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February 12, 2023

Establishing The Bad Canon: 15 Essential Movies For The Masochistic Cinephile

Est. Reading: 6 minutes

Proposing a canon is a dangerous endeavor. It’s unlikely that any two people will agree on what should be included, but I feel it is important to try. We need a shared pool of shitty schlock we can use to baptize the uninitiated. We need a common core of crap we can all refer to and use as a reference. The following list of films is not a list of the worst films ever made, it is instead a list of the films that we, the aficionados of awfulness, use as common touchstones in our conversations. This is the first foray into establishing The Bad Movie Canon. 

Plan 9 From Outer Space - directed by Ed Wood in 1959

This is perhaps the ultimate classic of the genre. It is also a gateway drug seducing many innocent moviegoers to the B side. There is an assortment of Ed Wood films that could be included on this list. Necromania is far worse than Plan 9, and it would be a shame not to mention Orgy of the Dead, but Plan 9 is clearly the most revered, or un-revered of Mr. Wood’s films.

Rollergator - directed by Donald G. Jackson in 1996

Anyone who has seen this movie will wince whenever it is mentioned. Watching this film is painful. It’s the only movie on the list that actually made me angry. I watched it once and I will never watch it again. I don’t even want to talk about it. It is teeth-grindingly bad, but is an absolute core part of the canon.

Any movie made by Neil Breen

Breen’s movies are all very similar and all remarkably bad. Personally, I wouldn’t know how to choose between them. Fateful Findings might be the best known, but if you sit through any of them, you can consider the job done. Breen has an incredible knack for writing atrociously bad dialogue and then getting the worst possible performances out of his actors. With the exception of Tommy Wiseau in The Room, you will not find worse acting anywhere.

Bat Pussy - director unknown, made some time in the '70s.

Many may argue over which film is the worst ever made, but I throw my lot in with Bat Pussy. This film fails on every level. For starters, it is a porn where the male lead is unable to get an erection. That right there should be enough to put it at the top of the canon, but once you add in the acting, and the “cinematography”, it becomes a tour de force of incompetence. 

Cats - directed by Tom Hooper in 2019

I personally would not put Cats in the canon, but I feel that I must bow to popular opinion here. The fact that there is a butthole version and a non-butthole version of Cats definitely distinguishes the film as, at the very least, bizarre, but I just don’t think it is all that bad for what it is. It’s a movie version of a cheesy Broadway musical from the '80s. What were audiences expecting? Yes, the oversexed gestures were gross, and James Cordon was abominable, but it was no Bat Pussy.

Dünyayı Kurtaran Adam or The Man Who Saved the World or Turkish Star Wars - directed by Çetin İnanç in 1982

This movie is in a class by itself. It’s unbelievably bad, but that’s not the half of it. The Man Who Saved the World is a shameless, copyright-infringing rip-off of Star Wars, but not your everyday rip-off of Star Wars. It actually steals large hunks of footage from the original Lucas film. It also steals the theme music from Raiders of The Lost Ark. It’s an insane hodge-podge of cheaply imitated tropes thrown willy-nilly at the screen.

The Room - directed by Tommy Wiseau in 2003

The Room has become the beating heart of modern bad film. It is like a many-faceted jewel of awfulness. No matter how you approach it, each facet is an affront to cinema. Like Plan 9, The Room is a gateway drug leading the innocent into the bowels of film failures. It has a cult following like The Rocky Horror Picture Show who come to yell at the screen and revel in some of the worst acting ever committed to celluloid.

Who Killed Captain Alex - directed by Isaac Godfrey Geoffrey Nabwana in 2010

This film is unlike any other on the list. Its enthusiasm and abandon are so endearing, it is hard to simply label as bad and leave it at that. Don’t get me wrong, it’s bad, very, very bad, but it is narrated by an amazing hurricane of a man named V.J. Emmie. Mr. Emmie could narrate someone washing the dishes and it would be transformed into high drama, or high… something.

Alien Beasts - directed by Carl J. Sukenick in 1991

It’s not just anyone who can make a film as bad as Alien Beasts. You have to be able to resist even the tiniest urge to pursue quality. You just have to close your eyes, press record on the camcorder, and after a while, press stop. Do that a dozen times, and you have something pretty close to Alien Beasts. I don’t know what the film was about, or what Sukenick was trying to do, but he succeeded in making one of the worst films ever made.

Samurai Cop - directed by Amir Shervan in 1989

There’s bad dialogue, and then there’s Samurai Cop. Samurai Cop makes numerous attempts at witty banter and sexy flirting, all of which are excruciating. The film is meant to be a police procedural, but it’s just a mess of nonsensical, badly choreographed violence. Like many films on this list, Samurai Cop seems to have the ability to warp time. It’s an hour and thirty-six minutes long, but it’s so boring, it feels like twice that.

Birdemic - directed by James Nguyen in 2010

Birdemic is basically 10 minutes worth of film stretched into an hour and a half of mind-numbingly pointless footage. Nothing happens until almost an hour in. It’s a retread of Hitchcock’s The Birds, but the birds are generated through some kind of ultra-primitive CGI that makes the film look like an 8-bit video game.

Battlefield Earth - directed by Roger Christian in 2000

Like Cats, I personally wouldn’t include this one on the list, but the masses have spoken. Yes, the film is certainly bad, but I have seen much worse. I suppose there is the added bonus that it is based on Scientology gobbledy-gook. There is also the fact that it cost 73 million dollars, which adds height to its fall. But in the end, it’s just a bad sci-fi movie.

Things - directed by Andrew Jordan in 1989

To be fair, Things could steal most of those first-prize ribbons from all the previous movies. It's neck and neck with Bat Pussy. A guy gives his girlfriend a fertility drug, but it makes her give birth to evil bug babies. Everything about this film is worse than bad. The lighting makes most of it impossible to see. The sound makes most of it impossible to hear. The editing seems to be done with a sharp rock and some Elmer's glue. It is hard to sit through, but essential to the canon.

Troll 2 - directed by Claudio Fragasso in 1990

For a completely awful movie, Troll 2 is pretty entertaining. There is some controversy over whether this film was intended to be bad, but apparently there were a lot of problems on set. The crew only spoke Italian, and the actors only spoke English. The premise of Troll 2 is a real head-scratcher. There are these evil vegetarian trolls who are turning people into plants so they can eat them. At least it’s original.

Manos: The Hands of Fate - directed by Harold P. Warren in 1966

Warren bet a television producer named Silliphant that making a horror movie was so easy, he could whip one up all on his own. I don’t know if Warren won the bet, but he shouldn’t have. The film is a wreck. The lighting, the editing, the dubbing, and the myriad of pointless scenes do not add up to what most people would deem a “film”. That said, it does have three sequels and a video game.

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