An Antidote for Awards Season
Bad art dissolves the hairballs in my overworked heart. It is normally made with good intentions. It’s just that somewhere in the process things go screwy. Sometimes the taste level isn’t there, so the creators of the works don’t realize they are making a monster. Sometimes the creators aren’t the right people for the job, like ones who try to make something teenagers will like even though they don’t know or understand teenagers.
There’s hardly a hurt a good laugh can’t heal, and few things are as funny as bad art. You may prefer bad music, trashy reading material or dumb TV shows. I like all those, but my favorite form is bad movies. The construction crew next door has been waking us up early for weeks. I like getting up with the dawn, but not to the roar of bulldozers and power tools. My respite is bad movies. Superbad movies. So bad they provide an alternate, skewed, hilarious reality I can enjoy until the coffee kicks in and I get called for work.
Everybody’s seen (at least heard of) Reefer Madness, Plan 9 From Outer Space, and Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. I have copies of these and they’re great fun, but here are some greasy morsels from the fetid stew pot that are a bit more obscure. You can find them in the cheap DVD bins, online or through Netflix.
1.) Kitten With a Whip (1964)
Sexy bad girl Ann-Margret stabs a staffer at a detention center, sets the place on fire, escapes, tries to seduce and blackmail a straight-laced politician (John Forsythe), and she and her gang force him to drive them to dangerous, feelthy Tijuana. Awful dialog, blaring music and a serious commitment to act as if this nonsense is somehow plausible makes the film a hoot to watch. Every cliché from pulp fiction is in here because the source was a 1959 novel by the writing team “Wade Miller”, authors of Branded Woman, Touch of Evil and Guilty Bystander. MST3K did an episode on the film. There are no whips (shucks).
2.) Rat Pfink a Boo Boo (1966)
There’s no dearth of bad movies ported over from comic books. Most superhero movies are bad to some degree. Good ones are rare. The title comes from gibberish the director’s daughter kept saying during production. This one begins as a crime picture (with songs), and then does a 180 into superhero satire. A rock singer’s girlfriend is kidnapped by thugs. The singer and a gardener go into a closet and come out as cheaply costumed crime fighters Rat Pfink and Boo Boo. Riding their Ratcycle, they go forth to rescue the girlfriend from the bad guys, and an escaped gorilla (suit) named KOGAR. The director was cashing in on the popularity of the campy Batman TV series, a top show at the time. Ray Dennis Steckler was a confident low-budget auteur who wrote, produced, directed, shot, edited and acted in over 20 films. Ray was a competent cameraman, so the films look like regular movies. They just don’t act like them.
3.) Teenage Monster aka Meteor Monster (1958)
Any movie with “teenage” in the title is bound to be enjoyably bad. This one tries to combine monster movies, westerns AND teen pictures of the ‘50s. It’s no mean feat to fail in three genres simultaneously. A fallen meteor kills a prospector and injures his son. The boy survives but becomes a tall, hairy, snaggle-toothed, bigfoot-looking, weak-minded psycho killer. He’s supposed to be a teenager, but is played by Hopalong Cassidy’s stunt double, 51 year-old Gil Perkins. He uses a little kid voice when squeaking out lines like, “Sorry Mommy.”
4.) White Comanche (1968)
Like Richard Burton before him, William Shatner has always been able to be either a terrific actor or an incurable ham. It depends on the material. In this case it’s a Chef Bad-Ar-Dee spaghetti western shot in Spain during a Star Trek hiatus. It features a lounge jazz score (?!). Bill plays identical half-breed twins. Good twin Johnny dresses cowboy, and sides with the settlers. Bad twin Notah goes shirtless, leads renegades, eats peyote and uses Shatnerized fake injun-speak. “Notah’s brother talks like the white man he thinks he is. He is AFRAID to be Comanche!” Bill gunfights himself.
5.) Forbidden Zone (1982, 2008)
Before they became part of ‘80s New Wave music, The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo used to perform cabaret-style, with bizarre costumes and props. It was more like performance art. The film was intended to capture the flavor of their stage shows and allow Richard Elfman to transition from music into filmmaking. This movie can’t be categorized easily. I don’t know how I missed it when it first came out. (I guess I was too busy running around with strippers after my divorce.) I first saw it when I was working on preparations for its release to DVD. It offers horrifically bad acting, obscenities and gratuitous nudity, outrageous racial and cultural stereotyping, and cardboard sets. However, the songs are great, and there are surreal homages to Fleischer Brothers cartoons and the theatrical styles of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill. I didn’t quite get it until I recorded the commentary with Richard (director-writer) and his childhood friend Matthew Bright (co-writer/actor). The two men never stopped laughing. They laughed so hard we had to stop recording because they would begin choking. Their mood lightened me up too, and at once the film began giving me the feeling of LIVING IN A CARTOON. My life’s grand mostly, but sometimes I would love to live in a cartoon, especially Fleischer Brothers or Looney Toons. Danny Elfman (yes, that one) plays Satan. Don’t miss it, if you can!
Tell me some of your bad movie favorites. I’m always looking for more.