The Room. Plan 9 From Outer Space. Troll 2. Whenever someone mentions the term “so bad it’s good” in regards to cinema these are among the first films people think of. Or they might cycle around to Showgirls. Battlefield Earth. Manos: The Hands of Fate. Either way for those who only look at the surface level of movie trends, these are the same films that get mentioned again and again when we talk about these Mystery Science Theater 3000-ready titles.
But to those willing to venture down the dank, dark, urine-soaked alleys of cinematic trash and strange outsider art, there are many more gonzo, insane, absurd disasterpieces to behold. There’s an entire universe of zonked-out cinema well beyond Tommy Wiseau that needs to be seen to be believed and here are ten such pieces of garbagy greatness worth your time.
1. Dangerous Men (2005)
Only recently rediscovered by the fine folks at Drafthouse Films, Iranian-immigrant turned one-film outsider auteur John S. Rad’s 26-year-in-the-making passion project plays like a lobotimized Tony Scott attempting to make Ms. 45 before taking a left turn into 1990 Michael Dudikoff action-schlock territory.
When her fiance is killed and she’s assaulted by a pair of evil bikers, Mina goes off the deep end, seeking revenge by killing any creepy, aggressive male that crosses her path — which seems to be every man except her cop brother-in-law, who begins his vacation (as we are repeatedly told he’s on) investigating the trail of dead bodies Mina’s leaving in her wake before abruptly switching his investigation over to catching a heretofore unimportant drug kingpin, a bait and switch in plot that was Rad’s solution to firing his lead actress during filming.
“Fight” scenes starring “actors” who can only fumble awkwardly, knives clenched between buttcheeks, a naked John Cleese lookalike running through the desert while berating his penis, ever-shifting facial tattoos and a sex scene involving kneecaps being rubbed erotically make up the bulk of the “action”, all of underlined by an insidiously catchy and nonstop cheapjack Casio keyboard theme song.
2. The Astrologer (1975)
The rarest film on this list, this is truly a once in a lifetime opportunity, with those in attendance at its first (and only) screening at Austin’s Fantastic Fest in 2014 being among the lucky few who’ll get to experience the madness of Craig Denney’s rags-to-riches-to-rags drama. Shot in 1976, only to disappear completely, it was long thought lost, until a single, battered print appeared — but, due to its use of unlicensed music, it has become too cost-prohibitive to commercially rerelease as a 4k scan.
The basic structure of Denney’s monomaniacally made tale (the erstwhile one time filmmaker wrote, directed, produced and gave himself the lead) is a celebrity rise and fall story, only with the celebrity here being an astrologer almost god-like in his influence.
Denney’s weirdly affecting idea of style includes a dinner scene done entirely without dialogue and a camera pan over and across a disgusting bathroom in crazily sped up fashion. Oh, and then there’s the immortal line: “you’re not an astrologer. You’re an asshole!”
3. The Apple (1980)
Menahem Golan, one half the creative team behind legendary ‘80s schlock factory Cannon Films, took a break from the action films that made up most of Cannon’s canon to direct a polished, high profile musical designed to capitalize on the era’s most popular idiom: disco. And he fell flat on his face with a disastrous box office bomb.
It didn’t help that disco was on its way out and that the genre, despite being the selling point of the film, was essentially the music of the bad guys here, thus biting the hand it hoped to feed it. It also didn’t help that almost the entire cast was made of actors who couldn’t act…or sing…or dance…or do anything “musical” convincingly.
Aaaand it didn’t help that the movie is both (very loose) Christian propaganda with a Faustian bent and a post-apocalyptic scifi tale in which the world is ruled by a massive record company so powerful that it can literally make everyone stop what they are doing and dance to hit disco songs…even if what they are doing is putting out a fire or conducting surgery. The opulent production design is the only thing about The Apple Golan didn’t get absolutely, gloriously wrong.
4. The Visitor (1979)
Italian genre filmmakers of the ‘70s were well known for shamelessly and blatantly ripping off whatever film was internationally famous at that precise moment, but with The Visitor, director Giulio Paradisi (credited as “Michael Paradise”) and producer Ovidio G. Assonitis got greedy, ripping off everything: the plot is a bizarre indescribable, mishmash of Star Wars, The Omen, Close Encounters of the First Kind, The Birds, The Exorcist and god knows what else telling the story of an epic battle between good and evil over the soul of a young girl.
Strangely gorgeous looking, with a beautiful cinematography and a few eerie shots (a change of pace from the usual grubby look of most Italian knockoff films), it is still narratively nonsensical, full of cheesy special effects and featuring an eccentric cast that includes Lance Henrikson, Shelly Winters, Glenn Ford, Kareem Abdul-Jabar (!) and John Huston…as God. Who talks to the devil. During a snowstorm. In the desert.
5. Roar (1981)
Roar began life as a both a family film and a paean to the majesty of large cats, a passion project for actress Tippi Hedron and her husband, film producer Noel Marshall, who shot the film on an African wildlife preserve they had newly founded.
But what is meant as a Disney-esque live action travelogue romp turns, inadvertently, into a real life horror movie: cast and crew filmed amongst hundreds of real lions, and while not of the cats got hurt, 70 people on set were injured, some seriously: Marshall got gangrene, his daughter, a teenaged Melanie Griffith needed facial reconstruction surgery and cinematographer turned future director Jan De Bont was scalped.
This is the least “so bad it’s good” film on this list, because, as dreary as the filmmaking is, it doesn’t achieve the levels of ironic hilarity, slapdash cruddiness and personal outrageousness the other films do. But it remains compulsively watchable even in its drier spots because of the constant threat of danger and the real fear flashing across the actor’s faces as they are swarmed by massive, beautiful, muscular creatures that can do them in at any moment.