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Monday, December 6, 2010

Cool Ass Cinema Book Reviews: Bad Movie Edition!

This entry we look at books on Bad Movies and what makes them so much fun to watch. One book is brand spanking new, another that's sorta recent and another that's a blast from the Bad Movie Past...



By Steve Miller

Softcover; 290 pages; B/W (2010)

Over the years there's been numerous books on bad movies with such titles as Clevenger and Zollinger's BETTER LIVING THROUGH BAD MOVIES, Ebert's YOUR MOVIE SUCKS, Mike Nelson's MOVIE MEGACHEESE, Marguiles and Rebello's BAD MOVIES WE LOVE and Morse's VIDEO TRASH & TREASURES 1 and 2. Michael Medved (along with his brother, Harry) was likely the first critic who made poking fun of bad movies a popular tradition with a series of books in the late 70s and early 80s such as THE FIFTY WORST FILMS OF ALL TIME in 1978 and THE GOLDEN TURKEY AWARDS in 1980.

Now, Steve Miller, a prolific writer of pop culture paraphernalia has delivered his own tome on some of the best barrel scrapers and head scratching cinematic blotches the world has ever seen. It's quite a fun read peppered with various funny movie lines and trivial annotations. It's all written in brevity briskly moving the reader from one review to the next. Those expecting meat with their mud will not find it here (Medved's books do that just fine), but bad movie buffs get a mouthful just the same. The rating system may prove confusing to some, at least to me it was. It's a "thumbs down" approach ranging from one to five thumbs aiming downward per each film in question. The fewer the thumbs down, the more watchable the movie is. It's sort of a backwards approach to the more popular "fewer stars equals crap" methodology. Still, it's a safe assumption that if your movie is in a book on celluloid crud of the lovable sort, you're not expected to find Oscar winning material.

The one part of the book I took issue with (and it's one of the more apt reasons to read critical notices on films with differing opinions) was the inclusion of certain titles that, at least to me, were anything but bad movies. Granted, ATTACK OF THE KILLER TOMATOES (1978) is a bad movie. But that was the intention with the picture. I just find it hard to poke fun at a movie that is extremely self aware of its inherent awfulness. The inclusion of movies like SUSPIRIA (1977), CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1980), MY BLOODY VALENTINE (1981) and CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954) were a bit perplexing to see wedged in among the usual suspects like PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE (1956), SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS (1964) and MONSTER A GO-GO (1965). There are others, too, like Bava's DANGER: DIABOLIK (1968), Argento's DEEP RED (1975), Peter Jackson's DEAD ALIVE (1993) and even Norifumi Suzuki's THE STREETFIGHTER (1974) that are on the chopping block! Still, these are all fun mini dissertations even if a few of these titles may boggle the mind by their inclusion.

I must say, though, that I think DEMONS (1986) is unfairly judged regarding how the demon plague escapes the theater. The car load of punks who manage to break into the multiplex inadvertantly let the plague out through the side door they left open. The Godfrey Ho entries bring the bad movie vibe full circle and act as a teaser for what could be an entire volume devoted to Ho's "accomplishments". Aside from some minor cumbersome contrivances, Millers book is a great read and it's obvious from the start he genuinely loves the movies he's playfully lambasting. There's also explanations why a particular entry "sucks", trivia games regarding stars from the pictures and humorous dialog exchanges from the films in question. The cover is very attractive and oddly enough, the poster for VOODOO ISLAND is featured among other bad movies, but it's nowhere to be found in the book. Likely it would fit in among the flurry of foppish films that make up the gist of this enjoyably fun read. It's affordability is also a plus and the books size will easily fit inside a satchel, or purse without any trouble for reading on the go. Definitely one for the shelves in my book (haha). You can read Steve Miller's Bad Movie blog by clicking HERE.


By John Wilson

Softcover; 380 pages; B/W (2005)

The Golden Rasberry Awards was created in March of 1981 by John Wilson, the very author of this book. A yearly event to coincide with the Oscars, the Razzies (as they are more popularly referred to) take place on the eve of the Academy Awards show and pay tribute to the best of the worst in Hollywood. The most notable difference between the Razzies and other books on this subject is that nearly every film featured within these pages belongs there. There are a few that are questionable, but for the most part, every film is pretty much justified by its inclusion. Like Miller's book reviewed above, Wilson's giggle guide is a fun read.

The movies are contained within genre specific categories such as musicals, disaster epics, monster movies and other types of bad movies made good by virtue of sheer mediocrity. The films availability is noted as well as a plot synopsis, critical reaction, hilarious dialog exchanges and also what generally qualifies the picture as Razzi-licious. There are also two appendices--the first one tells you how to obtain the films (as some of them are not on DVD) and the other offers up the entire history of The Razzies from its inception up to 2003. The Razzie website offers up to date information on all things awful in the world of Hollywood movies. The Razzie Guide is only slightly bigger than Miller's book and will also fit snugly in a satchel, or purse for those wishing to read on the go. One for the shelves for bad movie lovers.


By Harry and Michael Medved

Softcover; 219 pages; B/W (1986)

There are a lot of people out there that HATE the Medved's (particularly Michael) for their books on what they perceive as bad movies. Granted, many of the motion pictures featured in their handful of books belong there, but I think it's the way in which they mercilessly slander a particular movie, or star. Sometimes, it seems a movie gets pie-faced for no other reason than to sound cool doing it. An example of this are the nominees for 'The Most Preposterous Pairing In Movie History'. One of the selected pairs is Grace Jones and Arnold Schwarzenegger from CONAN THE DESTROYER (1984). This particular pairing would make sense if it were true. Medved's description makes out as if the two are romantically involved in the movie and they are not. Another example is Gordon Scott, the star of five Tarzan adventures and a score of Italian muscleman movies. He's poked fun of when the photograph in question features Steve Reeves and not Scott.

Still, the book is quite a lot of fun, if frequently pretentious. Some readers may even find themselves incensed at some of Medved's analysis. One thing I can say for the book's author is that he doesn't discriminate. You'll find the usual suspects like CAT WOMEN OF THE MOON (1953), MESA OF LOST WOMEN (1953), Ed Wood's catalog of criminally bad movies, gory exploitation pictures and big budget, bloated Hollywood productions. There's also a lot to be learned about the side of Hollywood many would find offensive today in reference to black actors like Stepin Fetchit and Sleep 'N Eat. Aside from that, pretty much every other major Hollywood personality gets the royal dissing treatment. As the back cover states, "No one is safe". Medved's book isn't without its virtues, but one may find themselves both in awe and angered at the same time. It's still a humorous, if occasionally misguided forum for those who love throwing tomatoes at their favorite bad movie. If you can still find it, it's worth a place on your shelves.



Steve Miller said...

Thanks for taking a look at "150 Movies You Should (Die Before You) See"!

As for the film's that seem out of place, they were included because I felt they fit thematically with the chapter they appear in. (Although if I had the book to do over, I might have replaced a couple of them with other films. Not any of the films in the "Gory, Gorier, Goriest" chapter, though. That chapter is more of a warning to those with a low threshold for gore than anything else. That said, I do think Argento is terribly overrated, save for "Deep Red". And I find even that film deeply flawed... which is another reason it's in the book.)

As for "Demons"... I don't remember that side door, so I may well have messed up there. I'll have to dig out the film and watch it again. It's somewhere in the pile in the corner of my office. :)

venoms5 said...

Hi, Steve! I also think Argento is overrated, but DEEP RED is widely considered one of his best and I think it's one of his most cohesive movies. Definitely some haunting imagery in that one. I think the macabre doll was inspiration for the similar contraption in the SAW movies. SUSPIRIA, TENEBRAE, PHENOMENA and OPERA are others of his I like.

Well, you know what they say, another man's treasure is another man's trash.

Steve Miller said...

Oh, I would whole-heartedly agree that "Deep Red" is Argento's best movie, with "Suspiria" being a close second. (At least among the ones I've seen... I've not yet seen "Opera" or "Bird with Crystal Plumage" and I've been warned to stay far, far away from "Mother of Tears". (Although that last one sounds like I may have to watch it if I do another book along the lines of this one....)

I will be watching "Bird" this week or next, I hope. Who knows? Maybe I will come around with Argento the way I did with Bava, although I doubt it. At least with Bava, I can love his sense of style and humor if not his ability to tell a coherent story and/or quit when he's ahead.

venoms5 said...

If you're referring to Mario Bava, I wholeheartedly recommend:


There are others, but those three are volcanic eruptions of atmosphere and color save for BLACK SUNDAY which is B/W.

dfordoom said...

To include films like Danger: Diabolik, Suspiria and Creature from the Black Lagoon seems eccentric to say the least. Maybe that's why I avoid books about bad movies - they usually include most of my favourite movies.

I'm actually not a fan of Argento, although I do think he made two great movies, and one of then was Suspiria (the other being The Bird with the Crystal Plumage). He certainly went on to make some truly awful movies.

I'm always surprised that big-budget mainstream turkeys like Mrs Doubtfire don't usually figure in worst movies of all time lists.

Steve Miller said...

Venom: Ooops. Yeah, I meant Mario Bava, and I second your recommendations. I keep forgetting his son, and I try to avoid his movies.

Doom: As I say in the book's intro, some of the films included would do double-duty on my "favorites" list. (Not "Creature of the Black Lagoon," though. I like the monster, but hate the heroes.)

As for "Mrs. Doubtfire," I suspect that one is so bland that everyone remembers seeing it if asked, but no one can tell you what it was about. All I remember is has something to do with Robin Williams cross-dressing to see his kids on weekends, or some-such. There needs to be something really remarkable about a movie to bring it to mind when lists and outlines are being compiled, I think.

For what it's worth, there actually are a number of big budget misfires in the book.

venoms5 said...

The inclusion of movies that I find bewildering in such books generally draws me to them. It's both fascinating and frustrating at the same time. I think for me, it's mostly I am curious as to anothers point of view as it may show me something I haven't seen, or drive me to the point of wanting to pull my hair out, lol.

Still, all the books here in this entry are well worth picking up. They're all fun reads. The Medved book mainly for its historical context and the amount of information in it. Tons of behind the scenes stuff there.

I was going to include VIDEO TRASH & TREASURES 1 (I don't have volume 2), but I was pressed for time so I left it out.

Shaun Anderson [The Celluloid Highway] said...

I have a pretty low opinion of books like this, it's so easy (too easy) to write about what makes a certain film(s) bad, but discussing what makes a film good is a far trickier proposition. This is an intellectually bereft form of criticism, normally punctuated with juvenile gags at the expense of films most people couldn't care less about. Too include those Argento & Bava titles is either eccentric or a shallow attempt to court controvsery. I favour the latter, because there is always a few films in these books that are self-consciously placed within purely to raise eyebrows. What mystifies me the most is why anyone would actually part with their hard earned cash for stuff like this, when there are dozens of decent blogs providing a similar service FREE.

I Like Horror Movies said...

In your years of devoted Full Moon and Empire film watching, I can only imagine what rabbits you managed to pull out of your hat for this one Steve! I must say that I am really intrigued in an eye-brow raising sort of way as to how many of those titles got in there, so I may need to read on.

More great coverage V, once I finish reading through the other 5-6 books I bought on your rec I might have to delve into Z-movie territory!

venoms5 said...

I can see why these kinds of books could rile some movie lovers. Generally, when I see a book like this and flip through it, reading a scathing, or 'fun poking' write up on a particular movie I like leads to me buying the book to see what else is in there that I like.

Steve Miller said...

Shaun: Can't speak for anyone else, but I buy books like the one I wrote because I LIKE books.

Carl: The book I'd like to write is a survey of Charles Band movies. Especially now that I think there might be light at the end of the tunnel... "Killjoy 3" was a fun flick!

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