As the multiplexes bombard us with such irredeemably awful fare as Grown Ups 2 and The Lone Ranger, I figured it was time to take a look at four movies so awful, they're actually pretty wonderful. In no particular order...
1. Troll 2 (1990)
Yeah, anyone familiar with B-movies could have guessed that this garbage would make an appearance. For those of you unfamiliar with the history of schlock, Italian production companies have a long history of creating unofficial sequels to better-known American films so as to cash in on their name recognition. Not only are these shameless exploitations clearly non-canonical, but they often have virtually nothing to do with the original motion picture on which they're trying to capitalize.
Case in point: Troll 2. For one thing, the movie is about goblins, not trolls. For another, the plot doesn't involve evil wizards or fantastical alternate dimensions, as did the original, but rather an evil secret town called Nilbog (Get it? Get it?!?!) that lures families away on "house swap" vacations so they can trick them into eating food that will turn them into plants, which the herbivorous goblins then devour (because they don't like meat for some reason). The premise is bad enough, but making matters worse is the cringe-inducing hammy acting from all parties involved (including one legendary reading of the line "Oh my god!"), the barely-implicit homoerotic subplot involving the daughter's philandering boyfriend, and the baffling inclusion of a ghost story in which the young son's recently deceased grandfather repeatedly tries to warn the family about the imminent danger.
That said, this movie's hidden pleasures are myriad. My personal favorite (and I am hardly alone here) is the part where the grandfather freezes time so that the son, desperate to stop his family from eating the contaminated food, can think of some way to save their lives. I won't tell you what he decides to do, but suffice to say that the scene ends with the father screaming, "You can't piss on hospitality! I won't allow it!"
PS: Happily, the back story behind this film has a somewhat uplifting epilogue, as Michael Paul Stephenson, who starred in it when he was only 11, recently released a well-received documentary that touches not only on the making of this cult classic, but on the psychological and emotional toll cinematic notoriousness takes on those who become unwilling parts of bad movie history. The feature, appropriately dubbed Best Worst Movie, is surprisingly touching, funny, and a genuinely good film in its own right.
Here are some hilarious bad scenes from Troll 2:
2. Slaughter High, aka April Fool's Day (1986)
When I first saw that Slaughter High was a horror film about a bully who gets revenge on his high school tormentors, I figured it would provide some conveniently cathartic gory fun. Alas, the problems with this movie are innumerable, including:
- Every single character is an irredeemable moron. Even for a genre notorious for having people make absurdly dumb decisions, this one stretches the limits of credulity to their breaking point. When the bullies are summoned to the abandoned high school years after graduating for the nerd's revenge, they don't sense something amiss despite being the only people attending the ostensible "reunion." One girl dies in a bath slowly filling with acid because it never occurs to her to just step out of the tub. Another character is horribly disfigured by acid (in an unrelated acid-based scene) because he puts a heavy open jar of the stuff on the top shelf of a flimsy bookcase that seems to be constructed out of plywood. Two of the characters decide that because the murderer is basing his scheme around the theme of April Fool's Day, he will have to stop his killings at noon because ... um, just because (spoiler alert: he doesn't). The list goes on and on and on.
- Everyone in the movie is a horrible person. The bullies on whom the killer is taking revenge are established early on as not just ordinary juvenile pranksters, but true sadistic monsters, whose sexual humiliation and physical torturing of the school nerd goes well beyond even stock '80s movie cliches. After the killings have started, two of them decide to start an affair with each other, even as one of their significant others is risking his life trying to save them all from certain doom. Even the nerd himself loses sympathy after killing a janitor who had absolutely nothing to do with his revenge motives.
- The soundtrack is atrocious. Seriously, imagine what it would be like if the abstract concept of annoyance took on human form. Now imagine if this personification of all things grating somehow got its hands on an out-of-tune synthesizer, went into an epileptic seizure, and began randomly mashing various keys. I am not exaggerating, the music is THAT bad. While normally I wouldn't nitpick something like this, it makes the movie almost unwatchable.
Here's a trailer for the film, but I warn you that it's NSFW:
3. Dinosaur Island (1994)
A few months ago, I found myself enjoying a lazy weekend afternoon while my friend Adam half-heartedly browsed through Netflix trying to find a mindless way to pass the time. Being as much an aficionado of bad movies as myself, he finally decided upon Dinosaur Island. A nice cheesy little sci-fi/adventure flick, he thought, with perhaps some ludicrous special effects and absurd plot twists to keep us amused for an hour-and-a-half or so.
Except Dinosaur Island isn't a sci-fi/adventure flick. It's a porno.
Bear in mind that when I say "porno," I don't mean that in a manner of speaking. I'm not talking about a heavily eroticized horror movie such as the kind regularly churned out by major movie studios, from slice 'em/dice 'em slasher flicks like Scream to creature features like Piranha 3D. No, Dinosaur Island is a bona fide, soft core porno.
What makes this particularly noteworthy is that NOTHING about the movie's advertising suggested what we were in for. Sure, it had a scantily clad woman on the cover, but so do countless other B-movies, and most of them are only heavily suggestive in their sexuality/female objectification, not explicitly so. Even worse, this movie advertised itself based not on its attractive women, but on its corny story about ... What was it about again?
Oh right, an airplane full of soldiers crashes on an island inhabited entirely by women who need to fight off an evil tyrannosaurus rex and something something blah blah blah. Honestly, I don't remember a great deal about this movie's story. What I mainly recall was passing that 95 minutes in awkward silence with my friend Adam, neither of us brave enough to turn off the film (doing so would have forced us to acknowledge what we were actually watching) and both of us silently hoping our friendship would remain intact from this ordeal.
To be fair to Adam, this movie did appear under the sci-fi label on Netflix ... a company that, incidentally, has a lot of explaining to do. To be fair to me, however, I am pretty obligated under the informal stipulations of the Bro Code to never, ever, ever, ever, ever let him live this down.
Here's the NSFW trailer for the film:
4. Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1994)
Where do I even begin? Like the first three movies in this franchise, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation tells the story of a group of teenagers who venture into the woods, stumble upon a crazed family of cannibals (one of whom wields the titular chainsaw), and are killed one by one. Unlike its predecessors, however, in TCM, Leatherface (the chainsaw wielder) is a transvestite. And the family is a front for the Illuminati, who secretly rule the world by teaching the human race about "the meaning of horror." And the head of the family is a half-man/half-robot played by Matthew McConaughey. And the teenagers are a bland pothead (played by Renee Zellweger), two guys who are killed with ridiculous ease (one by being lightly tapped on the head with a hammer and the other by being unconvincingly run over by a truck), and an irritatingly airheaded girl who manages to survive being stuffed in a freezer, impaled on a meathook, beaten with a stick, mutilated by a cannibalistic kiss, and set on fire (McConaughey finally finishes her off her by stepping on her head).
No, I did not suffer a massive brain hemhorrage just now and spew a bunch of random words. Every single one of those things actually happens.
Amazingly, though, the plot isn't the most memorable part of this movie. That distinction belongs to McConaughey's performance. While Zellweger can plausibly argue that her involvement in this film wouldn't be remembered were it not for her subsequent fame (she's competent enough), McConaughey isn't so lucky. His wild-eyed overacting is so epic in its awfulness that it would undoubtedly have been remembered even if he had subsequently sunk into obscurity like so many other B-movie actors. Indeed, the fact that he even had a career after this flick is beyond belief. Certainly he deserves credit for trying to do — well, something — in this role, but God help me I have no idea what he was aiming for. If ever a character deserved to die by having a random airplane swoop out of the heavens and smack him on the head with one of its wheels, it was McConaughey's Vilmer Sawyer.
Yes, that also happens.