The Worst

So here I am near the Texas coast, waiting to drown. Or at least that is what the media is telling me. So what better time to poke my head in, as I promised last time? Anyway, there’s something I’ve been working on over at Letterboxd, off and on, for a while now.

It’s a list called The Worst. If you’re not interested in clicking over, its basic reason for living has to do with people complaining that something relatively innocuous is “The worst movie ever made” which is usually followed by my “Eh, I’ve seen worse” which, in turn, is followed by “Then what is the worst movie you’ve ever seen?”

That is a more complicated question than you might think.

Y’see, I’ve been purposely watching “bad” movies for decades, and truthfully I almost always find something to enjoy in each one, even if it’s just grist for the sarcasm mill. But there are some movies that do not even offer that, and watching those is like a season in hell.

Again, if you’re interested in clicking over and seeing pretty pictures, here’s the list. There’s a lot of low-budget and even shot-on-video stuff, which may make some cry foul, those should not be held to such lofty expectations, but once more I say bullshit. At the risk of repeating myself, the covenant between myself and a movie, any movie, is that The Movie agrees to entertain me, and  agree to be entertained. I’m an easy mark, but even the big budget players on the list couldn’t manage it. The little blue titles mean you can buy them on Amazon, if you don’t believe me. Some you will just have to take my word.

  1. The Avengers – the 1998 version. On paper, a sure thing. An update of one of my favorite shows with Uma Thurman replacing my first crush, Diana Rigg, and Ralph Fiennes doing his best Patrick Macnee. On celluloid, sheer misery.
  2. Ballistic: Ecks vs Sever – How do you manage to take a movie with Antonio Banderas and Lucy Liu and somehow make it terrible?
  3. Blackenstein – now we’re getting into the low-budget strata. I wrote about this back at the turn of the century, and some took it as a challenge.  They regretted that. And now its available on blu-ray.
  4. Doctor Gore – some of the low-budget exercises in gore are amusing if you’re a gorehound (yeah, guilty), but some are simply dreadful. Which brings us to:
  5. Blood Cult – shot on video, presumably the very first made-specifically-for-the-video-market horror movie, but not the last. Overlong even at 89 minutes and unengaging.
  6. Can Heironymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness?– No. There, I just saved you and hour and 47 minutes of vanity musical and odd celebrity cameos. I tried to warn you about this one, too. As Victor Spinetti says, “I blame Fellini for this.”
  7. Dondi – The Medveds tried to warn us about this.
  8. Escape from Galaxy 3 – bought all the special effects scenes from Starcrash and got marketed as Starcrash 2.
  9. Intercessor – Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare is a fun waste of time with good music. Its sequel – 18 years after the original – is not.
  10. The Magic Christmas Tree – some low-budget kiddie fare is so demented in their cheapness that thy’re adorable. this one isn’t.
  11. Monster A-Go-Go – an unfinished movie finished by H.G. Lewis that, even in its theatrical form, is still unfinished. I think the MST3K guys considered it even worse than Manos.
  12. The Mummy – the Tom Cruise one. Don’t get me started because I’m probably doing this one for Hubrisween.
  13. Nukie – one of my war crimes is helping a visiting Chris Stomp Tokyo Holland find a copy of this at my favorite used movie store. For my sins, David Harlan dropped it on me at a Crapfest.
  14. The Ripper – another video-to-video thriller from the people who brought you Blood Cult, proving they learned nothing. Except how to blackmail Tom Savini into an extended cameo so they (of course) could give him top billing and move more units.
  15. The Roller Blade Seven – God, the wounds are still fresh from this one.
  16. Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny – if you want to have fun, run a betting pool as to exactly when in the movie the Ice Cream Bunny shows up. There are also two versions of this, which is, in itself, another war crime.
  17. Science Crazed – the return of video, and Doug Tilley’s favorite movie. This is a dangerous individual.
  18. Sex Kittens Go to College – Albert Zugsmith strikes again! (he also directed Dondi) There is nothing worse than an unfunny comedy. This was the 2am soul crusher at the last B-Fest I attended, due to it being the more explicit version where strippers dance for a robot. How can this be bad, you might ask. Have you ever seen Orgy of the Dead?
  19. H.G. Wells’ The Shape of Things to Come – has nothing to do with Wells’ book and everything to do with a rush to cash in on that sweet sweet Star Wars money.
  20. Sorority House Vampires – see unfunny comedies, above, and add even more boobage.
  21. Spine – shot on video slasher flick made by people who I’m pretty sure made bondage porn previously.  Keep your murder cash-ins out of my kink, please.
  22. Star Odyssey – another Italian attempt to cash in on Star Wars with a cast of characters that should have led to better results.
  23. The Star Wars Holiday Special – oh, you knew this was coming.
  24. The Tuxedo – Hollywood seemed to have an absolute passion for wasting Jackie Chan’s talents, and this one is the worst.
  25. Wild Wild West – Hollywood also can’t make a decent steampunk movie. I saw it at a dollar cinema and still felt cheated.

There. Now I feel no need to answer that question for at least another year or so. See you after the disaster.

Some Sci-Fi Junk Food

Let’s see if I can ignore the Doomsday Clock for a few minutes and actually get something written.

In the odd evenings that I’ve managed to put aside for movie-watching, I’ve definitely gone the escapist route this year. So on a vacant Friday evening I decided to finally watch two of the biggest flops of the last year, just to go someplace else for a while, even if that place might not be worth the visit.

First up was Independence Day: Resurgence, which was one of many dull thuds in the Summer 2016 box office. It’s 20 years after the first movie (appropriately enough), and the aliens return for a rematch, except this time they’re serious. Stage center is largely occupied by the children of the main characters of the first movie, though Jeff Goldblum, Judd Hirsch, Brent Spiner, Vivica Fox and Bill Pullman all return.

And overall… I liked it. Hey, Mikey!

We are told that in the intervening 20 years, mankind is still united, and we’ve reverse-engineered alien tech to a degree that put me in mind of Macross. There’s a thriving military moonbase and, at the very least, an observation post near Saturn. Another alien race attempts to contact us, and given our last experience, we immediately shoot them out of the sky. Too bad they were offering to help, huh? When the new bad guy mothership arrives, it is over 3000 miles across, has its own gravity field, and parks across the Atlantic ocean. The whole ocean.

Guys, that is some cool mind-blowing science-fiction right there, and it’s only damaged a little by Roland Emmerich’s fetish for out-doing Irwin Allen in the disaster department. (“How will we get a speeding vehicle dodging stuff falling from the sky this time?” I wondered. “Ah! Here we go!”) People deride it for being basically the same movie as the first, just bigger – my question is: is this the first sequel you’ve ever seen?

My other question is why with all this alien tech at our disposal are people still driving cars that require gasoline, but let’s not get too far down that rabbit hole, or we’ll be wondering why it takes the aliens three-quarters of the movie to toast the communications satellite network aw crap.

I wanted big and stupid, I got big and fairly stupid. I enjoyed it, which surprised me, as I’m not a big fan of the first movie. I liked it alright, but I wanted to love it, and I didn’t.

So I might as well tarnish that experience by immediately following it up with Ghost in the Shell, which for some reason I felt compelled to watch. I guess there’s a nerd punch card somewhere I needed to fill?

Briefly: Scarlett Johannson is Major, a human brain in a robot body. Major has no memory of her former existence, though she is told her body may have died by drowning. She is employed as an intelligent tactical weapon by an elite peacekeeping force overseen by Takeshi Kitano. As she works to root out a rogue cyborg who is hacking into the data centers of other cyborgs, she begins to find out unpleasant truths about her own existence, not the least of which is her true identity and origin.

Ghost in the Shell is a competently made, if relatively (and ironically) soulless. When I found out this was made by Rupert Sanders, a whole lot of things suddenly made sense. Like Snow White and the Huntsman, this movie uses its technology fairly well, but an essential feeling of reality is missing. In Snow White‘s fantasy world, this wasn’t a big deal, but in cyberpunk, it is. The frequent loving vistas of a futuristic city overwhelmed by gigantic advertising holograms look like they came out of a Mind’s Eye laserdisc in the early 90s, not a big budget CGI extravaganza from 2017.

Sanders seems to rely almost solely upon the talents of his stars to give his movies life and energy; before it was Charlize Theron and Chris Hemsworth, this time it’s Johannson and Takeshi, and the movie isn’t willing to meet them halfway in that effort. They’re a talented bunch, but they need a script that did more than read the definition of anomie in a word-a-day calendar. I’m going to be honest and admit I haven’t seen the original since it came out in the mid-90s, but golly it sure seems like Major is rendered helpless a lot for an unstoppable killing machine, just so exposition can be delivered. The most damning thing about Ghost in the Shell is that it’s a great comic book and a perfectly fine anime – why was it felt necessary to make a big budget live version? (Truthfully, I can think of more than one movie that needs to have that question asked, but we’re trying to be brief here)

So. Independence Day: Resurgence, thumbs up, Ghost in the Shell thumbs down.

Now I’m going to become scarce around here for a while. Yes, yes, I know, scarce-er. The October Hubrisween event is coming, and I need to get way more done on that than I have at this point. I’ll try to poke my head in, I really will.

(Ron Howard voice: “He didn’t poke his head in.”)

Buy Independence Day: Resurgence on Amazon

Buy Ghost in the Shell on Amazon

Better yet, buy the original Ghost in the Shell on Amazon

Crapfest: The Mutining

It’s a familiar story by now, so let’s skip it. Sudden loss of paying gig, instead embrace life by making each other suffer with a Crapfest. It just turns out that mission statement was a little too literal this time.

Prepping for the evening’s entertainment

In attendance: Myself, Host David, Rick, Paul, Alan and Erik. I also brought my son, Max, who as we know, is establishing his own bona fides in the world of Crap. The beginning of these things is always a fluid matter, as inevitably we wait for one person or another to show up. The filler for this period was episodes of Jason of Star Command, one of Filmation’s wholesomely boring Saturday morning sci-fi offerings after parent groups scoured the mornings of violently entertaining fare like The Herculoids and Space Ghost.

Jason occupies the sweet (?) spot between Star Wars and Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Spun off from the previous year’s Space Academy, it thriftily used that series’ models; the most salient features are Jimmy Doohan as the Commander, and Sid Haig as the cyborg villain Dragos. Jason dresses like a Walmart Han Solo, and has a windup toy robot which has a handy deus ex machina function. There is really not enough Sid Haig, but each episode, sans commercials, was only about 10 minutes, so we kept going on until everybody got there, about four episodes worth.

Before we started in earnest, Dave demanded the flash drives of myself and Erik so he could examine the contents for (harrumph) quality. Of the several flicks on Erik’s drive, he singled out one, and I held that I had never seen it, so that is what we started with. And it would set the sad, horrible tone for the rest of the evening.

Because that movie was The Roller Blade Seven.

There are, in all, five – count them, five – Roller Blade movies. Six, if you count a making-of. They are all (except for the making-of) directed by Donald C. Jackson, likely best known for The Demon Lover or Hell Comes to Frogtown. The first two Roller Blade movies (I am told) are generally fun, cheap, sleazy trash full of gratuitous nudity. With this third one, though, Jackson began a long partnership with Hollywood martial artist Scott Shaw. This was an instance of “zen filmmaking”, which translates into “we make it up as we go along”. Also, gratuitous nudity does not seem to be very zen. In effect, I was somehow tricked into watching the Public Access Cable offering of some early 80s wannabe electro pop band.

In a vaguely post-apocalyptic world, Shaw is Hawk, a guy who roller blades around with a sword. He’s supposed to rescue, um… let’s check the Quotes section in IMDb:

Hawk: You have sent for me, Father Donaldo?

Reverend Donaldo: Hawk, sister Sparrow has been adapted (sic) and taken into our worst nightmare.

Hawk: You mean my sister that has become your sister?

Reverend Donaldo: Yes, our sister sister. You must go now to rescue her!

“Hey, I got this cool armor I made in shop class” “And I got this mail-order camo ninja outfit” “You’re BOTH in the picture!”

Donaldo, incidentally, is played by Jackson himself. Hawk’s rescue mission will somehow involve Frank Stallone, Joe Estevez, William Smith, and Don Stroud, each of whom will get a credit just before their entrance, no matter how far into the story. That’s something I’ve previously only seen in some Hong Kong movies, and it’s not the only strange appropriation, either.

Karen Black shows up as a character named Tarot, who keeps stuffing mushrooms in Hawk’s mouth until he begins tripping balls, and I guarantee that Ms. Black was having some Easy Rider flashbacks of her own while shooting this stuff. There are portions of Roller Blade Seven that feel like Jackson and Shaw had really wished they had made Easy Rider, Performance, Circle of Iron  or any given Jodorowsky flick, and those sections actually approach a sort of brilliance. Then again, that is probably the sheer amount of painkillers I was taking to get through this experience talking.

So now the rollerblade is on the other foot, eh, Rhonda?

Another of the celebrities somehow rooked into appearing in this is Rhonda Shear, late of USA weekend movies. “Ha!” I said. “I have a VHS somewhere of Rhonda dissing Forever Evil.” “And look what you’re doing now,” said Dave behind me. He leaned closer, pointing at my phone. “Do it. Find Rhonda Shear on Twitter and tell her what you’re doing. Do it now.”

Alas, I was already too inebriated to pursue such a complex series of actions for the cold comfort of revenge, and in the sober light of day, I’m probably better off for it. But it was sorely tempting. (As a slight digression, I experimented with a keyboard case for my Kindle Fire to livetweet the Crapfest, but it was too dark in the Mancave to type on an unfamilar device. I returned to the phone, but toward the end it was taking me what felt like five minutes to tap out a coherent message and I gave up)

Supposedly there were over 24 hours of footage shot for this and its direct sequel, Return of the Roller Blade Seven, but that doesn’t stop them from repeating every action shot and every shot leading up to an action shot three or four times.

Why weren’t five movies made about THIS guy?

My favorite character was a bizarre Nash the Slash lookalike who rollerbladed around playing the banjo. Everybody else hated him, which only made it better. Of course, he gets killed by a Utility Ninja (who gets his own credit). Dave uses the VLC Media Player to project most of our stuff, and would jostle the mouse every now and then to display the progress bar at the bottom. The official running time is 96 minutes, but the first time he did that – when we were pretty sure we’d sat through about an hour – it was less than 30 minutes in. Many and varied were the amounts of invective hurled toward Erik by Dave, who felt that Erik should have warned him better, louder, and more colorfully.

If there was one good thing about this, it allowed me to find the next night’s Episode 12 of the new Twin Peaks, which pissed everybody else off, hilarious. The one bad thing was it gave Dave the excuse he needed to throw in something he had been saving for ages.

First he had to go to his computer to set the movie up. “This is open matte!” he proclaimed, and then pointed to me. “Explain to them what open matte means!” he said, and departed. The surprising thing is, as out of it as I was, I actually managed a concise and clear explanation. Then the thing started.

It was Showgirls. Well, I thought, I still haven’t seen it, I guess this is the time, though I was puzzled by the corner super about “Celebrating 25 years of great American cinema” and the network bug in the corner, which at least explained the open matte, 4×3 picture. Then the pure horror of what Dave had perpetrated became obvious.

This was the basic cable TV version with superimposed digital underwear.

The digital underwear is certainly something to see. It looks like those lobby cards from the more salacious flicks of the 70s that have really obvious underthings painted on, except here the outlines of the fake bras are subtly writhing as the actresses move. Alan, who, like me, had never seen Showgirls, left the room and refused to return, not willing to see a literally bowdlerized version. Paul kept us informed as to what was cut out, until he, too, joined the general exodus from the room a half hour in, and the only occupants were myself, my son, and Dave. I decided it was time to take one for the team.

“Okay, I’m calling it.”

“What?”

“You’ve made your point. Let’s end this and move on.”

“Does this mean I’ve won?”

“Sure. You’ve won.”

“Mark this day down!”

“Okay.”

“I want the full details of this in your write-up!”

“Fine, fine.”

“Omit NOTHING!

This was also the point I stopped live-tweeting, an event Dave later likened to radio contact being cut off from the reporter at Grover’s Mill.

Yet things did actually get worse from there, and it was my fault. An earlier discussion of late night televangelists caused me to realize that I had Werner Herzog’s God’s Angry Man, a marvelous short documentary about the deranged Reverend Gene Scott, on my flash drive. In my impaired state, this seemed like kismet, guidance from above. It turns out Herzog is not a good antidote for denied boobie fans, however, and there was another general exodus. Severe misjudgment on my part. I relented and put on a classic cartoon about everybody’s favorite serial killer, The Pincushion Man.

And then Dave proceeded to soothe a whole lot of hurt feelings with Au Pair Girls (1972).

In the name of laziness, I will simply place the IMDb’s summary here:

Four sexy young foreign girls come to England as au pairs and quickly become quite intimate with their employers, host families, and just about everyone else they encounter.

Yep, that’s pretty much it. That is the very loose framework employed to get four very pretty young women to take their clothes off as often as possible. One of them is Me Me Lai, and it is pretty refreshing to see her get naked and then not get eaten by cannibals. Another of them is Gabrielle Drake, which means if, like me, you only watched the TV series UFO for the Moonbase girls, this is the luckiest day of your life. All these nude misadventures find them jobless and back at their agency, but fortunately our young faux Scandinavian has caught the eye of a rich Sheikh and apparently they all go off to Araby for a happy life of sex slavery.

The most remarkable thing is that it’s directed by Val Guest, just one more stop in a long and varied career. Here, enjoy the theme music that would haunt us for the rest of the evening:

I finally hit a better stride with Bloody Parrot, a completely bizarre Shaw Brothers movie from 1981. The Bloody Parrot is some sort of supernatural thingie that, if you see it, will grant you three wishes. The first guy who sees it is looking for 13 treasures that were stolen from his lord, and his first wish is to find them – they mysteriously appear, but in some Monkey’s Paw shit, his son is killed. Of course, he wishes for his son back, the coffin starts shaking, everybody panics and starts stabbing each other, and the 13 treasures disappear.

This is the first five minutes of the movie.

For the rest of the running time, our hero Yeh Tin-feng (Jason Paio Pai, looking a lot like Kuan Tai Chen) is looking for the treasures because everybody seems to think he has them for some reason. He keeps running across the Bloody Parrot, though no wishes are offered – people just die mysteriously. He follows the most tenuous of clues to the Parrot Brothel, where he falls in with the remarkable courtesan Xue Nu (Jenny Liang), who’s the movie’s major selling point, I’m sure, as evidenced by the opening credits:

Ms. Liang is certainly fetching, and is introduced in a costume that renders her literally half-naked. That she does the following lengthy scene – including a strenuous bit where she is apparently possessed by the devil – in that outfit is pretty amazing and much appreciated by the male audience. The plot goes fourteen different directions at once, involving witches, vampires, cannibals, strange conspiracies, hunchbacks, acid (the burning kind) and then we get introduced to this lady:

Who likes to use the skin of her victims to make clothes. Her weapon is embroidery needles. She is also on the side of the good guys, which surprised some, since you aren’t usually introduced to good guys with somebody’s face in an embroidery hoop..

This was the third time I had seen Bloody Parrot, and this was the time I almost understood the plot. (Maybe I should try that with Roller Blade Seven, but then again naaaaaah, fuck that noise.) Finally Yeh and Xue are separated in the villains’ hall of mirrors, and Xue hits upon the strategy of marking her trail with the only thing on her, her clothing. Which is either the stupidest plan ever or the most phenomenal stroke of genius, depending on your gender.

Villains are finally revealed, and the explanation for what’s going on is so blazingly simple, you wonder why it was necessary to swim through such murky chaos to get to it, but then Liang shows up in that half-dress again, and everything’s okay.

Nothing short on the Internets, you can’t buy it on Amazon, so here:

Mind you, that was me being nice. Then it was time to be not-nice, as I broke out the last of my Andy Milligan blu-rays, Torture Dungeon. Milligan had not yet appeared at Crapfest, which, if not a miscarriage of justice, is at least a bit of a surprise. We are no strangers to Milligan here at Yes, I Know, so let me see if I can be as succinct and informative as I was about open matte abominations.

Milligan is credited with 29 motion pictures, but is probably most famous for ten horror movies made between 1969 and 1973 for the grindhouse market, infamous for their gore. The gore would be considered pretty tame these days, but these flicks are (for me) most notable for the fact that parsimonious producer William Mishkin would give him only $10,000 to make each movie, and they are almost all period piecesTorture Dungeon, in fact is a medieval movie, and attempting to do such a thing on that budget without a renaissance festival nearby is insane.

And check out that authentic period set dressing!

Milligan is self-taught, and his background is largely theatrical; this is always made particularly obvious by his love for lengthy monologues with no cuts. There are at least five of them in Torture Dungeon, but there is damn little of the title character. Two scenes, enough to justify the expense of dressing the basement and larding the makeup on a couple of guys.

There is some sort of plot here about a villainous Duke (Gerald Jacuzzo) plotting to kill all the heirs in line for the crown of England, and for some brain-damaged reason this involves marrying the pretty peasant Heather (Susan Cassidy) to his half-wit brother (after killing her equally-peasant lover), and then immediately murdering the half-wit. There is a surprising amount of nudity from Ms. Cassidy, which was at least a welcome distraction. In fact, she body doubles for another actress (Patricia Garvey, I believe) whose nude scene we were actively rooting for. As Dave pointed out, “It’s the freckles that give it away.” Well, that and the ham-fisted editing.

There is so much more. The Milligan Spin, after every blood scene. That the storytelling is so haphazard that we didn’t even know the Duke only had one arm until halfway through the picture. Milligan did his own costumes, so the “Upholstery or Tablecloth?” game.  The cheap library music that is obviously, jarringly from 60s industrial films, which simply cut off at the end of a scene. I used to say I could watch only one Andy Milligan movie a year, and now I can’t get enough of him. He’s like crap movie crack. True outsider art.

Thus bludgeoned by the evening, we packed up and left, sadder but no wiser. And on the way home, my son asked if I could track down a copy of Roller Blade Seven for him. The horror. The horror.

I don’t want to leave you on such a hopeless note. Here is a Charley Bowers short I screened earlier in the evening, in happier times. Though it is predictably racist in its portrayal of superstitious butlers, it is even more racist against Scotsmen.

Though We Cannot Possibly Recommend It:

Buy The Roller Blade Seven on Amazon

Buy The Un-Bowdlerized Showgirls on Amazon

Buy Au Pair Girls on Amazon

Buy Torture Dungeon on Amazon