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Thursday, 7 February 2013

Three Sci-fi & horror movies… so bad that they're so good!

I may be running the risk of offending a few people in this blog entry. After all, having someone (in this case, yours truly) blithely inform you that the movie you may love, possibly above all others, is actually at its core pretty rubbish could ultimately push one to violence. Indeed, at the very least, it could lead to a rather strongly worded rebuttal in the comments section of a blog or Facebook page :-). This stuff is important. In a similar vein, I can remember not so long ago watching a 'top 10 worst depressing songs' or something - and at least half of the list were in my personal favourites songs, live ever…… as Yoda would say, "Offended was I". So, in a somewhat half-hearted attempt at a disclaimer;

"The views in this blog are entirely my own. They are not based on anything but my own twisted opinions and everyone has the right to disagree & indeed point out any inaccuracies or biases ."

 Though if I'd mentioned Starship Troopers in this list then only a fool would have disagreed with that choice. The only thing that kept it out of this 'so bad it's good list' was the fact that Starship Troopers is so bad that it's bad. End of. Even the delicious Denise Richards couldn't save that movie.

So here are 3 movies that are contenders for the award of ' So bad that it's good'…… 

ZARDOZ (1974)

"The gun is good. The penis is evil." …

So proclaims the the big floating stone head who is worshipped as a god, Zardoz, in the frankly staggeringly bizarre film of the same name. Let this blog act as a warning to you, this film is strange, unsettling and will have a long lasting effect on your psyche. There are many reasons for this, some of which I'll go onto into shortly. However the main reason is that for the whole of the film a rather hairy Sean Connery walks around dressed only in a red nappy, Bandoleers and knee-length leather boots. I kid ye not. 

Sean Connery, rockin' the Red nappy, Bandolier & leather thigh boot combo.

The story is set in the year 2293, and yes, it's a another case where the dear old planet Earth is in a bit of a post-apocalyptic mess. This time it is inhabited mostly by group known as the Brutals, who are in turn controlled by an immortal people known as the Eternals. Eternals use certain grades of Brutals, called Exterminators, as a hand-picked warrior class who wear, erm, red nappies. The Exterminators worship the god Zardoz. There you go, clear as day.

When a less savage and far more intelligent Brutal named Zed (played by Sean Connery, in his 2nd movie outing since a certain Mr Bond) hides in the Zardoz head on one of its flights, he discovers that his venerated deity is in fact a fraud. Nappy-wearing Zed learns that this deception has been arranged by the Eternals in order to mollify and control the overtly aggressive masses. Zed isn't happy. So much so that he becomes the focal point of rebellion for the Brutals and a faction of the Eternals who have become bored and disenchanted with their immortal and perfect lives.

Are you still with me? You are? Blimey. 

Anyway, not wanting to give much more of the plot(?) away, there then takes place time travel, genetic enhancement and the excuse to show as many naked women (nothing necessarily wrong with that) as the director John Boorman had the time to fit in. All presented in periods of trippy acid induced cinematographic visuals that clearly had their origins in the recently ended 1960's. It's all bonkers, just bonkers.

Why this movie should be bad 

Now, as I've mentioned already, this blog entry is about movies that are so bad that they are actually good. Well I'm not sure if this film easily fits into that list, to be honest I've seen it a few times whilst flicking through the satellite channels and the viewing of it is always slightly disquieting ( Yes Mr nappy-wearing Connery, I'm talking about you). But for some reason that I've never been quite able to put my finger on, it holds a special place in my affections.
Yes, it bombed on release and now has attained the status of a true cult classic - that in itself isn't that unusual. What I find interesting about this movie is the extreme opinions it instills in people, as some of the vitriol towards the film on some websites make quite clear. Indeed, there are famous anecdotes of people queueing to see the film on its original release making a point to tell as many people as possible waiting in line for the next showing just how bad the film is. The film at times makes absolutely no sense, its bonkers on so many levels and Sean Connery has the constant look of a man who wishes he had not decided to leave the Bond franchise to Roger Moore.

What actually makes this film good is….

What the film is is a genuine attempt at a different type of science fiction move. Some people seem to think that sic-fi films in the 1970's started and ended with Star Wars, forgetting that other original ideas sometimes had brave people to attempting to put them into the public arena. For years I struggled with the question as to whether the makers of the film were trying to be seriously philosophical about the warnings of a religious dystopia, or whether they were just having a bit of a laugh and just trying to produce a piece of hippy induced fun. Only now do I realise that it doesn't matter, the only thing to do now if you happen to catch a showing of the film is to grab a glass of wine and simply lose yourself in the experience.

If you don't mind being confused, bemused and generally don't mind periods where you'll be staring at the screen in pure disbelief, then this is the movie for me and you. I love it.

Please watch this clip. I think the word you are looking for is 'Bonkers'


Boy oh boy, am I going to step on some toes with this next entry in the list. After all, it's a film that didn't perform well on it's release (except for here in the UK, where it went ballistic) but has gone on to be the cult of all cult sci-fi movies. So before I go any further, let me make one thing clear. Which is simply this, I adore this film, i really do. It forms an integral part of the rich tapestry of my movie going experience, it's something i never tire of watching and probably never will. The film works, it delivers, even though it shouldn't. Be honest and lets face it, it shouldn't really work, because on a number of fundamental levels, it's rubbish. 

However, before we discuss the pro's and cons of this most kitsch of all science fiction movies, for those few of you that haven't seen it, here's the plot. 

American Football star Flash Gordon ( er 'played', by Sam Jones) is on a chartered plane caught in a meteor storm. However, this is no 'ordinary' meteor storm, oh no. For it has been caused by intergalactic tyrannical despot Ming the Merciless (played by the magnificent Max Vin Sydow) who has vowed to first play with then destroy Earth. When the plane is hit, the pilots, well, disappear. Consequently, as the only other person on the plane with our hero is  travel journalist Dale Arden, Flash being Flash decides that he will have to land the plane himself. Dale meanwhile screams a little. The plane crashes near the greenhouse-lab of disgraced  NASA scientist Dr. Hans Zarkov (  a deliciously over the top performance by Topol), who at that moment is about  to launch his home built rocket ship to visit Ming’s world and broker a peace between the Earth and the alien despot he believes is causing the Earths climactic problems. As you do.

Sam ' i can act, honest I can' Jones

Both Flash and Dale end up on Zarkov’s rocket and land on Emperor Ming’s planet (the wonderfully named Planet Mongo). It is a world that is surrounded by a number of moons, each of which is inhabited by a different alien race, all who have in turn been condemned to servitude by the horrible Emperor Ming. He's a bad, bad Alien. Realising that Earth and the human race is in danger of an impending annihilation , and with the secret help of Ming princess (more of HER in a while), Flash leads a revolt of the enslaved alien races against Ming and his cyborg army.  

Nope, nothing homo-erotic about this picture at all

Why this movie should be bad 

There's purposely little or no attempt at scientific realism, the alien costumes are like something out of psychedelic version of a camp Arabian nights. The studio sets are in-your-face multi-prime coloured cardboard stages and the special effects include firework spark trailing model spaceships together with 1960's Barbarella psychedelic background skies (yes, yes i know, all done purposely as an homage - but it's still complete 1960-esque kitsch). 

Oh, and lets not forget that the acting ranges from being as cardboard as some of the sets to about as wonderfully over the top as it is possible to get (yes, Brian Blessed, I do mean you). If all that wasn't enough, the dialogue at time is painfully corny bordering on terrible ( "Flash, Flash I love you, but we only have 24 hours to save the Earth") and some of the plot set-pieces are frankly eye-poppingly absurd - Flash fighting Ming's guards by playing American football to name but one.

Maybe it's because some elements of it are so bad is what make us love it. 

What actually makes this film good is….

The strange thing is that some of the things that make this movie bad also contribute to the love that people feel for it. Take the acting for example. On the one hand Sam Jones being nominated for a Golden Raspberry award speaks for itself, his performance is spectacularly bad. However Brian Blessed, Max von Sydow and Topo; are in that order spectacularly good. Indeed, Blessed as Prince Vultan registered the Yorkshire-born actor into our collective consciousness for THAT one line of dialogue, which I shall refrain from repeating here. Even now, well into the 21st Century, it is the one of the most often quoted lines from any genre of cinema. 

Another point on the 'this is actually bloody good' scale is just how daring, offbeat and downright sexy the film is. There are some scenes of great tension and others of some violence that seemed to find it's way under the censorship radar. The 'right of passage' scene on Arboria where the initiation of the young tribe member involves placing the hand into the rock, risking the stab and poisoninous slow death of the creature within is spine tingling in its tension. The action sequences, apart from the American football fight, are excellent - the attack by Brian Blessed and his boys on the war rocket Ajax is as good as any  thing. Watch the clip below if you don't believe me.

Though it may not be as overtly sexy as a movie such as Barbarella, the movie's wardrobe for the female cast was more than enough to fulfil many a young mans fancy. How some of the innuendo and dialogue particularly from the lovely Ornella Muti (Princess Aura) again got past the censors is only something we can be eternally thankful for.  

Princess Aura - I think the inter-galactic word is 'Blimey'!

In the end, Flash Gordon is a visual feast that never takes itself too seriously. I think part of the problem on it's initial release was that people confused the intentions of the film, there is no moral or philosophy on the human condition that accompanied other films of the genre at the time of release. Instead, the movie is a well-intentioned, big budget piece of kitsch that embraces all that is good about the old science fiction television serials1930s movie serials. It's simply a piece of fun. Sam Jones still can't act though.

The attack on Ajax………"DIVE'!!!!

Bugger, I can't help myself……I got to the end of the entry for this movie without saying it……but I have to say it…..I have to ………..  "GORDON'S ALIVE?!"

There, I feel much better now.

THE HOWLING II - Your sister is a Werewolf (1985)

Hmm, this third and final entry may be slightly pushing it to fully qualify for the 'Its so bad that its good' award. However, I'm going to give it my best shot and as with the other entries I'll let you, my dear reader, decide if it should be included here or not. 

The movie begins pretty much as the first Howling ended with Ben White attending the funeral of his sister, journalist Karen White, the heroine of the first movie. Ben meets both Jenny Templeton (Annie McEnroe), one of Karen's colleagues, and Stefan Crosscoe (played by the ever dependable Christopher Lee), a mysterious uninvited guest who tells him Karen was a werewolf (As you do). Providing videotaped evidence (remember, this is the 1980's) of the transformation – and turning up to destroy Karen as her undead body rises from the grave ( putting an even greater downer on the funeral service) – Crosscoe convinces Ben and Jenny to accompany him to Transylvania to battle Stirba, an immortal werewolf queen (played by the entirely delicious Sybil Dannin).

Stirba - the Werewolf bitch

Along the way, the trio encounter Mariana (Marsha Hunt), another sexually athletic werewolf temptress, and her servant Erle.  Arriving in the deepest darkest Transylvania, Ben and his intrepid friends are unaware that Stirba is hidden away in her nearby castle planning a dastardly ending for them as she summons up her  witchcraft powers. Eventually, the adventurers do battle with Stirba in an assault that involves disguised dwarves, mutilated priests, and supernatural parasites ( I kid ye not) before the final confrontation between Stirba and the happy band of adventurers.

Why this movie should be bad 

There are some of us that take our sci-fi/fantasy/horror lore pretty seriously (Do NOT get me started on vampires turning all pretty and  sparkly shiny as they enter sunlight )  - so whoever just muttered under their breath the word 'geek' you can leave the classroom now...…

For one of the most vociferous criticisms of The Howling II is it's depiction of the mythology of werewolf lore, due to the fact that the film blatantly mixes vampire related mythology in place of werewolf mythology. Whether this was pure ineptness and laziness on the part of the makers is open to question. For a start, claiming that werewolves must be staked in the heart with a metal stake in order to kill them (silver bullets only put them into a coma) is more than enough on its own to get any self respecting horror fan slightly delirious with rage.  proclaiming that the seat of power of the werewolves is Transylvania, and that laurels of garlic can ward off potential vampire attacks. Furthermore, the film claims that those werewolves from Eastern Europe are immune to silver weapons and can only be killed by weapons made of titanium……….titanium??!!
Now I'm not saying that we should be slavish to myth and lore- bit blimey, this films takes the biscuit when it comes to 're-mything' . Yes I know it's a made up term but just wait for even stronger terms I may use if I ever write about the vampire/werewolf car-crash of mythosim that was butchered by the Twilight series.....

In addition you have a cast whose performances are as universally terrible as one could imagine. Even movie stalwarts like the majestic Christopher Lee fall into the trap of 'hamming' it up. Indeed, Mr Lee has often gone on record as saying that this movie was without doubt the worse thing that he ever did.

What actually makes this film good is….

So the case for the prosecution is pretty strong isn't it? A fine movie has its memory trashed once again by a sequal that contains bad horror lore, bad acting and a seemingly unending excuse to have multiple acts of werewolf sex.

The thing is, yes it is a bad movie for those reasons and more. However it does have a certain charm ( and I'm not just talking about Sybil Danning). In fact I've often found parts of the movie laugh-out-loud funny - and this is one of the joys of this film,  in that it is completely unintentionally and sometimes side-splittingly funny. Who could not love dialogue that includes lines such as "Is that dwarf staring at us...?"  A line that is said with no trace of irony at all. Soon they become Mace-wielding dwarves! I ask you, just what is there about that not to like?

someone get me out of this movie, NOW!

I won't even try to recount some of the terrible dialogue that Christopher Lee had to say, but lets just say that he must still have the odd sleepless night over it. All I will say is that the scene where he "blends in" at a punk night club by wearing sunglasses and jeans is pure comedy gold on it's own.

Yes this is bad horror, but its through the  unintentionally bad horror that it hits a true seam of comedy gold. So much so that when I'm feeling a little on the fed up side, this is often my go-to movie of choice to make me realise that bad a my life may seem at this point, I've never produced such such a true piece of tripe as is The Howling 2.

What's not to like?


  1. Excellent piece, although you're being super nice by calling Howling II "so bad it's good".

    Did you know Sam Jones was actually dubbed in "Flash Gordon"? He had a falling out with the producers and refused to loop his own dialogue, so most of the lines in the movie are not actually performed by him. Food for thought!

    1. Thanks GroovyDoom

      Agreed, The howling II is possibly being a little kind in calling it 'good' , but I do still kinda love it , maybe that's more due to Sybil Danning than any other factor :-).

      Yeah I came across that fact about Sam Jones being dubbed when I was doing some 'research' about the movie, I never knew that before....& we wonder why he never became a star! :-)
      Thanks for the comment.

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