiling over.
Favorite Scene: Abraxas, shirtless and in the dark, asks the boy to come sit with him on his bed so that he can tell a story about “two men who were partners” in a soft monotone while slow jazz music plays in the background. Truly unsettling … and unintentionally hilarious.
1. The Room (2003)
The current world-champion of essential bad films, Tommy Wiseau’s The Room is an earnest, fatally-flawed drama about a cheating heart and the damage done … also, a breast-cancer subplot that is never resolved. It supposedly mirrors some of Wiseau’s own life, and as such, it started as a play in 2001, which he then turned into a 500-page book that no publisher would buy. Finally, Wiseau made it into a script and paid $6 million to film and star in it, despite having no previous experience.
The result is what Entertainment Weekly called “the Citizen Kane of bad movies,” and against all odds (it was only ever advertised on a single Los Angeles billboard), it became a smash success courtesy of the reviews from several online and print critics who were lucky enough to see it. The film now enjoys Rocky Horror Picture Show status, and is attended by costumed, line-quoting fans worldwide. Its creation and reception were uncovered and documented in “The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room,” by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell.
Favorite Scene: Johnny (Wiseau) finds out about his girlfriend’s infidelity with his best friend, Mark, and he proceeds to moan incoherently and smash his entire apartment to smithereens, throwing everything off of the counters and shelves, grabbing his television and tossing it out of the window, and eventually finding a comfy chair to sit in and scream.
The Room, moreso than other essential bad films, should be watched in its entirety. Every scene is a small triumph of unintentional hilarity.
Author Bio: Shawn Hudson is a graduate student living in Asheville, NC. He loves all kinds of movies and grew up watching horror films, but in particular, his passion and time have recently been directed towards making his podcast, http://www.moviebombsquad.com, the best bad-movie-lovin’ show around. Follow the show on Twitter @Yoggins or at http://www.facebook.com/groups/moviebombsquad.