There’s a particular type of joy found in watching a bad movie. Maybe it makes us feel good to think we could do better, or it’s just nice to see that everybody around us isn’t perfect, so we can stop worrying about whether we are. However, there are some films that transcend awfulness and by being terrible on every level they become incredibly entertaining.
SyFy has built a brand upon this idea. With films like Sharknado and Birdemic gathering all kinds of undue praise, filmmakers are increasingly attempting to create something bad and then revelling in how terrible it is. While there may be some fun in watching movies like this, they’re missing the point. What makes a film fall into that category of “so bad it’s good” isn’t that it’s attempting to be bad — quite the opposite, actually. These films are desperately trying to be good. Nobody involved set out to make a terrible movie, so when that’s the end result, it can often be incredibly entertaining.
In a month where we’re celebrating what we don’t like about the movies at Toronto Film Scene, it’s the perfect time for a list of films that nobody should like, but we somehow can’t help but be entertained by. There are many that couldn’t make the list, and everybody has their own idea of what a “so bad it’s good” work is. Some obvious titles, like The Room and Troll 2, have been omitted, not because they aren’t good representations, but because we already know all about them. Hopefully there will at least be a few on this list you’ve never heard of, or at least haven’t heard of in a long time. If that’s the case, it’s time to get your hands on these and enjoy them for how terrible they are once again.
Super Mario Bros. (1993)
Let’s start with the movie that broke the hearts of videogame nerds the world over back in the ’90s. Super Mario Bros. is an awful film, plain and simple. But there’s also a ridiculous movie experience found in watching it. It’s like passing by an accident on the highway: you don’t want to look, but you can’t help yourself. Starring Bob Hoskins as Mario, John Leguizamo as Luigi, Dennis Hopper as King Koopa and Samantha Mathis as Daisy, very little went right with this endeavour. Nobody was very happy behind the scenes. In a 2007 interview with The Guardian, Hoskins stated, “the whole experience was a nightmare.” Hopper shared the same opinion in a 2008 interview with the A.V. Club, although his words were a little gentler. Leguizamo stated that he and Hoskins would frequently get drunk during filming, in his 2007 autobiography, and that directors Annabel Jankel and Rocky Morton were trying to make a more adult film, when the studio was obviously aiming for something kid-friendly. It’s never a good sign when the people involved don’t believe in the film, but it frequently winds up making that movie a great example of one that’s “so bad it’s good.”
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964)
Christmas gets its fair share of bad movies, but Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is by far the worst. It’s also incredibly entertaining. The story follows the people of Mars, whose children are basically “fed” their intelligence from birth. Without the freedom to have a childhood, the kids are becoming restless. The solution? Kidnap Santa Claus from Earth, which is exactly what the Martians do. The ’60s weren’t exactly a high point for special effects, so you can imagine what this film features, but even with that in mind they don’t seem to be trying very hard. There’s a terrible cardboard box-looking robot costume and, at one point, a man in a polar bear suit who shows up. Throw in a Martian antagonist and his villainous moustache and you’ve got a winner. Part of the fun is the fact that it’s over 50 years old, which gives it a certain charm. The rest comes from the terrible effects, awful sets and horrible costumes. Although Santa(played by John Call) manages to get some laughs, when you realize that nothing concerns him at all. Being kidnapped and forced into making toys on Mars doesn’t bother him, which is hilarious to watch.
Dead Alive (1992)
Also known as Braindead, this early film from Peter Jackson is hard to classify as “bad,” but that depends on who’s viewing the film. The story is about a young man stuck living with his overbearing mother. When he falls in love, his mom tries to sabotage one of his dates. She winds up getting bitten by a Sumatran Rat-Monkey and turning into a zombie. The undead horde then begins growing, causing an overwhelming amount of blood to flow. Nobody really cared about this movie when it was first released, but as Jackson’s popularity grew, so too did the interest in his earlier work. For horror fans, there’s no way to call this bad, but the story is so outrageous and ridiculous that it has that feeling. It’s the excessive gore that many people remember; it’s hard to think of lawnmowers the same after a screening of Dead Alive. There also happens to be a kung-fu priest who announces that he “kicks ass for the Lord.” You can’t go wrong with a movie like that.
Miami Connection (1987)
Speaking of kung-fu, there isn’t a better example of “so bad it’s good” than Miami Connection. Directed by Woo-sang Park and an un-credited Y.K. Kim, who also starred in the film, the movie features a gang of motorcycle ninjas taking over the drug trade in Florida. The only people who can stop them are Dragon Sound, a martial arts rock band. That’s all you need to know to enjoy this, which is likely about as much as Y.K. Kim knew when he helped create it. With no movie-making experience, Kim was convinced this would make millions. That’s always the first step in creating a classic “so bad it’s good” effort. That confidence is a wonderful thing, but couple that with no experience backing it up and you have a dangerous combination. The film flopped upon initial release, and it wasn’t until Drafthouse Films restored it that it finally received the attention Kim believed it deserved all along. It is start-to-finish awful, including some truly terrible songs performed by Dragon Sound. It’s also one of the most unintentionally hilarious films you’ll ever see.
The film follows heavily accented New Jersey resident Jeffrey (James Lorinz), who winds up wiping out his loving girlfriend with a remote control lawnmower he created. (Seriously, what’s with all the lawnmowers in horror movies?) A former medical student, Jeffrey decides to resurrect his girlfriend, à la Dr. Frankenstein, but needs to find the parts. He realizes he can get acquire them from prostitutes. He comes up with a drug called “super-crack,” which causes users to explode, and sets off procuring replacement parts. The problem is that when he resurrects his girlfriend, she thinks she’s a prostitute, due to the material Jeffrey employed, and heads back to work, with explosive results. Directed by Frank Henenlotter, who’s known for outrageous fare like this, Frankenhooker is all kinds of insane. It’s so ridiculous that you won’t mind that it takes almost an hour before we actually see the resurrected creature, played as corny and over-the-top as possible by former Penthouse Pet Patty Mullen. The highlight is Jeffrey take his new super-crack to a party with the prostitutes, who discover the drug and begin exploding in a shower of sparks (not blood) after smoking it. There are some great monster effects at the end, but most of the fun is found in watching Lorinz. It’s rare when a horror film can be entertaining in the moments it’s not featuring gore, but this one pulls it off.
Silent Night, Deadly Night 2 (1987)
This isn’t the best of the “so bad it’s good” efforts on this list, but it’s the most fitting to end with, considering the season. The first was famous for the controversy it caused, but the second is notorious for the lead character picking people off with a gun on garbage day. This time around, Eric Freeman plays Ricky, the brother of the man responsible for all the murders in the first film. Ricky is looking to get revenge for his brother’s death, and it’s a painfully acted trip all the way through. Freeman just isn’t good in the role, but that’s exactly what makes it so much fun. His cartoon villainy and odd delivery are howlingly funny, but he’s just one part of why this film is such great entertainment. Cobbled together from bits and pieces of film shot for a possible re-cut of the first, there wasn’t enough material to actually make a feature. Old footage from the first was reused and when that still didn’t make it long enough, they simply extended the credit sequence. This feels like a cash-grab in every sense, but it’s so fantastically bad in its creation and execution that you can’t help but laugh. You’ll also be a little more careful when you bring your trashcan to the curb.