Incredibly Bad Film Show: Manos, Hands of Fate

Dir: Harold P. Warren
Star: Harold P. Warren, Tom Neyman, John Reynolds, Diane Mahree

It’s perhaps surprising, given my fondness for badfilm, that I had never quite got round to watching this, often regarded as the worst movie of all time. At one point, it was thus ranked on the IMDb: though it has now been replaced there (the current incumbent is this year’s Saving Christmas, though I suspect it won’t last, and will eventually return the crown to Birdemic), Manos remains in the bottom dozen. A lot of the responsibility for this has to belong to Mystery Science Theater 3000, who plucked the film from near-total obscurity when they picked it as a target in 1993 – to the shock of the cast, who hadn’t seen it in a quarter of a century. I watched their take on the film the morning after watching the “raw” version, and certainly can’t argue with it being perfect material for their satire. But, on the other hand, nor would I necessarily say I enjoyed it more.

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Incredibly Bad Film Show: Rescue Force

rescueforce2Dir: Charles Nizet
Star: Richard Harrison, Bo Gritz, Peter Gold, Keiri Smith

Sing me no song, read me no rhyme
Don’t waste my time, show me!
Don’t talk of June, don’t talk of fall
Don’t talk at all, show me!

Ah, the wisdom of Alan Jay Lerner, who may well have been talking about this movie, which also tries to follow the philosophy attributed to Goebbels: “If you repeat a lie often enough, people will believe it.” In this case, the latter is exemplified by a hellaciously over-frequent use of captions to try to convince the viewer that Nevada is actually a “PLO Fuel and Ammo Depot near the Syrian border.” Saying it doesn’t make it so, any more than pointing the camera at a desk and captioning it, “CIA office, Beirut.” makes that true – though the automatic weapons hanging on the wall behind the desk there, are a nice touch.

The other defining factor of the badmovie style here is a throwback to the days of a high mistress of the genre, Doris Wishman, who couldn’t afford to shoot sync sound, so had entire conversations showing the backs of people’s heads. The same problem affects things here, but Nizet takes a somewhat different approach, getting his actors to mask their mouths with telephones. A lot. No, really: the first half an hour of the film is a rarely-broken string of phone calls, the chief CIA agent, whom the script never bothers to name, shuffling agents around Europe as if playing a game of Diplomacy on crack. Which is where the “Show me” thing comes in. At one point he tells Lt. Col. Steel (Gritz), “The trade center next to the embassy? Blown up about 30 minutes ago – there are bodies all over the place. Both of our choppers were taken out with bazooka shells not less than 10 minutes ago.” A potentially great set-piece, turned into three sentences of bland monologue. Read More

Incredibly Bad Film Show: Witchcraft X, Mistress of the Craft

witchcraftx2Dir: Elisar Cabrera
Star: Wendy Cooper, Kerry Knowlton, Stephanie Beaton, Eileen Daly

It’s been a long while since I’ve done one of these – more than 18 months – but when I re-watched this, as part of our exhaustive survey of the entire Witchcraft series, I knew there was no way I could truly do this justice in a couple of hundred words. The other entries in the series are a mix of light occult shenanigans and heavy petting, set in Los Angeles. But for the tenth entry, they shifted things to London, and apparently threw everything you knew out of the window on the flight there. The results are all an Incredibly Bad film should be: it contains laughable concepts, pathetic production values and some performances that would disgrace a school Nativity play. Yet, it’s certainly more memorable and, dammit, I’d say entertaining than any of the nine preceding installments.

The core here is a British government department, Bureau 17, who have been charged with investigating any paranormal shenanigans. Their tiny staff (I blame budget cut-backs: perhaps governmental, more likely by the film’s producers) have captured Hyde (Knowlton), a mass murderer with Satanic tendencies, and are holding them pending the arrival of Detective Lutz (Beaton) from Los Angeles, who’s going to extradite him back to the States. However, the vampire Raven (Daly) and her minions, break Hyde out, because she needs his help to translate a tome that will allow her to summon the demon Morshenka, who will give her unlimited power. It’s up to white Wiccan detective Celeste Sheridan (Cooper), Lutz and the other members of Bureau 19 to stop them.

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Incredibly Bad Film Show: Los Canallas

a.k.a. Ángeles Infernales
Federico Curiel
Star: Mil Mascaras, Regina Torné, Fernando Osés, Claudia Martell

Mexican wrestling movies are a different breed entirely. Sure, WWE wrestlers make movies, and to a large extent, the characters they play are simply an extension of their in-ring personae. John ‘Hustle, Loyalty, Respect’ Cena? Get him to play an ex-marine in…er, The Marine. Demonic hell-spawn Kane? Psychotic serial killer: See No Evil [though Glenn Jacobs, the man responsible, has a degree in English literature, is a former third-grade teacher, and supports Ron Paul] But the key difference is that none of these movies include any actual professional wrestling.

Contrast the Mexican versions, where Mil Mascaras (or Santo, Blue Demon, etc.) is a crime-fighter – but one whose day-job is as a wrestler, and that comes first. Everyone is comfortably at ease with this, both good and bad. For instance, the villains break their leader out of jail on Friday night because “everyone will be at the match.” And when they do, said leader takes on Mascaras in not one, but two wrestling matches. It’s as if, at the end of The Marine, Robert Patrick challenged Cena to a Falls Count Anywhere bout. The forces of good are just as wrestling obsessed. When they realize one of their number has apparently been kidnapped by the Infernal Angels, they don’t exactly rush to her aid, saying “Let’s wait until the first fall is over.  Mil Mascaras will tell us what to do.” One fall later, he airily tells them, “I’ll be done soon, wait for me in the dressing room.” Like I said: wrestling first; rescuing your friend from torture and being slowly dipped into an acid-bath…later.

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Incredibly Bad Film Show: Final Detention

Dir: Pongpinij
Star: Lek Aiyasoon, Yoko Takano, Chalomjit Junkaj, Thunyaluk Worrapimrut

Women in prison films are a cornerstone of trash cinema, but are one whose appeal is difficult to explain. Chris typically sidles her way out of the room when they’re on, looking at me strangely; I think she’s slightly concerned about the sadomasochistic overtones. But, to me, that’s like being concerned about the homosexual overtones of pro wrestling – which is, after all, well-muscled men in skimpy costumes getting all sweaty and grappling each other. Indeed, pro wrestling and WiP films have other aspects in common: both are disparaged critically, packed with larger than life characters, and contain certain standard plot-devices that are almost de riguer for the genre, showing up time after time.

It’s a universal construct too. Not just Hollywood, but anywhere with a low-budget movie industry, the odds are the genre has been mined. Italy? Hong Kong? Japan? Done. The problem comes when censorship or other restrictions limit your ability to deliver on expectations. A decade ago, back when I shared a house with Steve and Abigail, I tried one of their vegan sausages. It wasn’t bad actually – but something less like a real sausage, is hard to imagine. Which brings us to Final Detention, the vegan sausage of women-in-prison films. While not without its entertainment value, something less like a real women-in-prison film than this Thai entry in the genre, is hard to imagine.

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Incredibly Bad Film Show: Blood Red Moon

Dir: Scott Patrick
Star: Sarah Lavrisa, Matthew Rogers, Mark Courneyea, Shelley-Jean Harrison.

“If you love Twilight, you’ll love Blood Red Moon.” There’s the pull-quote on the DVD sleeve from the apparently untraceable “Gates of Gore,” which is exactly the kind of line you couldn’t buy. Now, I can’t speak conclusively for those whose love Twilight,  but I suspect they would probably react to BRM by forming a mob with torches and storming Canada, for this carefully-calculated insult to everything they hold dear – like fundamentalist Muslims shown a sock-puppet re-enactment of the life of Mohammed. Those of us who didn’t really like Twilight much, on the other hand, will find this a no-budget, micro-talent rip-off, which is less homage or satire than shameless rip-off. It’s so painfully close Stephenie Meyer should sue – except even if awarded the entire production cost and revenue, it would likely not even cover the cost of the phone-call to her lawyer.

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Incredibly Bad Film Show: Dr Who and the Daleks

Dir: Gordon Flemyng
Star: Peter Cushing, Roberta Tovey, Roy Castle, Jenny Linden

The revival of Dr. Who by the BBC, beginning in 2005, has been one of the most spectacular successes of recent years. It resurrected a series which had, for all practical purposes, been dead and buried since 1989 – the previous reboot, in 1996 with Paul McGann, having been a one-shot TV movie flop. But McGann wasn’t the only person to play the Doctor outside the well-known regulars from the series. Indeed, if you add in Comic Relief spoof, The Curse of Fatal Death, and the list includes Richard E. Grant, Joanna Lumley, Rowan Atkinson and Hugh Grant – all of whom would have been interesting choices as the permanent incumbent.

Back in the 1960’s, Peter Cushing played the Doctor in two spin-off movies. The potential here was huge: after all, Cushing had already become the canonical Baron Frankenstein and Van Helsing, as well as, arguably, Winston Smith and Sherlock Holmes. The concept of him playing a stern, Frankenstein-styled Doctor appealed enormously. Unfortunately, that’s not what we got: rather, the words “disastrous misfire” come to mind, particularly for the first movie.

I can’t categorically state this is not due to my expectations having been radically revamped by the new series. Much as I loved Tom Baker growing up, I haven’t dared watch any of the earlier series since we fell in love with the reboot – it could be a disaster, in line with the re-viewing of Blake’s 7, which only succeeded in shattering forever, my fondly-held teenage illusion that it was a good programme. Certainly, it seems likely the sixties Who was aimed more directly at kids, not the general audience for the new version. But even so… Sheesh, this is pretty bad.
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Incredibly Bad Film Show: The Creeping Terror

Dir: “A.J. Nelson” (Vic Savage)
Star: Vic Savage, Shannon O’Neil, William Thourlby, John Caresio

“Anyone who experienced that catastrophe and survived, would never go there again…”

The player will show in this paragraph

The above line is one of the many lines of narration spoken during The Creeping Terror, but is just as appropriate a summary for the entire movie itself. While there can never be a unanimous choice for the worst film ever made, going forward I will refuse to take seriously the views of anyone who does not at least acknowledge the credentials of this as a worthy contender. I’ve seen films with bad sound, poor special effects, amateur performance or any other number of flaws. But this tale of alien invasion is so inadequate in so many areas, it’s difficult to conceive how it could ever have seem adequate.

Almost from the get-go, you get a sense of how bad things are going to be. The shot of the alien spacecraft descending to Earth is, very obviously, stock footage of one a V-1 rocket taking off, played backwards. Yes: really. That the makers thought no-0ne would notice, or that the craft seen on the ground bears no resemblance at all to the the stock footage, sets the bar of expectations appropriately. The next thing to kick in is the narration, and its use may mark a new low-water mark. Even at best, it’s a dodgy technique, usually a replacement when the director’s skills aren’t up to the task of showing the necessary emotion or conveying the plot points in a less-clunky manner. Here, it seems a technical necessity caused by insurmountable audio issues: two characters will be having an animated conversation, but rather than hear them, the narrator describes what’s being said. It feels like the narrator is reading an early script treatment.

Let me provide a couple of samples to show you what I mean:

  • “Martin was outraged by the government’s intellectual approach to a monster that had already killed and caused the disappearance of his two close friends. Caldwell tended to agree with him, but stated that he had to follow his orders.”
  • “The Sergeant, a shaken man, returned babbling about what had happened. Realizing the full danger of the situation, Caldwell decided he had only one means left to stop the monster: grenades. Now Bradford made a drastic move. Acting on his superior authority, he forbade Caldwell to destroy the creature. The Colonel, more concerned with saving human lives than advancing science, told Bradford to “Go to Hell.””

However, what elevates this, more than any other aspect, lifting it from the realms of “Somewhat Sucky” into the pantheon of all-time greats, is the monster. I’d heard tales of this cinematic abomination, but nothing could prepare me for the amazing sight. At first, it was largely hidden behind some trees, but it seemed as if the makers finally realized the pointlessness of trying to conceal the thing, and opted instead to give the audience plenty of opportunity to play “Let’s laugh at the monster.” The general consensus is that it resembles a pile of carpet remnants, and who am I to argue with that? It appears to consist of a man under a blanket, pulling a large quilt behind him.

It’s reported that there were actually two different monsters used – if you look closely, you can tell the difference. The reason for this has also been explained: “According to actor/makeup artist Byrd Holland (who played the sheriff), Lackey was banned from the set by Nelson after a dispute over the ownership of the monster “suit”, whereupon the monster suddenly went missing. Lackey supposedly informed the crew that the monster was “in hiding” and would not reappear until he got paid. Apparently Lackey never got paid and Nelson decided instead to rebuild the monster on his own.” Hard to tell whether this was a boon or a bane: neither is exactly going to give Rick Baker sleepless nights.

There are two factors which render it particularly non-terrifying. While that half of the title is singularly inappropriate, there can be no doubt that it certainly lives up to the ‘creeping’ part. It moves at the pace of a reluctant sloth on downers, and the only way it can consume anyone, is because they stand still and let it. It is not necessary to run away. It not even necessary to walk away. You could amble, and still comfortably out-pace  the alien. The other issue is that the creature’s mouth – at roughly the level of the man in the front’s knees – is basically a hole. Due to this, the only way for a victim to be swallowed is if they obligingly climb into the mouth, then more or less pull themselves down its throat.

terror1I am also somewhat confused by the sounds it makes, which appear to resemble stock audio from a big-game hunt, though I am impressed that it can make them even while swallowing its prey. However, the creature’s finest moment probably comes later in the film, when it attacks a group of cars parked in the local Lover’s Lane. While absorbing its victims, at one point it climbs into a convertible (shown, right), and for a glorious moment, we imagined the alien driving off in the automobile, the wind blowing in its…er, shag-pile.

This is, however, only slightly more entertaining than the preceding sequence where it attacks a local dance-hall, apparently managing to avoid the cover charge (probably claiming it was “on the list”).  The same people who were frantically fruggin’ their hearts out on the dance-floor, now find themselves incapable of any motion at all, and the creature eats its fill. A particular highlight is the guy who gallantly pushes his date towards the monster, though I also enjoyed the town drunk – one of the few people with an excuse for not being able to move out of the way. There is reportedly also a ‘wardrobe malfunction’ in this scene, with an escapee throwing a woman out of the way and accidentally tearing off her top. I can’t say I am curious enough in 60’s b&w boobies to investigate further.

There are any number of other aspects worthy of derision, but I’ll just mention these in passing. The way the alien craft contains very clearly terrestrial dials with Earthly numbers (below). The shot of the hyper-secure crash site, where you can see a kid playing in the background, oblivious to the camera.  The tactics of the army [or, at least, the single-digit number of soldiers we get here] against the monster: even though attacking across open ground, they bunch up into an area no larger than an elevator, so that it can gobble them up as well.  Gratuitous, and apparently serious, use of the word “hootenanny,” followed by offensive use of a guitar, the likes of which would not be seen again until Animal House. The way the hero and heroine invite the hero’s best friend over, simply it seems in order to make out in front of him. The fat guy who bears an odd resemblance to Harry Knowles, and is tripped up by some pesky river-bed gravel.

The weird thing is, there is actually the potential for a half-decent movie here. The creature is very different from most aliens of the time, and its purpose here – absorb humans to find out their weaknesses, so it can transmit them back to its home planet as data for a future invasion –terror2 is inventive too. It’s the kind of movie begging for a remake, perhaps with a nod to how the original was actually government disinformation, designed to cover up a real incident by creating a target of ridicule. However, I am fairly sure I came up with better ways to use a concept like this when I was writing stories aged seven or so. You can see why the MST3K crowd pounced on it, but it’s one of those cases where there’s not really much more they need add: the film’s insane stupidity doesn’t need much in the way of commentary. Not that, of course, this stopped us adding our own.

But as a bad movie, it’s an awful lot of fun, fully deserving its reputation in the field. After a spell where I’d been grinding my way through dull films, it was a refreshing delight to come across something like this, possessing in spades the loopy charm which attracted me to the field of incredibly bad cinema to begin with.

[February 2010]

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Incredibly Bad TV Show: Conspiracy Theory with Jesse Ventura

Regular readers will know that we’re big fans of conspiracy theories here at TC. While not necessarily believing them all – especially the all-encompassing, shape-shifting lizards from another dimension type ones – they’re like intellectual table-salt. They enhance the flavor of life, and help foster a sense of cynicism about the motives and actions of government and those in power, which is certainly extremely sensible. However, just as conspiracy theories cover the gamut from plausible to completely-loopy [though remarkably entertaining], so does coverage of them in the mainstream media range from sober, serious consideration of the possibilities to… Well, to Conspiracy Theory with Jesse Ventura.

We should probably have got some kind of inkling from its location on Tru TV. The channel used to be known as Court TV, but changed its brand in 2008, now operating under the slogan, “Not reality. Actuality.” Going by shows such as Operation Repo, “actuality” appears to mean making stuff up and trying to give the impression it’s real.  Saying Tru TV does not have a good record for serious investigative journalism is like saying Michael Jackson had some deficiencies as a child-care provider.  But, hey, we’ll cut it some slack: after all, host Jesse Ventura remains one of the few people to crack the two-party system, during his spell as Governor of Minnesota. If there’s anyone capable of cutting through the BS, it’d be him.

Unfortunately,  any hope of a balanced look at the topics under investigation evaporates in the fiery heat of the near-hysterical approach to the subject matter. After the jump, we’ll bravely go through the entire series, episode by episode, and expose the deadly truth about Conspiracy Theory!!!! Ok, perhaps not, but after you’ve watched a few of these shows, the style does tend to rub off…

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Incredibly Bad Film Show: Kinky Killers

Dir: George Lekovic
Star: Michael Paré, Beverly Lynne, Brooke Lewis, Mark Belasco

I can only imagine the conversation which took place in the distribution company’s office, with regard to this movie and its original title:

“I think we can use the film, but Polycarp? What’s that again?
“He was a second-century bishop. In Greece.”
[Long Pause]
“Yeah. Well, actually, no. Here’s what we’re gonna do.”
[Reaches for black marker]
“Oh, and I hope you weren’t attached to the DVD sleeve either…”

Hey, presto: say what you like about the quality of the actual movie – and we will have plenty to say there before long, trust us on that – whoever was involved with the marketing was a frickin’ genius. We stumbled across this on cable, so the cover (right) wasn’t even a factor. Frankly, if we had, it might have been a warning, because it would have been one of those cases where the sleeve is clearly trying way too hard. As is, the title was sufficient, along with the presence of veteran character actor Charles Durning. He won three Purple Hearts in World War II, taking part in both the Normandy landings and the Battle of the Bulge, and shows up here in one location, to no real purpose. One can only surmise some kind of gambling debt was involved.

This is not impossible: we’ve covered a gangster/movie connection elsewhere, and this feels like the same sort of thing, an ill-conceived vanity project, though this has far less sense of any connection to reality. Bodies – mostly of blonde strippers – are turning up in the streets of New Jersey, with parts missing and tattoos on them the victims didn’t have when they were alive, including the mysterious word, “Polycarp”. The police are baffled. What does it mean? I guess the NJPD do not have access to, oh, Google? Detectives Paré and Belasco are “investigating”; quotes used advisedly, since their methodology is not quite straight from the police manual.

The original sleeve with the real Polycarp.
Now, why didnt they use him?

Still, it gets them into the right area: that inhabited by Dr. Jill Kessey (Lynne), a psychiatrist who has been giving therapy to a number of the victims. Yeah, because strippers can regularly afford $200/hour therapists, right? Kessey has an ‘open’ relationship with her boyfriend (and his bad case of back acne), and it turns out he slept with the victims. The cops suspect him. Which means they break into their room, interrogate him in the shower, take him away in his underwear then dump him under a bridge in what looks like Brooklyn, according to Chris. That drooling sound you hear is civil rights lawyers thinking about the possibilities. The trail leads from there to another psychiatrist, Dr. Grace Sario (Lewis), who also has an unconventional approach to therapy, if you know what I mean, and I think you do.

Ok, so far, it’s been dull in an erotic thriller kind of way, much as you’d expect from Ms. Lynne, the veteran of movies with titles such as The Bikini Escort Company, and the Black Tie Nights series. To describe her as “unconvincing” as a psychiatrist would be putting it mildly, and I needed to convince Chris at the half-way mark to persevere, and had to compromise by re-locating with her from the living-room to the bedroom. I’m glad I did, for it’s only after that point that full-blown religious looniness breaks out. Oh, it had been hinted at, with Pare’s cop found of quoting religious scripture to suspects [probably adding another count to that lawsuit], and if we’d been bothered enough to Google “polycarp,” could have found out its origins before the movie divulged them to us. However, it’s not until the final reel that we discover the truth.

[Spoiler alert, I guess. Though as usual, if you go ahead and watch this one, you should be doing so purely for amusement, rather than the plot.]  The murders are actually being committed by a coven of witches, led by Doctor Sario and Kessey, as part of a ritual with the eventual aim of putting the (very clearly plastic) pieces together, and triggering the coming of Lucifer. As you do. This is all explained in great detail by the perpetrators after they have captured three of the male actors: this is probably necessary, though it has the feeling more of a theology lecture than anything else – if the subjects are tied up, it’s likely to avoid them being bored into unconsciousness by the exposition and toppling off their chairs. Throw in some entirely gratuitous sex scenes before we get to that point, and the movie makes a late surge into incredibly-bad territory.

The entire exercise seems to have been churned out with amazingly little thought, from the basic concept – those with a fondness for T+A will be put off by the religion and vice-versa – all the way through to the casting, where I wouldn’t be surprised if they sold off all the roles at auction, not just this one. In Durning’s long career, which has gained him nine Emmy noms plus a pair of Oscar nods, it’s unquestionably a low-water mark. Even on the considerably less-distinguished resumes of Paré and Lynne, this is something which will be buried and forgotten as nothing but lurid nonsense with few redeeming merits.

[November 2009]

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