For legions and legions of fans, “The Room” (2003) – written, directed, produced, and starring Tommy Wiseau – is an extraordinary cinematic gift, a beloved treasure, an unforgettable experience, and…an utter disaster. Yes, a disaster. “The Room” is a bad movie, but comically bad, and it truly needs to be seen to be believed. Well, throughout the country, “The Room” has forged countless believers, and they regularly and faithfully pack arthouses for Saturday evening screenings of Wiseau’s 1-hour 39-minute creation, a clunky love triangle which could have been told in about 20 minutes and unintentionally morphs into a head scratching comedy.
On Friday, Dec. 8, James Franco’s “The Disaster Artist” arrives in theatres, and his very intentional comedy wonderfully captures Wiseau’s journey to movie immortality.
In celebration of “The Room” and anticipation for “The Disaster Artist”, we – the Phoenix Film Festival critics - searched and sifted through our internal rolodexes for our favorite bad movies. These films might hover close to zero on Rotten Tomatoes but are close to number one in our hearts. Well, not number one exactly, but you get the idea. For some varied, inexplicable, unknown, or very justified reasons, we love these movies! Perhaps you do (or will) too.
Jeff Mitchell’s Top Five
5. “Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI” (1986) – From 1980 to 2009, 12 “Friday the 13th” films have bloodied the big screen, but the fifth installment - “Friday the 13th: A New Beginning” (1985) - took a departure, as Jason Voorhees or his mother did not appear as the lead antagonist. The next year, however, writer/director Tom McLoughlin took the reins and orchestrated Jason’s resurrection in a welcomed revival of the merciless maniac to the joy of many horror fans, including this critic.
Certainly, McLoughlin does not create a masterpiece of celluloid scares here. Far from it, but he introduces noticeable humor and camp (pardon the pun), stronger production values and (SPOILER ALERT) a crowd-pleasing shot of Jason standing atop of a wrecked and smoldering camper in the middle of a country road.
The cast of characters include a worthy Jason-adversary named Tommy, the local sheriff and his daughter, Megan, a group of paintball enthusiasts, and Tommy’s friend played by Ron Palillo. Palillo, of course, is famously known as Arnold Horshack from “Welcome Back, Kotter”. An elderly cemetery caretaker – who finds Jason’s dug up grave – makes a serviceable supporting appearance too, and he may have best summed up this movie experience by saying, “Some folks have a strange idea of entertainment.”
Well, he has a point.
4. “Over the Top” (1987) – “Meet me halfway across the sky, out where the world belongs to only you and I.” - “Meet Me Halfway” by Kenny Loggins
Ordinarily, “Meet Me Halfway” would be an easily forgettable 80s ballad, however, after watching director Menahem Golan’s “Over the Top” just once, one might be tortured by it over the next 50 years. You see, Golan pipes in several versions and excerpts of this Loggins creation for seemingly 70 minutes or so during his 93-minute arm-wrestling movie. Kenny Loggins and arm-wrestling? That might not make very much sense, but Sylvester Stallone starring as the chief protagonist does.
He plays Lincoln Hawk, a truck driver estranged from his 10-year-old son, Mike (David Mendenhall), and due to various family circumstances, they become acquainted on the road from Colorado to California. Hopefully Mike will meet him halfway. Get it?
Just prior to the shoot, one might wonder if an acting teacher coached Stallone into speaking with a softer cadence, because he curiously talks like a calm librarian on valium for almost the entire film. “Over the Top” does pump up its volume and pay off during the third act in Las Vegas, under the lights of a national arm wrestling tournament. Stallone fans will rejoice as Hawk battles audacious, pumped up athletes, complete with heavy metal hair, crazy eyes, lots of grunting, strutting and taunting. Who knew arm wrestling could be so exciting?
Hawk’s most ferocious opponent, Bull Hurley (Rick Zumwalt), spouts, “I drive trucks, break arms and arm wrestle.” Doesn’t he mean that he drives trucks, arm wrestles and while competing he break arms? Oh well, why quibble with semantics. I’ll meet him halfway on his declaration.
3. “Midnight Madness” (1980) – Five teams of college students – jocks, nerds, dateless ladies, slackers, and our heroes - race across Los Angeles to a win a treasure hunt called The Great All-Nighter in a PG-rated comedy which cartoonishly accentuates the personalities of its very different players. Writers/directors Michael Nankin and David Wechter provide thoughtful, intriguing clues to the checkpoints along the way, although people unfamiliar with the City of Angels will have zero knowledge of the said locations.
Four of the five teams deliver heaps of sophomoric, physical humor, but the lone group of boring protagonists garner the most screen time…for some unknown reason. Stephen Furst and Andy Tennant deliver the biggest laughs as the baddies, and Michael J. Fox makes his feature film debut as an infinitely annoying little brother.
Be prepared for a time warp during the opening credits as Candy (Deborah Richter) and Sunshine (Kirsten Baker) sport knee-high tube socks and roller skate across a college campus to a song nestled in the eras of The Manhattan Transfer and Captain & Tennille. “When the midnight madness starts to get to you. Doesn’t matter what you say. Doesn’t matter what you do…”
2. “The Beastmaster” (1982) – In 1982, “Conan the Barbarian” and “The Beastmaster” – two violent sword and sorcery movies - arrived in theatres, but the former starred Arnold Schwarzenegger, owned a bigger budget and greater anticipation than the latter. Even though Arnold delivers some decidedly seminal and powerful moments, “The Beastmaster” is a more colorful and accessible (although sometimes ridiculous) journey.
Dar (Marc Singer) – who could double as a European model or a soap opera star - wields a sword through the California desert…err, I mean near the village of Emur and speaks to animals. An eagle, a tiger and his ferrets, Kodo and Podo, help him rescue a gorgeous slave girl, Kiri (Tanya Roberts), and battle an evil priest (Rip Torn). Add quicksand, psychotic witches, John Amos with long pony tail, and flesh-sucking human bats, and it adds up to a bizarre but notable two-hour trek of B-film treasures. Note that Singer and Roberts moved on to bigger things with the “V” (1983-84) television miniseries and “Sheena” (1984), respectively, but looking back, “The Beastmaster” is their most memorable 80s gem.
1. “Showgirls” (1995) – In 1994, director Paul Verhoeven was best known for critical and box office hits like “Robocop” (1987), “Total Recall” (1990) and “Basic Instinct” (1992). At the same time, actress Elizabeth Berkley was famous for her popular gig in “Saved by the Bell” (1989 – 1992). In 1995, their big screen paths established a one-two punch, as they completely, totally, utterly, and wholly dove into a logic-defying script about a small town girl trying to make it as a Las Vegas dancer.
Nomi (Berkley) learned from the school of Hard Knocks and almost everyone who she meets in Sin City is a miserable creep, as the seedy Vegas underbelly drags us through the mud in between limousine rides. On the surface, this film would just be an uncomfortable throwaway, but its wildly entertaining values reside with Berkley’s over-the-top, misplaced performance and bizarre plot turns. It is difficult to comprehend how Verhoeven accepted Berkley’s work during the shoot, but “Showgirls” offers a litany of unintended laughs that could rival “The Room” (2003). (On the positive-side, she did give it her all.)
On a personal note, at a “Showgirls” screening on a random 1995 Friday night in Tucson, this critic remembers one audience member desperately shout during the third act, “When did she (Nomi, the dancer) learn kung fu?”
Well, as the movie ended and the credits began to roll, seven University of Arizona fraternity members simultaneously stood up in the first row, applauded and repeatedly cheered “Bravo!” at the screen. That moment will stay with me forever. Um…can James Franco make a film about “Showgirls”? Please.
Monte Yazzie’s Top Five
5. Stone Cold (1991) - Brian Bosworth, alternatively known as “The Boz”, was an NFL linebacker who played for the Seattle Seahawks during the late 1980’s. After a shoulder injury the linebacker was forced to retire but he utilized his tough guy, loud mouthed personality and pursued an acting career. In 1991 Bosworth found a lead role in an action film called “Stone Cold”. The film follows a cop from Alabama who is blackmailed by the FBI to go undercover in a dangerous biker gang. Bosworth, blonde mullet in tow, makes this average action film come to life with cheesy one liners and personality that would give 1980’s Sylvester Stallone a run for his money. Add bad guys Lance Henrickson, playing a character named Chains, and William Forsythe, playing a character named Ice, and you have pure late night 80’s gold.
4. Nothing But Trouble (1991) - The 1990’s have their fair share of classic film comedies. But I doubt many people would put the film “Nothing But Trouble” on that list. There is something utterly hideous about this film, but that’s what makes this film so interesting. The cast is exceptionally talented, featuring Demi Moore, Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd, and John Candy who were all coming out of the 80’s at the top of their game. “Nothing But Trouble” is an oddball story about a businessman and his friends who are captured by a sadistic judge and his grotesque family. The comedy is absurd and the premise, and effects, are straight out of a horror film. This may not be for everyone but for those that think Dan Aykroyd in full practical makeup as a slimy giant baby wearing a diaper, John Candy dressed up as a woman, and hiphop group Digital Underground featuring a young Tupac Shakur doing a mid film performance sounds appealing, then this film is for you.
3. Miami Connection (1987) - I believe that most filmmakers go in with the very best of intentions for their films. Director Woo-sang Park went into the film “Miami Connection” wanting to make the best martial arts action film the 80’s could produce. The film concerns a martial arts rock band, called Dragon Sound, who fight motorcycle drug dealing ninjas; that’s all you need to know. While it has become very much a cult classic since it’s rediscover in 2009, the film is full of silly premises, bad acting, and terrible dialog. But the ambition behind this film and the passion that you can feel in every action setup warrants at watch. Get “Miami Connection”, turn on Dragon Sound, and make some friends at your next movie night.
2. Dead Heat (1988) - It’s a zombie buddy cop movie featuring Treat Williams and Joe Piscopo. It’s funny, has some nice gooey gore scenes courtesy of effects guru Steven Johnson, and features a horror movie legend…Vincent Price playing a mad scientist. Williams plays a cop named Roger Mortis who returns as a zombie and must solve his own murder before he completely decomposes. He is helped by his partner Doug Bigelow, played by Joe Piscopo, who drops one liners and comic jabs in nearly every scene. It’s a highlight of the VHS boom for horror comedies and a film that deserves another look. This amazing trailer should get you excited.
1. Gymkata (1985) - Olympic gold medalist Kurt Thomas left competitive gymnastics and made a martial arts movie called “Gymkata”. Taking his athletic ability and combining it with martial arts, “Gymkata” is based on the 1957 novel “The Terrible Game” and concerns the mission of an operative named Johnathan Cabot who travels to the fictional country of Parmistan to play in a deadly athletic competition called The Game. Here Cabot must race against other competitors while being pursued by masked enforcers who are looking to kill the ones not keeping up. It’s one of those films that doesn't make a whole lot of sense, the premise is a mess and the actors aren’t very good but the athleticism of Kurt Thomas is undeniable. Also it helps that there is a city of cannibals, a training montage that features an enormous hawk, and a perfectly placed pommel horse. I hope that you enjoy “Gymkata” as much as I have.
Ben Cahlamer’s Top Five
5. The Counselor (2013) –Featuring Michael Fassbender, Penelope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Javier Bardem and Brad Pitt, Sir Ridley Scott’s stylish-noir film oozes sex, money, danger, is replete with details that are easily glossed over, and it has one of the most grotesque beheadings in a film. Two, as a matter of fact.
4. Cobra (1986) – “Crime is a disease. Meet the Cure,” is the tagline on the one-sheet for this Sylvester Stallone action-starrer, where he plays a one-man army protecting a young woman, who looks like she can handle herself (Brigitte Nielsen). Ms. Nielsen’s character witnesses a bike gang’s murder spree, and their leader “The Night Slasher” (Brian Thompson) is after her. One long chase sequence after another, Cobra is full of 80’s action, chases and testosterone.
3. Demolition Man (1993) – If it feels like I’m picking on Sylvester Stallone, I’m really not. He has such a commanding presence on the screen, and really is a talented creative, that some really amazing stinkers come along, like Marco Brambilla’s forward-look at the justice system in the future. Featuring a square off between Stallone and Wesley Snipes, who was coming into this own, the near future is full of seashells, low tolerance for foul language . . . oh, and NO WEAPONS. Now you try watching a Stallone movie with no weapons allowed. Sandra Bullock and Rob Schneider help add some comedic touches.
2. Men at Work (1990) – Whoever said protecting the environment was going to be fun, has not seen Emilio Estevez’s ‘Men at Work.’ Full of laughs, hijinks, pop music tracks hip to Southern California and what would now be considered off-color humor, Estevez and brother, Charlie Sheen, had a lot of fun with this film. As Keith David says, “never mess with another man’s fries.” And they surf, too. The trailer should whet your appetite.
1. Gone in 60 Seconds (2000) – I love a good, old fashioned B-movie. The original film this is based on is a true cult classic B film. Power producer Jerry Bruckheimer came along, amped the power up, added a decidedly unbalanced cast with Nicholas Cage in the lead role and Angelina Jolie as the lead female. Christopher Eccleston plays the practically invisible villain and a heist that took days in the original film, has been reduced to a single night. Now, you tell me, could you boost 50 cars in L.A. in one night? Traffic says ‘no’!