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By Bethan Power · October 11, 2013
Movies are designed to entertain. They are designed to thrill, excite, shock; make you laugh, cry, dream. And the ones that do make it big at the box office and roll in the millions. These are the films that create fame and fortune in their wake. The really good ones.
So what about the bad films? I’m not talking about the films that are so bad they are unwatchable. I’m talking about films in that exclusive group that are watched precisely because they are bad. The movies that have cult followings who cheer every time a boom appears in shot or a jump cut is used or a continuity error occurs. Yes, I’m talking about B movies.
B movies are great. Well, no, they’re terrible. But when you watch them and you see the true commitment of the cast and crew, and you see the passion in their eyes as they strive through the script of what they are convinced will be their big break and a sure fire blockbuster hit, that’s what makes them great. They are so so bad but so so committed to by all the people involved. Wonderful.
There are far more than ten films that I wanted to put in this list, many having been watched as a desperate form of procrastination during my uni days, but I have narrowed it down to a good variety ranging from abysmal to laughable. B movies are also an incredibly subjective topic. One person’s piece of underrated genius is another’s worst nightmare, after all. But these all fit into my definition of a B movie. A bad film that is made by people who commit to it like it’s the next Citizen Kane. And some of them very nearly convince you.
10. Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957)
Directed by Roger ‘King of the Bs’ Corman, this film blends war time stock footage with an exceptionally complicated plot involving scientists and huge crab monsters. That’s right, giant mutant telepathic crabs bent on world domination. Right from the title I love it. And the description even more. It shouts ‘B movie’ from the rooftops and despite being pretty terrible it knows how to blend humour and science fiction together in a pretty decent combination.
This makes the list to honour Roger Corman, who directed 55 movies in his career, most of them low budget and low quality, but he loved his job and he made some pretty decent innovations. Attack of the Crab Monsters is one of his more successful low budget creations, covering the issues of the look of cheap monsters with close up shots and ensuring every scene was teeming with action, suspense or both. A worthy contender on the list.
9. Moby Dick (2010)
Wait a moment, this isn’t a B movie, I hear you cry. It’s a fifties movie that is recommended by critics and highly rated by viewers. Well that’s where you are wrong my friends, because I bring you Moby Dick the B movie, courtesy of the Asylum.
The Asylum deserve a special mention here, because if you love B movies, you need to get to know these guys. The Asylum are a production company that specialise in what some like to call ‘mockbusters’. Basically they produce straight to DVD versions of the big films that fill the red carpet, and get them stocked in shops at under a fiver around the time of the big film release, hoping to prey on people who think they are grabbing a bargain blockbuster.
I was one of these people. I thought I was picking up a bargain classic that had been re-mastered. Little did I realise the wooden acting and repeated three shots of CGI whale I had let myself in for. I love it. It’s terrible and cheesy and cringe worthy and it makes very little sense but I still love it. Because it is a film that wants to be in the big film world but at the same time knows its place, and works well in its place too.
Moby Dick makes the list because it is fun. It’s not good, no scratch that, it’s barely adequate, but it’s fun. And everyone in it is having fun. And that is what films are fundamentally all about.
8. Class of Nuke ‘Em High (1986)
Also known as Atomic High School, this is an especially mad film that follows the crazy antis of a group of school children who study in a school that just happens to be next door to a nuclear power plant. The real adventure starts when they pick leaves from a radioactive marijuana plant and smoke them, leading to crazy hallucinations.
This film is an example of why B movies should be made. They can look at situations and broach topics that would never work in blockbusters because they don’t fit in with the Hollywood demand. This film is the equivalent of that guy who comes with your group of mates to the pub and sits sipping his pint before saying, “what if…”. He is the guy who takes two random things and somehow links them together, making illogical and impossible connections between things. Well you look after that guy, because he is the guy who one day will dream up a film like this. And it may be weird and dodgy in all kinds of ways, but it would be awesome. You know it would. Just like this. A worthy number eight.
7. Evil Dead (1981)
Before Peter Jackson redefined the fantasy genre with Lord of the Rings he made a cheap budget zombie film called Braindead. Before Sam Raimi redefined the superhero genre with Spiderman he made a cheap budget zombie film called Evil Dead. It seems to be a rite of passage. And if you’re going to cut your teeth with directing, what better way to do it than with friends, with family, and with buckets of fake blood. Because that’s Evil Dead.
Raimi, his brother, his friend Bruce Campbell and a small cast and crew headed to a mysterious and now unknown location to make a movie in a cabin in the woods. They took with them enough fake blood to drown the BBFC buildings. Too much blood? Maybe. Too much pencil-jammed-and-wriggled-around-in-ankles? Probably. Too much plasticene stop-motion of zombies-exploding-and-dissolving? Definitely. Too much tree rape? God yes Sam Raimi what the hell were you thinking?!?!?! But despite these reasons, it’s a spectacular movie and deserves to make the list. The special effects are a bit off but the suspense and the horror and the sense of hopelessness conveyed by the cast are impeccable for such a cheap film so early in a career.
6. Mega Shark V Giant Octopus
As one of the most well known B movies around today, Mega Shark v Giant Octopus is a plethora of bad edits, terrible acting, jilted dialogue and laughable CGI. Oh and plot holes. LOTS of plot holes.
You know a film is bad when there are hard core drinking games dedicated to the goofs. The adventures of a bunch of marine biologists and their distinctly dodgy findings (the science is beautifully flawed) are followed with all the fantastical tropes you could possibly wish for. There is the big battle (as the title suggests) between two CGI monstrosities, though most of the battling is shown through wonderfully realistic turbulence on the underwater vehicles. Then there is the out of place mentor character who manages to ruin every vaguely touching moment within the film with sharp Northern Irish humorous dialogue. Bags and bags of pseudo science. And of course, the workplace romance that goes from zero to woohoo in approximately ten seconds.
This film, another product of the Asylum, was the first B movie I saw, and it set the benchmark of epic fail for me. I was horrified and at the same time captivated, and it remains one of my favourites to this day. Everyone commits fully and the passion shines through, and this is what makes you want to keep watching and see past the terrible film, and look instead at the people who put their life and soul into it. And they really do.
5. Ninja Terminator (1985)
Three separate films that never finished filming. Three reels of film. These reels cut up and stuck back together in one long reel of confused edit from hell hilarity. That is Ninja Terminator in a nutshell.
The plot is tenuous at best, but this is the general summary of events. Ninja Terminator is a jump cut sensation, taking us on the adventures of a variety of characters all trying to get their hands on a piece of the golden ninja warrior. That’s it. No more coherent plot. The cut and splice production sacrifices sense, especially where in several scenes actors are seen reacting to something that was clearly said in a different edit and as a result the reaction bears no relation to the fully edited scene being played. Add to that the fact that the character we follow throughout most of the film is not even integral to the main premise, and you start to get an idea of the tone of this film. Confusion.
The fight scenes more than make up for this however, and this particular aspect is something that is almost too good to be B movie. Teaming them with crazy costumes and terribly inaccurate dubbing brings it back down to B zone, but they don’t lose the low budget charm with professional edge. This film makes my list for making a decent bad film from three other ones. And I’m all for recycling.
4. Starcrash (1978)
David Hasselhoff and Christopher Plummer come together in this spectacular space age adventure that defies all types of belief. The film is backed by the impressive soundtrack of John Barry, usually accustomed to a more A list audience. In fact, the makers of Starcrash reportedly kept John Barry away from seeing the film as long as possible as they were scared he might quit the project if he saw it.
Starcrash was released between Star Wars episodes IV and V, unintentionally mimicking many plot points within the latter.
The film opens to an impressive fanfare and some dramatic establishing shots of suspiciously Lego looking rockets flying in from all angles. Watch closely, because these shots appear about every ten minutes throughout the film. Over, and over, and over and over again. Team that with women in see through space suits, more lasers than you could shake a stick at and some ever emotional and melodramatic acting from Christopher Plummer and you’ve got it in a nutshell.
This has to be my personal favourite B Movie. It has all the elements you could want, and it’s not a bad story either. Beats the Star Wars prequels anyway. At points, you even have a slight emotional connection with what is going on on screen. That’s right, the commitment from the cast means you can see past the polythene bag and leather lingerie costumes and engage with the story. Marvellous. A worthy entry on the list.
3. Troll 2 (1990)
Coined ‘the best worst movie of all time’ by actor and young star of said film Michael Stephenson, Troll 2 has to be seen to be believed. Even the director lost faith in his creation, putting his name in the credits as Drake Floyd rather than his real name, Claudio Fragasso. The film is an Italian creation with a mixed non-actor and amateur American cast. You can imagine what fun that must have been on set. As a result the dialogue is jilted, lifeless and gloriously cringe worthy in places.
It is called Troll 2; therefore one would assume it has a prequel. Well that’s where you are wrong. In fact, the film was actually called Goblin in its original form. This is evident by the fact that goblins are in the film and there is no mention of a troll of any kind at all. However, the producers decided, that as the film was not the quality they had hoped for, a great marketing ploy would be to sell it off the back of another mediocre creation; namely Troll (1968). The two films are not linked in any way, but the name stuck and Troll 2 was released.
However, don’t let any of this put you off. The antagonists are vegetarian cannibalistic goblins, the hero is a young boy, and (without wishing to give too much away) there is a scene involving popcorn that is designed to draw in fans of all genres, even the top shelf ones. Troll 2 gets my vote because it feels like a homemade movie gone wrong and yet is unexplainably compelling to watch until the end.
Oh, and look out for the fly that hogs camera time on one of the actor’s faces. That alone is a good enough reason to watch this film.
2. The Room (2003)
The Room is in a league of it’s own when it comes to one man wonder creations. The brainchild of Tommy Wiseau, it has been dubbed the Citizen Kane of bad movies. And it’s not hard to see why.
The acting is…well, there is no denying that the actors are committed. It’s just that they are terrible, not least Wiseau himself, who is starring in this masterpiece (of course). A great script may have salvaged something from the wreckage, but Wiseau decided to do that himself as well, meaning that the hammy acting is backed by simplistic and nonsensical dialogue that means the most normal of scenes turn into hilarious sketches or dangerously potent drinking games, depending on your taste.
The Room has no genre. Wiseau didn’t get that far. It sort of tries to be everything, and fails. But so beautifully. I love this film because when you watch it, you see Wiseau and you see the belief in his eyes that he really is creating a masterpiece, and the commitment to his work is applaudable. What makes it even better is that it is obvious that no-one else on set has any idea what is going on and don’t think that this is anything special at all, but they all commit for Tommy Wiseau, almost humouring him. It is a true display of teamwork and though the results are spectacularly bad, they are nonetheless spectacular.
1. Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959)
Subject of one of Tim Burton’s best films, Ed Wood (voted the worst director in existence, don’t y’all know) wrote and directed Plan 9 From Outer Space, a collaboration of friends’ efforts, hand picked by the director for their exemplary acting skills…oh no wait, no they weren’t.
This is the pinnacle of B movie epic fails. Emphasis on EPIC. There are noticeably wobbly sets, incredible voice over grammar and use of a dead film star and a terrible live replacement.
The financing of the film was down to an American Church who were promised fame, fortune and a string of films about Bible stories if they paved the way to success by financing this film that would get them up in the Hollywood lights. Needless to say, that didn’t happen. The budget is miserably low, forcing some corners to be hilariously cut. Bela Lugosi, the original, iconic Dracula (zee cheeldrin of zee night, vot myusic zey make) stars in the beginning of this film, but unfortunately died during filming. Ed Wood covered this up with a clunky off-camera car crash death and Ed Wood’s dentist was brought in to complete the film in his place.
This film has everything going against it, and the incredibly committed cast are worthy of Oscars for their professional commitment when sat with pieces of cardboard for set and a scene to perform. It is terrible, but gloriously so, and much as Ed Wood is notorious for being a terrible director, no-one can deny that he loved the movies and simply wanted to be a part of them. Well Ed, in a funny way you really have. And you deserve a top spot on this list for making failure this damn awesome.