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From the Desk of the Unimonster...

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07 November, 2010

Ten Turkeys for Turkey-Day Viewing… [w/ Senior Correspondent Bobbie Culbertson]

[Ed. Note:  For only the second time here in the Crypt, we’ll be presenting a co-authored piece, a cooperative effort between our Senior Correspondent Bobbie and me.  Though her reviews are a regular part of the Unimonster’s Crypt, and her research talents and vast knowledge of bad movies are frequently called upon as I write these articles, this will be the first time we actually share a by-line.  I can say, however, that it certainly won’t be the last.]

Thanksgiving may be the one holiday thus far immune from the predations of the Horror genre.  Halloween, of course, is a given.  Christmas has been thoroughly exploited by genre filmmakers, as has St. Patrick’s Day, April Fool’s Day, and every month fortunate enough to have the 13th fall upon a Friday.  Valentine’s Day has been explored, as has birthdays, graduation days, prom nights, and Independence Day.  One could stretch a point and say Easter has had its Horror film, in the form of thousands of giant carnivorous bunnies on the rampage in NIGHT OF THE LEPUS.  Even First Communion isn’t safe, as Brooke Shields discovered in 1976’s ALICE, SWEET ALICE.

So why should the quintessential American holiday, a day wherein we commemorate the first year’s survival of the pilgrims in the New World with non-stop bouts of football and eating, be sacrosanct?  Why shouldn’t we have killer pilgrims hacking their way through nubile young cheerleaders, or a 200-ft. tall turkey attacking the Detroit Lions?  Why should Thanksgiving Day be different from every other holiday on the calendar?
Sadly, except for Eli Roth’s fake trailer, THANKSGIVING DAY, produced for the Robert Rodriguez-Quentin Tarantino film GRINDHOUSE, it is different.  And until the Unimonster’s Crypt branches out into independent film production, it’s likely to stay that way.  However, there is a solution for those horror fans that’d prefer to have some turkey on their television screens, as well as their plates.

It should come as no surprise that those of us at the Unimonster’s Crypt have a soft spot (right between our eyes…) for bad movies.  I don’t mean Uwe Boll-got-a-new-xBox-bad movies, or Hugh Grant-Reese Witherspoon so-sickly-sweet-you’ll-need-insulin-bad movies.  I mean the kind of bad movies that were shot on a four-figure budget, and look it.  The type of bad movie that made Ed Wood, Ray Dennis Steckler, Brad Grinter, and Larry Crane legends among those who love bad movies.  In short, those movies that define the phrase, “so bad they’re good.”

 So, while we may not be able to bring you the spectacle of Turkzilla stomping his way through the Motor City, there are some turkeys that we can recommend for your Thanksgiving viewing, ten movies that are truly so bad that they’re good.  They have a charm, a quality that overcomes their shoddy production values, poor acting, and inept direction.  In fact, their entertainment value is due to these factors, rather than in spite of them.

So here are ten turkeys for Turkey Day, all trussed up and ready for roasting.  They are badly done, there’s no denying that.  But they are also, for the most part, entertaining—and that’s as equally hard to deny.

THE GIANT CLAW (1957)—Any discussion of bad movies must include this film, featuring what might be the most ridiculous creature since Donnie Dunagan in SON OF FRANKENSTEIN.  Looking like a cross between a vulture and a turkey, as envisioned by Sid and Marty Kroft, the movie’s namesake monster inspired gales of laughter whenever visible on-screen and when it wasn’t the inept screenplay, lifeless direction, and wooden acting (from a usually dependable cast of veterans) changes the laughs into groans.

What rescues this movie from the same obscurity that buried so many similar films of the era is the fact that it’s so unintentionally funny.  The poster’s depiction of the creature doesn’t match the actors’ descriptions of the creature, which doesn’t match the creature’s on-camera image.  That image itself is so ludicrous that it is impossible to take it seriously—the first moment it’s seen transforms the film into the rankest form of camp comedy.  Not to everyone’s taste, to be sure—but hilarious nonetheless.

ROBOT MONSTER (1953)—Undoubtedly one of the worst films of all time, once again made comically entertaining by the absurd look of the eponymous creature, the lead agent of an alien race who has exterminated the entire human race—save for a group of eight individuals who were somehow immune to the fatal beams of the ‘Calcinator’.  Ro-Man, the invader charged with the conquest of Earth, tries to eradicate these survivors, but is hampered by the fact that he has fallen in love with Alice, the young and pretty female survivor.

The “Great Guidance,” the leader of the Ro-Man race, comes to Earth to oversee the final stage of the extinction of the human race, chiding the first Ro-Man for his failure to complete his mission.  The Great Guidance completes the assignment, wiping out humanity, only to have the entire movie revealed to be a young boy’s dream, a’la INVADERS FROM MARS.  Though even by 1950’s B-movie standards this cannot be considered a “good” film, it was still a very profitable one, earning more than $1 million at the box-office.

It’s hard to peg just what makes this movie enjoyable, despite the innumerable flaws it displays.  The acting is incredibly bad, on virtually the entire cast’s part.  Especially worthy of note are the leads, George Nader and Claudia Barrett, who play Roy and Alice.  Though the performances on the whole are at the level of a suburban dinner theater troupe, these two would aspire to be that good.  Combined with a totally preposterous script and Phil Tucker’s nonexistent direction, you have all the ingredients of a truly horrible movie, one devoid of any redeeming qualities.  However, if that were the case, then it wouldn’t be on this list.  Every movie that can be described as “so-bad-it’s-good” has some innate quality, some indefinable …something, that makes fans love it, and that holds true for ROBOT MONSTER as well.

Perhaps it’s the sheer cheapness of the production, reportedly filmed on a budget of only $16,000.  The paucity of money comes through in every frame of the movie, apparent in the lack of sets and the slapdash look of the few props used.  The most obvious sign of the lack of funds is the absurd look of Ro-Man himself.  Unable to afford the robot costume originally envisioned, the producers simply gave up, slapping a cheap plastic space helmet on top of a man (George Barrows) in an ape suit.  Even that was an exercise in economy—the suit belonged to Barrows.

It might also have something to do with the unintentionally comedic dialogue, delivered with enough inappropriately dramatic emphasis to reduce the viewer to peals of laughter.  It could be the liberal use of stock footage, along with scenes lifted from other films (including some rather anachronistic dinosaurs).  It might even be the strange mention in the opening credits of the “N. A. Fischer Chemical Products” company, manufacturer of the “Billion-Bubble” machine, which formed the basis of the Ro-Man communications device.  Most likely it was a combination of these factors that have cemented this movie’s cult status in the hearts of it’s fans, and it’s place in movie history.

BEGINNING OF THE END (1957)—Other than the name “Bert I. Gordon,” how much needs to be said about this, arguably the worst of the 1950’s Giant Bug films?  The story isn’t terrible; certainly no more so than that for TARANTULA or THE BLACK SCORPION, and the acting is on a similar level with those films.

Peter Graves and Peggie Castle aren’t great, or even good, in the roles of generic rescuing scientist Ed Wainwright and generic damsel in distress Audrey Aimes—but I’ve seen worse, and they do well enough with the material provided.

Bert Gordon’s direction is no better than it has to be, and is often not even that, but fans of his films are familiar with his level of incompetence, and accept it readily.  He did have a unique style that came through in his films, a quality that kept his work from being unwatchable.

What sets BEGINNING… apart from other Giant Bug films of that era however, are the special effects, effects that are laughably bad even by 1950’s B-movie standards.  From the poorly composited battle between the locusts and the Illinois National Guard, to the ridiculous rear-projection ‘grasshopper-in-a-cage’ effect used in the laboratory scenes, to shots of grasshoppers crawling on a photo of the Tribune Building, this film is a monument to bad special effects.  And ultimately, to bad filmmaking itself.

A*P*E (1976)—I must admit that I find most movies on this list, even though they’re incredibly bad, are also very enjoyable.  I’ve seen them all multiple times, and with each viewing managed to pan out one more fleck of gold from all the muck.  All, that is, except for A*P*E.

I first acquired this movie approximately ten years ago, about the same time I added ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN to my collection.  In that time I would estimate I’ve watched the latter movie between 20 and 25 times, but A*P*E no more than twice—and the second viewing was for the purpose of an article.  To say this is a bad movie is an understatement—it is nothing less than horrible, a thoroughly unwatchable piece of cinematic flotsam that must be experienced at least once by every fan of bad movies.

One might wonder how you make a movie so bad that not even the Unimonster, a man devoted to the appreciation and collection of craptacular film, can find one redeeming feature in it.  It’s not easy, but it’s also not impossible, as Paul Leder demonstrates here.

You start with a direct ripoff of KING KONG—as done by your average Korean junior high school drama class.  For your creature, use the worst looking ape suit you can find, making sure that the actor’s (and I use that term loosely) street clothes are visible underneath it.  Establish that the “ape” is 36 feet tall, yet keep varying the scale of the props and miniatures so that his size appears to be constantly changing.  Populate your cast with performers that would bring shame to an amateur production of Our Town.  Give them a script for which a 12-year-old would refuse credit.  Do that, and you’d have a start on matching the incredible, unbelievable crap factor of A*P*E.

TROLL 2 (1990)—Perhaps the worst-rated film on this list, this hodge-podge of celluloid cheese defies description.  It’s a mix of poor screenwriting, shoddy direction, and incredibly bad acting that for some reason has managed to develop a small group of very loyal fans.

The brainchild of Rossella Drudi and Claudio Fragasso (who also directed the movie under the name Drake Floyd), this crapfest was produced with the title GOBLIN, but retitled in the US to capitalize on the success (minor as it was) of the 1986 film TROLL.  This film, which bears no relation to that movie, is the story of a family who’s vacationing in the small town of Nilbog—Goblin spelled backward… get it?  Good, because that as original as the writing gets.  The family, Mom and Dad Waits, with Holly and Joshua, are due to become goblin chow, as soon as they’re properly prepared.  It seems that these are vegetarian goblins, and must first transform their prey, through the use of a magical meal, into a plant.  Why they can’t just eat a carrot is a mystery, but it’s far from the only one.  Another question that begs an answer is how in God’s name the filmmakers ever convinced someone to put up money for the production of this turd.

The acting is, unfortunately, a good match for the idiotic script.  No one stands out positively, and all are competing hard for the title of Worst Actor Ever.  Personally, my vote is for the ‘star’ of the movie, Michael Stephenson.  His performance as Joshua, who with the aid of his dead grandfather (Robert Ormsby, another contender for the Worst Ever crown…) saves his family from the goblins—or does he?

I may be in danger of overusing this phrase, but there is no way to avoid it.  This is a movie that must be seen to be believed.  I cannot make it sound as wretched as it truly is—I’m just not that good a writer.

LEPRECHAUN IN THE HOOD (2000)—The fifth entry in this undeservedly long-running franchise, LEPRECHAUN IN THE HOOD is a prime example of the late 1990’s-early 2000’s trend of Urban Horror.  A few examples of this sub-genre were excellent Horror films—TALES FROM THE HOOD and BONES among them.  Many were not.  This movie falls squarely into the latter category.

Starring Ice-T, Anthony Montgomery, Rashaan Nail, and with Warwick Davis reprising his character of a malevolent Irish elemental, this outing for the diminutive demon is a step up from the previous LEPRECHAUN 4: IN SPACE—though that’s hardly a difficult feat.  Three rappers accidentally free a leprechaun imprisoned twenty years before by a gangster named Mack Daddy (Ice-T, who must not be concerned about typecasting).  They soon find themselves targeted by both the Leprechaun and Mack Daddy, and running for their lives.

Despite the ludicrous concept and weak script, this is a much more entertaining movie than one would think possible.  Davis attacks the part of the Leprechaun with gusto, playing the role as though he were a miniature Freddy Krueger, wisecracking his way from kill to kill.  Though this is a bad entry in a not very good franchise, there’s still plenty here for fans of bad movies to enjoy.

THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK (1972)—In the ‘70’s and 80’s, Charles B. Pierce, an advertising executive from Texarkana, Arkansas, made a series of low-budget movies about a local “bigfoot”-type creature named the Fouke Monster.  Shot in a pseudo-documentary style and presented as fact, THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK helped fuel an interest in strange and unknown creatures such as Bigfoot and the Loch Ness monster.

Produced for $160,000 borrowed from a local trucking company, and with the citizens of Texarkana as cast and crew, …BOGGY CREEK is definitely low-budget, no-talent filmmaking at its best.  The photography is amateurish, the monster is hokey, and the script, what there is of it, is high school level at best.

However, there’s still that indefinable something that captivates the viewer, engaging them in the movie despite it’s flaws.  It may be the authenticity of the people and the locations.  It may be the way the narrator sells the story, as though he were reporting the 6 o’clock news.  It may simply be that, for lovers of bad movies, there are few more enjoyable than this one.

THE INCREDIBLY STRANGE CREATURES WHO STOPPED LIVING AND BECAME MIXED UP ZOMBIES (1964)—Ray Dennis Steckler is a legend among those who love bad movies, and of all his films—RAT PHINK A BOO-BOO, WILD GUITAR, THE LEMONGROVE KIDS MEET THE MONSTERS—none have achieved the infamous stature that this movie, affectionately known to it’s fans as “TISCWSLABMUZ,” has.  Lost in obscurity since the 1970’s, the movie was featured in episode 812 in the eighth season of Mystery Science Theater 3000, broadcast in 1997, and a new generation of bad movie lovers were exposed to Steckler’s masterpiece.

How can one count the ways this movie is bad?  First of all, with few exceptions, if the director is also the star, the movie sucks.  Doubt me?  Two words—THE POSTMAN.  Also, any time the director casts his wife and/or girlfriend in the movie is a red flag.  Carolyn Brandt, who was Steckler’s wife at the time, starred in the film as Marge.  And let’s be honest—that title screams crappy movie in neon letters ten feet tall.
But these are just the first indicators, the ones that one can see just from looking at the poster.  Any hopes the casual filmgoer might hold that these indicators might prove false are quickly dashed with the realization that every facet of this movie is bad.  Bad acting, bad direction, a bad screenplay—nowhere is there relief from the overwhelming stink of this movie.

PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE (1958)—This movie, director Edward D. Wood’s magnum opus, is synonymous with the term “bad movie.”  Long regarded as the worst movie ever made, it’s really not that terrible.  In comparison with a truly horrendous movie such as LEGEND OF BLOOD MOUNTAIN (1965), it rates as inspired filmmaking—relatively speaking.

That’s not to say that this is by any stretch of the imagination a ‘good’ movie.  Those familiar with Wood’s work understand what they are getting when they sit down to one of his films, and with PLAN 9… that’s doubled.  The writing is atrocious, the design of the production, the sets, the props, all would embarrass a grade school Christmas pageant.  The actors should be ashamed to refer to themselves as such, and what more can be said about Ed Wood as a director?

All of Wood’s idiosyncrasies are on display here.  No one can deny that he had a style, and a vision as a director.  The style might have been crap, and the vision hallucinogenic, but he made his movies the way he wanted them made—and that’s more than many aspiring filmmakers can say.

BLOOD FREAK (1972)—The ultimate cinematic ‘turkey’, this tale of a biker named Herschell who transforms into a blood-drinking “were-turkey” after exposure to a bad batch of drugs.  The product of the twisted imagination of Brad Grinter (whose short subject BRAD GRINTER, NUDIST might be the single most disturbing film in the Unimonster’s collection—thanks Bobbie!) this movie is a bizarre exercise in cinematic crapology.

From the papier-mâché turkey head on Herschell (Steve Hawkes), to the actress who opens her eyes to watch the action after she’s supposedly been ‘killed’, to the clearly audible instructions from the director, this movie proudly proclaims its status as “Crap.”  I can’t think of a better way to cap off the Turkey Day Film Fest than with this flaming bag of poultry excrement.

So as you lean back on your couch, pants unbuttoned, tryptophan coursing through your bloodstream, lulling you into a turkey-induced slumber, pop in some of the movies on this list… and let bad movies do the same for your brain.

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