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The Terrifically Terrible: Five Unknown B-Movie “Classics”

Bad movies are magic. That sounds weird, but it’s true. Maybe it’s because what they ultimately become isn’t what they were meant to be. Maybe it’s because, despite all the discolored blood and obvious mannequin parts being thrown across the room, the passion from the filmmakers and belief in their stories still somehow shines through. Whether it be uneven performances, heinous dialogue, or sequences so insane you start to wonder if the filmmakers are somehow in on the joke, it won’t be until the credits roll on these magnum opuses when you realize, “Holy shit – these people are for real.”

Connoisseurs of the terrifically terrible might have sampled from their own pop-culture-inspired assemblage of the endearingly inept over the years. Tommy Wiseau’s The Room was nearly the first “so bad” movie to reach mainstream appreciation (the making of which is becoming its own film from the Franco brothers). Adult Swim comedians Tim & Eric helped in bringing Birdemic to prominence. Comedian Patton Oswalt gave Death Bed: The Bed That Eats a second life thanks to his own suggestion for a horror movie called Rape Stove. Snippets of the “visual effects” from Shark Attack 3: Megalodon have appeared in multitudes of Youtube compilations. Five seconds of Mortal Kombat: Annihilation have been singled out as “the worst line in history.” But if you think the badness ends there, you are so so wrong.

In honor of Shout! Factory’s recent Troll double-feature blu-ray release – featuring Troll 2, one of the most commonly accepted “best worst movies” of all time – it felt appropriate to shine a light on a whole other crop of films that are equally terrible, if not worse, but not nearly as as celebrated.

#5: WEASELS RIP MY FLESH

What’s It About? A rocket ship crash lands onto Earth and spills a collection of harvested space waste into the waters of Long Island, New York. Said toxic waste drips into an underground weasel hole and turns a weasel into something monstrous and flesh-ripping. It crawls into the road and is run over by a motorist named Jake, who takes the thing home to examine it because I guess he’s just into that stuff. As you might imagine, this virus (or whatever) catches and Jake becomes a monstrous, flannel-wearing weasel thing with mutant arms far thicker than the sleeves of his shirt. An inept detective named Cameron is forced to solve the mystery of the weasel mutants while simultaneously doing every possible thing wrong that a cop can do.

Who Made It? Nathan Schiff

What Else Has He Done? The Long Island Cannibal Massacre; Don Juan in Hell; and something called They Don’t Cut The Grass Anymore, about two Texas landscapers who travel North to kill yuppies.

What Makes It So Bad It’s Good? Because the second it begins, you know you’re about to witness something completely ridiculous. More on that next.

What’s The Best Part? Remember when you were a kid and you would borrow your family video camera to make movies in the basement, probably about Godzilla toys or Transformer toys destroying major cities, and your hands would very obviously be on screen moving everything around? Weasels Rip My Flesh comes so so close to that…

The film opens with a (model) rocket called The Courier (we know this thanks to the thick, black, and crooked stick-on letters) sitting in what Schiff is hoping we won’t recognize as a diorama. This space rocket sits on an unknown planet, surrounded by flaming rocks, and is on a very dangerous space mission (kitchen table): to collect samples of blue goo to bring back to Earth for gosh knows what reason. One of the rocket’s flaps slowly opens to reveal a space crane (hair clip), which slowly extends out of the hatch on a hydraulic lift (branch cutter) to collect said goo. The crane then drips the goo into a toxic waste materials container (sippy cup), after which the Courier takes off, revealing its fire-spewing engine (light bulb) as it fades off into space (a wall painted with stars) and back to Earth (stock footage). It is transcendent.

What’s The Best Line? With the very strong Long Island accents sported by the entire cast, every line fights for best-line status. But one of especial tremendousness comes when a character named Fred witnesses a severed mutant arm flop across the floor and scratch at Jake’s foot, and when Jake reaches down to moan at his bloody wound, Fred grabs the phone to call an ambulance and very calmly states, “I would like to report an injury and some very strange goings-on.”

Is There Anything Else I Should Know? The beauty of Weasels Rip My Flesh, much like all other bad movies that get it right, is that no matter how ridiculous and absurd onscreen action can get, everything is played 100% seriously. You start to wonder if director Nathan Schiff took a page from the whacked-out journal of Andy Kauffman and made this movie as a joke to entertain the tens of people who comprised the cast and crew of this abomination. In subsequent interviews, however, he comes across so pretentious and arrogant that the joy comes in knowing he meant every goo-filled, out-of-focus second.

Also, Weasels Rip My Flesh has one of the absolute dumbest “shock” endings of all time. (Hint: You will never, ever guess it on your own.)

What’s To Be Learned From Weasels Rip My Flesh?

  • If you’ve got a Five Below catalog, you can make a movie that relies on science props.
  • If you want to film a scene in an underground scientific laboratory, but you’ve only got an outdated ’70s rec room with wood-paneled walls, you can cover up the non-laboratoryness of the set by having a character state, “This place looks like some kind of laboratory.”
  • Real filmmakers don’t respect continuity. (It gets to be so reckless that Schiff may as well have shot a scene where a character says, “look at this egg,” show a close-up of an egg, and then in all other shots, replace it with a banana.)
  • Spontaneous combustion is very real, so long as it suits the plot.

#4: INVASION OF THE BLOOD FARMERS

What’s It About? Long long ago, demons roamed the world harvesting human beings in order to make blood sacrifices to their demon queen. Apparently that’s still going on today (or, the today of 1972), because a very bloodied man (hilariously named Jim Carrey) stumbles down the road and heads toward a bar filled with good-old-boys cracking jokes about people we don’t know. The bartender asks someone if his wife has turned up yet (cuz she’s missing), but the very unworried husband waves away the bartender’s concern. Jim Carrey bleeds into the bar and wags his tongue around before collapsing into a weird heap. The good-old-boys, not knowing what to do, make appropriate “yucky!” faces. Jim Carrey is just one of a handful of victims Invasion of the Blood Farmers will introduce, along with our team of plucky good guys who will combat the silly looking demon farmers – chief among them pathologist Dr. Roy Anderson, the greatest cinematic creation since hyperbole.

Who Made It? Ed Adlum

What Else Has He Done? The more well-known (and MST3Ked) Shriek of the Mutilated aka Scream of the Snowbeast. (Yeah, the one about the yeti.)

What Makes It So Bad It’s Good? The sheer incompetence, and the fact that nothing works. Not a single component of the film is passable. It’s all as incorrectly done as can be. Heads are cropped out of shots, continuity is out the window, and nothing makes sense. Even the very idea of the film – farmers siphoning blood from their victims to offer it up to their demon queen – is silly on paper, silly said out loud, and silliest when you’re actually watching it. And it’s gorgeous thing to behold. But above all, it’s the undiluted, dynamic, overly enthusiastic performance of Norman Kelley that makes Invasion of the Blood Farmers worth a damn. (This will be a reoccurring factor throughout this entry.)

What’s The Best Part? Anything that involves Norman Kelley talking. The excitable theater actor plays pathologist Dr. Roy Anderson with unmatched enthusiasm, for he shouts and specifically enunciates every single word of his dialogue. What accidentally turns into a catchphrase of sorts, he explodes into the room to find his daughter, Jenny, and her fiance/his protege, Don, and demands to know: “Where have you two been?!” They barely have time to answer when he declares, “Never mind! Come to the lab! Yoooooou won’t believe what’s HAPPENING!” Dr. Roy Anderson then proceeds to talk dynamically about scientific things, really excited to be in a feature film! That Blood Farmers includes redneck demons harvesting blood with rubber tubes and clumsily killing a lot of people, but the best part involves Dr. Roy Anderson bursting into a room and bellowing, doesn’t so much diminish the overall enjoyment of the film as it does heighten the sheer delight in seeing Norman Kelley in action.

What’s The Best Line? Anything said by Norman Kelley. Anything. But I especially like when his Dr. Anderson takes his time, severely concentrating on reciting long, scientific diatribes, ignoring his flubs and continuing on. It’s almost like he was told beforehand, “You have one take, so don’t blow it.” But it’s the over-confidence that sells his most emphatic line:  “This will either be a major milestone in pathology or a major blow to mankind! Let’s work all night until we nail this thing DOWN!”

Is There Anything Else I Should Know? The film was shot for $24,000 and it’s never made back its money.

What’s To Be Learned From Invasion of the Blood Farmers?

  • If you ever meet two farmers named Sontag and Egon, keep your blood out of reach.
  • On cue, Norman Kelley can pretend to cry for the camera.
  • Sure, have unseen background characters ad-lib their own lines. It really doesn’t matter. “Give ’em hell, Shorty!”
  • Demons have been around for thousands of years, but are still mystified by the telephone.
  • Having scenes end with actors staring directly into the camera waiting for the director to call cut is perfectly acceptable.
  • “Give ’em hell, Shorty!”

#3: JAWS 5: CRUEL JAWS

What’s It About? Just picture a shittier version of Jaws starring doppelgängers of Hulk Hogan and Patrick Swayzee.

Who Made It? Bruno Mattei, Italian trash meister.

What Else Has He Done? S.S. Extermination Love Camp; Porno Exotic Love; Porno Holocaust; and Terminator II (but amazingly enough, not the Terminator II)

What Makes It So Bad It’s Good? Cruel Jaws is something of a legend. And it’s unique, to be sure; not because of its plot, or of it’s director’s influence, but because the film utilizes blatantly stolen footage from many different shark movies (mostly compiled from the entire Jaws series, as well as The Last Shark and Deep Blood). Even down to its bare bones – the script – it’s an unabashed shameless rip-off of the original Jaws. And yeah, if you’ve already noticed the full title, it was even released as Jaws 5 in some foreign territories.

Now, there are some cynics out there who may look at a movie like Shark Attack or Deep Blue Sea and call it a Jaws rip-off simply because the movie is about sharks. But Cruel Jaws isn’t just a rip-off of Jaws, but an utterly unauthorized remake. (Peter Benchley even receives credit as a writer.) Same lines of dialogue are spoken by their respective “characters,” only these new characters are hollow stereotypes. Instead of Roy Scheider, we get a sweaty sheriff who plays second banana to the Richard Dreyfuss replacement, Wiener Man. And instead of the immeasurably cool and legendary Robert Shaw, we get a freakish-looking doppelgänger of Hulk Hogan (played by Cannibal Holocaust‘s Richard Dew). Everything notable about Jaws is included here, right down to the disbelieving town mayor archetype, but it’s so poorly done – and filled with unending dance scenes – that what was once good is now hysterically stupid.

Drooping one step lower than your typical, half-assed shark film, the movie contains a mixture of stock footage, “original” footage, and the previously mentioned outright-stolen footage. Because all this footage hails from very different sources and is very haphazardly smashed together, the film includes scenes like terrified onlookers pointing at a shark and screaming during the day, followed by a good look at the shark they are screaming at – a shark that’s clearly swimming around in the dark ocean waters…at night. Among other things “borrowed” from other films would be, oh, I guess the theme from Star Wars, which changes at the very last minute so as to sound different “enough.” It’s baffling that the filmmakers who clearly have no problem stealing whole screenplay pages and footage from other movies would be remiss to steal the infamous Jaws theme as well, but that’s part of Cruel Jaws’ joy.

What’s The Best Part? Because I’m immature, I’ll give it to the scene where the shark lowers itself into the water and FARTS. (Granted, in actuality it was escaping air that had been caught in the head of the prop shark, but that’s erroneous. IT FARTS.)

What’s The Best Line? Though it showed no shame in stealing dialogue word for word, when it came to describing the tiger shark, the Matt Hooper stand-in character opted not to describe it as “a perfect engine – an eating machine,” but rather “a sort of locomotive with a mouth full of butcher’s knives.” Runner up goes to “We’re gonna need a bigger helicopter” – not because it’s amusing or ironically bad, but because it perfectly encapsulates just how shameless a movie Cruel Jaws is.

Is There Anything Else I Should Know? As you might’ve guessed, Cruel Jaws is available in very few legitimate forms throughout the world. Universal Studios basically put a permanent injunction on it considering it blatantly stole footage from four of their films, and unless they have a miraculous change of heart and decide to work with whomever might own this nonsense abroad twenty years later, it will never be officially released here. Shout! Factory tried, but obviously that didn’t pan out.

What’s To Be Learned from Jaws 5: Cruel Jaws?

  • Paraplegics’ legs do work, but only when swimming.
  • If you’re ever racing against time and trying to elude some bad guys, maybe don’t leave out a map in plain sight that depicts an area of charted ocean circled in fat red marker with “IT’S HERE!” scrawled next to a fat red arrow confirming where you’re headed.
  • Fishing from a helicopter with meat on a chain is a terrible, terrible idea.
  • Sure, go ahead and fill your movie with stolen content. No one will ever see it, anyway. Except me.

#2: SLUGS

What’s It About? Mutant slugs descend upon a small town and begin killing people one by one. Mike Brady, a health inspector whom no one believes, is forced to rely on his wits, his scientist friend who looks too much like Tobias from “Arrested Development,” and large shakers of salt to quell the growing slug threat and win the day. All during this, there’s an unintentionally amusing subplot featuring Mike Brady’s friends, a married couple named Dave and Maureen, the reason for the amusement being that Maureen not only spends the entire movie drunk, but she’s clearly twenty years older than Dave. This latter fact never figures into the plot, nor is ever mentioned. (Ie, “Is it just me, or does Maureen look like she’s fucking 60?”)

Who Made It? J.P. Simon, aka Juan Piquer Simón

What Else Has He Done? Pieces, a top all-time best bad movie, but too well known for this list; Supersonic Man; Mystery on Monster Island

What Makes It So Bad It’s Good? Because it’s a product of the ’80s, a time during which horror was never more deliciously cheesy, and allowed to be fun and over the top with utmost sincerity. The genre at this time was filled with inconsequential characters whose first name you would be hard-pressed to remember as they ran from a killer with a drill, or from an animal/insect gone amok, or from what would turn out to be a 13-year-old hermaphrodite with a freaky face and a tiny dingle thing. Plots were allowed to be wildly ludicrous and it was okay to ask the audience to suspend disbelief, if only for a couple hours. Sadly, this period of horror has come to an end, but it’s left in its wake numerous treasures, one of these being the greatest movie of all time to feature an army of slugs destroying the human race, asshole by asshole.

Slugs is a callback to the ’50s era of the horror movement where animals and insects alike were tainted by “the bomb” and grew either really big or really slimy or really both and attacked and carried away all kinds of furiously kicking beach girls. Except for Squirm, (another title vying for “terrifically terrible” status), the genre wasn’t really exploiting the mutant animal/insect during the ’80s, which helps Slugs to stand out from the pack. It’s also the only title on this list that feels like it’s trying to be a real movie. While still low budget compared to today’s standards, it looks like Man of Steel when compared to…well, every other film on this list.

What’s The Best Part? Just that the main character, and also the hero, is named Mike Brady – he’s not just a health inspector but 1/9th of The Brady Bunch. I also really like the scene where some guy puts his hand into a gardening glove that’s filled with carnivorous slugs and the only thing he can think of to free himself is to chop off his entire hand with a hatchet. Oh man, and then there’s the scene where Dave eats lettuce that’s been infiltrated by slugs (described as “a little salty”), feels icky about it,  and then grows mutant slugs inside his body which causes his face to explode. (Spoilers.)

What’s The Best Line? Mike Brady tires of dealing with the bureaucrats of his town, who don’t seem to care about the slugs, and threatens to supersede them. One bureaucrat in particular shouts, “You don’t have the authority to declare Happy Birthday!”

Is There Anything Else I Should Know? Slugs was released in Spain during its run as Muerte Viscosa, which translates to “Viscous Death.” (Haha.)

#1: CRIMINALLY INSANE

What’s It About? A hefty woman named Ethel Janowski (Priscilla Alden; Birdy, Nine Months), is released from a mental institution because they’ve run out of money (haha), so she is placed under the direct care of her grandmother. Once home, Grandma tries to put Ethel on a diet, since the sheer girth of her rotund belly enrages whole planets. Ethel’s mind eventually takes a shit over her inability to fill her mouth with popcorn and cow meat, so she stabs Grandma to death before eating an entire container of ice cream and reading from her new copy of I’m Fat, You’re Fat: Let’s All Eat Dinner Again. Ethel soon begins killing whomever gets in her way of, literally, eating: a grocery store delivery boy whose bill she can’t pay; her prostitute sister, who is beginning to suspect her; and her prostitute sister’s pimp, John, who is guilty of being in the wrong place at the wrong time , of asking for some of Ethel’s breakfast, and for being kind of a dick.

How long can Ethel continue her feast of fridge food and murder before the authorities begin to catch on? How many bodies will she stack in the upstairs bedroom? How many hams can her belly hold?

There’s only one way to find out. I hope you’re ready.

Who Made It? Nick Millard, who boasts a whopping 21 aliases on IMDB, one of those being “Pet Elephant.”

What Else Has He Done? Satan’s Black Wedding; Dracula in Las Vegas; Doctor Bloodbath; and Howard Hughes: The Man and the Madness. He also directed a lot of porn, top titles going to Sex Weirdo, The Slut, and Darling, Are You Bored With Men? (More on his other films a few questions down.)

It should be noted that Criminally Insane was produced by Millard’s mother, Frances Millard, who at that time was also working in porn…as an actress…when she was 83. Some of her films include 92 and Still Bangin’, Aged to Perfection: Part 20, and lastly, My Grandmother is a Whore: Part 8, which I can assure you is not a joke.

What Makes It So Bad It’s Good? This will sound mean, but because Millard was trying, though it’s the sheer misunderstanding of how to skirt a low budget and hope for the best that makes it so lovingly stupid. The script for Criminally Insane couldn’t have been more than forty pages, proven by its 61-minute running time, and that so many unnecessary scenes – like Ethel receiving electroshock therapy or eating entire plates of food – play out in real time in order to pad out the movie’s length. Helping/not helping are the more “artfully” esoteric moments of the film where there is no bloodletting or other nonsense more applicable to the genre. Instead, Millard lets the camera roll and roll (and roll) as Ethel, wearing a formal dress, takes silent walks in the backyard or across a San Francisco cliffside, as if he’s saying, “No, you don’t understand: this film is about something.” Between that and all the mannequins standing in for dead bodies, Criminally Insane is a joy.

What’s The Best Part? It’s not one of the more obvious scenes of idiocy, like Ethel stabbing a “person” so hard that the mannequin filling in for them bounces haphazardly up and down on the floor, but actually one that’s sort of blink-and-miss-it: John meets Ethel one morning at breakfast after she walks in holding a plate piled high with food. He looks genuinely taken aback by the sight of her and mutters, out loud, “Jesus…”

What’s The Best Line? Ethel’s sister inquires about the strange smell coming from the locked bedroom of their missing grandmother and follows that up with, “Grandma must’ve shit all over the bed before she left.” Runner up goes to John, in response to Ethel’s sister questioning why he beats her all the time if he “loves her” so much. “You need a good beating every once in a while. All women do. Especially you.”

Is There Anything Else I Should Know? There’s an official sequel with the superior title of Crazy Fat Ethel (Part 2), as well as two unofficial sequels – the Death Nurse films – which are pretty much the same thing, only there’s less eating and more nurse costumes. All of these films are mostly comprised of footage from Criminally Insane; without it, they’d all be twenty minutes.

What’s To Be Learned From Criminally Insane?

  • Ethel is larger than your average bear.
  • Saying derogatory things like “that Jew doctor,” or claiming that the phantom robber you’ve created to throw a cop off your trail “was black,” is a-okay, so long as your dinner is your hand and an entire jar of peanut butter.
  • Blood can be faked with the most unrealistic of substances.
  • A 61-minute movie can feel like eternity.
  • The desire to eat normal food and then commit murders naturally leads to cannibalism. (Additionally, dead human bodies are made of chocolate.)
  • Ethel likes to eat ‘Nilla Wafers, pudding, iced cream, eggs, people, milk, pancakes, more pudding, and your time.

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J. Tonzelli is a writer, film critiquer, and avid Arnold/Van Damme/Bronson enthusiast who resides in rural South Jersey. He is the author of "The End of Summer: Thirteen Tales of Halloween" and the "Fright Friends Adventure" series, co-authored with Chris Evangelista. He loves abandoned buildings, the supernatural, and films by John Carpenter. You can read some of his short fiction at his website, JTonzelli.com, or objectify him by staring at his tweets: @jtonzelli. He apologizes for all the profanity.

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