Bill Simmons’ sports and pop culture site The Ringer published its staff ranking of “The 50 Best Good Bad Movies” this week, and — how do I put this? — it’s bad.
And, no, it’s not bad in the so-bad-it’s-good spirit intended for analyzing these types of films. It’s the regular kind of bad.
The same label applies to some of the baffling choices. No. 1, for example? The 1998 American remake of Godzilla, an irredeemable pile of kaiju crap. One spot below it is 1999’s Wild Wild West, which remains almost 20 years later the single worst movie I have ever paid to see in a theater.
The Ringer’s list is rife with major-studio, saccharine trash. Movies such as Speed 2: Cruise Control are bad because they’re rooted in the cynicism of studio execs who think little of their audience.
Truly good-bad cinema is rooted in an honest-to-goodness effort to produce something unique. It’s often “bad” because the filmmakers are daring enough to try something different, or operate with a low budget. Ultimately, however, they are out to make the most entertaining film possible.
Time for the amateurs to move aside and let a true connoisseur of good bad movies go to work. I am not adhering to any kind of official formula, though I have eschewed films with favorable Rotten Tomatoes scores: The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai, for example, has come to be appreciated over the years. The same is true for the better work of Troma like
With that, I humbly submit a few suggestions for overlooked good bad movies.
Italian horror legend Dario Argento, famous for the critically acclaimed Suspiria, teamed with Lamberto Bava to produce this much-less acclaimed but insanely fun action-horror romp.
Demons is thin on plot. College-aged friends stumble upon tickets to a live performance, which turns out to be a scene of mayhem beginning in a theater, and eventually spreading into the surrounding city. Victims are transformed into demons, much like the subjects of a zombie feature. Rather than mindless in search of sustenance, this infection creates calculating, unrelenting monsters.
Our heroes tear through what can only be described as roughly 90 minutes of pure chaos that includes swords, a motorcycle and a crashing helicopter.
This 2002 film is an homage to 1950s creature-features — a genre that all on its own is rife with good-bad titles like Them! The movie also pays tribute to other slapstick horrors, with elements reminiscent of Killer Klowns from Outer Space (a film that would have qualified for this list, were it not universally beloved) and a climax that pays ode to Dawn of the Dead.
Eight-Legged Freaks brings the under-appreciated genre to the 21st Century with a similarly under-appreciated send-up. I attribute some of the tepid critical response to the film starring David Arquette, but his frenetic style is mostly understated here, and only comes into effect when the script calls for it.
Scarlett Johansson co-stars. She was 18 here, and I was 19 when I saw it 2002. Fair to say I was smitten.
Halloween 3: Season of the Witch
John Carpenter’s Halloween is a celebrated classic not only of horror cinema, but American filmmaking. The original is credited for launching the slasher craze of the 1980s, though that’s a gross misrepresentation. Halloween relies on suspense and pacing far more than the typical slasher of the decade that followed it — though Dimension eventually took the series in that direction.
And that redirection came following the misunderstood Halloween 3: Season of the Witch.
The commercial and critical failure of Halloween 3 sheds some light into studios’ unwillingness to experiment. The concept of moving away from the Michael Myers story arc, which reached a satisfactory conclusion, and transforming Halloween into an anthology was bold. So, too, was the introductory effort.
Viewers seem to run either hot or cold on Season of the Witch. Put me down for hot, as the supernatural storyline concerning the Silver Shamrock mask company produced a creepy enough atmosphere to be scary, blended with subtle humor.
Horror-film veteran Tom Atkins — who teamed with Carpenter twice in the three years prior, once as the lead in The Fog and in a supporting role in Escape from New York — absolutely slays as Dr. Dan Challis. He’s the most take-charge horror hero of the ’80s — more so than even another Carpenter lead, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper in They Live.
The Last Dragon
Who’s the Shogun of Harlem? SHO-NUFF!
The Last Dragon rules, if only for the memorable names of its lead characters. Hero Leroy Green is better known as Bruce Leroy; the villain is Sho-Nuff; and Leroy’s journey finds him in pursuit of Master Sum Dum Goy.
Were a filmmaker to throw a Shaw Bros. title into a VitaMix with a healthy dose of mid-1980s hip-hop culture, this would be the end result. If that doesn’t sell you, I’m not sure what will.
Shakedown stars Peter Weller, fresh off a transcendent performance as Alex Murphy that really deserved an Academy Award. And lest you think I’m being tongue-in-cheek, let me emphasize I am 100 percent serious: Weller gave life to the titular RoboCop character in a way few actors could have accomplished. A full love letter to my favorite film of all-time will come in due time, but warrants a mention here for exposition.
Peter Weller’s always awesome, and he’s awesome in Shakedown as the conflicted, straight-man public defender to the loose cannon detective played by Sam Elliott. Yes, Sam Elliott co-stars as a homeless street detective in an ass-kicking performance that presumably gave inspiration for his turn as Wade a year later in Road House.
For background on Elliott’s awesomeness in this movie, I present you with this: He offs a villain using a roller-coaster car on Coney Island.
The proliferation of cable and satellite television in the 1980s gave way to an inundation of entertainment never before experienced in human history. Some saw the ubiquity of TV as a means of distracting the masses while the American Dream was eroded, sentiment reflected in pop culture through such titles and characters as Max Headroom, The Running Man and Videodrome.
Lost in the discussion of cultural critiques from the 1980s: TerrorVision. This absurd horror-comedy from defunct, low-budget cinematic schlock factory Empire International takes on the proliferation of TV in a ridiculous romp through 1980s culture.
Make no mistake: TerrorVision is drenched in equal parts cheese-and-sleaze. A critical plot point, and additional angle for satire, comes from the swinging exploits of the movie’s focal Putterman parents. It’s played up for cheap laughs — as is much of the rest of the film.
Nevertheless, the Puttermans use of TV as a babysitter for their adolescent son and the spread of a world-destroying monster through satellite feeds hide a message in the sleaziness and silliness. The message isn’t even that hidden; at one point, Grandpa Putterman refers to TV as “intellectual decay.”
Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2
Most good-bad movies are simple junk food, devoid of any deeper meaning beyond their colorful exterior. Even those with an inherent message, like the aforementioned TerrorVision, tuck their commentary away like a carrot stick hidden in a nachos grande plate.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is a film that was perhaps too smart, both for the horror-movie audience of the 1980s — which had been conditioned primarily for slashers thin on plot and heavy on kills and nudity — and critics who misinterpreted the over-the-top tropes.
Tobe Hooper wove dark humor into his masterpiece Texas Chainsaw Massacre, though much of it was initially lost on critics unsettled by the film’s disturbing imagery. The comedy’s cranked up to 11 in Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, making for a movie that’s equal parts hilarious and scary.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 pokes fun at the ’80s slasher genre with absurdly gore. For you college football fans, the first and most ridiculous scene involves two University of Texas frat boys on their way to the Red River Rivalry having a highway encounter with the Sawyer Boys. It doesn’t end well for the obnoxious Longhorn fans.
Texas Chainsaw Masscare 2 also introduces one of the greatest horror villains ever, Chop-Top.
Also, mull this sentence over: Dennis Hopper sword-fights Leatherface with chainsaws. DENNIS HOPPER SWORD-FIGHTS LEATHERFACE WITH CHAINSAWS.
I can’t tell you how badly it bummed me out to see the atrocious Dan Akyroyd pet project Nothing But Trouble make The Ringer’s list, when it’s essentially just a real bad TCM ripoff, while this gem was ignored.