Not every film can be the Citizen Kane of its day. For every high-budget “A movie” that commands significant promotion and funding from its studio, there are piles of B movies that scratch and claw their way into existence without the benefit of things like “a budget” or “a script” in some cases. To compare them with A movies in terms of resources and immersiveness isn’t a fair proposition. Instead, discerning film fans are able to simply appreciate them for what they are.
But what does “best” mean when we’re talking about films often famous for their shoddy construction? It certainly doesn’t mean “best-made.” It also doesn’t mean “worst-made,” or else films like Manos: The Hands of Fate and The Beast of Yucca Flats would make prominent appearances. They’re not on this list because the meaning of “best” here is “most entertaining,” and I defy you to be entertained by Manos without its MST3k commentary or a pound of medical-grade marijuana. If these films are painful, they’re also equally fun.
Whenever possible, I tried to keep the list to more obscure titles. Although John Carpenter’s Halloween is a great example of a superbly made “B movie” in terms of budget, any film fan has most likely seen it already. Gathered here is a collection of some of the most entertainingly cheap and endearingly bad movies ever made.
Director: Fred F. Sears
The Giant Claw is not the most captivating of the classic 1950s “giant monster running amok” movies, but it must be seen exclusively for the fact that it features the goofiest-looking movie monster of all time. This thing—this “antimatter space buzzard,” as it is eventually called—is so laughably stupid that it’s hard to believe they actually chose to feature it so extensively in the trailer rather than hiding it from sight. The poor actors weren’t even aware of how incredibly lame the monster would be until they saw the completed film, and by then it was too late. The Giant Claw stands as a classic example of 1950s drive-in cheese.
Director: Arthur Allen Seidelman
Remember when Arnold Schwarzenegger burst into the public consciousness with Conan the Barbarian and late night hosts mocked his stilted English? Well, that movie was made in 1982, after Arnold had been studying the language for more than a decade. Hercules in New York was his first feature film, credited as “Arnold Strong, Mr. Universe” because “Schwarzenegger” was too long. A massive 22-year-old with zero acting experience or charisma, he’s absolutely lost in this thing, casually strolling around New York and competing as a pro wrestler. His line delivery was so unintelligible he had to be completely dubbed, but evidence of the original can still be found. The words are so flat and vapid, he’s like a muscle-bound Lennie Small. It’s captivatingly bad because there’s so little evidence of the fun, campy actor he later became.
Director: Jack Hill
There are certain genres you have to check off in a list like this, and the “women in prison” film is a classic sub-type of the larger 1970s exploitation genre. You know what you’re getting here: Nudity, abusive guards, a plethora of shower scenes and a daring escape. It’s pure sleaze all the way. Jonathan Demme’s Caged Heat is a bit better known, but The Big Doll House is more sincere and less satirical. It’s also one of the earliest appearances of blaxploitation legend, Pam Grier, who will recur on this list. Director Jack Hill clearly saw something in her (or at least liked seeing her naked), as he went on to direct several of Grier’s blaxploitation classics, such as Coffy and Foxy Brown. So really, this is one form of exploitation movie giving birth to another.
Director: Dirk Campbell
If I gave you three guesses, do you think you could suss out the basic gist of this film? If you ventured “guy buys a motorcycle that is also a vampire,” then you would be correct. This trashy British horror-comedy is partially successful in its satire of American cheapo horror schlock in the style of Troma Entertainment, but it’s also got plenty of sincere badness of its own. It’s that rare sort of film that is amusing both in its intentional corniness and its unintentional badness, which is not a common combination. It’s just a gloomy, bizarre film, with scenes that include a dream sequence featuring a talking turd in the hero’s toilet. You probably don’t want to see that, but if you do, I won’t judge. It’s exactly what the trailer implies from the first lines: “Most good motorcycles run on gasoline. This is a bad motorcycle. It runs on blood.”
Director: Timo Vuorensola
This movie isn’t nearly as funny or clever as it thinks it is, but damn if it doesn’t earn a spot on the list just through strength of premise alone. In the annals of great premises for B movies, “Nazis from the dark side of the moon invading Earth” is an instant classic. It helps that the movie looks great for an entry in the straight-to-video segment, and the acting is serviceably campy. The political humor is a bit much and the Sarah Palin-esque American president quickly grows grating, but it’s no worse than you’d see in your average mockbuster from The Asylum, coupled with much higher production values. It’s a premise that could have been an all-time classic, but even as is, it’s tough not to enjoy Iron Sky as gleefully stupid entertainment.
Director: Steven Hilliard Stern
File this one into the “before they were famous” category. Starring a 26-year-old Tom Hanks in his first feature film lead, six years before Big, this movie is the perfect encapsulation of the early 1980s D&D moral panic. Its “research” is hilariously poor, painting a D&D-style roleplaying game as a life-devouring descent into the depths of Satanism and mental illness. Hanks plays the resident psycho of the group, who falls so deeply into his cleric character that he takes to wandering the streets of New York, murdering hoboes he mistakes for orcs. It’s incredibly dour, tackling its subject matter in the same blind, contextless way that Reefer Madness handled pot 50 years earlier, and in the process proving how little we’ve learned. This is the kind of film you find in a pawn shop today in a hand-printed DVD case with a 40-year-old Tom Hanks’ face plastered on it. “You like Tom Hanks, right? Sure you do. You should buy this exciting movie starring Academy Award-winner Tom Hanks.”
Year: 2012 (technically)
Director: Larry Kasanoff
The saga of Foodfight! is the story of its development, not its actual plot. Conceived from the very beginning as an experiment in product branding and consumerism, this animated adventure features dozens of household brands and mascots such as Mr. Clean as characters. Taking place in a supermarket for good brand access, it stars the voices of Charlie Sheen as talking dog/super spy Dex Dogtective and Hilary Duff as “Sunshine Goodness,” his cat-faced love interest. Also attached to this turd: Eva Longoria, Christopher Lloyd, Jerry Stiller and Chris Kattan, among others. The reason you’ve probably never heard of it is because it was originally intended for release all the way back in 2003, before the hard drives containing all the animation were stolen. The near-complete film had to be restarted all over again, the animation style was changed and extreme cost-saving measures were brought in. The result is absolutely the most nightmarishly bad-looking film ever made for a budget of $45 million. The entire time you’re watching this feature-length commercial, you’ll simply be wondering where all that money could possibly have gone.
Director: John Frankenheimer
I have no idea why this film was named Prophecy, except that “15-foot mutant bipedal bear” was sort of a clunky title. Regardless, that’s exactly what it’s about: A bear monster mutated by a combination of man’s hubris and some industrial-strength industrial waste. The movie wants to have a serious message about pollution and the rape of the natural world, but it’s impossible to get past how bizarre the monster looks. The highlight is one of the silliest death scenes ever, when a small kid in a banana-yellow sleeping bag gets swatted through the air by the bear, striking a rock and exploding into a rain of goose down. I can’t see how this could ever have drawn any reaction but laughter in a theater.
Director: George Barry
Immortalized in an incredible stand-up routine from Patton Oswalt, this is one of those great, lost films that finally found its way onto DVD a few years ago and was embraced by bad movie lovers around the world. The plot couldn’t be more simple: There’s a bed, and it’s evil! It eats stuff! What kind of stuff? Well, the bed’s not picky, just about anything will do: Teens, criminals, buckets of fried chicken and a bottle of wine are all on the menu. At one point, the freaking DEATH BED even gets indigestion, but thankfully there’s a bottle of Pepto Bismol lying on it at the time. Admit it, that’s a far better sponsorship tie-in than anything in the Transformers series.
Director: John Guillermin
Until Peter Jackson’s passable remake, American King Kong movies were a little bit like the Jaws series, growing progressively cheaper, uglier and more ridiculous with every installment. This ill-fated 1986 effort picks up where the better-known 1976 remake left off, with Kong having seemingly plummeted to his death off the World Trade Centers. But hey, turns out he’s fine! And not only is he fine, but scientists have located a female giant ape of his species for a necessary blood transfusion. They soon break out and go on the lam, pursued by the military. That might sound exciting, but this film is primarily amusing for how badly it butchers the legacy of one of screendom’s most iconic characters. The special effects are beyond awful, somehow managing to look less dynamic than the 1933 original. Even the Japanese portrayals of Kong fighting monsters like Godzilla manage to have more dignity than this piece of garbage.
Director: Anthony C. Ferrante
Most films from cheapo-cinema mavens The Asylum fall well short of “fun bad” and into the unfortunate realm of “bad bad,” but Sharknado is one of the rare few to rise above. Unlike so many other creature features from the same studio, it’s not stingy in its premise. It promises sharks propelled by tornados, delivers on that promise in the very first shot of the film, and then keeps on delivering. It’s eminently more watchable than just about any other Asylum film, which is a large part of what made it such a phenomenon when it premiered on Syfy in the summer of 2013. This July, it will even be graced with a live Rifftrax treatment when the former MST3k stars riff the film in theaters nationwide.
Director: D’Urville Martin
Rarely has any movie genre turned from sincerity to self-parody as fast as blaxploitation did in the 1970s. Only four years after Shaft, comedian Rudy Ray Moore crafted this absolutely outrageous send-up of blaxploitation films and “ghetto culture,” playing superhero pimp Dolemite, a badass with a penchant for rhyme and karate-trained hookers. This movie is absolutely bonkers, providing many of the visual and stylistic cues that would become part of the genre forevermore. The 2009 comedy Black Dynamite often plays like a shot-for-shot parody of Dolemite, but in some areas it’s actually less ridiculous than the original. Case in point: the four-minute scene where Dolemite stands in a parking lot and waxes poetic in rhyming verse about the sinking of the RMS Titanic for absolutely no reason. There’s nothing else like it.
Director: Larry Cohen
Even in the cheapo horror genre, babies are typically handled gingerly and obliquely. A film like Rosemary’s Baby is really about body horror and the strangers we live next to every day. It’s Alive, on the other hand, is a trashy horror movie about a mutated killer baby—see the difference? With creature effects from future Oscar-winner Rick Baker, it’s suitably gross, but something about how seriously the film takes itself makes it inadvertently hilarious. Just look at the trailer, which sounds like a full-blown disaster picture. A city in peril! The national guard is mobilized! Every time you think to yourself, “This team of soldiers packing assault rifles are combing the city for a killer infant,” you can’t help but smile. It was followed by It Lives Again and It’s Alive III: Island of the Alive, and director Larry Cohen went on to create another classic 1980s entry on this list, The Stuff.
Director: Godfrey Ho
Describing a Godfrey Ho movie to a friend is sort of like standing in the shower in the morning, trying to remember the specifics of last night’s dreams and failing utterly. Widely referred to as the “Ed Wood of Hong Kong,” Ho is currently credited as the director of 122 films according to IMDB. The true number is impossible to know, thanks to the dozen or more pseudonyms he used to hide the shoddy quality of his “cut and paste” moviemaking style. In films like Ninja Terminator, Ho would literally combine unrelated footage from two or three different unfinished features to assemble an abomination of a whole. Often these films unwillingly starred American actor Richard Harrison, who appeared in a few early Ho features before being edited into many others. This is absolute Z-grade ninja action. The fights make no sense, the plots make no sense and the costumes make no sense, and yet the movie is a joy to analyze.
Year: 1958 and 1988
Director: Irvin Yeaworth and then Chuck Russell
Separated by an even 30 years, the two versions of The Blob are both perfect examples of a B-movie from their own time period. The 1958 version of The Blob is one of the quintessential 1950s teen drive-in classics, starring a 27-year-old Steve McQueen as a high school student battling the big pink pile of goo that eats everything in its path. It’s campy and chaste, a Cold War classic with heavy themes of McCarthyism. The 1988 The Blob, on the other hand, was reimagined as a more serious but sleazy gross-out horror flick. Reflecting a more cynical society, the Blob is a government experiment gone awry rather than a monster from space, and the deaths are ramped up in terms of gore and shock value to match other 1980’s B-movie classics. Which Blob is for you is a matter of your own taste.
Director: Roy Ward Baker
1960s and 1970s horror classics from Hammer Film Productions are rightly held in high regard, especially films in their revived Frankenstein and Dracula series. The British studio also produced plenty of “off-brand” horror flicks as well, though, and one of the most infamous was surely The Vampire Lovers. Daringly depicting what is strongly implied as a lesbian vampire relationship, it was quite ahead of its time, especially for a British production. Like so many other Hammer films, the best things it has going for it (besides the heaving bosoms) are sumptuous production design, great costumes and the presence of Peter Cushing, who acted in seemingly every British horror film made between 1958-1975. This was the first in the “Karnstein Trilogy” of erotic vampire flicks, which also includes Lust for a Vampire and Twins of Evil, but the original remains the best.
Director: Joe Dante
Thank god for Roger Corman, the prolific B-movie producer/director who gave first chances to so many young filmmakers. In 1978, that director was Joe Dante and the flick was Piranha, the most fun of all the “natural horror” movies that proliferated in the wake of Spielberg’s Jaws. This one is cheap but funny, giving a first impression of the dark humor found in Dante’s later work on 1980s classics such as The Howling, The Burbs and Gremlins. The trailer doesn’t even try to pretend it’s not a rip-off, claiming “These are the man-eaters who go beyond the bite of all other jaws. Sharks kill alone, but piranha come in thousands.” This is the kind of drive-in film that simply has an x-factor and cleverness not present in most of its forgotten peers, thanks to a director who had ambition and bigger ideas.
Director: Uwe Boll
Uwe Boll, man. All of his films are bad, but only Alone in the Dark makes it into fun-bad territory with any reliability. That’s what happens when you cast Tara Reid as a “brilliant archaeologist” and give her a bunch of pseudo-scientific dialog to deliver like she’s a non-English speaker just phonetically sounding out the words. Christian Slater, meanwhile, plays a paranormal investigator searching for clues on some sort of native American/Lovecraftian monster dimension—I’d be lying if I said I understood what was happening, even after the insultingly long and detailed opening exposition scrawl read aloud by the narrator. It’s more fun to focus on the action, which by and large looks like a subpar episode of Walker: Texas Ranger with a dash of The Matrix for flavor.
Director: John Paragon
This may be the quintessential early 1990s, straight-to-video action movie. Starring bodybuilding brothers Peter and David Paul, better known as The Barbarian Brothers, it’s just a nothing of a movie, existing only because they had a few guys on hand whose skills included “being huge” and “knowing an identical huge guy.” Even in the cheap action movie segment, neither of them would ever have gotten a chance on their own, but together there’s magic in the air. You could probably fill in the plot-related blanks without any further information: One brother is a cop, the other a criminal. But things are about to get wacky because now they’ll be forced to work together! Both of the brothers have the naïve charm of non-actors who have recently discovered that action movies are way easier than professional body-building. You can see that they’re having a blast doing this.
Director: Rick Sloane
The first entry on this list to receive the MST3k treatment, Hobgoblins often makes appearances on “worst movie ever” lists, but to be perfectly honest it’s one of the more entertainingly bad movies featured on the series. It’s in the absolute cellar as far as production values and filmmaking competence are concerned, but the acting, creature effects and attempts at comedy are so atrocious that it never once gets boring. There’s so much surreal anti-humor, from the extended garden tool fight scene to the hobgoblins themselves, completely unarticulated puppets that need to be held against the characters like a modernized version of the octopus strangling Bela Lugosi in Ed Wood’s Bride of the Monster. Every single thing that makes this film entertaining is unintentional.
Director: Brian Trenchard-Smith
I realize that saying “the best of the Leprechaun series” is faint praise, but at least I can affirm that Warwick Davis, the guy who played the titular Leprechaun through six films, agrees with me. “The leprechaun goes to Vegas” isn’t even close to the most outlandish premise of the series (he did go to both space and “the ’hood,” after all), but this entry is where the sophomoric humor reached its zenith. It’s colorful, fun and brisk, featuring characters fighting over a piece of gold with the power to granted ill-fated wishes in the style of “The Monkey’s Paw.” The kills are hilariously, absurdly over the top, and the effects are among the best in the series. Best of all, it features the protagonist being bitten by the leprechaun and infected like a lycanthrope, which results in him slowly transforming into an angry Irishman over the course of the film. The scene where he orders half-a-dozen variations of potatoes from a casino restaurant is delightfully hackneyed.
Director: Eugene Lourie
The first of special effects titan Ray Harryhausen’s major features, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms was incredibly influential. The first film to ever feature a giant monster directly attributed to the detonation or radiation from an atomic bomb, it set the template for dozens of creature features that would follow in the 1950s, such as Them! Like all of Harryhausen’s stop-motion creations, the Rhedosaurus has great personality and an iconic look. The film moves a little bit slower than some of the movies that followed it, but it’s an absolute must-see for any fans of 1950s science fiction, in the same league as better-known films such as The Day the Earth Stood Still or Earth vs. the Flying Saucers.
Director: Larry Blamire
Most of these films have been of the “so bad they’re good” variety, but Larry Blamire’s work should legitimately be recognized for its loving caricature of various genre pictures. This one is a parody of every “old dark house” film, a combination of murder mystery and horror picture with a twist of fast-talking 1930s wit. Blamire’s films are all about their performances and snappy dialog, and they succeed where so many others fail because his recurring cast members are all on exactly the same page. Never is one of them more or less committed to a performance than another—instead, they all channel the same simultaneous spirit of naïveté and low-budget mirth. His films have an instantly recognizable quality, an auteurship all but nonexistent in this budget bracket, because he both adores and recognizes the absurdity of the films that inspired him.
Director: Frank Henenlotter
Bargain bin horror really reached a new level in the 1980s as filmmaking equipment became more widely available. Made for only $33,000, Basket Case nevertheless received a fairly wide theatrical release, proving once again that horror is the genre where opportunity always knocks. Armed with little more than some crappy actors and a big wicker basket, Henenlotter crafted this schlocky tale of two brothers: A seemingly normal guy named Duane and his separated, deformed Siamese twin Belial, who he carries around with him at all times. Little more than a lumpy, fanged head with one random arm, Belial is at times stop-motion animated as he escapes from his basket and runs amok. The film eventually developed enough of a cult for Henenlotter to return and direct two sequels in the early 1990s.
Director: Gilberto Martinez Solares
Any list like this would be remiss without at least one Mexican luchador epic, a genre of folk hero film exceedingly popular for several decades. Santo and Blue Demon vs. the Monsters is just one of dozens of films starring famed wrestlers El Santo and Blue Demon, who are rivals in the ring but allies against various otherworldly threats. All of the films are exceedingly slapdash, with action sequences that just feel made up on the spot and “fight choreography” that typically consists of rolling around and winging punches until one guy falls down. This particular entry is notable for the sheer number of opponents Santo and Blue Demon face, from vampires, mummies and clones to a Frankenstein’s monster and a wolf man. Literally nothing is left out. Watch Santo wail on this ugly cyclops with a tree branch and tell me you don’t want to watch this movie.
Director: Phil Tucker
For several decades, the world was happy to forget about Robot Monster before Harry and Michael Medved kickstarted the culture of bad movie appreciation with the 1980 publication of their book The Golden Turkey Awards. Shot in only four days, this is pretty much the ultimate in zero-budget 1950s sci-fi. Don’t have a real monster costume? No problem, just slap a space helmet on a gorilla suit—that’s basically an alien, right? And yet, despite its cheapness, Robot Monster is a surprisingly coherent movie. There’s no way to take that monster seriously, but the story is easy to follow and the performances are charmingly hackneyed. The whole thing feels like The Andy Griffith Show collided with Forbidden Planet.
Director: Lloyd Kaufman
As a Troma movie, Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead promises a few staples. It will be trashy. It will be violent. It will have no boundaries and no sense of good taste. The real question is the same one you ask with every Troma film: “Is it boring?” Here, the answer is “most certainly not.” Billed as a “zom-com musical,” it’s even a little bit clever in its social satire of consumer culture—you know, in an obvious sort of way. But is that really why you’re watching a film about zombie chickens that come to life in a KFC-style restaurant built on an ancient Native American burial ground? I didn’t think so. Watching a Troma movie is about embracing the gore, scatological humor and low-production values and simply appreciating some mindless storytelling.
Director: Charles Band
As a writer, producer and director, Charles Band has been responsible for some of the most fun-bad B movies produced since the mid-1980s. His production company, Full Moon Entertainment, has cranked out an impressive array of genre classics, from Puppetmaster and Dollman to the Subspecies or Evil Bong series. (The latter is about a bong that is evil, if you were wondering.) In terms of ludicrous premises, though, it’s tough to beat The Gingerdead Man, which stars Gary Busey as a crazed serial killer who is reborn in a gingerbread cookie before going on a rampage. Is it basically the exact same plot as Chucky? Sure, but the casting of Gary Busey cranks up the insanity factor by at least a factor of five. The replication of Busey’s face on a cookie will haunt your dreams for weeks.
Director: Joe D’Amato
In the years following Conan the Barbarian there were a lot of sword-and-sorcery rip-offs rushed into production. One of the most prolific auteurs in this genre was Italian director Joe D’Amato, whose casual disregard for the quality of his own films gave him a somewhat infamous status and limited his associations to other directors of legendarily poor quality such as Claudio Fragasso. Cave Dwellers, also known as The Blademaster, starred the brawny Miles O’Keefe as Conan replacement “Ator,” and features an effete villain in a ridiculous hat shaped like a black swan. Lampooned in one of the best early episodes of MST3k, this film has a very sincere quality that makes it fun to watch in its own right. Keefe is like a big, dopey puppy, bounding from scene to scene. You just want to hug the guy, if only to get closer to those ridiculous pecs. And if you’re not sold, it also features one of the most unexpected, WTF moments in cinema history.
Director: John Gulager
Probably the best thing to come out of HBO’s Project Greenlight series, Feast is a refreshing horror film that heavily satirizes the conventions of its genre. With a strange cast that includes Judah Friedlander, Jason Mewes and Henry Rollins, it does everything a little bit different than expected in telling its story of a small desert bar besieged by monsters. That point is hammered home in the first 15 minutes when a handsome, blood-soaked man named “Hero” barges in and delivers all the necessary exposition. When asked who he is, he replies “I’m the guy that’s gonna save your ass.” And then this happens. It’s a fun movie that is frank about its intentions to play fast and loose with audience expectations.
Director: Roger Corman
Finally, a Corman movie! And believe it or not, a pretty decent one! The $250,000 budget still puts it in B territory, but to Corman that might as well have been $10 million. Unlike so many other schlocky productions from the “King of the Bs,” X was actually an idea that hadn’t been done to death. This science fiction story revolves around Oscar-winner Ray Milland’s Dr. Xavier, a brilliant researcher who develops eye-drops that convey the ability see wavelengths of light beyond typical human comprehension. The uses for this x-ray vision range from the tawdry (seeing through women’s clothing) to the illegal (cheating at poker) to the disturbing. There’s even a thread of cosmic, Lovecraftian horror running through this flick, as Xavier’s eyes begin to show him visions from outside our universe. Corman didn’t craft many winners, but this film is one of them.
Director: Eugenio Martin
An unusual film for its time period, Horror Express stars both Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, and yet it’s not from Hammer as one would expect. Rather, it was a joint British/Spanish production simply aping the Hammer formula of classy actors in silly premises. This one is particularly weird: An archaeologist played by Lee discovers a “missing link” ape man buried in ice and tries to transport him in secret via train. The still-alive ape man defrosts, however, and proves to be armed with a rather unique set of powers. What follows is a bizarre film about stolen memories and brain-swapping, all taking place aboard the train. There are some really hypnotic performances, especially from relatively unknown Argentinean actor Alberto de Mendoza as a crazed priest. Telly Savalas, TV’s Kojak, even shows up out of right field playing a Russian Cossack officer.
Director: Jim O’Connolly
Dinosaurs of the Old West! Ray Harryhausen’s final dinosaur movie showcases some more of his classic stop-motion animation skills in bringing to life the “forbidden valley” visited by turn-of-the-century American cowboys. Seeing as man never learns from his mistakes, when they see Gwangi the vicious Allosaurus, their first thought is that “people would pay big bucks to see this thing!” Eventually capturing Gwangi, they return to put him on display in a traveling circus show, but I expect you can guess what happens next. It’s incredible to watch the dinosaur sequences and consider the painstaking manual work put in by a technician like Harryhausen. His imagination inspired countless scores of future filmmakers to make their first forays into cinema.
Director: William Castle
They simply don’t make showmen quite like William Castle any more. An absolutely shameless producer/director of dozens of films from the 1940s-1970s, he’s fondly remembered by horror fans for his run of classically cheesy 1960s flicks, all of which were heavy on the gimmicks. Truly, there was no form of promotion too silly for Castle to embrace. In Mr. Sardonicus, the tale of a man whose face is frozen into a hideous grin (essentially a rehash of The Man Who Laughs, but the makeup is fantastic), the gimmick was a “punishment poll” at the end of the feature. At the conclusion, Castle himself would appear and address the audience, polling them if they wanted mercy or additional punishment for the villain, with votes being tallied by raising glow-in-the-dark ballots. In reality, a “mercy” ending was never even filmed—Castle seemed to think it would never be needed. Just look at his hammy performance and try to hate the guy.
Director: Hal Needham
After movies like Smokey and the Bandit and The Cannonball Run, people figured “You give Hal Needham some vehicles, and he’ll give you a good movie.” Megaforce was the refutation of that belief. An absolutely ludicrous sci-fi drive-and-shoot, Megaforce is filled with rocket-firing motorcycles and dune buggies, and a hero named “Ace Hunter” played by Barry Bostwick. It was pretty much the death of a promising career for Michael Beck after his star-making turn as Swan in Walter Hill’s The Warriors, but that’s what happens when you sign up for films about futuristic dune buggy mercenaries. This movie is famous for featuring probably the worst scene of rear projection in film history—the infamous flying motorcycle.
Director: Larry Cohen
A cult classic for sure, The Stuff was one of the best 1980s critiques of consumer culture, all wrapped up in the form of a horror movie. Profiteers find a white, gooey substance leaking up out of the Earth that proves both delicious and addictive. Soon, repackaged as the secret ingredient-laden “Stuff,” it sweeps the world. The fake commercials are fantastic—this one has actress Clara Peller, who only one year earlier began the famous “Where’s the beef?” campaign for Wendy’s. That is cross-cultural awareness. It’s also a very fun, schlocky horror flick with gross-out special effects, because as you eat more of The Stuff it gradually takes over your body until it explodes out into a self-aware being. This film may actually be more relevant today than it was in the mid-1980s as awareness of fast food content becomes more widespread.
Director: Ishiro Honda
King Kong and the isle of Japan had one weird relationship. Following the Saturday morning cartoon The King Kong Show, Toho Studios (the makers of Godzilla) produced one of their craziest films, King Kong Escapes. The first half of the film plays like some Japanese producer describing the plot of the original King Kong as viewed through the lens of a psychedelic fever dream. It’s like “Hey, remember when Kong fought dinosaurs in 1933? Well, here’s some more of that, except now it’s a guy in a dinosaur suit.” The highlight of the film, though, is its conclusion, where Kong fights against the KONG OF STEEL, a “Mechani-Kong” built by the diabolical “Dr. Who.” Yes, Dr. Who. No, there’s no crossover.
Director: Tjardus Greidanus
With no context, you’d look at The Final Sacrifice and simply say “This is a dumb, ugly movie,” and you’d be right. But with the knowledge that it was made for only $1,500 by a Canadian college freshman at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology, it actually becomes a bit of a minor marvel. Remembered fondly for being featured on one of the best episodes of MST3k, it brings together one of screendom’s most iconic duos, precocious young Troy and “makeupless clown” Zap Rowsdower, who battle an evil Canadian cult that wants to tap into the forgotten powers of an ancient civilization. Most of the action consists of running through the Canadian woods, which can get tedious, but the non-actors who make up the cast are all weirdly compelling. Rowsdower is of course the breakout character, a hard-drinking soldier of fortune in head-to-toe denim, one of cinema’s only depictions of what appears to be a Canadian redneck.
Director: Antonio Margheriti (under the pseudonym Anthony M. Dawson)
With a title like Yor, the Hunter from the Future, the last thing you’re expecting when the film begins is cavemen, but that’s exactly what you get. And that’s all you get for about an hour. This Reb Brown vehicle is such a strange film, casting the star of both the first TV version of Captain America and Space Mutiny as a blonde caveman with a mysterious destiny. Finally, after an hour of fighting rival cavemen and philandering with various cavewomen, Yor’s world undergoes an exponential expansion as he discovers his ultimate nemesis, The Overlord and the advanced, spacecraft-flying civilization his parents fled only one generation earlier. It’s the ultimate expression of the “rock beats laser” principle, as cavemen somehow manage to triumph over psychic robot warriors. And check out that Razzie-nominated theme song
This is a special entry, because no Bibleman video is really any better or worse than any other. Instead, they’re all roughly in the same colorfully insane neighborhood. Bibleman, as you probably have sussed out already, is a Christian superhero who appeared in a long-running series of videos sold through Christian retailers. To watch them is to enter a world of psychedelic madness—the closest way to describe them is like a combination of Barney & Friends, Power Rangers and a Stephen Sondheim musical. The costumes and sets are incredibly campy, harkening back to the visual aesthetic of the 1960s Batman TV show. The fights are kinetic and full of jumping, lightsaber rip-offs and scripture-quoting used as an offensive weapon and defensive shield. But it’s really the villains’ musical numbers that elevate any Bibleman vehicle into camp classic territory. Bear witness to this and tell me I’m wrong. Totally needs the full three minutes, right?
Director: William Castle
The name sounds a little dirty, but The Tingler is actually another gimmick-laden slice of cheese from William Castle. Starring the great Vincent Price (who will crop up a few more times in this list), it’s about a doctor who discovers a parasite called “the tingler” that feeds on human fear. Conveniently, given that this is a horror movie, the only way to stop the tingler is to scream at the top of your lungs. The gimmick was probably Castle’s greatest—at a pivotal point in the film the creature would escape into a movie theater, and the screen would go dark. Vincent Price’s narration would instruct theater-goers to “scream for your lives!” and electrical buzzers installed under certain seats would simulate the “tingle” of the tingler. A grown man came up with this idea. How wonderful is that?
Director: David DeCoteau
Outside of Charles Band, there have been few schlockmeisters more prolific from the 1980s to the present than David DeCoteau. Simply put, this guy has made some truly awful movies. We’re talking Dr. Alien bad. A Talking Cat!?! bad, even. Yes, that’s a real title. Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama is one of his earliest, and it’s also one of the most fun. It’s sort of like a horror-tinged version of Porky’s or Animal House, except it revolves around an evil imp who escapes from being trapped inside a bowling trophy and wreaks havoc. It’s the kind of film that builds a cult of weird fans and compels some helpful Wikipedia editor to write “…This proved to be one of the best spanking scenes in mainstream film and helped the film to become a cult favorite. ” I say trust the guy, citations or no, as he clearly knows what he’s talking about.
Director: Jimmy Wang
A martial arts movie is only as good as its colorful characters, and those characters are often only as good as their gimmicks. Master of the Flying Guillotine has the best gimmick weapon ever in a martial arts movie. The story of a valorous one-armed fighter played by director Jimmy Wang, he’s hunted by an assassin using the wicked flying guillotine, which essentially looks like a hat with a bladed rim, attached to a long chain. If that hat gets thrown over your head you’re as good as dead, because a quick yank of the chain will take off your head like it’s a twist-off bottle cap. And as if that’s not enough, it’s also got the arm-extending Indian “yoga fighter,” whose surreal fighting style looks like a live-action version of Dhalsim from Street Fighter 2.
Director: David A. Prior
This whole film feels like someone watched First Blood and then just wandered into the woods with some friends and no script, bound and determined to shoot a movie. It blatantly rips off the first few Rambo movies, but in execution is so much more surreal. A crazy mercenary commander (who just happens to have history with the hero) is kidnapping random people off the streets so his soldiers can get experience hunting them for sport, but everything goes wrong when they mess with THE WRONG GUY, Vietnam vet Mike Danton. The rest of the movie is just him ambushing groups of soldiers in the woods and surviving situations where he should clearly have died. It’s a bizarre flick centered around pure, unadulterated machismo, with a really unexpected ending that I won’t spoil, but suffice to say things don’t wrap up in a neat little package.
Director: Fred Olen Ray
The most incredible thing one realizes after watching Dinosaur Island is the fact that this film came out one year after Jurassic Park and not 15 years before. The product of another modern B-movie luminary, Fred Olen Ray, this movie can’t decide if it just wants to fully embrace its softcore porn leanings or spend more time on the freakin’ dinosaurs, but both aspects are equally dreadful. The dinosaurs might be the worst ever depicted on film—you have to see this puppet/rear projection T-Rex to really understand just how bad we’re talking. It’s a delightfully harmless movie, one where not even the most deluded actors could possibly have been taking it seriously. The really amazing thing was that Fred Olen Ray managed to convince himself that there would be a legitimate market for this thing.
Director: Mark L. Lester
Dolph Lundgren! Pre-The Crow Brandon Lee! It’s a team-up for the ages in this hyper-macho, hyper-ridiculous early 1990s action fest. The way they conceived each character is so anti-intuitive: Both are martial arts masters, but Lundgren’s character is the one who is a self-professed “samurai” with a background in Japanese culture. Lee, an actual person of Asian descent, was instead given the “American punk kid” character archetype, so you end up with him rocking the ’90s fashions while Lundgren is running around with a Japanese flag headband and a katana. This is exactly as silly-looking as it sounds. Anyway, they team up to take down the local drug lord/crime boss, because what other kind of plot could a movie like this possibly have? I swear, there was like a 15-year period where there were only two or three potential plots for any feature-length action flick.
Director: Douglas Cheek
It stands for “Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers,” if you were wondering. C.H.U.D. is a product of its time, the sort of mid-’70s/early ’80s horror film that sets itself in street-level New York City when the Big Apple was renowned as the crime-ridden cesspit of the nation. Cynical as hell, it imagines a race of cannibal monsters created by toxic waste dumped into the New York sewers, where it transforms the local homeless population. In execution, it’s sort of like a Troma film that has a larger budget, maintaining a grimy and tasteless aesthetic that nevertheless has a memorable quality that is hard to define. I think the effects are a part of that—quite icky, but fleeting. I look at this scene of a C.H.U.D. being beheaded and can’t decide if it’s terrible, awesome or terribly awesome. C.H.U.D. has lived an entire second life as comedy material, with references ranging from The Simpsons to an April Fools prank from the Criterion Collection.
Director: Anthony Doublin
Of every movie ever featured on MST3k, Future War has perhaps the most amazing premise to sum up in a sentence: An alien kickboxer on the run from cyborgs escapes to Earth, where they attempt to track him down with dinosaurs scavenged from the past. Along the way, he allies himself with Hispanic gang members and a former prostitute turned nun to take down the cyborgs and their dinosaur servants. This is a real movie that actually happened. It’s hard to tell if the lead, Swiss kickboxer Daniel Bernhardt, actually speaks any English as his character conveniently is unable to speak the language fluently. Not that any of this matters—Future War is all about watching the incredibly bad fight scenes. I personally love the moment when the star’s shirt is “accidentally” removed in mid-brawl.
Director: Stewart Rafill
If there were some kind of corporate tie-in hall of shame, Mac and Me would occupy a very prominent and prestigious position. Bankrolled with large contributions from McDonald’s and Coke, the whole movie is like a historical warning on how not to sell your soul, as well as a blatant attempt to duplicate Spielberg’s E.T. with the absolute lamest, most disturbing-looking alien character imaginable. The film is famous for several scenes, such as the infamous wheelchair segment that Paul Rudd has persistently shown on Conan every time he’s visited for the last 16 years. For pure gag reflex-triggering disgust, though, it’s pretty much impossible to beat the nearly five minute McDonald’s birthday party scene, which features a hip-hop shufflin’ Ronald McDonald. It’s absolutely heinous that the film’s producers thought this pandering would fly. If a film like this can ever be enjoyed un-ironically, it will mean the world depicted in Idiocracy has become a reality.
Director: John R. Leonetti
It’s not like the original Mortal Kombat was a particularly well-assembled film, but my god does it look like The French Connection compared to the mess that is Mortal Kombat: Annihilation. You know it’s a bad sign when pretty much the entire cast from the first movie decides to pass on the sequel, including Christopher Lambert, who had no problem making Highlander II: The Quickening. The plot makes no sense ,and the FX and costumes are all hilariously DIY-looking. The movie seriously looks like a bunch of strangers in a karate class borrowed their friends’ Comic-Con outfits and just shot whatever popped into their heads over the course of a long weekend. It also features one of the best bad line deliveries of all time. “Too bad you…will die!”
Director: Bert I. Gordon
The best film by B-movie maven Bert I. Gordon, the director of The Amazing Colossal Man and others, The Magic Sword may also be the best overall movie that ever got the MST3k treatment. It’s honestly a wonderful little slice of fantasy adventure, stylistically quite similar to a movie like The 7th Voyage of Sinbad. You’ve got veteran actor Basil Rathbone as the evil wizard, Estelle Winwood as the good witch/mother of the hero and a bevy of brave, multicultural knights trying to survive seven deadly curses and save the princess. I imagine I would have loved this movie if I was a child growing up in the early 1960s.
Director: Russ Meyer
Great title, right? Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! is one of the definitive exploitation films of the mid-1960s, the product of famous sexploitation auteur Russ Meyer, whose fixation on large-busted women has become synonymous with his name. Oddly enough though, the film is actually fairly empowering when it comes to its female leads, a band of three go-go dancers who conspire to defraud a villainous old man. Being a Meyer film, you can expect a certain grungy quality, along with the following: Racecar driving, women punching and being punched in the face, and huge freaking boobs. And also a big, dumb idiot named “Vegetable.” As the trailer claims, it’s “totally satisfying.”
Director: Lee Harry
There aren’t many B movies that have become famous for the absurd delivery of a single line, but the garbage day scene from Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 certainly conferred a special brand of infamy. The rest of the movie is almost as crazy though, if that can be believed. It’s structured so strangely—first plodding out over a series of flashbacks that shamelessly steal reams of footage from the first film, and then snapping into the present where the brother of the first film’s killer goes on a rampage of his owwould expect from the “garbage day” clip, it’s Eric Freeman’s performance as Ricky that makes this one so much fun to watch. The shame is apparently still in full effect today: When the film’s director tried to track him down to participate in DVD commentary, he found Freeman completely unreachable.
Director: Ruggero Deodato
We had a Barbarian Brothers movie earlier on the list with Double Trouble, but The Barbarians was made five years earlier, before they became master thespians. This is a film that literally has no reason to exist besides the fact that they had access to these two beefcakes. The plot is the Conan rehash you undoubtedly knew it would be—two young children captured by an evil warlord and raised to become gigantic, musclebound gladiators must fight to take down his empire, blah, blah, blah. Peter and David Paul are both absolutely abysmal—they don’t even try to throw on an “old-timey” accent like everyone else. Hearing these giant guys in loin cloths speaking in a Jersey-like accent is pretty damn funny.
Directors: The Chiodo brothers
This is the sort of B movie that you probably know by name even if you’ve never seen it. It’s a deliriously weird sci-fi horror flick where aliens who just happen to look like clowns land on Earth in a ship that just happens to look like a big-top tent, then turn people into cotton candy and eat them. It’s a definitive example of the trashy 1980s horror flick, a movie I heard whispered rumors of growing up but never would have been allowed to view. Culturally, it’s mostly significant for being the only film produced and directed by the Chiodo brothers, Stephen and Charles. Outside this movie (still considered their opus and too distinct to forget) they’ve provided effects for dozens of bad horror movies and a few mainstream ones, with titles ranging from the Critters series to Will Ferrell’s Elf, believe it or not.
Director: Sam Firstenberg
There was a time in the mid-1980s when ninjas were just about the coolest possible characters for an American action movie. American filmmakers officially caught the fever with 1981’s Enter the Ninja, but this sequel was where the genre hit one of its most nonsensical highs. “Historically inaccurate ninjas fighting stuff” was deemed not enough of a premise for this one, so it’s about a sexy aerobics instructor (all hot women in the 1980s were aerobics instructors) who is possessed by the ancient spirit of an evil ninja. Thus, it becomes part The Exorcist and part inexplicable Godfrey Ho-style slice-em-up. It’s just an absolutely ridiculous film—probably the only time that ninjas have staged a daring golf course ambush.
Director: Robert Gordon
The name in the director box says Robert Gordon, but all you really need to know is “Ray Harryhausen.” This movie has one of his niftiest creations, the giant killer octopus that runs amuck on the open ocean and eventually attacks the Golden Gate Bridge in a classic sequence. “The H-Bomb blasted it loose from the depths of the Pacific, but not even the H-Bomb can kill it!” blares the trailer. It’s just about the perfect expression of 1950s nuclear paranoia, all wrapped up in a science fiction shell. It was a huge drive-in success, making more than 10 times its original budget in box office receipts.
Director: Freddie Francis
British film studio Amicus Productions made a lot of goofy “portmanteau” horror flicks in the 1960s and 1970s, but this anthology is one of the funniest. I mean seriously, how great is that title? It’s made all the greater by the fact that the whole framing story takes place on a train—the Dr. Terror character (the fabulous Peter Cushing!) literally has no house and no horrors. Aboard the train, he reads the future and foretells the terrible deaths of five other men via tarot cards, in stories that run the gamut from werewolves to voodoo priests and man-eating garden vines. Christopher Lee shows up in one of the stories as a pretentious art critic who gets what’s coming to him and then some. It’s charmingly innocuous and chaste, incapable of scaring a soul.
Director: Albert Pyun
This film is essentially the consolation prize for two other failed film projects. Pyun (director of the largely forgotten 1990 Captain America movie) was initially contracted to shoot a sequel for the earlier Masters of the Universe He-Man adaptation, along with a live-action Spider-Man movie, but both projects had their funding stripped. After spending money on costumes for both films, however, the studio still wanted something to show for their troubles. Enter Jean Claude Van Damme, playing a kickboxing badass in typical Van Damme fashion. Propelled by kickboxing, he utilizes kickboxing to kickbox his way through a post-apocalyptic landscape replete with kickboxers … and the occasional cyborg. It’s the most badass trailer you’ll ever see for a feature film with a $500,000 budget.
Director: Gary Goddard
And speaking of Masters of the Universe … this film is insane! Rushed to completion in 1987 in an attempt to boost flagging sales of He-Man action figures, it landed with a resounding thud. It’s a perfect example of a film that probably sounded great when a marketing guy pitched it to a board room of coke-snorting executives, but in execution it wasn’t something that could be captured in a non-ridiculous way in a low-budget action movie. Dolph Lundgren as He-Man and Frank Langella as Skeletor seem to be completely unaware of what decade they’re in and play their roles as if they’re Flash Gordon and Ming the Merciless. The whole movie acts as if it’s still the mid-1950s, which is the only context in which someone could have kept a straight face while watching Masters of the Universe. It’s one of the most sincerely over-the-top films of the 1980s.
Director: Tony Zarindast
MST3k’s Kevin Murphy has described this film as essentially a softball that was lobbed to the show’s writers, and it’s hard to disagree with him. Werewolf has just the right mix of low production values and shoddy acting that MST3k thrived on. It’s just barely competent enough to keep the “plot” moving forward, but it’s the performances that really make it stand out. Why do all the seemingly American characters have unidentifiable European accents? Why can’t the female lead even manage to say “werewolf” without it coming out as “wahr-welf”? Why does the villain’s hairstyle change radically in nearly every scene? I don’t know the answers to any of these questions, but pondering them makes Werewolf an enjoyable experience.
Director: David Worth
Shark movies are the absolute bottom of the barrel in the monster movie sub-genre, simply because there are so many of them. Seriously, I would wager that Jaws might qualify as the most-imitated film ever made as far as B movies are concerned, because every year there are at least a few new shark flicks. None of them come even close, though, to the lunacy of Shark Attack 3: Megalodon. Plot is completely irrelevant; what matters are the astoundingly bad special effects. We’re talking some of the worst special effects of all time here—this film is to the 2000s what the spaceships in Plan 9 From Outer Space are to the 1950s. And as if that’s not enough, it also has the single most ridiculous “romantic line” to ever make it to the final cut of one of these films. It’s far too cringe-worthy to reprint here, you need to watch and understand.
Director: Paul Bartel
Definitely one of the best premises for a Roger Corman-produced film, Death Race 2000 was cinema gold waiting to happen. The story of a dystopian future where all entertainment has been made into a huge cross-country race between psychotic drivers in weapon-toting cars, its basic story has been reused in dozens of rip-offs and official remakes, including the likes of The Hunger Games. Kill Bill’s David Carradine plays the main character, “Frankenstein,” a past winner of the race and secret resistance fighter to the totalitarian government. A young Sylvester Stallone (one year before Rocky) also shows up as an antagonist, the stereotypical mobster character “Machine Gun Joe.” They must have been really struggling to figure out how they were going to get this concept across, so in the end they just strapped a pair of Tommy guns and a comically huge Bowie knife to the front of his car.
Director: Donald G. Jackson
Try this premise on for size: A mercenary played by “Rowdy” Roddy Piper must navigate a post-apocalyptic world and fight amphibious frog men to rescue a group of virgins and ensure mankind’s survival by giving them his seed. If he doesn’t, a cadre of militant nurses will trigger an explosive device strapped to his groin and blow up his junk. Like a sleazy version of Children of Men, this movie imagines a world where nearly everyone is infertile, but the setting is much more like a cross between The Road Warrior and an episode of ThunderCats featuring the mutants. A very early acting role for Hot Rod, who was always a better actor within the wrestling ring than in front of the camera. This is actually one of the most coherent films from director Donald G. Jackson, a truly bizarre individual who we will learn more about shortly.
Director: David Winters
The best episodes of MST3k were almost invariably blessed with films that were naturally funny and/or entertaining, and Space Mutiny is one of the best examples of a film hilarious to watch even without MST3k’s riffing. It’s one of the cheesiest films they ever did: Colorful and fast-moving, with extensive use of sets and costuming that hit just the right note of cheapness, like they were all picked up at Goodwill a few days before filming began. It’s the kind of film that could conceivably be made really well, but with this cast of hammy actors there was no chance. John Phillip Law is the highlight as the oily, scenery-chewing villain, Kalgan, but you also get to marvel at the big, dumb lump of man that is Dave Ryder. He’s your perfect sort of late-’80s action hero: A slow, white beefy guy who seems like he just wandered in from football practice and is vaguely confused about the idea of being in a movie.
Director: Garrett Brawith
There are some bad movie fans who draw the line at any film they deem to be “intentionally bad,” but the real question we should be asking is if the movie is still funny. FDR: American Badass is most certainly stupid on purpose, but it also manages to be funny as hell, and thus I believe it averts the label of “intentionally bad” altogether. The cast, led by Barry Bostwick as an incredibly foul-mouthed FDR, just seems to be having such a great time with the ludicrous dialog—I particularly love FDR’s ongoing concern with making sure the public is aware that he can still please a woman. Every time this movie could conceivably play it safe, it just doubles down again with the most absurd possible outcome, and I admire its chutzpah. Just watch this scene where FDR receives a custom-made werewolf-fighting wheelchair.
Directors: Richard W. Haines and Lloyd Kaufman (as Samuel Weil)
If it’s from Troma you know it’s going to be tasteless, but the original Class of Nuke ’Em High is one of the studio’s more inspired creations. A perfect encapsulation of 1980s-era nuclear paranoia, the film is set in the studio’s classic “Tromaville” universe, at a high school directly next door to a nuclear power plant. When things go wrong at the plant, it’s only a matter of time before the high schoolers begin to mutate. What follows is like a disturbed rendition of Grease, except the greasers are super-powered mutant monsters who hold the popular girls hostage. Like most Troma movies, it features disgusting but cleverly executed special effects, and was influential enough to spawn a whole family of uninteresting sequels that toned down the violence. You’ll want to stick with the original.
Director: Sam Mraovich
“A gay version of The Room” isn’t truly an accurate description when it comes to plot, but in terms of production it’s just about spot-on. Ben and Arthur is a passion project, an attempt at making an “important film” by its director/producer/star that goes about its business in the most incompetent and heavy-handed way imaginable. Mraovich is completely unable to hide his egotism, casting himself in a mismatched relationship with a much younger and more physically attractive dude, but that’s only the start. It’s the least subtle drama imaginable, as the brother of Mraovich’s character plots to murder him and his lover after being cast out from the church due to association with a known homosexual. It looks like it was shot on a flip phone camera and serves as proof that it takes more than good intentions to create a significant work of art. What Mraovich actually created is a modern camp classic, especially in the gay community.
Director: Jack Arnold
This may truly be the quintessential 1950s sci-fi B movie, a groundbreaking study in cheap moviemaking and innovative special effects, with an intriguing story to boot. When Scott Carey is exposed to a radioactive cloud he finds he’s beginning to get smaller. Doctors are unable to halt the progress, and Scott learns a powerful lesson about stigmatization. He eventually shrinks down to the size of an insect and faces life-and-death challenges within the perceived safety of his own house, running from a now terrifying housecat and battling a household spider. It’s a film that is not only a great sci-fi spectacle but also a surprisingly thoughtful discussion of alienation.
Director: Larry Blamire
From a sincere 1950s sci-fi B movie we turn to an inspired spoof. Still the most well-known of Larry Blamire’s films, it’s also probably the best. Satirizing 1950s space movies and especially the work of Ed Wood, it succeeds like the earlier-mentioned Dark and Stormy Night because of its loving attitude, understanding of genre conventions and total commitment by the actors to a shared in-joke. This time, everyone is in pursuit of the mysterious element “Atmosphereum,” including aliens, scientists and a criminal intent on using the element’s power to awaken the Lost Skeleton of Cadavra himself. Rarely has anyone made movies this fun with so few resources at their disposal. Blamire works with micro-budgets as well as anybody ever has. And as a true artist, Blamire is determined to press on. He’s announced intentions to shoot the film’s second sequel, The Lost Skeleton Walks Among Us this year, turning to crowd-sourced funding through Kickstarter for the first time.
Director: David Giancola
The final film on this list to be featured on MST3k, Time Chasers is a gloriously misguided time travel B movie. It’s one of the most watchable movies ever featured on the show, but some small aspect always just feels off about the production. The hero Nick is such a putz, rocking a hideous mullet and generally getting his ass kicked by everyone he encounters. The villain might as well be Skeletor in a business suit for how well he hides his scheme. They couldn’t even make his airplane-mounted time machine look cool. The time travel segments are definitely highlights, like when they go all the way back to the American Revolution in order to mill around with war re-enactors wearing mismatched uniforms.
Director: Roger Corman
Probably the coolest of Corman’s “Poe Cycle” of films, even though this one has literally nothing to do with Poe, instead being a story lifted directly from H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.” This was Corman working with his biggest budget and proving that he was never a bad director, simply a constrained one. I adore the visual look of these films—like Hammer’s movies of the same period they’re grandiose and gothic and absolutely beautiful. Plus they have the talents of Vincent Price as the descendent of a notorious madman—but how much evil runs in the family blood? It’s got all the great clichés, including a mob of villagers with torches and pitchforks. A sumptuous story of revenge across generations; check out the classic trailer.
Director: Godfrey Ho (as Godfrey Hall)
This is pretty much the only “high-budget” action film that ninja-master Godfrey Ho ever had a chance to make, which is to say he had more than 20 bucks. Starring world karate champion Cynthia Rothrock as a kickass female street fighter, it still has to bring in a male hero to do “the real fighting” against a psychotic street fighter/serial killer known as “Stingray.” The movie became infamous thanks to its final fight scene between Rothrock, Stingray and the male hero, and I’m warning you right now: This might very well be the cheesiest fight scene ever filmed. And as if that wasn’t enough, the movie even has the gall to end a few minutes later with a five-way freeze frame high-five. It’s like a movie constructed entirely from action clichés.
Director: Donald G. Jackson
Remember when I called Hell Comes to Frogtown one of the more coherent films by Donald G. Jackson? This is why. When Jackson met martial artist/producer Scott Shaw, they elevated their work to Henry Darger-tier outsider art. Employing a style coined as “Zen Filmmaking,” they set out to make a post-apocalyptic, rollerblade-centric action movie with absolutely no script involved. As Shaw says, Zen Filmmaking “allows for a spiritually pure source of immediate inspiration to be the only guide in the filmmaking process.” Here, it guided them to a movie about a nomadic warrior who teams up with a kabuki mime and a banjo player to defeat Joe Estevez and Frank Stallone in a Road Warrior-like wasteland. The Roller Blade Seven pretty easily manages to be the most psychedelic, mind-bending film on this entire list—my attempts to describe here only hint at its profound weirdness. It’s a movie that is indescribable until you experience it.
Director: Jack Hill
Essentially a remake or sequel to Coffy from a year earlier, Foxy Brown is pretty much that film with another layer of gritty blaxploitation appeal. The beautiful Pam Grier is the hyper-sexual Foxy Brown, who goes on the warpath after her boyfriend is killed by members of a drug syndicate. Everyone ends up feeling her wrath, from pimps and dealers to men selling women into sexual servitude. It’s the prototypical blaxploitation revenge picture, but lifted above others with great theme music and the sex appeal of Grier. And of course, there is the wonderful moment when she runs over some honkies in an airplane.
Director: B.J. Davis
Who knew that Brandon Lee made so many deliciously terrible films before The Crow? Movies like this are cinematic junk food, lowest common denominator flicks that aren’t insulting to watch because they’re completely aware of their role and don’t aspire to be anything else. Laser Mission is the kind of film where you could predict 75 percent of the plot points before watching it—cool guy mercenary is sent on a dangerous mission, meets girl, falls in love, kills bad guy, roll credits. It stands out with the stupidity of its characters, particularly Ernest Borgnine as brilliant German laser scientist “Dr. Braun,” which is self-aware bad movie casting if ever I’ve seen it. The trailer tells you everything you need to know and then some.
Directors: Michael Herz and Lloyd Kaufman (as Samuel Weil)
Even if you’ve never seen The Toxic Avenger, I bet you probably know the gist of it: A wimpy janitor is transformed into a hulking monster via a barrel of toxic waste and goes about the messy business of punishing his tormenters and exposing the town’s drug-smuggling mayor. It’s Troma’s signature film, and “Toxie” has now been the studio’s official mascot for 30 years. It really serves as a template for the average Troma film, with over-the-top gore, crass language and unapologetic sexuality and titillation. One of Troma’s first really successful films in the home video market, it inspired three sequels: Part II, Part III: The Last Temptation of Toxie and Citizen Toxie: The Toxic Adventure IV. Rumors of another sequel pop up every few years, but only Lloyd Kaufman knows for sure.
Director: Al Adamson
His character in Enter the Dragon made karate champion Jim Kelly a star, probably the best-known black martial artist of his day. This naturally made him a shoo-in for the blaxploitation genre, and within a few years he made some absolute classics, including Black Belt Jones and Three the Hard Way. Black Samurai was made a few years later and clearly felt the need to push things far past the boundaries of reality and into cartoonish excess. Flipping through this movie is an absolute trip: “Alright, Jim Kelly is flying around with a jetpack right now. Okay, now he’s fighting voodoo priestesses. Alright, now he’s fighting … is that an eagle?” And always the answer is “Yes. Yes, he’s fighting an eagle in hand-to-hand combat.” Because that’s what you do when you’re Jim Kelly and you’re hunting down a ruthless “warlock” who plans to hold the world ransom with a “freeze bomb.”
Director: Kevin S. Tenney
With no reservations, this is one of the best horror flicks of the 1980s. A classic of the “teens party in a spooky location and all die terrible deaths” sub-genre, their deaths in this case are caused by an ancient demon that they unwittingly release from the cellar of a creaky old funeral home. Rather than simply being a monster movie though, it’s simultaneously sort of a demonic possession flick, as the demons take control of various members of the party and transform them into twisted versions of themselves. It’s a movie that owes a lot to the Evil Dead series but has an additional camp factor because of how strongly it captures its time period—the characters are gross caricatures, a clear satire on prevailing youth culture. They’re all memorable, especially scream queen Linnea Quigley, who of course gets naked in short order.
Director: Neil Breen
I truly believe that five years from now, Neil Breen will likely have inherited a place in the terrible movie hall of fame, alongside the likes of Ed Wood and Tommy Wiseau. The writer, producer and director of three feature films, he is the sincere, bizarro filmmaker du jour of the information age. I Am Here….Now is his middle film, and it might be the only thing on this entire list that can compete with The Roller Blade Seven for the right to be called “weirdest flick.” Like all of Breen’s films, it stars the former real estate agent as a messiah-like figure, this time an alien from the stars who arrives to cast judgment on mankind…or something. It’s kind of hard to tell, because the actors appear to be people Breen found at the bus stop on the way to the shoot. It’s imperative that you understand, however, that this film is utterly sincere. Everything you see in this compilation of clips is meant to push Breen’s simplistic, idealistic agenda. That is of course what makes it so weirdly charming, the filmmaker’s unfailing belief in the sanctity of his message.
Director: Jim Wynorski
The original title of Killbots is a lot more accurate, but you can’t deny that Chopping Mall has a good ring to it. It’s another horror flick that perfectly captures the 1980s teen zeitgeist—imagine The Breakfast Club in a mall, crossed with a homicidal version of Johnny Five from Short Circuit, and you’re there. From there, it’s just teens vs. robots, absolutely nothing complicated or fancy because “fancy” was not in the budget. The trailer proclaims that they “broke into the mall for the wildest all-night party of their lives,” but what they get instead are electrocutions and the best exploding head scene outside of Scanners.
Director: Len Cella
Moron Movies is unlike every other entry on this list. It was made by a single man, and it’s not a feature. Rather, it’s one of the clearest and least-guarded glimpses you’ll ever get into the life of a lonely, middle-aged human being. The brainchild of the perpetually morose-looking Len Cella, Moron Movies is essentially a compilation of short, “comedic” clips directed by and starring Cella. And when I say “short,” I mean they’re mostly about 15 seconds long, and each individually labeled with titles like “Hamburger Comedian” and “Man With Thumb Stuck in Bowling Ball.” They don’t contain jokes so much as “jokelets,” the smallest possible suggestions of a joke that you can imagine, as if every one was conceived only moments before it was filmed. Johnny Carson found them spellbindingly weird, to the extent that he featured Cella on the show several times between 1983-1985. To really understand the brilliance of a Len Cella segment such as “How to Protect Yourself,” though, you simply have to see it.
Director: Peter Jackson
Before he was the Oscar-winning director of The Lord of the Rings or even the passable director of The Frighteners, Peter Jackson was the Grand High Gore-Meister of New Zealand. Dead Alive is his masterpiece in that respect, and one might even call it the masterpiece of the “gory comedy horror” sub-genre in general. It starts out as a film more gross in its portrayal of the elderly than anything and then devolves from there into one of the grossest, bloodiest films ever made. Every method of zombie mutilation imaginable takes place in just over an hour and a half, including one with a lamp shoved into its skull like a jack-o-lantern. Nothing, though, can compare with the final scene, the infamous lawnmower massacre. Watching this, it’s nearly inconceivable that producers over at New Line said, “Sure, let’s give this guy $300 million to make some fantasy epics, sounds good.”
Director: Menahem Golan
This movie and its successors are pretty much the reason why the historical concept of the “ninja” is largely unknown to the average person today. What we think of is the Hollywood ninja, and I’m fine with it—these ninjas are way more entertaining anyway. Enter the Ninja was the first of the big American ninja B movies, the films that established so many stereotypes for hacks like Godfrey Ho to cash in on later. Primary color jumpsuits? Check. Throwing stars? Check. Caucasian guy as the primary ninja hero? Naturally. Ninjas were the “ultimate martial artists” of the 1980s, and it all starts with Enter the Ninja. Every movie about silent warriors since then is in debt to this one.
Director: Glenn Berggoetz
Let it be known: I love Glenn Berggoetz. Who is Glenn Berggoetz? He’s the man who can lay claim to the title of “director of the lowest-grossing film of all time” in reference to the $11 opening weekend of 2011’s The Worst Movie Ever! (Yes, that’s the real title.) His best-made film, though, is To Die is Hard, a shameless Die Hard parody about an English professor fighting terrorists on campus, in which he plays the lead role. A rogue filmmaker and shameless promoter, Berggoetz completed the feature for less than $2,000, making it one of the cheapest films on the list. The man is a genius when it comes to organization and getting things done on a budget that even you or I could scrape together, managing to make multiple features on a part-time professor’s salary. There’s nobody else like him—Berggoetz is the eternal Hollywood optimist, never giving up on his dreams. It’s impossible to not be charmed by his zero-budget gumption.
Director: Norman Taurog
Another Vincent Price vehicle with a great title, this one is anything but horror. Instead, this is a spoof of sorts on the spy movie genre, featuring Price as the nefarious Dr. Goldfoot, whose only defining characteristic is that he wears pointy gold shoes for no apparent reason. A genius in the field of robotics, he builds sexy female automatons to sleep with various world leaders and captains of industry, then steal their wealth and/or state secrets. As you can probably tell from that description, the first Austin Powers movie actually owed a lot to this plot. Dr. Goldfoot is pure, unadulterated 1960s camp of the highest order, always funny and never boring. It all wraps up with a five-minute chase sequence that rivals the infamous 1966 Batman “some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb” sequence in sheer lunacy.
Director: Jordan Downey
I think one of the reasons Thankskilling works so well is the disconnect between the quality of its writing and direction vs. the capability of the actors to deliver that material. For a movie that more than follows through on a DVD menu promise of “tits in the first second,” it’s not egregiously written, embarking on an ambitiously bizarre campaign of surrealism from the very get-go. It’s just a little bit less schlocky in its construction than you would expect a film about a killer turkey to be, and yet the quality of the acting is even worse than anticipated. Thanks to scenes such as the turkey impersonating a girl’s father by wearing his severed face, Thankskilling has made itself into a self-aware but still transgressive holiday classic for the modern age.
Director: Dan O’Bannon
It occurs to me that a lot of these films reek of the 1980s—especially this one—but it was a banner decade as far as a certain subset of B movies were concerned. It was a time when tasteless films zeroed in on youth culture with caricatures that have turned into pure camp when viewed 30 years later, and Return of the Living Dead is a prime example. The group of punk kids have names like “Spider,” “Trash” and “Scuz,” and there’s Linnea Quigley taking off her top (and bottom) once again. The zombies, meanwhile, subvert the Romero formula by being highly intelligent, especially if they’re recently turned. A great display of practical special effects, it has some truly iconic scenes such as the bisected dog biology exhibit that comes back to life. Also featured: “Tar Man,” maybe the coolest-looking zombie ever. The film established the trope that zombies ate human brains specifically, which has persisted and caused confusion in the public consciousness ever since.
Director: William Castle
We’ve hit a few William Castle features on this countdown, but House on Haunted Hill is the guy’s masterpiece. It’s got it all: Vincent Price at his goofiest, a big spooky house, a mystery and a profoundly non-frightening walking skeleton. The gimmick this time around was referred to by Castle as “Emergo,” and it amounted to a plastic skeleton on a pulley system being flown over the audience—not his most creative, but shameless enough that only Castle would stoop so low. To me, this is the quintessential 1950s horror film, even though it comes at the end of the decade. It’s totally tame by today’s standards but has some fun, over-the-top performances, a bit of witty dialog and a large helping of cheese. I can watch this thing over and over without getting tired of it.
Director: Ed Wood
For decades, Plan 9 was the de-facto answer to “What is the worst movie ever made?” But although it’s certainly bad, it’s not quite that bad—or maybe it is, and we’re just willing to forgive because it’s also quite charming. It’s just a nothing of a movie, practically plotless and featuring some of Wood’s most nonsensical dialog. The alien characters in particular are written as these totally ineffectual pseudo-intellectuals, lambasting the humans about “your stupid minds! Stupid! Stupid!” As most bad movie fans know, Bela Lugosi died in the course of filming, and unrelated footage he’d shot for other half-finished Ed Wood projects was cycled into the finished product. Some scenes also featured chiropractor Tom Mason impersonating Lugosi by crudely holding his cape over his face, as if no one would notice. It’s perfectly emblematic of Wood’s laissez-faire filmmaking.
Director: James A. Contner
Ah, Lifetime. Nobody cranks out a terrible TV melodrama quite like the Lifetime network, and none of them are more melodramatic than She Woke Up Pregnant. It’s about a woman who goes to the dentist’s office for routine surgery, goes under the gas and BOOM—pregnant. But seeing as her husband is infertile and she’s never been unfaithful, how did this come to be? Could it be the devilishly handsome dentist? Who will believe her story, especially once the dentist claims the two have been having an affair? Well, because it’s Lifetime, the answer is “pretty much nobody.” Not the police, and certainly not her husband. It will be up to our heroine to set the record straight! Here’s an example of just one of her lines after being accused of lying by the police: “I’ve just been raped again, but this time I’m wide awake.”
Director: Chang Cheh
Chang Cheh was probably the greatest director of kung fu flicks for Shaw Brothers Studio, the producers of dozens of Hong Kong kung fu classics in the mid-1970s, and this is one of his loopiest films. When his noble school of kung fu studies is destroyed by dastardly ninjas, the hero must study their forbidden techniques (based on the “five elements” of fire, water, earth, wood, and gold) to strike back. Each set of ninjas has their own colorful, outrageous costumes and fighting styles, such as tunneling through the ground (earth ninjas) or blinding their enemies with reflective armor (gold ninjas). The whole thing plays out like a cinematic videogame, complete with a final boss fight. It’s also unusually gory and graphic for a film in this genre, so be warned—when somebody gets their ass kicked in Five Element Ninjas, the results aren’t pretty.
Directors: Richard Park and Y.K. Kim
A film that was all but forgotten until its rediscovery by the Alamo Drafthouse theater chain in 2009, Miami Connection is a sight to behold. Produced by and starring motivational speaker/taekwondo master Y.K. Kim, the film is part vanity project and part public service announcement. The story sounds like something a third grader in the mid-’80s would have found really bodacious: An awesome synth-rock band called Dragon Sound practices taekwondo on the side and fights a biker gang and a drug-smuggling ninja organization on the streets of Orlando. I’d like to point out that “Orlando” is not a typo—the film doesn’t even take place in Miami. The acting smashes through lower tiers of bad movie performances into hall of fame territory, especially Kim himself, who can barely speak English phonetically, let alone legibly. There are plenty of highlights and even a few genuinely catchy songs, but nothing can top the dramatic revelation when one character unexpectedly reveals his quest to find his birth father.
Director: Chang Cheh
The only reason I didn’t call Five Element Ninjas the finest kung fu B movie from Chang Cheh is that he also made Crippled Avengers. Part of a short-lived series of “cripsploitation” films that tended to feature injured heroes in the vein of One-Armed Swordsman, this film represents that sub-genre’s highest point because of the physical talents involved. It stars members of the so-called “Venom Mob,” the finest kung fu performers of their day, and the choreography is nothing short of outstanding, full of long, uninterrupted takes with great acrobatics and athleticism. It’s got everything that makes for an extremely entertaining kung fu movie: A silly story, menacing villains, special powers, great costuming and sets, exciting choreography and memorable set-pieces. Just look at the poster and tell me that doesn’t look awesome.
Director: Scott Glosserman
In the years following Scream there was no shortage of films attempting similar deconstructions of the horror genre, but few deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as the criminally underseen Behind the Mask. Taking place in a world where supernatural killers such as Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger actually existed, this mockumentary follows around a guy named Leslie Vernon, who dreams of being the “next great psycho killer.” In doing so, it provides answers and insight into dozens of horror movie tropes and clichés, such as “How does the killer train?” How does he pick his victims? How can he seemingly be in two places at once? It’s a brilliant, twisted love letter to the genre that also develops an unexpected stylistic change right when you think you know where things are headed. It’s one of the most creative horror B movies of the 2000’s without a doubt.
Director: Claudio Fragasso (as Drake Floyd)
If a film has inspired a documentary about it detailing exactly what went wrong, you know you’re probably dealing with a special commodity. For Troll 2, that film was 2010’s Best Worst Movie, a reexamination of how an Italian schlockmeister named Claudio Fragasso visited Utah in 1989 and managed to shoot a low-budget horror flick about vegetarian goblins (there aren’t any trolls in the film) despite barely speaking English. Some of it is hard to believe, such as the idea that casting a local dentist with no acting experience in one of the major roles would work out fine. The final film barely looks real. It feels like some kind of elaborate practical joke played on the viewer, like at any moment the director will show up at your door and say “We really had you going, didn’t we?” My favorite scene may be the trip to the general store, which features a shopkeep played by an actor who was apparently on a day trip from a local mental institution. It’s mind-blowing stuff.
Director: Amir Shervan
When clueless Iranian filmmaker Amir Shervan moved to the United States in the mid-1980s, he brought with him a creative mind that would go on to direct some of the most amazing fun-bad action movies ever made. His masterwork is Samurai Cop, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. But oh, how to describe the shoddiness of this film, which stars hair model Matt Hannon and the impossibly huge chin of Robert Z’Dar? It’s every terrible Lethal Weapon clone rolled into one, a perfect cocktail of cop movie clichés and 1980s action movie ridiculousness. The script is impossibly, unfathomably bad—some of these scenes couldn’t possibly have been written out on paper. There’s a dozen different ones I can cite, but just take the hero’s conversation with this flirtatious nurse as an example. And how amazing are those reaction shots from his partner? The whole film is a riot.
Director: James Nguyen
People assume it’s easy to create a movie so bad it ends up on all-time lists, but that’s anything but the case. Movies like Birdemic cannot be created on purpose—it’s straight-up impossible. The most important element in the creation of a Birdemic is intense, misplaced confidence and optimism, a complete lack of self-doubt and common sense. Any filmmaker who realizes what makes for a quality film would immediately see he was out of his depth trying to film this bizarre rip-off of The Birds and abandon the project. He would see that his cast of actors were the least-engaging, most listless characters in film history. It would be obvious to him that a thinly veiled environmental message would not be best-delivered with exploding birds that vomit corrosive acid. It would be clear that clip-art CGI of eagles fluttering in place is not an acceptable visual standard. But Birdemic is blissfully unaware of how terrible it is, and that makes it totally brilliant. Never will you look at coat hanger combat in the same way.
Director: Tommy Wiseau
The Room is now so well-known, especially after the publication of Greg Sestero’s The Disaster Artist, that it’s lost the luster of being obscure—and that’s fine. This film doesn’t need the mystique of the midnight movie: It will always remain utterly charming in its sweet sincerity and cluelessness. The dramatic story of a seemingly perfect man undone by his scheming and unfaithful girlfriend, it plays as both a vanity project and an exceedingly public accusation of every woman Tommy Wiseau was ever involved with, which couldn’t have been many. It’s unique among films of its caliber for having a production budget so much higher—reportedly $6 million if you can imagine it, all of it squandered. It may be the most a director/producer/star has ever poured into a project to glorify himself, and the beautiful thing is that Wiseau seems to fully believe to this day that he was successful. He’s never felt the need to shoot The Room 2, even after the original film’s massive underground success. Because on a basic level, Tommy Wiseau is a true artist, just an exceedingly bad one. You can’t help but admire that.
Director: Andy Sidaris
There are dozens of films just like Hard Ticket to Hawaii, if we’re talking about plots. Director Andy Sidaris directed 12 himself, all starring gun-toting Playboy and Penthouse models as busty secret agents, largely in tropical locales. These sorts of films were staples of early cable, commonly premiering on USA Up All Night or “Skinemax.” They’re all trashy. They’re all stupid. But Hard Ticket to Hawaii is the most fun of all of them, the perfect mixture of classless sexuality and hyper-macho 1980s action. Its action sequences are insane, from the inflatable sex doll-clutching skateboard assassin to a henchman named “Shades” who is executed via razor-tipped Frisbee. Oh, and have I mentioned that the subplot revolves around the girls hunting a deadly, escaped snake that has been “infected with toxins from cancer-infested rats”? On its own, the snake could make this an awesome movie, but it’s just one reason why Hard Ticket to Hawaii is the most enjoyable B movie of them all.