Ask anyone who’s been to their local multiplex anytime recently and they’ll tell you that mediocrity is the order of the day: it’s all sequels, reboots and movies about Caucasian superheroes, most of which don’t have as much plot as your typical MacGyver episode.
You’d think that a movie with a nine-figure budget and Oscar-calibre talent would at least make some sort of impression, but if you want a truly memorable viewing experience, you’re better off searching out the kind of sleazy, cheesy, occasionally reprehensible films your local plex would pay not to show.
From masked Mexican wrestlers to Spanish vampires by way of Indonesian Terminators, gorillas in diving helmets and fish-men that want your girlfriend not for food but to mate with, there isn’t a movie here that won’t leave your jaw on the floor. So if you’ve ever sat in a multiplex with your popcorn and enthusiasm and been left underwhelmed by $200 million of nothing much, perhaps this list will introduce you to some below-the-radar alternatives.
Call them schlock, guilty pleasures or Z-movies (go ahead, we don’t care) but there’s a strange appeal to their lack of elegance and often baffling narratives. Anything can happen, and usually does.
30. The Twilight People (1972)
Distributed by Roger Corman, The Twilight People is The Island Of Dr Moreau done on the cheap in the Philippines. John Ashley is Matt Farrell, a “soldier of fortune” who’s kidnapped while skin-diving and forced to become a test subject for Dr Gordon (Charles Macauley).
Like any self-respecting mad scientist, Gordon has a comely daughter (Pat Woodell), a psychotic henchman (Jan Merlin) and a cellar full of “experiments”, including an antelope man, a wolf woman and a bat man. Naturally, they escape and….well, you know the drill.
Also among the creatures, but barely recognisable, is Pam Grier as Ayessa, the panther woman. Having achieved prominence (and prominent billing) in The Big Doll House, The Big Bird Cage and Women In Cages, her non-speaking role here, which amounts to little more than a glorified cameo, could hardly be considered a ‘career move’.
Fortunately, following Black Mama White Mama and Scream Blacula Scream AIP gave her Coffy, and a Blaxploitation icon was born. Ashley moved on too, later becoming a producer on The A-Team, for which he provided the opening narration.
29. Hospital Massacre (1982)
A new benchmark for over-the-top direction, unbelievable storylines and performances so broad they qualify as camp, Hospital Massacre starts as it means to go on when Harry, one of those heh-heh-heh psychos capable of sneaking into your house without your knowledge, impales young Susan’s brother on a hat stand as punishment for rejecting his advances.
Years later, Susan has flowered into Playboy cover girl Barbi Benton, and Harry’s abuse of her medical records somehow results in her being detained by the medical staff and subjected to the kind of sleazy assessments Playmates usually receive in horror pictures. Not only does Barbi prove a great screamer, though, but she can take a nude prostrate exam with the best of them.
About halfway through the film, Susan’s boyfriend Jack, who’s been waiting in the car the whole time, finally comes to the rescue and….loses his head to Harry’s bone saw. Said noggin is then delivered to Susan in a bow-tied box, but when she summons help it’s been replaced by a cake, leading the too-dumb-to-be-believable nurses to restrain her. Then they start wandering off by themselves down dark corridors, and you can probably figure out the rest.
28. Invasion Of The Bee Girls (1973)
Why do top-level scientists keep turning up dead due to “sexual exhaustion”? It’s something to do with a mysterious woman in wraparound sunglasses whose research project has created human/insect hybrids that, stuck in their reproductive cycle, continue mating until their partner expires.
Wait, it gets better: when the morgue fills up with middle-aged men who all claimed to be “working late”, the grieving widows are abducted and transformed into Bee Girls by being stripped naked, smothered in beeswax and left in a transformation chamber from which they emerge wearing black contact lenses. So the local Sheriff advises sexual abstinence, unaware he’s appearing in a movie where all the supporting female players are strippers, Playmates and porn queens, which renders his authority….impotent.
You wouldn’t know it from the nudity-heavy trailer, but the script is by Nicholas Meyer (The Seven Per Cent Solution, Star Trek II), who isn’t considered a grindhouse aficionado. Tellingly, there’s a credit for a “Script Consultant” (“Rewrite Man”), so whenever characters discuss psychosomatic death, it’s Meyer, and whenever a breast pops out….you get the idea.
27. Blood Diner (1987)
Years after their Uncle Anwar died in a police shooting when he was revealed to be The Happy Times All-Girl Glee Club Massacre Killer, two brothers resurrect him as a talking brain in a jar. He then tells them to resurrect the Lumerian goddess Sheetar by calling her forth at a “Blood Buffet” where her spirit must be summoned into a body stitched together from the cadavers of murder victims.
A film that delights in its puerility, revels in its cartoonish outrageousness and never goes over the top when it can ascend into the stratosphere, Blood Diner is a pseudo-sequel to Herschell Gordon Lewis’s Blood Feast (1963). According to the Godfather of Gore himself, he was due to helm a straight sequel (which he did years later) but Jackie Kong, the picture’s director, had other plans.
A volatile director, dubbed “Queen Kong” by cast and crew, she often pulled colleagues aside for a “Kongfrontation” (a word seen on a billboard in one sequence), which perhaps explains the level of frantic energy that permeates the film. Blood Diner might be clumsy, mean-spirited and offensive, but you have to admit: it’s never boring.
26. The Human Tornado (1976)
Whether defeating World Champion martial artists with a single blow or extolling his virtues in the theme song (“Mules kicked me and didn’t bruise my hide/ Rattlesnakes bit me and crawled off and died”), stand-up Rudy Ray Moore is the whole show in The Human Tornado, which has a shot at being the most outrageous Blaxploitation movie of all time.
There’s no real story, just a succession of scenes where a comic named Dolemite (Moore, pretty much playing himself) tangles first with a redneck sheriff, then with a mobster named Caveletti. When two of his friends are kidnapped on Caveletti’s orders, Dolemite comes to their rescue with speeded-up kung fu (which must be seen to be believed), but before that the movie plays its trump card and delivers its most bizarre moment.
Attempting to obtain information from Cavaletti’s nymphomaniac wife, Dolemite displays a painting of a white woman wrapped around a muscular black body, the sight of which causes her to disrobe and hallucinate a number of naked, oiled gentlemen callers that emerge from the wardrobe to drop down a slide and land between her spread legs while Moore is, erm, pumping her for information. Did we mention this is a parody?
25. She Wolves Of The Wastelands (1988)
With the male population destroyed by the “bacteriological apocalypse”, evil dictator Cobalt (former Miss India Persis Khambatta) leaves the females (young, blonde, barely clothed etc.) to wander the Mojave Desert while she plots world domination from the plastic-draped soundstage she shares with the Reverend Mother, a wheelchair-bound hag apparently being kept alive by an army surplus radio.
When a genetic experiment known as “the seed” is stolen and used to impregnate Keela (Playboy model Peggy Sands), the Immaculate Conception brings forth the first male child born in decades, allowing the Playmate to show off her parenting skills by teaching him how to use throwing stars.
Kidnapping and sacrificing the child will somehow grant the Mother great powers, so Cobalt locks him up in a giant birdcage and hands Keela over to the Airwave Worshippers, who wear masks and burlap sacks and inhabit a graveyard strewn with broken TVs and skeletons in armchairs.
Surprisingly, director Robert Hayes (not the Airplane! Actor) seems more interested in catfights than narrative logic, so once the general idea has been sketched in he’s free to indulge his passion. And no, we never learn how they were able to procure headbands, hair dye and breast implants in the wastelands.
24. Queen Kong (1976)
Laughable in every respect apart from when it attempts to be funny, this no-budget sex comedy knock-off of Dino de Laurentiis’s King Kong (which itself was trying to capitalize on the success of Jaws) is so lame-brained and amateurish you can’t imagine anyone queuing up to see it. In fact, viewers never had the chance – “legal difficulties” meant it was never released theatrically and remained unseen until its DVD debut twenty-five years later.
Rula Lenska is looking for a “real man” to star in her jungle adventure film, but in 70s England the best she can find is Robin Askwith, who also played Timothy Lea in the Confessions movies. Venturing to “Lazanga, where they do the konga”, Askwith is kidnapped by the bikinied natives (led by Valerie Leon’s “Queen of the Nabongas”) who want him as a mate for their goddess, Queen Kong.
Portrayed by a female dancer in the World’s worst monkey suit, and looking even lamer than the creature in King Kong Escapes (1967), Queenie fights a plastic pterodactyl and, in a scene so bad it looks like a Saturday Night Live parody, a T-Rex that knocks over the “scenery”. Incredibly, the movie manages to get worse: witness the end credits song that includes the couplet, “You would stop yelling ‘rape’/ If I was just an ordinary household ape.”
23. Rock N Roll Nightmare (1987)
Jon Mikl Thor, lead singer of the real-life Canadian hair metal band Thor, plays “Triton The Archangel”, a heaven-sent ass-kicker who wears a cape and leather thong. He’s infiltrated a band that’re recording some tunes in a studio that, years earlier, was the scene of a multiple homicide.
The murders were committed by some hilariously unconvincing rubber demons, and it just so happens that they’re still around, so as soon as the band arrives, everyone except Thor starts dying in a series of gruesome set pieces.
This can only be building towards one thing – a confrontation between Triton and the Prince of Darkness. Sadly, budgetary constraints mean Satan doesn’t put in an appearance, so instead a hand puppet taunts Thor before announcing “You win this time” and vanishing in a cloud of purple smoke.
22. Madmen Of Mandoras (1963)
On the fictitious Caribbean island of Mandoras, a “leading scientist” is being held captive by Nazis interested in his antidote for G-gas, a lethal nerve agent they intend to release across the globe. This diabolical masterplan could only have been thought up by the still-living head of Adolf Hitler, which resides in a bulletproof jar and occasionally transforms into an unconvincing prop.
Unavailable for years, Madmen Of Mandoras was sold to television in 1968 as They Saved Hitler’s Brain (still bearing a 1963 copyright) and expanded to a Network TV-friendly 91 minutes with the inclusion of snooze-inducing new footage. Clumsily integrated into the narrative, the new scenes bring the movie to a grinding halt and serve only to jumble up the storyline.
In its original version, however, it’s a silly-but-fun B-grade thriller that doesn’t deserve the critical enmity it has inspired over the years. Judge for yourself.
21. Attack Girls Swim Team Vs The Undead (2007)
All a movie with that title asks is that you get on its wavelength, enjoy it for what it is and admire the cast in their swimsuits. Director Koji Kowano (Cruel Restaurant) knows this, so his camera lingers on every curve, erect nipple and pert behind as his actors swim, sunbathe, shower and fight off a zombie horde.
At an all-girl school in Japan, a virus turns students and teachers into flesh-eating monsters with an unnatural fear of chlorinated water, meaning that only the swim team is unaffected. This inevitably leads to scenes of swimsuit-clad girls fighting off blood-spattered aggressors, but is there more to the movie than that? Not really.
With its porno production values, cheap effects and emphasis on female nudity, Attack Girls has even less ambition than Zombie Strippers, but it’s better-paced and, in true Japanese style, so disarmingly gonzo it’s difficult not to be entertained.