I have a bit of an admission to make. Among my weirder hobbies, I am an avid lover of the worst of the worst films ever made. From recent flops like Birdemic to old classic failures like those featured on the TV show Mystery Science Theatre 3000 I love them all. Recently, I’ve been discovering some new ones, and revisting old favorites. I’m not sure what draws me to these atrocious crimes committed against the world of filmmaking. Is it the remarkable cheesiness? The obvious production failures? The ridiculous plots? Probably a combination of all three, plus a heaping helping of schadenfreude. I’ve compiled my list of the best of the worst, and hope you’ll find them as wonderfully awful as I have.
Plan 9 From Outer Space- The Quintessential Terrible Film
Most people who’ve ever explored the depths of Hollywood’s most terrifying are at least seminally familiar with director Ed Wood’s most famous failure: Plan 9 From Outer Space. Funded by a Baptist Church whom Wood convinced would be able to make a series of films about the lives of the apostles with the proceeds from Plan 9 and featuring a delightful combination of horrible writing, unconvincing acting, and technical gaffes, Plan 9 serves as an excellent first foray into the world of awful films. (Also, the church made everyone involved, including Vampira, get baptized.)
As seen in the trailer, Plan 9 sold itself as a thriller about zombies attacking the people of Earth. It also sold itself as starring “shock star” Bela Lugosi. However, while filming the movie, Lugosi unfortunately died, leaving quite a few important scenes to be filmed without him. Rather than re-write the scenes to feature one of the other zombies he’d cast, Wood opted instead to have a chiropractor he knew stand in for Lugosi and just cover his face with a cape (he’s in the trailer doing this, inexplicably right after the trailer announces that Lugosi is in the film and shows a picture of the real actor, who looks quite different than the chriopractor.) This also led to confusion as no one who watched the film realized that Lugosi and the chiropractor were the same character, defeating the point of including him in the first place.
Among a slew of mistakes, such as spaceships obviously held up by strings, characters just standing around inexplicably as zombies approach them, and characters obviously reading from scripts in their laps, Plan 9 commits the egregious error of just making no sense at all. The best way I can figure to explain what’s happening is that aliens from space want to save the galaxy from a weapon Earth will create soon, so they start waking up the dead in hopes this will alert us to the weapon we’re going to make and get us to stop.
Also, Plan 9 features one of my favorite narrators, who frequently “predicts” things he claims happened in the past, says “my friends” way too much, and generally leaves things less clear than they were before he tried to clarify them.
Also, there’s this:
Glen Or Glenda- Ed Wood’s Semiautobiographical Lump of Ouch
Many film fans know Ed Wood through his association with Plan 9 From Outer Space. Still others know Ed Wood through Johnny Depp’s portrayal in the Tim Burton film Ed Wood. However, in addition to his sci-fi magnum opus, Wood also created the bizarre docudrama Glen or Glenda, about a transvestite struggling for acceptance in an uncaring world. While this premise has the potential to become a thought-provoking, deeply profound exploration of rejection and society, it instead just turns out being awkward, confusing, and hilarious.
Wood himself was a closet transvestite and chose to play the main character in Glen or Glenda, originally known by them much blunter title I Changed My Sex!, which no one in the film actually does.The film opens with the first narrator, played by Bela Lugosi, called The Scientist saying random things about mankind at large which mean nothing. The scene abruptly changes to a crime investigation where an inspector seeks the truth in the case of an apparent suicide by a transvestite. To get answers he seeks the advice of the film’s second of two warring narrators, Dr. Alton. Alton spends the bulk of the time speaking to the inspector, but occasionally decides to break the fourth wall and address the audience. Meanwhile in a desperate attempt to prove that he is the actual narrator of the film, the Scientist occasionally breaks in with more nonsensical babble that has nothing to do with the rest of the movie at all. Alton also proves to be a poor source for information, making obviously false claims such as that hats cause men to lose their hair.
Alton tells the inspector the story of a transvestite named Glen, who through a series of events comes to realize that he secretly wants to dress up as a woman. His revelation comes to a head when he is confronted by his girlfriend, who believes he is cheating on her. Then, this happens:
What you see at the very end of that video is the movie realizing it’s gone insane and desperately trying to get back to the plot it abandoned to watch cows. That scene is never explained, and neither the cows nor the command to “Pull the String!” have anything to do with the rest of the movie, even metaphorically. Glen eventually comes out to his girlfriend, who decided she’s fine with continuing to date a man who dresses up like a woman and wants to be called Glenda, even going as far as to give him her sweater.
The movie has a second, shorter part about a hermaphrodite who joins World War II in women’s underwear, but it’s nothing compared to the first half of the movie and also has no connection to the main plot.
Day of the Dolphin- The Only Movie Ever to Terrify Audiences With the Threat of Dolphin Sex
I got interested in this movie after seeing it poster, and more specifically the most awesome tagline ever written for any movie ever which adorns the poster.
Surprisingly, I found it on Netflix, where it was described as both “Dark” and “Suspenseful.” It is, in fact, neither of those things, instead being hilariously awful. Day of the Dolphin revolves around Jake, a grouchy scientist who wants nothing more than for everyone to just leave him alone so he can train his pet dolphin Fa to speak English.
Yeah, you read that right. He spends his time teaching his dolphin to talk, to the point where the dolphin spends a good chunk of time yelling “Pa, Fa want something!” in a high pitched voice (apparently provided by the guy who wrote the script). The first 2/3 of this movie briefly sets up this premise, then this happens for basically 45 minutes.
The monotonous, dialogue-less dolphin dancing is only briefly interrupted to threaten the audience with the horrifying images of dolphins having sex. While not actually shown on screen, the film dangles the threat in front of us through long, protracted scenes of two dolphins nuzzling each other while romantic music plays, all the while giving each other what my friend refers to as “come hither” glances.
After the horror of the first half of the movie, I was eagerly awaiting when things would get good. I couldn’t wait to see how Jake accidentally trains his dolphin to kill the president! Oh. Wait. He just teaches him to talk? Then someone else just tells the dolphin to put a bomb on the president’s boat? That’s it? So how do they stop the plot?
By just telling the dolphin NOT to do what the other people told it to do.
What a rip off! I was expecting the underwater mammal version of The Bourne Identity and instead I just get a bunch of people telling a confused dolphin to do things while threatening me with dolphin love?
And yet, the horribleness is so gosh-darned funny!
The Man Who Saves The World – How Brain Molecules and Blatant Copyright Infringement Saved the Galaxy From Wizards.
Apparently, during the late 70s, Turkey had some kind of embargo against importing foreign films, which meant that Star Wars didn’t make it inside the country. Sensing profit to be made, a group of Turkish filmmakers decided to plunder Star Wars for all of its special effects scenes and then make their own sci-fi movie. The film opens with a nonsensical narration explaining how human beings started a huge war, and then decided that to prevent invaders from nuking the planet Earth, they would make a shield composed of “human brain molecules” (which is actually just the Death Star shown in still shots whenever the shield is mentioned.) The rebel attack on the Death Star is explained as “invaders attacking the shield.” Then, when the attackers are repulsed, the film just shows the X-wings flying backwards away from the death star (an effect achieved by just playing the film backwards.) Superimposed over random space battle footage are the film’s two main characters, a pair of Turkish space pilots who eventually crash land on a desert planet where an evil Wizard plans to destroy earth by wrecking the “brain shield.” Apparently, the only way to do that is to use a weapon made from a human brain (whatever, just go with it) so he sets out to capture the heroes. After a whole lot of waffling about, the main characters are captured, then escape, leaving the secondary main character to die behind holding off the Wizard’s forces (including a character just called “Evil Blue Robot”)
Enraged over the death of his friend, the remaining pilot engages in a training montage which puts Rocky to shame.
After learning the deadly martial art of “flailing awkwardly at a rock while having an aneurysm.” the hero discovers that a mystical sword has been made by people called the 13th clan (never explained or mentioned again) thousands of “space years” in the past. Though the sword is guarded by ninjas, the hero kills them, takes the sword, and storms the wizard’s palace.
He fails, and someone else dies. The hero then melts down both the sword and his brain (again, gotta just go with it.) and turns them into a pair of shoes and some gloves, with which he returns to the wizard’s palace and KARATE CHOPS HIM IN HALF!!
Yeah! That’s what I’m talking about!
The film then ends with a long, confusing speech about how the human brain is the most powerful weapon in the universe. Judging by the whole karate-chopping-the-villain, I’d have to say that the human hand is actually the most powerful weapon but whatever. When you save the world after having melted your own brain down to make new shoes you earn the right to make up whatever weird crap you want.
So that’s my list of top terrible movies. Though sometimes painful to watch, horrible old movies are a source of endless enjoyment (especially if you have sarcastic friends.) If you’re interested, check out Mystery Science Theatre 3000, an old 90’s show which is basically just people making fun of horrible movies. Hope you’ve enjoyed it, and here’s one last word of wisdom from our old friend The Scientist.