1. Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959) Often ranked as the worst of all time, this movie is so bad that Tim Burton made a Johnny Depp movie about it – “Ed Wood”, named for its zealously persistent, but pathetic, creator. Ed Wood throws everything at the screen, hoping that something interesting will stick: dying vampire star Bela Lugosi, the TV fortune teller Criswell, the horror movie hostess Vampira, zombie-look-alike pro wrestler Tor Johnson and stock footage of a nuclear explosion. None of it is tied together with any coherence, and it’s all unintentionally funny. This one’s good for the whole family.
Lugosi died while making this film and was replaced by a taller, non-speaking “double” who stalks about covering his face with his cloak. The double shows up in the trailer.
2. The Room (2003) Imagine if Ed Wood had $7 million to make his movie.
This is a vanity project that was written and directed by its star, Tommy Wiseau. The film has developed a cult audience, complete with midnight showings. It is obviously an unintentionally dreadful film, but Wiseau now claims that it is a black comedy.
When I first viewed the lame dialogue and stiff acting, I thought it was a porn film, but it is not – however the dialogue and acting are definitely porn quality. Every love scene goes on an uncomfortably long time, accompanied by very bad pop music. And then every love scene cuts sharply and inexplicably to stock footage of a different postcard-worthy San Francisco landmark. Plot threads – such as the mother’s “I have cancer” declaration – appear and then vanish. With total randomness, the male characters begin tossing around a football, and then stop.
To make it worse, with his ravaged face, stringy hair and undeterminable accent, Wiseau is an especially unappealing screen presence. To fully appreciate Tommy Wiseau’s performance, search YouTube for “you’re tearing me apart, Lisa!”
3. Wild Orchid (1990) When Mickey Rourke made his comeback in The Wrestler, this is the crap that he was coming back from. Free advice for movie stars: try to resist vanity projects that are conceived while you are doing lots of drugs.
The movie expects us to suspend our disbelief that Carre Otis a) is from rural Kansas; b) is a rookie international lawyer in a major corporate firm; c) is very sexually inexperienced; and d) is not a vacant supermodel. She travels to Brazil for her first big deal. Mickey is an expat fixer of vague means who wears an Italian suit without a shirt, and whose hair and skin have the greasy cast of the seriously unwashed.
Look, Carre is shocked by watching buffed black people having sex in a ruin! Look, Mickey sets up and watches Carre’s sexual initiation by a masked Bruce Greenwood! Look, to Carre’s unease, Mickey acts as sexual therapist for a married couple in the back of their limo! Look, there’s Jacqueline Bisset showing up in this movie and somehow keeping her dignity! The movie concludes with Mickey’s and Carre’s 8 minute demonstration of every sexual position in the Kama Sutra, all in slow motion and with overhead cameras.
4. Robot Monster (1953) OK, so you need an alien monster for your movie – why not get a guy in gorilla suit and put a deep sea diver’s helmet on him? This film makes most of the “Worst Movie” lists. It was reportedly shot in four days (or less). Here’s another one that the whole family can mock together.
5. Troll 2 (1990) A white bread suburban family vacations in the mountain village of Nilbog (“Goblin” spelled backwards, get it?) in which all the locals are vegetarian predator goblins who can take the form of regular humans. The goblins are able to turn humans into vegetative matter (a green slime) that the goblins can ingest.
The movie was made with very primitive production values by a non-English speaking Italian crew and a non-Italian speaking Z-list American cast. Inept acting and directing aside, the screenplay is probably the source of the most laughs. There’s the dead grandpa Seth who keeps appearing to the boy, the boy’s saving his family by urinating on the family dinner, the make out scene so “hot” that it pops popcorn and so much more. Another of the funny aspects of Troll 2 is that it is completely unrelated to the movie Troll and has no trolls in it.
You can see some of the finer bits by doing a YouTube search for “You can’t piss on hospitality” and “Troll 2 O my God”. Here’s the trailer.
Troll 2 has earned its very own documentary, Best Worst Movie. There are some squirmy scenes with cast members whose mental health issues have since worsened. And the Italian director is a jerk who is happy to bask in Troll 2‘s new found cult status, but is narcissistically unwilling to acknowledge its badness. But the goodhearted goofiness of star George Hardy, a cast of good sports and Troll 2‘s cult following dominates.
6. An American Hippie in Israel (1972) Fortunately rescued in 2013 by Grindhouse Releasing, An American Hippie in Israel has it all – a dreadful screenplay, poor acting and shoddy production values.
After “bumming around Europe” an American hippie named Mike (Asher Tzarfati) decides to visit Israel. He walks out of the airport and hitches a ride with a young Israeli woman Elizabeth (Lilli Avidan) who has a large convertible. She also has a pad with shag carpet, on which they have sex. The sex happens when he utters the diatribe, “You fools, stop pushing buttons! You fools…fools…fools..” and she jumps him mid-harangue. I predict that, as more people see An American Hippie in Israel, the “fools” monologue will become as popular as the “She’s tearing me apart!” from The Room and “O my God!” from Troll 2. (Part of the “fools speech” can be found at 2:47 of the trailer below.)
Mike and Elizabeth head out across Israel in the convertible and find local Israeli hippies with whom to smoke pot and dance awkwardly. Two more hippies join them on a road trip, the impressively homely Komo (Schmuel Wolf) and comely Françoise (Tsilla Karny). The last half of the movie is set on a rocky “island”, where the two couples, clad in swimsuits or less, camp out, have more sex and go survivalist. Alas, then they get all “Lord of Flies” and it doesn’t end well.
There’s a fair amount of nudity in An American Hippie in Israel, and its cast is noteworthy for the most severe tan lines in cinema history.
But the perhaps An American Hippie in Israel’s moviemaking low-light is a dream sequence that is ACTED (not FILMED) in slo mo. In the dream, Mike is wielding an over-sized hammer to smash two giant computers; the audience can tell that Tzarfati is running and swinging the hammer VERY slowly to ape the effects of slow motion photography.
Unsurprisingly, it was the only film credit for director and co-writer Amos Sefer. I saw American Hippie in Israel on Turner Classic Movies, but it is also available streaming from Amazon and Xbox Video. You can purchase the DVD and Blu-ray from Grindhouse Releasing. You can read my all of my comments here.
7. The Conqueror (1956) Hey, guys, how about a biopic of Genghis Khan with John Wayne? We can tape his eyes slanted, and give him lines like “That Tartar woman makes my blood boil”! With Susan Hayward as That Tartar Woman. And Lee Van Cleef as the chief conniver in the Chinese royal palace. It’ll be great!
8. Psych-Out (1968) This hippie exploitation film begins with deaf girl Susan Strasburg arriving in the Summer of Love Haight Asbury, looking for her disappeared brother. She enters a hippie coffee house, where hippie band leader Jack Nicholson takes her under his wing (and then, well, just under him). When we first see him, Jack looks like he has the usual Jack haircut, but when he first turns his head, he reveals a ponytail glued on to the back of his head. Another hippie, Dean Stockwell helps out as various characters do psychedelic drugs and some of them freak out. When our crew finds the lost brother, he turns out to be a totally acid-fried Bruce Dern, bearded and robed like Jesus. Bruce Dern as a schizophrenic Jesus – you just can’t expect anything better than that!
9. The Trip (1967) Roger Corman produced and directed this time-capsule exploitation film written by Jack Nicholson. TV director Peter Fonda decides to take LSD. After buying acid from Dennis Hopper (there’s a stretch!), the plan is for Fonda to trip at his friend Bruce Dern’s house. Now is it a good idea to entrust someone tripping for the first time to Bruce Dern? Of course not! Fonda wanders off and wall-bangs nightmarishly down Sunset Boulevard.
10. King David (1985) This makes the list just for the Diaper Dance sequence. At 1:10:25 into the film, Richard Gere plays David entering Jerusalem as the new king and dancing into the city in rapturous, triumphant worship. Gere is clad only in Bronze Age underwear, which, let’s face it, looks like a diaper. His spasmodic dance resembles someone in the fifth hour of a Grateful Dead concert who had taken the brown acid. I own the DVD, and my guests have one of two reactions: a) dissolving into giggles that morph into guffaws; or 2) jaw-dropping silence, followed by “Why hasn’t Richard Gere destroyed all the copies of this?”
Almost made the Top Ten
The Chase (1966) How can a movie be so bad when it is directed by Arthur Penn, written by Lillian Hellman from a Horton Foote play, and stars Marlon Brando, Robert Redford, Jane Fonda, Robert Duvall, Angie Dickinson, Martha Hyer, James Fox, E.G. Marshall and Janice Rule? Blame Hellman, because no one can save this third rate melodrama. Rule has a juicy role, cuckolding impotent hubbie Duvall. Redford isn’t believable as an escapee from a Southern chain gang, and nothing else quite works. But we get to mock Big Movie Stars.
Change of Habit (1969) Elvis Presley as a crusading doctor in the ghetto. Mary Tyler Moore as a crusading ghetto nun. Really.
Candy (1968) This would have made the list if it weren’t a painful 124 minutes long. Made from the dirtiest paperback from my high school days, this sex farce is no longer sexy, but just silly today. It is chiefly notable for Marlon Brando playing a phony guru in brownface. It also wastes the talent of Richard Burton, James Coburn, and Walter Matthau. Ringo Starr plays the lascivious Mexican gardener. Screenwriter Buck Henry saved all of his smart humor for The Graduate.
Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow (1959) This is a harmless campy delight – a low budget combination of the teen hot rod and horror genres. Advice to movie characters: don’t have a party in an abandoned mansion – abandoned mansions are always haunted.
Hells Angels on Wheels (1967) Another exploitation film with Jack Nicholson joining the Hells Angels. Shot on location in the Bay Area. Has a brief, credited cameo by the real life Sonny Barger, murderous chief of the Oakland Hells Angels.
Hot Rods from Hell (1967) Dana Andrews’ (!) innocent family is terrorized by two teen punks and a punkette in the Mojave. This 1967 movie has the odd feel of a 1962 or even 1957 film. Watch Dana Andrews asking himself why he is in this movie.
Australia (2009) This wretched epic from Baz Luhrman has the highest production values of any film on this list. Luhrman throws Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman, sweeping vistas, period costumes and lots of explosions at the screen, along with some cheesy CGI and almost every melodramatic cliché.