The Worst Films I Have Ever Seen
Film article by: Witney Seibold
Go to this website: http://www.bfi.org.uk/sightandsound/topten/
The British Film Institute and Sight & Sound hold a poll every ten years to find the best films of all time. They ask hundreds of critics, scholars, directors, and other industry professionals to give their own personal top-10 lists, and then synthesize the results into a universal top-10 list for the decade. Many critics feel at heart that such lists are meaningless (does it matter if “Citizen Kane” is #1 and “The Godfather” is #3 and not vice-versa?), but most people agree that such lists help to gauge the cinematic climate of the times. They’re also way fun. They’re fun to make, fun to peruse and fun to discuss.
You’ll notice going through such lists, though, that certain films crop up time and time again. Looking back over the years, you’ll see that top-10 lists don’t change all that much. Indeed, the 2002 Sight & Sound poll featured so many similarities to the 1992 poll, that a second poll was taken to cite the best films of the intervening decade. Roger Ebert has the right idea when he just has a long list of unranked “great” films that are worth everyone seeing.
My point is that, while great films may be personal and beautiful and individually touching, they are still taken for granted as universal givens. Is “Casablanca” a great movie? Yes. And it always will be, and should be seen time and again by generations of people.
More interesting to me are lists of the worst films people have seen. A great film is universally great, and can touch and move millions of people. A bad film is a profoundly personal experience. A truly bad film can make you feel sick, poor, and stupid. Some can offend, and some can even hurt. It’s no longer about great art, and more about a personal affront. All critics can agree on what some of the greatest films of all time are, but I’m willing to bet that there will be few title repeats amongst said critics’ worst-of lists.
In that spirit, I have compiled a brief list of the worst films I have ever seen. They will be listed alphabetically, as they are all offenders of one stripe or another.
I need to qualify this list with a few rules, though, as I want to list films that are truly horrendous, and not merely bad or incompetent.
First, I should not be able to find any sort of enjoyment in the films on this list. Films like “Showgirls,” “Road House,” “Troll 2,” “The Apple,” “Dreamcatcher,” and “Plan 9 from Outer Space” get a lot of flack for being horrible movies – and indeed they are – but, each one of them is undeniably entertaining. If a film is bad in a fascinating way, it’s still fascinating. Indeed, “Showgirls” is such a gloriously overwrought fiasco, that it will likely get a spot in my Classic Film series of essay on this very website. “The Apple” already has such an essay.
But, I’d rather see a film try something ambitious and fail, than a film try something mediocre and succeed. I’d rather watch “I Know Who Killed Me” than “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days.”
Second, I cannot give in to any sort of “wolf pack” mentality when choosing my bad films. “Batman & Robin,” “Gigli,” “Battlefield Earth,” and “Catwoman” are often listed as the worst films of all time, but I can’t get behind these statements, as most of the negative press has come from people leaping on a bandwagon. When a high-profile studio film gets bad reviews, it starts out slow. Soon, however, the sharks smell the blood in the water, and Internet critics begin lambasting en masse. Given the Internet critics’ tendency to exaggerate, the film in question soon moves from being a high-profile failure to The Worst Movie Ever Made. It gains notoriety. They become punchlines to jokes.
While the above listed films are indeed bad, They’re more the result of groupthink than they are truly horrific. They may be tough to sit through, but I’m far more interested in the films that, well, hurt.
And Third, I cannot have discovered these bad films in a humorous context. I’m specifically referring to films featured on “Mystery Science Theater 3000” or any of its spinoffs. Thanks to the Minnesota-based cult TV program, fanboys the world over know about a movie called “Manos: The Hands of Fate” (1966), a horror (?) film shot by a Texas fertilizer salesman, and featuring a greasy, retarded satyr named Torgo (John Reynolds) who kidnaps women for his master’s harem. Had I seen it of my own accord, I would have been able to cite it as one of the worst I have seen, but since it was being humorously taunted by “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” I can only see it as a curiosity that someone has already altered. Thanks to the show, I can only see the horrors featured on it as a joyous camp exercise.
Now, without further ado, here is the list:
1) “Death on Saturn’s Moon” (2000)
Directed by: John Krawlzik
In 1998, I managed to secure a pass to the local American Film Market (AFM). The AFM is a week-long film expo that stretches all across Los Angeles’ Westside, and features film screenings intended only for industry professionals. It’s a chance for studios to sell films, make deals, and conduct business. Civilians are allowed passes to certain screenings, but only if they have connections to an industry pro. I did have connections, and managed to get a pass.
The film I intended to go see at the AFM that year was E. Elias Merhige’s “Shadow of the Vampire.” I’m a big fan of the director’s “Begotten,” and was eager to see his latest. I arrived at the screening 15 minutes late and was coarsely denied entry by the AFM worker at the door (the AFM tends to hire iots own staff to work the theater doors). Not to be defeated, I took a chance on a hastily selected secondary screening; that of a sci-fi film called “Death on Saturn’s Moon.” I went in cold, hoping that it would be great.
It was not great. Oh God, it was awful.
Clearly the director had something big on his mind, but I couldn’t tell you what it was. The story involves a murder investigation in the year 2057 in a remote outpost on Titan, Saturn’s largest moon. Paul L. Nolan plays the investigator, Curt Karibalis plays the investigated, and Sally Mercer plays the disappeared victim in flashbacks and video footage.
John Krawlzik is clearly a big fan of films like “2001: A Space Odyssey,” and “Solaris,” so he decided to scale back the pacing of his little sci-fi opus in the hopes that it would reach a meditative level. No one bothered to tell him that a slow pace doesn’t necessarily equal a meditation. So we’re treated to endless, endless scenes of astronauts silently wandering about empty, darkened corridors, looking through windows, wandering back, sleeping, getting up, wandering some more… The film is only 87 minutes, but it feels like it’s days long.
Sitting in the theater, I was pressed into my seat by a crushing boredom. I couldn’t leave, doubting that any film could be this uneventful. When the film did end without any resolution or climax, I had felt like time had been surgically removed from my life. There was now a sucking, airless void in my life where those 87 minutes used to be.
An amendment: I was recently contacted by Mr. Krawlzik, the director of “Ascension,” and he informed me that the print I viewed was actually only a work print, and was far rom being complete. I have still yet to see the completed version of his film, and am willing to give it a chance. While I still must admit that the incomplete version I saw was far from enjoyable, the completed version may be worth a look.
2) “Exorcist II: The Heretic” (1977)
Directed by: John Boorman
It may be a cheap shot to include such a popular film on a worst-of list, but this film really made my face ache. That it is a sequel to one of the greatest horror films of all time only made it worse, as expectations only had that much greater a height from which to drop.
So we’re back with little Regan (Linda Blair), who might still be possessed by the demon from the first film. A priest (Richard Burton) is investigating Regan using an unconvincing hypnosis machine that allows one to regress into forgotten memories. Through the hypnosis, Regan become possessed again, and Richard Burton must quest into her hallucination, or something, to defeat the demon and exorcize it again. The demon, we learn, was named Pazuzu, and comes from Africa.
There’s a rogue’s gallery of recognizable actors in this film, among them Louise Fletcher, James Earl Jones, Paul Henreid, Max Von Sydow (in flashbacks), and Ned Beatty.
Linda Blair was 18 years old when she made this film, and was put in shiny silver outfits that accentuate her robust figure. She looks like an extra in a porn movie. All the sets were constructed of mirrors and glass, giving the film a hollow, cavernous look, leaving one disoriented, and doubtful as to whether or not it’s taking place on planet Earth. Burton manages to turn in a strange, blank-faced, scenery-chewing performance as the priest, and when Jones appears wearing a grasshopper costume, your mind will just about explode.
How did we go from a quietly terrifying and theologically deep horror film like “The Exorcist” to this 1970s fashion phastasmagoria? How was the idea of demonic possession drained of all its interesting ideas? Add to this clangingly bad and uselessly bizarre film a racist undertone (demon from an old African tribe? Hm…), and you’ve got yourself a bone-fide atrocity.
3) “Freddy Got Fingered” (2001)
Directed by: Tom Green
I have to admit, I was a fan of Tom Green’s humor, and his 2000 late-night talk-ish show. I liked his immature pranks, and his childish put-ons. Most of his jokes would involve unassuming streetwalkers and unamused clerks, as Green would gesticulate, break rules, and generally be a nuisance. It was hardly a witty program, but he was possessed of an anarchic flavor that I appreciated.
So I entered into Green’s 2001 featured film “Freddy Got Fingered” expecting something surreal and hysterical. What I got was a depressing, disgusting assault on good taste.
Green plays a character named Gord Brody, who is in his 30s and still living at home with his abusive father (Rip Torn) and hang-wringing mother (Julie Hagerty). He dreams of becoming an animator, and is seen in an early scene laughing hysterically at his own creations alone in his room. The angle, lighting and music make this scene seem unwholesome and depressing. As if the film knows that Gord is mentally ill. Gord is unable to hold down any real jobs, as his eccentric sense of humor gets in the way; at a sandwich factory, he makes a helmet of cheese. This isn’t as funny as it sounds.
What is wrong with Gord? He is not a mere eccentric. He is a dangerous, retarded psychopath. When encouraged by a studio executive (Anthony Michael Hall, of all people) to “get inside” his animals characters, his response is to run down a deer in his car, gut it, and dance about in its blood-drenched skin. He delivers a baby in a hospital, and twirls the infant above his head by its umbilical cord, spraying the mother and all the walls with amniotic fluids. When this is over, he steals the cord and tapes it to his own stomach. “For fun” he says. When a friend (Harland Williams) sustains a compound fracture in a skateboarding accident, it’s Gord’s first instinct to lick the exposed bone.
Marisa Coughlan from “Super Troopers” plays the wheelchair-bound love interest, who is very eager to fellate her boyfriends. That’s titillating… I guess.
This is all meant to be funny, I suppose, but I couldn’t get past the fact that Gord comes across as someone who needs to be in an institution. It’s one thing when Groucho Marx bucks social conventions, it’s another thing when the man-child Gord breaks the law.
The film’s title comes from Gord’s need to get his father in trouble. He accuses his father of sexually abusing his younger brother Freddy (Eddie Kaye Thomas). This is not “edgy” humor. This is just sickly, desperate grabs at shock. If your shock humor is only depressing your audience, something has gone wrong. And here I was the “fingered” of the title referred to mob informants.
Oh, and did I mention there’s a scene of elephant semen? Yeah. There’s a scene with elephant semen in it. A lot of elephant semen. This film stung and stung bad.
4) “The Lawnmower Man 2: Beyond Cyberspace” (1996)
a.k.a. “The Lawnmower Man 2: Jobe’s War”
Directed by: Farhad Mann
A confession: I used to adore the 1992 cyber-thriller “The Lawnmower Man.” Watching it now, it comes across as an insipid and adolescent thriller, but when I was 14, the film seemed profound. Can technology really expand a human into a God? It blew my teenage mind.
Hence, I was hot-to-trot to see the 1996 sequel, hoping it would be fun and profound and as wicked and moving as the first. Another sequel to a well-known film that didn’t meet expectations. Sensing a pattern here? That this sequel was only playing in one L.A. multiplex should have been a sign, but I dragged a group of friends to see this anyway.
So here’s the setup: Jobe (Matt Frewer, replacing Jeff Fahey from the first film) is resuscitated following the explosion at the end of the first “Lawnmower Man.” Jobe was once a simpleton whose mind was expanded using technology to the point of psychic powers and a God complex. Now he is powerful, but only within cyberspace, which is rendered in boring CGI landscapes in his mind… Or something… I can’t really recall these details.
The only other returning character and actor is Peter (Austin O’Brien) who is now a teenage computer hacker. Even though only four years have passed since the last film, this sequel seems to take place several decades in the future, as the fashions and architecture suggest a future dystopia. Anyway, Peter and his personality-free posse teams up with an ousted computer scientist (played by Patrick Bergin) in order to foil the plot of Jonathan Walker (Kevin Conway), who intends to create a global Internet-like system which he would control.
How is Jobe involved in all this? It seems that Walker has his wheelchair-bound body hooked up to a virtual-reality computer (wheelchair and all), and is using his mental powers to make this neo-Internet. Of course, Jobe is up to something far more sinister. I think he wants to take over the world, or make cyberspace reality, or something stupid.
The film has a heist, several shootouts, inexplicable plots turns, unclear character motivations, and does nothing to expand or even explore the pseudo-philosophy of the first film. No mere incompetent thriller, it’s a baffling, patience-testing exercise in cyber-movie tolerance. Director Mann clearly knew one or two of the cyberspace-savvy buzzwords from the late 1990s, and decided to cram them sideways into a sci-fi thriller, hoping that being topical would distract people enough to be entertained.
Oh, about that heist? There’s a high-tech, anti-theft device that was foiled by a single ice cube. I hate to dwell on details, but this detail is really, really dumb.
There’s one scene in which a character, preparing for a heist, displays a camera that looks like a gun. A friend I was seeing this with began to scoff incredulously that there’s no need for such a device. A gun that looks like a camera would be useful, but why make a camera look like a gun? And why take it to a heist? But here’s the thing: just this past summer, I saw someone showing off their camera-that-looks-like-a-gun at the San Diego Comic-Con. I guess “The Lawnmower Man 2” was more prescient than we could have known.
5) “Paramedics” (1988)
Directed by: Stuart Margolin
Yes, Stuart Margolin from “The Rockford Files.”
O.k., so imagine the biting wit and profoundly truthful characters from the “Police Academy” series, replace some of the jokes with joke-like oddities, and transpose the film into an ambulance dispatchers, and, well… you’ll still not understand how painful “Paramedics” was to watch. I saw this at a late night screening with a chatty audience and free-flowing booze. Was still so mad at this film that I removed a shoe and chucked it at the screen. I didn’t hit the screen, but I had to look for my shoe when the film was over.
George Newbern plays Uptown. Christopher McDonald plays Mad Mike. They drive an ambulance. Their ambulance, though, is the sexiest ambulance in the state, complete with shag carpets, a killer sound system, and bubble domes in the roof. The respond to emergency calls, do the absolute minimum to help the injured party, and proceed to use their clout as ambulance drivers to score with any hot babes that might be looking on.
Neither of the leads was very charming, so I had trouble believing they would be able to bed vacuous women in the back of their pimped-out ambulance. Immediately, the entire audience was wondering why the filmmakers felt the need to mock and joke about ambulance drivers. It’s fine to mock cops like in “Police Academy,” as police officers are kind of resented by many, but ultimately championed. Surely ambulance drivers have no bones to be picked…?
Anyway, our two heroes so upset their boss, that they’re shipped off to a horrid area of the ghetto. This dispatch office makes “Taxi” look like “All the President’s Men.” The pit boss has a skateboard nailed to his foot, and the toilet is out in the middle of the room. Wacky! There are shootouts! Whee! Weirdo characters! What fun! Ray Walston shows up as a heart attack victim! Funny! I wanted to kill myself! Whoopee!
There are only so many ways you can say something’s not funny, so I’ll leave it there: “Paramedics” is not funny. Each joke is a poorly-timed bit of misguided slapstick. The broad types are offensive and discomforting. When the film tries to give us a dramatic climax, we care so little for the characters, that we begin to resent the film for trying to make us care.
6) “Sextette (1978)
Directed by: Ken Hughes
“The Star Wars Holiday Special.”
Why did I just say “The Star Wars Holiday Special?” Well, it seems “The Star Wars Holiday Special” was indicative of a certain kind of television that was very popular in the 1970s. That is: the celebrity-laden musical revue show. Nothing was safe. Not game show, not sitcoms, and not even “Star Wars.” The late 1970s was the heyday of God-awful celebrity-based television programs like “Circus of the Stars” and “Celebrity Match Game.” This kind of TV is enjoying an unfortunate renaissance.
This trend of shoehorning celebrities into musical showcases spread into cinemas in 1978 with “Sextette,” a musical comedy vehicle conceived to squeeze a few more dollars out of the waning, 84-year-old Mae West.
I love Mae West. She was a force of nature, and a witty comedienne. Her early films should be looked upon with awe, humor, and respect. West gave the double entrendre a certain panache that is nearly impossible to replicate. “Sextette” was a cynical and painful need by a starstruck fanboy to see West back in action one last time before she keeled over. Indeed, this was West’s final film before she died.
The story? Margo Manners (West) is a famous sex-symbol celebrity who is marrying her sixth husband played by a surprisingly game Timothy Dalton. While Dalton is distracted by reporters (who accuse him of being gay), Margo’s pervious five husbands all being to appear in the hotel where they are staying to have one more crack at her. Among the husbands are Tony Curtis, Ringo Starr, and George Hamilton. Dom DeLuise appears, Alice Cooper has a musical number, and Regis Philbin plays himself.
There’s nothing sadder than someone who is clearly past their prime trying to make it work again. The only thing more sad is when the person in question is forced back onstage by exploitative hacks who want to drain them of every ounce of dignity. I was not amused by “Sextette.” I was saddened by the big, big whoredom of it all. All the dancing boys singing about how sexy the 84-year-old West was… it was all very creepy. Hearing West repeat her famous catchphrases was not a nostalgic delight, but smacked of desperation.
Wiggiest of all was the film’s insistence that West was still just as hot now as she was when she was in her 30s. She’s clearly in her 80s, and the men all still want her. Seeing Dalton glancing lecherously at the octogenarian… well, he must have had to fight nausea a lot.
This is a film that works far better as a sociological study on fame than a comedy.
7) “Slipstream” (2007)
Directed by: Anthony Hopkins
You can read my full review of “Slipstream” here:
“Slipstream” was an inexplicable vanity project by Anthony Hopkins who made the single least comprehensible film in cinema history. It was long, odd, hallucinatory, warped, and an utter mess. It was trying to comment on fame and the Hollywood system, but played more like “Inland Empire” without the cogency or gentleness.
I’m not going to waste any more space describing the backward-ass story to this monstrosity, but I will describe the state of mind I was in after seeing it: I left the theater in a terrified daze. My girlfriend and I wanted ice cream. We went to the grocery store. Seeing other people made us queasy. We got in line behind a woman who was paying with food stamps. The sight so depressed us that we had to put the ice cream back, and get back home quickly, where we could hide away from the world, afraid that humanity would never seem decent again.
I’ve heard the commentary track on the “Slipstream” DVD is extraordinary.
8) “Son of the Mask” (2005)
Directed by: Lawrence Guterman
This may seem like it falls into that wolfpack mentality category I mentioned, but I can’t help it this time. “Son of the Mask” was one of the worst films I have seen.
From 2002-2005, I was a film critic for a now-defunct valley-based newspaper. I loved writing about the movies professionally, and I miss the paper. The downside of being a professional critic, though, is that you are beholden to write about anything that is new. The assigned blockbuster was “Son of the Mask,” and while I had no interest in it, I had to see it nonetheless. Paying money to see it wasn’t as embarrassing as the time I had to pay good money to see “Sleepover” by myself on a Sunday night, but watching it was truly horrific.
In this sequel to 1994’s “The Mask,” we find an animator (Jamie Kennedy) putting on the titular facewear, and impregnating his wife. Nine months later, a baby is born with superhuman cartoon powers, and a terrifying intelligence. The baby uses its powers to drive his dad crazy and do battle with the family dog who has found the mask and wears it regularly.
One problem: Babies aren’t funny. Babies are only funny when they’re put in peril by adult who should know better. The workaday chores of taking care of an infant, even a superpowered infant, are not interesting to anyone. The subject was handled much better in an animated short that comes with the DVD of Pixar’s film “The Incredibles.”
Also in this film are Alan Cumming and Bob Hoskins as the ancient Norse gods Loki and Odin. Loki, it turns out, made the mask and wants it back. Odin is there to, uh… dammit, I dunno.
There are a lot of CGI-animated showdowns, and a lot of baby jokes. There’s a scene where the baby is inspired by Chuck Jones’ 1955 film “One Froggy Evening,” and sings and dances. The director allowed a lot of “One Froggy Evening” to unspool. I wish I had paid my money to see a single showing of “One Froggy Evening.” That, at least, is funny.
9) “Street Trash” (1987)
Directed by: J. Michael Muro
“Street Trash” is.
I have seen few films as filthy, depraved, and disgusting as “Street Trash,” and I’ve seen Pasolini’s “Saló.”
“Street Trash” is a free-form narrative about homeless people. They roll in filth, get into brawls, steal, curse, and, in one gut-wrenching scene, rape corpses. There is a scene in which a character’s penis is severed, and tossed around like a football.
I’m not sure what the director’s purpose was for all this. Was he trying to make a shocking “Pink Flamingos” like comedy? Was he trying to make a comment on violence in film? Was he showing the moral emptiness of a marginalized class of people? Was he simply trying to be as gross as possible? Any of these things could be true. I doubt the director put much thought into it.
I do have to admit, though, that “Street Trash” has some pretty cool special effects. A liquor store owner finds a decades-old case of booze hidden in his wall. He starts selling it to the homeless. When they drink it, they bodily melt into puddles of gory goo. Once again, I can’t presume to know what the message is of this (perhaps that alcoholism is bad?), but when the characters melt, it looks pretty neat. It’s revolting, but care clearly went into the melting bodies.
10) “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation” (1994)
a.k.a. “The Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre”
Directed by: Kim Henkel
The co-writer of the original “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (1974) made this remake-cum-sequel in the early ‘90s, which was hastily shelved. When the film’s two stars, Renée Zellweger and Matthew McConaughey, unexpectedly became famous, the film was dusted off and shunted into video stores.
I watched this in college. I watched it alone. I watched it in an empty room.
I understand that the original “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” was supposed to make one feel dirty and fearful, but this new film made me feel dirty and fearful in unintended ways. Zellweger plays a nerdy prom date who is stood up, and taken away by a cop (Tonie Perenski) to a remote cabin in the woods. For comfort, I guess. The cop is a feisty lesbian who flashes her boobies, and the ruler of the cabin (McCounaughey) is a weirdo with a remote-control leg.
Zellweger spends the movie being mocked and tormented by Perenski and McConaughey, as well as a cadre of freaky cannibals and a corpse-like grandfather. The film is shot on beta video tapes (or something just as cheap-looking), so it looks like a bad TV show of the Aaron Spelling era. At the end, Zellweger escapes, I think. I didn’t care though.
I was sick at heart after this film. Once again, I couldn’t decide if the filmmakers were trying to be funny, shocking, smart, or disgusting, so I’m going with the latter. It’s a gross film with bad acting, and, after a few minutes of watching, the walls begin to close in around you. Good God, I hate this movie.
A few bonus films for you to research on your own:
“Truth or Dare?: A Deadly Game” (1986)
“Redneck Zombies” (1987)
“The Alpha Incident” (1978)
“Lucky Numbers” (2000)