A film doesn’t have to be good to be good. Some of the best films around are absolutely terrible. That’s one of the joys of cinema – and in fact any non-interactive medium. Being badly made, poorly written, badly acted, and otherwise just a bit rubbish – when taken to an absurd enough degree – leads not to a lack of entertainment, but rather to a whole new realm of ludicrous wonder. There are few more life-affirming joys than sitting round with a bunch of friends and enduring the combined joy and pain of a really bad film.
So, given that we talk about good ones more than enough on GamesRadar+, I figured it was about time to balance things out with a tribute and guide to some absolute crap. Read on, and I’ll fill you in on the awful, awful specifics of 11 movies, well-known and under-the-radar, guaranteed to improve your life in truly dismal ways.
What is it? A pre-Incredible Hulk Lou Ferrigno stars as the legendary Greek hero, in a deliriously schlocky sugar-rush of a film that doesn’t so much play fast and loose with the original mythology as throw it all into a washing machine with a few old Power Rangers DVDs, pull out the battered, soggy mess an hour later, and affix a bunch of homemade special effects crafted of hastily cut-up circus posters.
Less a story, more a bunch of things That Just Happen, setting and even time-of-day changes occur in the space of a quick, ‘Look at that, over there!’. Hercules fights threatening stop-motion robots that provide zero actual threat, dying in seconds due to the minimal life-span afforded by the tiny special effects budget. Underwater scenes involve no water at all, but rather a blue light and Lou moving a bit more slowly than usual. Zeus looks like a sad Jon Stewart. There’s a (sort of) lightsaber fight. It’s basically the best film ever made.
What’s the most brilliantly shit bit? It’s all standard, low-budget schlock for the first 15 minutes or so, but then Hercules fights a bear, and throws the bear into space. It is not the last time he throws something into space.
Cool as Ice (1991)
What is it? A pioneeringly inept musical-romantic-comedy-drama vehicle for Vanilla Ice, Cool as Ice is effectively Footloose meets Rebel Without a Clue. A rapping drifter biker, Ice’s hilariously misjudged Johnny is ‘cool’ to the point of just being a terrible, terrible asshole, shaking up a sleepy, conservative town by way of being a dick to pretty much everyone, while still managing to ‘romance’ a local girl away from her boyfriend at the same time.
That’s basically the entire plot, as stretched out to 91 minutes, with a weird, kidnapping storyline thrown in seemingly in the last 30 seconds. Otherwise it’s all musical montages, endless sequences of Ice posing on motorbikes, and ‘rad’ ‘90s outfits apparently made by throwing a succession of clowns through a woodchipper, as filmed and edited by a hyperactive nine-year old. I’m pretty sure there can be no better film.
What’s the most brilliantly shit bit? The part right at the end, where Ice proves how cool he ultimately is by using his new girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend’s car as a jump-ramp, as he bike-leaps away into the night and straight into another music video. As a 10-second distillation of the entire film, it’s flawless.
Batman & Robin (1997)
What is it? One of the best unintentional comedies ever made, Batman & Robin feels like director Joel Schumacher binge-watched the 1966 Adam West TV series, belligerently failed to get the joke, and then remade it, playing the whole thing straight with $125 million. And somehow made it look like he only had a dollar fifty to play with.
With a script written by throwing darts at a board covered in ice-puns, a woefully miscast Arnold Schwarzenegger speaking in nothing but those ice puns, and a general air of thoughtless, cartoon nonsense butting heads to the point of skull-fracture with each and every attempt at emotional depth or even, you know, telling an actual story, Batman & Robin is a very special film indeed. It understandably enraged bat-fans at the time, but watch it now, with enough detachment and ideally enough beer, and it’s naught but a joyful comedic wonder. Even if you can see poor George Clooney’s excitable bat-dreams dying with each passing scene. No better film has ever been made.
What’s the most brilliantly shit bit? Aside from every instance of Schwarzenegger saying or doing literally anything, the bit when Batman and Robin get fired into the sky only to descend on surfboards for no other reason than to have them surfboard through the sky because that sort of thing is apparently cool and appropriate behaviour.
Black Samurai (1977)
What is it? A martial arts blaxploitation vehicle for Jim Kelly – otherwise best known for his role in Enter the Dragon – Black Samurai is the gloriously shonky, stream-of-consciousness-weird barrage of cartoon cool that Quentin Tarantino’s latter output has been going out of its way to recreate ever since Kill Bill.
Casting Kelly as Robert Sand, agent of DRAGON (Defense Reserve Agency Guardian of Nations, aka, the most wonderfully contrived backronym in cinema history) on a mission to rescue his girlfriend – also the daughter of the Chinese ambassador – from kidnappers attempting to ransom her for a lethal freeze-bomb, it’s a globe-trotting, deliriously violent trip through America and Asia, taking in drug-dealing kingpins and Voodoo magic along the way. Oh, and the bad guy is a warlock, and Sand’s idea of a pithy put-down is to wreck a goon’s spine and quip “Motherfucker ain’t never going to walk again”. Yeah, Black Samurai is that subtle. The finest cinematic achievement in mankind’s history to date.
What’s the most brilliantly shit bit? The transitional scene where Sand suddenly has a jetpack for absolutely no goddamn reason at all.
What is it? Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, if it was remade by primary school children, with the art and craft facilities of primary school children, and adult actors performing in the style of primary school children. A film so delightfully poorly made that its marketing materials were riddled with typos (“BIDEMIC”), things only get worse when you get into the action (which takes the best part of an hour to kick off).
The birds consist of near-static pictures of birds superimposed over the screen. They make aeroplane dive-bombing noises when attacking. They explode on impact. The credits are full of fake names, the cast having taken on crew roles at the same time as ‘acting’, holding mics between their knees, and doing each other’s make-up. And remarkably, despite occasionally being associated with the likes of The Asylum’s deliberately crap monster movies, none of Birdemic’s manifold wonders seem to be intentional. Best film ever.
What’s the most brilliantly shit bit? Every single time a bird is seen or a human makes a sound.
The Wicker Man (2006)
What is it? The first (but certainly not last) Nic Cage film on this list, Neil Labute’s self-serious but ludicrously cartoonish remake of the 1973 folk-horror classic takes all the original’s delicately composed creeping dread and off-kilter, otherworldly threat, throws it straight in the bin, and replaces it with (almost) the Cagiest performance of Cage’s career. He screams endlessly. He contorts his face beyond the barriers of space and time. He twists like a pipe-cleaner and bellows about bees. Where Edward Woodward’s slow descent was an unsettling, inexorable collapse into choking, horrified paranoia, Cage leaps straight down the nonsense-pit without a parachute and cackles all the way down. The greatest of all films.
What’s the most brilliantly shit bit? The moment where, out of nowhere, Cage runs up to one of the island’s sinister matriarchs and punches her out, dressed as a bear.
Highlander: The Source (2007)
What is it? I’ve seen it twice, and I don’t even know. Managing to deliver a film so stoically, unassailably bad as to finally drive a pole-axe through a franchise that made a tradition of remaining successful despite never being good, the fifth Highlander film is a rampaging cluster-bamboozle the like of which leaves one feeling as punch-drunk as entertained.
Taking the TV series cast into an apparently post-apocalyptic near future, on a journey to find the titular Source – an ancient bit of entirely lore-changing Highlander lore that apparently everyone has just remembered – while battling its jabbering, bondage-clad, goth troll guardian, it’s a kaleidoscope of jibberish visuals and half-conceived cosmic horseshit. Directed with a flair that evokes the timeless confusion of a half-waking booze-haze (partaken while watching Tekken cutscenes, with The Road on in the background) it is, pretty much the best film ever made by anyone.
What’s the most brilliantly shit bit? Any and all fights with the Guardian, a hulking, pasty-faced, S&M bodybuilder with a liking for low-cut corsets and executioners’ masks, and the persona of a gravelly-voiced, hyperactive toddler.
Skinned Deep (2004)
What is it? A random horror b-movie I picked up from a bargain bin around Hallowe’en because it had a guy with a bear-trap for a mouth on the cover. I was hoping it would be shit, but I was not prepared for its true nature. Skinned Deep is, in actuality, absolute, psychological carnage. Going beyond ‘Really bad’, and exploring the hitherto unknown realm of ‘So bad it’s surreal and nothing makes sense any more’, what initially seems to be a standard, cheap-ass Texas Chainsaw knock-off becomes a different beast entirely within its opening minutes.
Intercutting badly-lit, night-time scenes of sinister, roadside trap-setting with close-up shots of a giant, flexing, candlelit bicep (it’ll make sense by the end, but at the same time it won’t actually make any sense), Skinned Deep then veers into catastrophically executed ‘escape the creepy family’ action, taking in a house that makes no geometric sense, a squealing Warwick Davis who uses dinner plates as murder weapons (while espousing poetically on the matter of crockery as metaphor for the human experience), a bizarre, middle-act segue into summery romantic comedy, and an inexplicable, semi-Lovecraftian conclusion that’s been known to inflict a rare form of non-physical concussion. There is no better film in existence.
What’s the most brilliantly shit bit? The big reveal toward the end, which explains what that bicep was about in a way that you’re never going to see coming. And which simultaneously doesn’t really explain anything.
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance
What is it? Look, I wasn’t going to give Nic Cage a mere single placing on this list. The man is the master of cranking up the lunatic wonder to make bad films great. And while the first Ghost Rider film is simply crap, its sequel, with its decidedly higher quota of Caginess, is marvellous. Ostensibly a fairly dull, schlocky, ‘superhero-vs.-generic bad guys’ movie, Cage’s appearances as the fully transformed Ghost Rider – the gleefully deranged product of his method-wearing black and white make-up on set and staying in character far longer than he needed to – make it 1000% worth the investment. A screeching, twitching, frenzied, crack-fiend scarecrow of a performance, it’s classic Cage-cackling with more than a hint that he might actually have shamanically channelled something weird from the nether by accident. Which I wouldn’t put past him.
Oh, and did I mention that Christopher Lambert is in it? Almost like they had to cast him to confirm exactly what kind of film this is. ie. The best film.
What’s the most brilliantly shit bit? The moment Cage goes full Edgar-Allen-Poe-meets-drunk-James-Cagney while threatening a goon with the knowledge that Ghost Rider is trying to break through. “He’s scraping at the doooor! He’s scraping at the dooooooooor!”
The Room (2003)
What is it? The king of all bad-good films. The Room’s reputation is entirely deserved. Hell, The Room’s reputation is underplayed. You simply cannot understand it if you have not seen it. It cannot be explained to you. It cannot be evoked with human language. It cannot be bargained with, it cannot be reasoned with, and it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are so incredulously boggled that you’ve forgotten your own name.
An aspiring melodrama about the romantic tribulations of banker Johnny, The Room boils down to a series of disconnected, and increasingly weird, vignettes concerning Johnny’s relationships with his friends and girlfriend, none of which make sense in isolation or in relation to the rest of the film. It’s a movie made up of abortive, would-be subplots in search of a story. The acting veers between wooden at best, and flailingly, incoherently over the top at its most wonderful. The script is a series of words that no human would ever say, wrapped around bizarre scenarios that cause them to make even less sense. Characters drift in and out, disappearing and replaced by new ones at random. Motivations and even definable personalities remain a luxury the film cannot summon the effort to consider. It is, without doubt, the finest of all the films that have ever been made.
What’s the most brilliantly shit bit? When Johnny’s girlfriend, Lisa, hears from her unswervingly casual mother that, “I got the results of the tests back. I definitely have breast cancer”. That breast cancer is not commented on, or ever mentioned again.
What is it? The product of a producer at Toho – the studio behind Godzilla - asking the film’s director to write a film like Jaws, and him deciding to make it about a man-eating house. With a script full of plot elements that came out of discussion with his pre-teen daughter about her (predictably weird) childhood fears, the resulting concept was so incoherent that no other director would touch it, out of fear of ending their careers. Toho ran with it anyway, on the grounds that at the time they were sick of losing money on comprehensible films, and thought they might as well go with something ridiculous and see what happened. I swear I’m not making any of this up.
With a cast of young non-actors, and a deliberately crap – albeit wonderfully creative - approach to special effects (many of the techniques were made up on-set during filming, with no idea of how they’d look when they came out) House is an unashamedly, staggeringly bizarre, and entirely enjoyable film, alternately (and entirely accurately) surmised by Criterion as “a stream-of-consciousness bedtime story”, and “Scooby-Doo as directed by Mario Bava”. It’s available on DVD. Get it watched. It is the best.
What’s the most brilliantly shit bit? Every special effect. The vomiting cat-picture. The dancing piano fingers. The severed head biting a girl on the butt…