When talking about art, terms like "bad" and "good" are pretty subjective, and the criteria for each are often not that dissimilar. In horror, especially, a bad movie can be great. It's difficult to narrow down a huge category like "bad horror" into a list of just a few. It's even more difficult to rank those movies; it's like trying to compare apples and oranges (actually, that's easy, they're both fruit—maybe more like ranking sex versus tacos).
None of these movies could be classified as good, but they're celebrations of other people's bad ideas, earnest in their efforts and fascinating in their failure.
In the interest of avoiding the same movies that always end up on these lists, we haven't included too many (we hope!) really well known ones, standbys like Leprechaun In The Hood, Plan 9 From Outer Space, Black Devil Doll From Hell, or Troll 2 (although Monster Dog was directed by Claudio Fragasso).
1. Bug (Jeannot Szwarc, 1975)
A horror movie about bugs. And about how stupid science is.
When a California earthquake cracks open the earth, swarms of fire-starting insects are released, wreaking havoc on the town, destroying property, killing people, and just generally being pyromaniacs. They even set fire to this poor lady's head in the Brady Bunch kitchen.
But then the bugs start dying! That's great, right? Well, not everyone thinks so. A really smart science professor (James Parmiter, played by Bradford Dillman) is driven to figure out why and ends up mating the fire bugs with the equally disgusting and much more adaptable palmetto bug/American cockroach (because what could possibly go wrong?), thus creating the perfect storm of nightmare bug that can set fire and fly. Great job, science!
But what is the movie really about, you ask. There is a pretty obvious ham-fisted attempt to address Deep Existential Themes such as Man Versus Nature and the Dangers of Playing God (the opening scene is in a church, for Christ's sake) and a little bit about one man's ability to grow a full beard in under 24 hours.
The bugs themselves are supposedly unidentifiable, dating back to pre-historic times, but one look will tell you these wee actors are actually Madagascar hissing cockroaches (conspicuously missing from the adorable cast of the animated children's movie Madagascar).
Bug was co-written and produced by the legendary William Castle (based on the book The Hephaestus Plague), and IT LITERALLY KILLED HIM. (That's not actually true, but it was the last project he worked on before he died, and I'm certain he'd approve of the inflammatory, exploitative, completely made up nature of that statement.)
A not-to-be-missed highlight is this scene, where the cockroaches spell out Parmiter's name on the wall.
Here's the trailer:
2. Sleepaway Camp (Robert Hiltzik, 1983)
A horror movie about shorts.
Angela Baker (Felissa Rose) was just a tot when she was orphaned by a boating accident (well, really more a screaming accident involving a boat, but whatever). She was taken in by her cousin Ricky Baker (Jonathan Tiersten) and his Looney Tunes mom Martha (Desiree Gould), and the movie picks up 8 years later, as wacky Aunt Martha is sending teenagers Ricky and Angela off to summer camp. Quick aside here to say that Aunt Martha is one of the best female characters in a horror movie ever. There is altogether too little Aunt Martha in this movie. I'd pay money (maybe not a lot) to see a movie entirely about Aunt Martha.
Ricky and Angela are at camp for approximately 5 minutes before people begin to die in strange, gory, 100% implausible ways, such as death by bee-stinging in a toilet stall (noticeably devoid of bees except for one close-up scene, probably because actually releasing bees would have been too expensive) and death by curling iron (classic!). You have to wonder why parents even sent their kids to summer camp in the 80s, knowing how poor their chances were of coming home. Maybe the kids owned cockroaches.
Don't worry, I won't give away the ending, for all 37 people alive who don't already know it, but I will say it's strangely unsettling, due not so much to theme as execution. Once you see it, that statement will make sense, and we can all join together in a rousing cry of "Whhaaaaaaaaaaat???"
Sleepaway Camp has inspired two sequels, various attempts at sequels, rumors about sequels, failed filming of at least one sequel, a good portion of Wet Hot American Summer, and maybe soon another sequel.
Oh, hey, shorts.
Here's the trailer:
3. New Year's Evil (Emmet Alston, 1980)
A horror movie about a music scene that has never existed (and the dangers of being a successful career-oriented woman who also tries to have a family).
It's New Year's Eve and in Los Angeles, Hollywood Hotline, a "countdown of this year's most popular new wave rock" (not a real genre) is in progress, hosted by "First Lady of Rock" Blaze (Roz Kelly, who unfortunately looks closer to 50 than her actual age of 37). Right from the start, we know the movie's going to be about New Year's Evil because there's a theme song called "New Year's Evil" which contains the lyrics "New Year's Evil" (a theme song with the movie's title in it being one of the signs that the film you're watching is, in fact, bad. The song, by fictional band Shadow, is sort of hair metal, mixed with Queen and Rocky Horror Picture Show, and vocals that sound a bit like YES. This is a type of music that has never existed, except in the minds of the people who wrote it.
The celebration turns deadly (doesn't it always?) when a maniac who identifies himself simply as "Evil" starts calling the show to declare that he's going to "commit murderrrrrr." And commit murder he does, killing women at midnight in each of three time zones, getting closer to Blaze and the West Coast countdown. He cleverly disguises himself in transit with definitely not suspicious tactics like driving at night in sunglasses and gluing what I think is a tiny bathmat onto his upper lip.
Meanwhile, Blaze's pesky son keeps trying to tell her something he swears is really important (she's much too busy!) and her dang husband, who was supposed to be at the show, is missing and no one can get in touch with him. The cops are called in for extra protection, but they make sure to let Blaze know in no uncertain terms that violence is to be expected from the type of audience she attracts, in this music scene that does not exist, and that she is at fault for courting danger and then complaining about it. Her managers apologize to the cops on her behalf for her ridiculous insistence on not being murdered, since clearly she is wrong to expect safety at work, especially since she's a punk (she's not a punk). Ultimately we learn that she's more directly responsible for these murders than she realized, since she is the kind of terrible, selfish woman who is passionate about work and not paying enough attention to her screwed up husband and whiny son.
If you see it, you're in for great writing like "You castrated me, and that is not nice" and "I can hear your heart beating. I don't like that."
Here's the trailer:
4. Monster Dog (Claudio Fragasso [of Troll 2 fame] directs under the name of "Clyde Anderson," 1983)
A horror movie about, I don't know, werewolves or rock videos or dogs or bad family genes or spectacularly lame special effects, but mostly about STARRING ALICE COOPER.
Monster Dog (originally released as Leviatan) stars Alice Cooper as rocker Vincent Raven, who drives his Mystery Mobile back to his childhood home to shoot a music video. Since these old Italian horror movies often didn't record audio while filming, you will very quickly notice Cooper's voice is dubbed.
During a fireside chat, while wearing a sweater, Vince calmly confides to his hot young video producer girlfriend that 20 years ago in this very house, his father became a werewolf and after gorging on calf meat was killed by villagers. No big deal.
HIs girlfriend assures him that everything will be fine because his camera equipment is really good? I'm not sure, it's hard to follow her logic. But fantasy and reality start to blur when the gothic music video they're shooting turns deadly, partially because an overactive fog machine makes it really hard to see.
Here's the trailer:
5. Uninvited (Greydon Clark, 1988)
A horror movie about a cat on a yacht and a special effects team that has lost their minds.
Cat lovers and haters alike will love this delightful romp starring Naked Gun's George Kennedy and a charming, utterly demented feline. The half sweet fluffy orange tabby/half vile radioactive mutant poison creature escapes from a medical research facility, hijacks a pick up truck, and makes its little feline way to a local marina where it joins up with another completely different convoluted story about some college kids in Ft. Lauderdale for Spring Break. The guys meet some ladies and somehow they all, cat included, finagle a ride on a yacht owned by financial big shot "Wall Street Walter" Graham (Alex Cord).
Walter and his business partner Mike Harvey (George Kennedy) are fleeing to South America because of some shady financial stuff. The movie does have a plot, which includes:
- Women spontaneously stripping
- Women being sexually harassed by insufferable creeps
- A biology student using a sextant as a microscope to deduce that the bites from the mutant cat will poison the victim's blood.
But plot is not what you need to know because all you need to know is this:
This mutant attack cat has another weird rat gremlin thing inside it that comes out when the cat attacks, sometimes protruding like the second, inner mouth on the creatures in Alien, and other times all the way out, like a little baby kangaroo leaving its momma's pouch (but with a lot more blood and toxins).
Do a lot of people die? You bet. Is Walter Graham basically a mustachioed Simpsons character come to life? Pretty much. Does any part of the movie make sense? Not really. Should you make it a point to view this atrocity? Absolutely.
"Did it look like a normal cat to you before, Suzanne?"
Here's the trailer:
6. Open House (Jag Mundhra, 1987)
A horror movie about The Rent Is Too Damn High.
Ah, a movie with a message. Open House stars Adrienne Barbeau as Lisa Grant, a real estate agent who excels at selling houses and wearing shoulder pads (she wears them to work, to play, to exercise, to sleep, and probably to shower). Her boyfriend, Dr. David Kelley (Joseph Bottoms) is a psychologist and the host of a popular radio call-in advice show, who starts receiving disturbing phone calls from a creepy guy talking about the recent spate of murders—a killer is targeting pretty realtors. The smart thing to do would be to stop showing houses by yourself if you're a female real estate agent. Unsurprisingly, no one does the smart thing, and a shitty slasher pic is born.
Barbeau shares the spotlight with a lot of big 80s dry hair, saxophone music that can only be described as "aggressive," and fabric print bold enough to ask "Please sir, may I have some more?"
Open House has got it all: terrible special effects, the always fashionable combo of panty hose and open toes, a 32-second scream, adorable racism (the word "Oriental" is used several times), some of the worst acting you will ever see, a love scene with owl hoots dubbed in (why?), a disgusting guy who sexually harasses women, a killer who eats dog food, a murder weapon made from a plunger, and a detective with a healthy disdain for criminal profiles ("When has that ever worked?").
Can't help noticing how obvious it is when the stunt double stands in for the killer? You've got stunt coordinator extraordinaire John Stewart of Action U.S.A. to thank for that.
The killer takes some time off from killing to pet this tiny kitten. "Haha, get off my murder axe, you adorable kitten!"
I couldn't find a trailer for Open House but here's a pretty awesome scream:
7. Night Of The Lepus (William F. Claxton, 1972)
A horror movie about rabbits. Seriously.
Here's a transcript of the actual conversation that inspired this movie.
"Hey, are rabbits scary?"
"Rabbits? You mean like bunnies?"
"No way. Actually, they're pretty cute."
"Well, what if instead of calling them rabbits they were called lepus? That kind of sounds like lupus or...leprosy, maybe?"
"Wow. That's a reach."
"But what about if they were huge rabbits, like, as big as horses?"
"Not scary. I mean, they're rabbits. They eat carrots. They're really soft. Their feet are good luck. They must have so much good luck! Totally not scary."
"Okay, but like a herd of killer rabbits. Just hordes of stampeding rabbits, made to look as though they're huge, and then we dub in some growling or dinosaur sounds or something."
"But they still look like rabbits?"
"Yeah, just big rabbits running in slow motion."
"Great, let's get started."
Obviously this is a joke right? Is this a joke? (It's not a joke.)
Here's the trailer:
A Word (Or Several) About Internet Lists:
Lists like these tend to attract comments like "What about [movie]??" or "You forgot [movie]" or "This list doesn't include [movie] and should therefore be dismissed entirely or "I hate you." But here's the thing: I don't have a search function for my brain (yet) that allows me to instantly recall every movie ever made, especially since I haven't seen every movie ever made (yet). In fact, I occasionally (frequently) have trouble remembering even the movies I have seen.
Here's another thing, though: it's not a competition. It's not like Highlander, there can be more than one. There are so many! So maybe use the comments section for good instead of evil, sharing suggestions and whatnot, so we can all enjoy some terribleness and help each other waste what precious little time we are granted on this earth watching complete garbage.