Sunday, November 29, 2015
Bad Movies: Advanced Studies
The Killer Shrews and The Giant Gila Monster
Two films directed by Ray Kellogg that get laughs because of the ridiculously cheap but surprisingly charming visual effects. In The Killer Shrews, a group of people get stuck on a small island during a hurricane and are terrorized by giant rodents. The "shrews" are actually just dogs wearing furry blankets and fake teeth. It's as convincing as it sounds and I'm laughing just thinking about it.
In The Giant Gila Monster, people in a small Texas town are disappearing and the culprit is revealed to be giant lizard resulting from (what else?) nuclear testing. In this case, Kellogg simply shot footage of a real Gila Monster wandering past miniature houses and cars. It looks about as intimidating as a chihuahua.
Even though both films are totally ridiculous, I actually have a lot of affection for them. These were cases where the creators just wanted to make a movie and used ingenuity to get it done for a reasonable price. Ironically, Kellogg would go on to direct the John Wayne Vietnam War film The Green Berets, which is shittier than both of these movies combined and not in a fun way.
Another 1950s monster movie where the antagonist is a bird that, as the characters will remind you multiple times, is "as big as a battleship!" This one is best known for just how ridiculous the creature looks. I've decided not to include a picture of it in this blog in case you watch it, because the build-up makes it even funnier, but here's what the New York Times had to say upon its release.
"This would have been an ordinarily bad movie of its type, with a good performance by Jeff Morrow, if the special effects had been industry standard. That, however, is not what happened. The Claw is not just badly rendered, it is hilariously rendered, resembling nothing so much as Warner Bros. cartoon-character Beaky Buzzard. Once seen, you will never forget this silly creation."
The contrast between the silly bird creature and the seriousness of the rest of the movie is pure gold, especially knowing that the cast didn't know what it would look like until the film premiered. The actors do their best with the ridiculous science-fiction dialogue about "antimatter galaxies" and "mesic atoms" and in perhaps the funniest scene where the bird does not appear, Morrow's character looks at a map of the bird's attacks and somehow deduces a spiral pattern to connect them. It makes no sense but since when does that stop a movie from being fun?
Continuing with the giant animals, this movie was part of the 1970s revival of that subgenre that likely originated from that era's environmental movement. A slimy real-estate agent gathers a bunch of potential homeowners together to try and sell them on swampy Florida land that just happens to be infested with giant ants. Using rear projection, real footage of ants is enlarged and placed within the frame to make them appear gigantic. The problem is that the director can't control how the ants move and they often appear to crawl off the ground or walk vertically on thin air.
Most of the movie plays out like a run-of-the-mill Jaws ripoff that just happens to have goofy special effects, but Empire of the Ants ultimately has more in store for you than that. The third act of this film is absolutely bugnuts insane as the characters escape the island only to find the ants have gained a foothold on the mainland. Brainwashed townspeople try and force them to inhale ant farts in order to join the colony. It's a weird movie...but pretty funny.
I don't think there's any cinematic era more instantly distinctive than the 1980s and this little known oddity has that decade's cheese all over it. While it was released in some places as "Witch Bitch," Death Spa is the perfect name for this wacky story of a high tech health club that also happens to be haunted. The acting and dialogue are gloriously bad and the death scenes are some of the craziest you'll ever see. Check out the deaths by weight training machines, floor tiles and even a frozen fish. The convoluted back story behind the ghost haunting the place can get tedious but stick with this one because the final 20 minutes will blow your mind with the amount of sheer insanity on display.
A lot of slasher movies deserve at least some amount of ridicule, but this one makes the others look like Ingmar Bergman. A serial killer is prowling a college campus, murdering people with a few different weapons but he prefers a chainsaw. He's able to carry this chainsaw around in broad daylight without arousing any suspicion and hides it behind his back when he needs to be really sneaky. Yep, it's that kind of movie. Almost nothing makes sense and it's hilarious. The murders are spectacularly gory, although seeing the fake knife bend as one of the victims is stabbed takes some of the sting out of it.
This is probably the best known of the movies on this list and with good reason - several bizarre scenes come out of nowhere and are hilarious in how much they depart from anything even closely resembling sense. There's the sequence where a character is attacked by a Bruce Lee impersonator who laughs it off and leaves, never to be seen again. There's the scene after one of the murders where a policewoman character lets loose an awkward meltdown worthy of comparison to Tommy Wiseau's "You are tearing me apart, Lisa!" Then there's the ending. Good lord, the ending. It is one of the most jaw-dropping WTF endings I have ever seen. No matter what you may be imagining right now, you will not see it coming.
Dozens of film have been made out of Stephen King's work but the man himself has only directed one movie. Once you finish Maximum Overdrive, you'll understand why. This tale of machines turning murderous definitely has the biggest budget out of the films on this list and features recognizable actors like Emilio Estevez, Frankie Faison and Yeardley "Lisa Simpson" Smith. King also appears in the beginning as a man who gets called an asshole by an ATM machine. It only gets sillier from there, but as a Spider-Man fan, I have to give some respect to the Green Goblin truck. That thing looks awesome.
A group of survivors hides out in a gas station but are soon discovered by a horde of evil trucks who demand that they pump gas into them and murder anyone who steps out of line. It will take careful planning and major firepower to rebel against the sinister semis. King's novels can be very complex and artful, yet he also definitely has a sense of what makes for good lowbrow humor. I don't think anyone expected that from the author's first film but that's what we got. King later admitted that he was "coked out of his mind" for much of the shoot. It all makes a bit more sense now.
"On a cold winter night, in 1990, Mr. Mason, a mean and cruel Towns man, left his job for Home. After arriving home, He took a shotgun And killed his wife and Kids. Then is mean man Killed himself. When the police arrived they only Found the bodies of his wife, Daughter, and younger son. His mentally Ill son Harry Was not ever found. Legend has it, he will return in 13 years to revenge his family deaths."
That's the opening crawl of Ax 'Em, which should give you an idea of what you're in for if you choose to watch this one. This movie is TERRIBLE. It will make you long for the competent lighting of Birdemic or the decent sound design of Troll 2. It takes determination to finish this dumpster fire of a movie, but you'll be rewarded with moments of unintentional brilliance.
Shot on a '90s camcorder for $650, the movie stars a group of black teens who go camping and get stalked by a nutcase with an axe. There are scenes where the characters are literally incomprehensible because the sound is so messy. There's a scene where you can hear the director yell "Cut!' Speaking of the director, Michael Mfune, he is the son of former NAACP president Kwesei Mfune. You would think that this pedigree would result in Ax 'Em deconstructing some of the racial issues with traditional slasher films. You would be wrong. It indulges in the worst of black stereotypes and the story goes that it was actually screened at an NAACP event because the director was the president's son. I would love to have been in that theater when the movie ended.
Here's a tiny preview of what this movie is like. And that's a high point. They don't make them much worse than this.
That's all for now! Maybe I'll do more later. I have to go toss a football with my buddy.