8. Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959)
Another so bad it is brilliant; Ed Wood’s opus of awfulness is a creation so beautifully baffling it must be seen to be believed. The film centers around the inhabitants of California’s San Fernando Valley as they fight off an attack by flying saucers from outer space. The aliens, led by Eros (Dudley Manlove) and his assistant, Tanna (Joanna Lee), intend to resurrect corpses to achieve world domination.
Named the worst director of all time, Ed Wood’s filmmaking ineptitude is not without love or passion. Obviously, the film is horrible. The cheap sets with mismatched interiors and exteriors are laughable. The toy saucers are delightfully dreadful. Wood often cuts between day and night shots at a whim. Bela Lugosi’ s death and an uncooperative Vampira also did nothing to save the picture. However, all these missteps are the things that make Plan 9 from Outer Space enjoyable and memorable. There is an earnestness present in the movie that cynicism and competent filmmaking cannot touch. Every appalling moment of the film results in laughter, pure amusement, and a huge smile that is difficult to erase. It is impossible to imagine this film with a budget, superb actors, and a skilled director that results in the same amount of joy that the horridness of the final product brings.
Before The Room or Birdemic, there was the legendary and highly entertaining Plan 9 from Outer Space.
9. Killer Clowns from Outer Space (1988)
Killer Clowns from Outer Space may be dismissed by some as a cinematic freakshow, but it is a freakshow with a ton of ambition and originality. In the film, teenagers Mike (Grant Cramer) and Debbie (Suzanne Snyder) see a comet crash outside their small town. As they investigate further, they discover a group of murderous circus clowns from the beyond.
Director Charles Chiodo and his brothers’ creativity is the key element that contributes to the film’s enduring appeal. Whether it be the spaceship appearing as a big top circus, the cotton candy cocoons of corpses, or the use of balloon dogs to pick up the scent of prey, it is clear there is an attention to detail that cannot be matched. The clowns’ onslaught is both hilarious at times and disturbing at times. Many of the deadly antics are creepy while also being comically themed. The design of the clowns also strikes a balance. Throughout the movie, the clowns can go back-and-forth between being menacing invaders and laughable circus performers.
Killer Clowns from Outer Space’s commitment to absurdity is something audience cannot help but respect.
10. Bubba Ho-Tep (2002)
Elvis and JFK versus a mummy, what is not to love there? After waking up from a lengthy coma due to a hip gyration incident, an aged Elvis Presley (Bruce Campbell) ends up in an East Texas nursing home and befriends Jack (Ossie Davis), an African-American man claiming to be President John F. Kennedy. Once the residents of their retirement community start dying suspiciously, Elvis and Jack discover that the killer is a vengeful Egyptian mummy named Bubba Ho-Tep (Bob Ivy).
Thanks to the skill of Campbell, Davis and director, Don Coscarelli, the film’s wackiness never hinders the story. Davis clearly wants to make a good movie. Campbell and Davis also do not wink at the camera in excess. Therefore, the material is not patronized by the storytellers, and the jokes are not beat over movie-goers’ heads. The characters that audiences follow in the film are not lacking depth. Instead, they are given obvious respect. The hairbrained and obscure subject matter puts a grin on audiences’ faces, but it also stirs another emotion. The humor is combined with thoughtful moments that hit the hearts of audiences. Elvis constantly asks himself how the ultimate king of Rock and Roll ended up in a rundown nursing home, and the movie poignantly answers this with the help of a self-proclaimed JFK and an ancient mummy run amuck.
11. Basket Case (1982)
With only a deep love for grindhouse movies, Frank Henenlotter brings an excellent tale of blood and family drama to the big screen with 1982’s Basket Case. Basket Case tells the story of now-separated conjoined twins seeking revenge on the physicians who separated them at birth.
With no money, little-to-no crew, and some non-professional actors, this film has no right to be as influential as it is. Yet, with all the obstacles, Henenlotter creates a successful dark and grainy little horror comedy. The film’s atmosphere wonderfully picks up an early 1980’s New York sleaziness with the harsh lighting and cheap yet resourceful filmmaking techniques. This film also has nods and influences in it that any horror fan can fawn over. The violence, color, and severity of the DIY gore feels like an homage to the Italian splatter films of Argento and Fulci. The film also contains a mystery element reminiscent of Hitchcock films and there is even a Shakespeare quality to the movie with the tragic family and their sins that plague the twins.
Exploding on the midnight movie circuit as b-films often do, Basket Case is dementedly glorious.
12. Them! (1954)
One of the first nuclear horror films, Them! is an early and effective example of the genre. Investigating a string of unexplained deaths, Sergeant Ben Peterson (James Whitmore) joins forces with FBI agent Robert Graham (James Arness) and scientist Dr. Harold Medford (Edmund Gwenn) to solve the cases. They soon discover that the murders are due to enlarged ants that have been altered by atomic radiation.
Them! approaches its subject matter with the realism of the time. Exemplifying the fear of the atomic age and Cold War jitters, the semi-documentary style of the film is a highlight. This pseudo-documentary formula also allows the film to rely on subtly rather than over-the-top melodrama. Them! is still a b-movie but it takes a much more somber tone than many of the other entries on this list. It is evident that the giant ants are the dangerous products of mankind toying with misunderstood forces.
With little insight given into the ants and their motivations, the monsters in the shadows seemingly set on domination act as a representation of America’s view of Soviets in the 1950s. While the Red Scare may be in the past, the film does not feel out-of-date. The doomsday mood and relevant warning of the consequences with human tampering within Them! have held up better than many other atomic horrors films with similar themes.
Them! still manages to deliver chills and present a solemn story that may not be so far-fetched after all.
13. The Toxic Avenger (1984)
The Toxic Avenger is a masterwork of Troma. The Toxic Avenger follows a 98-pound weakling Melvin Ferd (Mark Torgl) from Tromaville, New Jersey as he becomes a deformed vigilante (Mitchell Cohen)
The Toxic Avenger is the epitome of Troma’s filmmaking style. Rather than taking anything seriously, the fun of this film comes from Troma’s own unique brand of irreverence. This film welcomes an audience into a world of low culture and bad taste that persuades people to embrace its defiant and cartoonish nature. A world in which morals and ethics are non-existent. While art is about beauty and meaning, the Toxic Avenger basks in its over-the-top violence and c-grade effects. Its subversion of art continues throughout the entire film and it does not concern itself with a social message or thoughtful reflection. The movie’s cult value through pure anarchy becomes the highly enthralling focus.
The Toxic Avenger is a delightful example of Troma’s off-the-wall movie magic.
14. Class of Nuke’ Em High (1986)
Another Troma addition, Class of Nuke’ Em high is a film that knows exactly what it is. In the movie, Tromaville’s elite students transform into rampaging freaks when toxic waste contaminates the water supply.
While it can be argued Toxic Avenger is the better Troma film on this list, there is still enough Troma tropes to make this movie quite amusing. Class of Nuke’ Em High is not trying to be a quality movie or a profound one. The special effects are rightly disgusting for this exploitative romp. The lawless humor is present and appreciated greatly by the writers, Richard W. Haines and Samuel Weil. The movie’s dystopic viewing into teenage behavior in a post nuclear world works well with the over-the-top carnage and exaggerated acting. Lastly, the movie earns points for an awesome soundtrack and a runtime that does not overstay its welcome.
Class of Nuke’ Em High is a nonsensical and insane b-movie at its core and that is precisely what Troma wants it to be.
15. Hobo with a Shotgun (2011)
Starting as a grindhouse trailer, Hobo with a Shotgun becomes a full-length thrill ride. The film follows a homeless man (Rutger Hauer) drifting into a city terrorized by gangsters who corrupt the police and allow crime to run freely. It becomes too much for the homeless man to witness, and he becomes a vigilante avenger.
Hobo with a Shotgun has all the violence and zany antics one can except to find in a movie with a such a title, but the movie’s quality is heightened thanks to a wonderful performance by Rutger Hauer. Hauer’s character is not a crude stereotype despite being nameless. In fact, Hauer plays the character with subtle finece and festering with anger and regret. Due to Hauer’s acting abilities, the character becomes fully fleshed-out and dimensional. Audiences find the hobo compelling while also enjoying the exaggerated violence and mania handled well by director Jason Eisener.
Hobo with a Shotgun is a terrific must-watch film for any b-movie fanatic.