Here are ten recommended bad films to watch, including a cult masterpiece of campy excess, an animated atrocity, and my pick for the worst film ever made.
In a previous article, I made the case for bad films and why they are worth just as much attention and interest as good films. Bad films can teach us necessary lessons about filmmaking and storytelling, showing us where clever ideas go wrong and how a film’s formal elements can fail to execute its narrative vision. They challenge commonly held notions of taste and remind us that compelling cinematic experiences can still exist in flawed and even incompetently made packages. And most importantly, bad films can offer unique entertainment and comedic value, especially in their most embarrassing failures. Whether valuable as a lesson in incompetent filmmaking or simply worth the laughs, here are ten intriguing bad films that deserve your curiosity and fascination.
PAUL VERHOEVEN, 1995
One of Hollywood’s most notorious ventures, this NC-17 rated feature has experienced a tumultuous life beginning as a universally panned box office flop that found resurrection in gaining proper cult status, with later critical reevaluation as a certified satirical masterpiece of kitschy excess. On its surface, Showgirls is a nasty, exploitative film, replete with bizarre dialogue including a conversation about “doggy chow,” an infamous pool sex scene choreographed with graceless bodily acrobatics, and an overwhelming, almost alien lead performance by Elizabeth Berkeley that derailed her career but nonetheless perfectly captures the enigmatic protagonist Nomi Malone.
Directed with impressive flair in its extravagant performance sequences and vibrant cinematography throughout, the film dazzles and startles in its excess, crafting the quintessential cinematic experience of Las Vegas and exposing the superficial glamour, sleaze, and violence of the American culture of commodification and spectacle of sex. Just as intriguing as the film itself is its complex legacy, explored with rigorous critical examination and curious perspectives in a recent documentary, You Don’t Nomi.
9. THE BOOK OF HENRY
COLIN TREVORROW, 2017
A cinematic exercise in tonal whiplash and a severe breakdown of a consistent or even singular narrative vision, this is a beautifully admirable and amusing hot mess of a film. In the span of an hour and forty five minutes, The Book of Henry essentially crams three films into one, a triptych of tonal and emotional segments that function not as parts of a whole but are so distinct and different enough to appear as their own unique entity, with little continuity to hold them together beyond the same characters and plot. The opening third is a quirky family comedy with a Spielbergian sense of childhood wonder and whimsical indie cinema sensibility, filtered through warm fall-like hues. The second third makes a sudden turn, becoming a distressing medical drama following a startling and seemingly random plot twist, the visual change just as abrupt, favoring the cold harsh blues and whites of hospital interiors.
The last third takes a final plunge into completely new genre territory, transforming into a revenge narrative with the obscured morality and cold precision reminiscent of gritty 70s thrillers. The tonal dissonance is best exposed in a scene with a furious race against the clock, the nervous tension and percussive score interrupted by immature moments like kid burping the alphabet at a talent show. Narratively, a chaotic mess, failing to amend its wildly disparate trimesters into a cohesive package, barely held together by shocking, cheap plot developments—all the more reason to watch this disaster unfold with such self-assurance in its own failed ambitions.
8. KILLER BEAN FOREVER
JEFF LEW, 2009
Inspired by the likes of The Bourne films, The Matrix and John Woo’s filmography, with accompanying action movie disregard for common sense physics, Killer Bean Forever transports the assassin shoot-em-up formula to a world of anthropomorphic beans. The worldbuilding, absurd to a point, invites us to a world of exposed armpits and butts on otherwise fully clothed beans for our viewing pleasure, not to mention the fact that there are no female beans (a later webisode mentions a bean’s mother, but no female beans are seen onscreen in the Killer Bean-verse). Opening with a dance party sequence choreographed with the precision of Olympic synchronized swimming, the film wastes no time jumping straight into shameless ballistic violence as Killer Bean massacres a warehouse of partying gangsters, simply because their loud music keeps him awake at night.
A faint narrative exists only to set up its frequent set pieces, extensive slow motion martial arts duels and gunfights rendered in glorious 4K animation. Amusing at first in the absurdity of its bizarre concept and laughably annoying voice acting, Killer Bean Forever starts to lost interest partway through and its 84-minute runtime pushes on irritating boredom, making one wish this was more “bad” so the ride could be worth the journey.
7. KNOCK KNOCK
ELI ROTH, 2015
An erotic invasion thriller turned psychological game of torment, Knock Knock is pure cinematic torture. In a simple and predictable premise hinting at but never reaching anything more, two women show up at a house one rainy night where “good guy” dad Keanu Reeves is stuck at home with work while his family is gone on vacation. What begins as a simple request for help finding their way to a party leads to a weekend of seduction, sexual liaisons, and psychopathic mind games, filmed with just enough tension yet somehow still feels too stiff to properly engage. Plot twists threaten startling new revelations that immediately dissipate, and by the end, the payoff isn’t worth all of the buildup, empty suspense with nothing meaningful to tie it all together.
The entire narrative infrastructure collapses under its nothingness, its hollowness revealed, as all the plot twists that came before signal a tantalizing void. It’s a frustrating, infuriating film, completely devoid of proper thrills, made even banal when its most provocative moments don’t even bother to shock that much. If anything, it’s worth sitting through just to hear Keanu’s “free pizza” monologue that brilliantly reaches Nicolas Cage-like levels of frenzy and rage.
Sometimes films offer us new ways of seeing, unique aesthetic perspectives that challenge how we perceive reality. Other times, films offer us new ways of seeing that challenge sensible methods of coherent visual storytelling. Catwoman is the perfect example of cinematic confusion, as chase and fight sequences unfold with a striking lack of basic visual logic, edited way too rapidly for the eyes to easily follow. It’s a comic book film, so there’s clear intent in injecting it with such a distinct style, which would have been fine if it wasn’t so choppy, sloppy, and misguided. The editing in these set pieces almost give the impression that individual shots are missing, as if the editors wanted to create more urgency and intensity by removing just enough footage to speed everything up without making it look too messy. Yet form fails to complement story, as the tension the images attempt to evoke relapse into meaningless chaos, keeping us from properly engaging with the cinematic experience and story.
These bizarre stylistic instincts make Catwoman feel more like an early 2000s music video than an actual film, evidenced especially in the infamous basketball scene to amusing effect, where dizzying camera movements and far-too frequent cuts interrupt already brief shots, informing what can only be described as an avant-garde visual language.
KEVIN CONNOLLY, 2018
Clearly modeling itself after American crime epics like Goodfellas with occasional shades of The Godfather, Gotti attempts to tell a coherent story about the rise and fall of mob boss John Gotti. Neglecting basic necessities like sufficient exposition, the film fails to establish Gotti as a compelling character and the oddly-placed documentary footage in between the narrative sequences offer a more intriguing picture of the real-life John Gotti that John Travolta’s performance never bothers to capture. For instance, news interviews portray Gotti as a people’s hero, granted nearly mythic status that the film carelessly ignores.
A runtime under two hours crams an extensive story into a rushed and jumbled narrative, jumping back and forth between decades with no logical purpose other than to covey a superficial sense of scope, while random names of mobsters are thrown onscreen, a meaningless cast of characters given no context. Meanwhile, the film fails to engage visually, with the sloppy aesthetics of a forgettable mid-budget television production. At best, Gotti serves as a perfect example of how not to make a film, and at worst, a shameful caricature of the far superior films it tries (and fails) to imitate.
PAUL HAGGIS, 2004
The only thing more embarrassing than Crash itself is the fact that it won both the Academy Award for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay, and I don’t know which of those is worse. Crash tells the story of the interactions and collisions of a multiracial cast of characters in Los Angeles, a sort of “interconnectedness of lives” melodrama in the vein of something like Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia, featuring stunningly obtuse racial politics and a relentlessly hopeless perspective on human life. An appalling screenplay from director Paul Haggis and producer Bobby Moresco is peppered with laughably offensive dialogue like “why did these guys have to be black” and casts every single character as a racist and a racial stereotype who hates everyone they encounter.
An opening line of dialogue tells us “In any real city, you walk, you brush past people, and people bump into you. In L.A, nobody touches you. We’re always behind this metal and glass. I think we miss that touch so much, that we crash into each other just so we can feel something,” setting up an otherwise intriguing subtext about the challenges of human connection in an urban setting, but renders that meaningless with a plot scattered with hollow narrative twists and laughably irritating, dimensionless characters. One of the most offensive films ever made with one of the worst screenplays ever written, Crash astounds in its characters and storytelling that descend into untold depths of misanthropic nihilism, but is most certainly worth a watch to laugh at its blunt ineptitude, best witnessed in an iconic scene where Sandra Bullock “falls” down the stairs.
3. COOL CAT SAVES THE KIDS
DEREK SAVAGE, 2015
Written by, directed by, and starring Derek Savage as “Daddy Derek,” Cool Cat Saves the Kids is a bizarre children’s educational film about topics like bullying and gun safety with many questionable formal and narrative choices, not to mention the inclusion of its irritating titular character, Cool Cat, an anthropomorphic orange cat. There’s no coherent plot to the film, just a series of scenarios about childhood safety topics that reach peak insanity when Butch the Bully brings a gun to school to take other kids’ lunch money, played with concerning nonchalance. Meanwhile, we also see odd scenes like a parade where Savage films shaky footage of the audience while riding a car, a dream sequence made “surreal” with laughably basic computer effects, and two songs, “Cool Cat Loves to Rock and Roll” and the “Cool Cat Boogie Woogie.”
Unprofessional in its cheap and sloppy cinematography and sound, hapless editing seems to have jumbled together a mess of what a sane director would consider outtakes into this disaster of a film. There’s only one orange catsuit, used for both Cool Cat and Mama Cat (the human Daddy Derek is Cool Cat’s father, in case you were wondering), among other curious directorial choices highlighting the film’s budgetary limitations. Whatever this film’s meager budget must have been, far better films have made with less money and resources.
LAWRENCE KASANOFF, 2012
In this nightmarish animated feature, the aisles of a supermarket come to life at night, revealing a colorful metropolis populated by anthropomorphic brands including the likes of a chocolate squirrel, naked mole rats, and Mrs. Butterworth. After his girlfriend, the cat-girl Sunshine Goddess disappears, Dex Dogtective, a canine PI dressed suspiciously like Indiana Jones and voiced by Charlie Sheen, quits his job, only to begin investigating again after the mysterious arrival of Brand X, a generic brand of commercial food products.
Despite a curiously high budget in the tens of millions, Foodfight! confounds and astounds with its horrifyingly-rendered surreal animation, a CGI abyss of grotesque character design that affronts the eyes with its glaring color scheme and bodily movements that defy basic physics, not to mention blatant Nazi-inspired imagery, sexual innuendos, and oddly-placed scenes referencing iconic moments from The Graduate and Casablanca. It’s not clear who this film is made for, as it’s far too inappropriate for children, and there doesn’t seem to be any sensible reason for why it exists or should exist, other than perhaps being an uncanny cinematic fever dream of late capitalism that plays like a rogue transmission from another dimension as a reflection of our hyperconsumerist media environment. A relentless assault on all senses and sensibilities and perhaps the most egregious film ever made, Foodfight! needs to be seen, if only to be believed.
1. THE BEAST OF YUCCA FLATS
COLEMAN FRANCIS, 1961
On its surface, The Beast of Yucca Flats appears to be a harmless Cold War B-movie, another anti-nuclear creature feature in the tradition of superior titles like Godzilla and Them!. While defecting to the United States, a Soviet scientist is pursued across the desert by KGB agents and becomes exposed to the radiation from a nearby atomic bomb blast, mutating into a bloodthirsty prehistoric monster. Even at a brisk 54 minutes, it’s ridiculously tedious and all of the schlocky terror the premise promises is reduced to a few tired moments of actor Tor Johnson in barely faint creature makeup stumbling through the desert, meagerly groaning and chasing helpless victims.
The film opens with a puzzling non-sequitur, a murder sequence that doesn’t fit anywhere in the plot that only added at the director’s insistence on including a nude scene. Worst of all is an unimaginable cinematic sin: the mysterious absence of recorded dialogue in a film where characters speak. In these instances, the camera immediately cuts away as dialogue recorded in post is heard. Just as annoying are the far-too frequent moments of a narrator clumsily mumbling contrived proverbs with a poetic cadence in a bored voice, for no reason other than to probably fill up empty sonic space. With one artistic misfire after another, I can only describe The Beast of Yucca Flats as the worst film I’ve ever seen, an act of cinematic negligence that projects pure apathy and carelessness for its audience, its craft, and itself.
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