Editor’s Note: These films are not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach. Read and watch at your own peril.
There is a special little corner of the horror genre I cannot get enough of, and that is bad horror. No, I’m not talking Halloween 3: Season Of The Witch. I am talking about that tenuous realm where B-Movies find that perfect blend of production value and ludicrous writing and performances to create a rare gem that is both awful and wonderful simultaneously. If it leaves my jaw on the floor and a smile stretched across my face at its atrocity, you have officially won my heart.
What I’ll be covering in this article is a few of my favorites that I have accumulated over 20 years of obsession with horror movies, both the brilliant and the barmy. Pull up a chair, put your feet up, and get ready to get silly.
Before The Lord of the Rings, even before The Frighteners, there was Dead Alive.
Also known as Braindead, Peter Jackson made his stamp in the world as a twisted mind out of New Zealand who still holds one the record for one of the goriest movies of all time. And it all started with a Rat Monkey.
Yes, you heard me right. This movie is the movie that began my love for bad horror movies. Once upon a time, long ago in a mythical place known as Blockbuster, my friend Debra picked up this movie and said “We must watch this.” And as soon as I saw the first sentence of the description, I knew she was right.
What ensues in this movie is really one of the greatest cinematic journeys known to man. Lionel and his overbearing mother are plagued by the creature only known as the Sumatran Rat Monkey, presumed to be the product of plague-ridden rats raping tree monkeys on Skull Island. Even back then, Jackson’s love of the “King Kong” was prevalent. These crazed creatures will bite anything within its reach, and the result is the eventual transformation of those attacked into decaying, grotesque zombies.
This movie is not – I repeat, NOT – for those with weak constitutions. This movie has gone down in history as one of the most ludicrous and gnarly third acts a horror movie has ever seen. It takes it to an absolutely slapstick point, complete with stop-action animation, puppetry of bulbous, horrifying monsters, and the eventual mowing down of the zombie hordes with the most effective yet unexpected weapons known to man. (I don’t want to tell you, spoilers and all that.) You either fall in love with it, or you dry-heave from it. I fell into the former category.
Oh, Romero. My dear, sweet Romero. How I love thee. Let me count the ways.
I remember this movie making me uneasy as a child in that magical Blockbuster land. It’s crazed, wind-up monkey on the cover would make me quickly pass by, the image quickly pushed from my young mind. Little did I know that when I grew into the woman I am today it would easily become one of my favorite B-Movies of all time.
Meet Alan. A man who we first meet nude. Alan likes to run with bricks in his backpack. See Alan run. See Alan get hit by an ice cream truck. See Alan become a quadriplegic. See Alan’s cracked-out friend give him a trained monkey named Ella who he’s genetically altered to be super-smart and who goes on a crazy and jealous murder spree. Oh, and did I mention that Ella and Alan grow a psychic link to one another? Ok. Well now I did.
I’m sure Romero was making some kind of political statement, as he does with all his movies. But what statement you can make with a man and his monkey is beyond me. “BJ and the Bear” was a great show, but it wasn’t out to end world hunger. And the relationship that Alan develops with Ella is not only dependent, but disturbing – not only does Alan seem to take on Ella’s aggression via their psychic link, but Ella clearly falls in love with Alan, which concludes in a stand-off in which he seduces the little Capuchin monkey in order to thwart her.
And oh, did I mention they super-weird love scene where he bangs a chick to the sweet serenade of monkeys going absolutely psychotic in the background? I didn’t? Well now I did.
Here’s the beauty of Troll 2. Troll 2 not only has nothing to do with the first movie in any stretch of the imagination, but it also does not feature trolls.
Inspiring the fascinating documentary Best Worst Movie, this 1990 film was created by Rossella Drudi and Claudio Fragasso, who also directed the feature under the pseudonym Drake Floyd. The Italian duo still stand behind their feature, insisting its art is simply lost upon American audiences. But when you hire a dentist as your handsome lead, a certified mental patient who had to check out of his asylum daily to shoot, and an army of rubber-masked goblins – not trolls, mind you – you reap what you sow.
Troll 2 has become one of the biggest cult phenomenons of all time, finding its way through the world VHS copy by VHS copy. The horrific performances coupled with the non-trolls turning people into plants (because the goblins are vegetarians, does that make them Goblins for the Ethical Treatment of Animals?) makes the entire film a completely jaw-dropping experience. But with its thousands of fans keeping it alive with their genuine love and fascination with the film make it something very, very special, even with its rating of 6% on Rotten Tomatoes.
You remember Cabbage Patch Kids? How their pudgy little faces would stick up out of the ground, since they were grown in a field? Make them Cabbage Patch Adults. Cut their vocal cords so they can’t scream. Turn them into smoked meat. Welcome, to Motel Hell.
The whole concept of this movie is that Farmer Vincent and his sister Ida ran a motel and meat smoking racket, in which they set up booby traps in order to capture people, bury them up to their necks in a field, and feed them until they are ripe for the plucking. Traps include everything from cardboard cows to simply shooting people’s tires out, and Terry, a beautiful vixen, falls for the aged Farmer Vincent, played by Rory Calhoun. Unbeknownst to Terry, her boyfriend Bo has been captured by the farmer and his sister to become Cabbage Patch Stew. When Vincent and Terry decide to tie the knot because he’ll murder hundreds but has to have ironclad Christian morals, Ida gets jealous and tries to kill Terry and eventually everything goes to hell in a big, bloody mess.
It’s hard to believe that anyone thought this would be a serious horror movie. Once it was released they tried to market it as a horror-comedy, a parody of classics such as Psycho, or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but by then the damage had been done. Not even Pixar’s lucky charm John Ratzenberger was able to save this one. But thanks to the change in marketing we get a very straightforward depiction of the movie for the public to enjoy – and probably one of the best taglines of all time.
“It takes all kinds of critters to make Farmer Vincent’s fritters.”
This could have become another Craven classic, if Warner Brothers had just left it the hell alone.
A classic tale of too many cooks spoiling the broth, Deadly Friend was destined to be a much more serious Sci-Fi tale with an emphasis on the ill-fated love affair between the two pivotal characters. But with Craven still pretty fresh off of his biggest hit of all time, A Nightmare On Elm Street, when the original cut was shown to preview audiences people complained of it not having enough gore and dramatic death scenes. Warner Brothers demanded re-shoots, and as we see all too often with films, the movie simply could not withstand the retooled vision and re-editing.
Paul, a brilliant teen who is new to town and has created a robot named BB, makes friends with local newspaper delivery boy, and Samantha, a troubled but beautiful girl who lives next door. Within the span of less than a month, BB is shot by an angry neighbor and Samantha is beaten into a vegetable by her alcoholic, abusive father. Paul, unable to cope, comes up with the what seems to be the best solution to save the two most important people in his life – by installing BB’s programming into the braindead Samantha.
What transpires is a struggle for control over Samantha’s body between BB and Samantha herself, who even within her weakened state is able to wrestle superiority from the robot here and there. BB is on a murderous rampage, killing those it blames for its demise, where as Samantha doesn’t want to hurt anyone and tries to stop BB from causing more death. In the end, she dies protecting Paul, and BB ends up making sure that Paul and Samantha can forever be together.
Fans of Craven and of the movie have petitioned for the original cut to be made available to the public, and I for one would love to see it. This movie was made at a very stressful and pressured time in his life, and I’m sure his contractual agreements with this along with Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors, did not help matters much. It’s hard enough to make a studio movie, let alone two at the same time. But even if we never get to see the original version intended for psychological thrills, we at least have a ridiculous jumble of genres and a quotable robot to console us.
“A Terrifying Tale of Sluts and Bolts.” That should be the name of my autobiography.
VERY loosely based on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, mad scientist Jeffrey Franken is inconsolable when his fiance, Elizabeth Shelley, is killed in a freak lawnmower accident. Obsessed, he swears to put her back together with parts harvested from New York City prostitutes. But what he doesn’t bargain for is that the new, improved Elizabeth has plans of her own – to find tricks, get the cash, and try to make sure they can’t tell anybody after the fact.
This movie falls in a category of black comedy for me, as it is clear they weren’t going for a serious horror movie and instead aiming for something a little more on the cheesy and exploitative side. It struggled to get down to an R rating thanks to its content and probably also the fact that Penthouse Pet Patty Mullen was in the title role, but for those with an open mind and a strong constitution, it is a fun time with lots of dumb laughs. Definitely a good movie to get drunk to and howl in laughter at.
It’s America’s wildest dreams and worst nightmares in one movie. A creamy, filling, calorie-free ice cream that is more addictive than meth. It bubbles up out of the ground, so of course that means it’s organic, right? Let’s not ask questions as to what on god’s green earth it is, let’s just package it up and send it out to the masses. I’m sure it’s perfectly safe.
Of course it turns out to be a murderous, parasitic entity that takes over your brain and eats you from the inside out. Because come on. Science.
I’m telling you right now, I would love to lose weight. But I am not about to shove something in my face that may have me acting like I’m on bath salts until my next fix, and I’m sure as hell not going to eat something that when someone asks what it is, they pretty much just shrug and say, “I found it in my backyard.” All y’all crazies did this to yourselves. Go out and exercise, cut out carbs, eat a salad, do something rather than try and find a magic bullet to help you lose weight, people. I know, trust me. If I could take a pill that would wipe the flab right off of me I’d be selling my firstborn for it. But that pill will never exist. So stop playing, watch The Stuff, watch Requiem for a Dream, and call me in the morning.
Killer Klowns from Outer Space
For the clown-contingent. I really don’t know how many people I know who are terrified of clowns, and out of those people I don’t know how many are scared them because of Pennywise, the razor-toothed sewer clown in Stephen King’s It. But however many are scared of him, there are just as many that are terrified of clowns because of this godawful carnival known as Killer Klowns from Outer Space.
It is exactly what it says on the tin and yet so much more, as we see these brightly-colored killers with faces frozen in madness shoot people with popcorn guns and stick them in cotton candy cocoons inside their circus tent spacecraft. There’s shrink ray puppet shows, funhouses of death, balloon traps and people being worked like puppets.
I genuinely don’t know what else to say about this treasure, except to vehemently say watch it. It plays very often on Syfy and other cable networks around Halloween, and it simply a ridiculous good time.
Another film by Frankenhooker director Frank Henenlotter, this warped horror-comedy also sets its story in the heart of New York City. Duane Bradley is a strange, anxious man who arrives in the Big Apple with a locked basket. After finding a room, we discover its contents – that being his conjoined twin Bilial, who resents being separated from his normal-looking brother.
The pair were born conjoined and then were surgically separated at a young age, allowing Duane to live an otherwise normal life while Bilial was condemned to being a deformed freak. But neither brother wanted to be split from the other, and they now vow to exact their revenge on the doctor who performed the operation. After tracking him down in NYC, Duane befriends a nurse which doesn’t thrill Bilial, leading to a final showdown that two heads are certainly not better than one.
The 1982 movie played as a midnight movie for many years before fading somewhat into obscurity. Its gritty, murky look is very reminiscent of 42nd Street and the Times Square district at that time, which is a far cry from what it is now. The practical effect of Bilial, being both puppet and stop-animation, make for something truly off-putting that no CGI effect would ever be able to create. There is just no comparison to something that actually exists as opposed to something made on a computer screen. That’s why “American Werewolf in London” is still the werewolf transformations are all measured to. No one can hold a candle to that transformation, and it was all practical effects. Basket Case of course is much more rudimentary with its character’s effects, but the outcome is similar – you’re much more disturbed by Bilial’s existence than any CGI-rendered monster. The fact that he lives in a basket is just gravy.
If H.P. Lovecraft wrote a story of Frankenstein and a Zombie having a baby, it would be Re-Animator.
Based on Lovecraft’s Tale, Herbert West – Reanimator, this cult classic and now hit stage musical of the same name has lived on for many reasons. Jeffrey Combs, in the lead role of Herbert West, delivers what is now considered in classic Combs’ style his manic, eye-bulging portrayal of the mad medical student who has discovered the serum to bring things back from the dead.
Everything from a cat to a head relieved of its body are reanimated in this movie, proving the power of West’s serum. When Dr. Hill, a teacher and self-interested researcher becomes aware of the discovery he tries to take it for his own, but is thwarted by West, who in protecting his serum decapitates Hill with a shovel and then reanimates both remaining pieces of the man independently. Hill, driven mad by the reagent and with the sting of failure, has his colleague-turned-zombie out to find its own daughter, Megan, and kidnap her to be brought to the lab Hill is trapped in. And then, in one of the most famous of horror movie moments, Megan wakes up secured to a metal slab just as Hill’s body is shoving Hill’s head between her legs. Fortunately, love saves the day in the nick of time, as all romances involving sexual assault from a decapitated head do.
This movie actually made money in the box office, which often can’t be said of a B-Movie, and spawned many sequels. It has even inspired a campy musical adaption, complete with an audience “splatter zone,” and comic books where Herbert West is pitted against reigning king of B-Movie cinema, Ash Williams of Evil Dead fame. My favorite pop culture nod is a certain little parody called Re-Penetrator. Yep, you guessed it; it’s even inspired porn. With director and actor commentary, it’s really something to behold.
No matter what its legacy, Re-Animator is once again a perfect example of the perfect storm of a post-Raimi/Campbell world in which the balance of scares and schlock was a rickety one, but took over a new landscape in the horror genre. They blazed a trail for movies that had shone a mirror onto themselves, and made it ok to laugh at the ludicrous situations portrayed onscreen. There was no way Johnny Depp’s body would hold that much blood that shoots out of the bed in A Nightmare On Elm Street, but you were still scared thanks to the tone and quality of the film.
These are also their own works of art as well, if not with the same balance. Even if they don’t mean to initially, these movies listed along with countless other bring joy in their absurdity, and makes friends out of strangers. They inspire filmmakers who believe that if Frankenhooker can get made, so can their movie. It improves an otherwise bad day, because at least the food you’re eating isn’t going to try and eat you back, or turn you into a plant. Everyone can find something in a satisfying B-Movie that they may not have known they needed at first, but leave feeling exhilarated for it, even if it’s just delirium from laughing.
No matter what the initial plan for these movies were, they put a personal stamp not only in history, but in our hearts.