Part of the fun of the Halloween season is the celebration of the kitschy, the campy, the crappy and the cruddy. With this in mind, we've swept up a pile of classic and not-so-classic cheesy sci-fi movies that embody a sense of fun that make them seem like they're both tricks and treats at the same time.
For the most part, this movies—which we've assembled as the 22nd in our series of 31 posts for the 31 days of Halloween—are crap movie comfort food, as gooey as mac and cheese.
Robot Monster (1953)
Astonishingly necrotic crap from director Phil Tucker and writer Wyott Ordung, made in what looks like a bunch of vacant lots. Ro-man, the titular monster, is a guy in a gorilla suit with a Captain Video helmet and a pair of antennae scrunched in at awkwardly Bugs Bunny angles. He's got a high-tech destruct-o ray that spews Lawrence Welk-like bubbles.
Ro-man, played by veteran Hollywood "gorilla actor" George Barrows (he would later star in Gorilla at Large), has wiped out all humans (or "hu-mans," as he calls them) from the face of the earth except for one obnoxious, comic-book-obsessed kid and a handful of grownups near and dear to the kid who are so stilted and dumb that they make a case for the extinction of the species. Merriment ensues as Ro-man gets chewed out by his Ro-boss for not killing those last few pesky hu-mans, and kind of grows a conscience along the way.
Ro-man's plans for global genocide somehow include a ray that causes dinosaurs to appear out of nowhere and fight to the death. Quoth Ro-Man: "I will re-calculate. Your deaths will be indescribable." Indeed. Amazingly, Tucker would have a pretty good career after this as an editor, Ordung would write some OK cheapie SF movies, beefcake star George Nader would write some breakthrough gay-themed SF in the 1970s, and composer Elmer Bernstein would go on to be ELMER FREAKIN' BERNSTEIN!!! Even the late Barrows' hand-made gorilla suit, sans helmet, now has a place of honor in L.A.'s Natural History Museum.
Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959)
Glorious, notorious, generally considered the worst film ever made, immortalized in, among other things, Tim Burton's amazing biopic Ed Wood. Eponym of at least two bands and Glenn Danzig's record label. Yeah, it's a cultural icon of badness. Yeah, it's been the brunt of a full-on RiffTrax attack. Yeah, it's been a cultural piñata for decades. But all the attendant noise about how bad Plan 9 from Outer Space is—which is, as most everybody knows by now, is about super-advanced aliens raising the dead and features a posthumous performance by Bela Lugosi courtesy of Mrs. Wood's chiropractor acting as a body double for the late actor—inda detracts from the fascinating train wreck that is Plan 9.
|Plan 9 from Outer Space|
As the horror/punk/metal/thrash band the Murderdolls said, "You can knock on Ed Wood, but it won't do you no good! Yeah, Plan 9 is cheesey. But in amongst the fromage-y goodness is the Wood's sincerity that he was making a great film, and ya can't help but kind of respect that, even among the cardboard gravestones, the rancid lines of dialogue, the dimestore flying saucers, and the ominous tones of narrator Criswell.
Teenagers from Outer Space (1959)
Another work of demented sincerity about alien invasion, also from 1959 and made by a filmmaker who, like Ed Wood, wasn't quite up to the task of bringing his unique vision to the screen. The amazing Tom Graeff wrote, produced, did the cinematography and special effects and musical supervision for and directed this mini-masterpiece of SF delirium.
An uber-sensitive, proto-emo kid named Derek (David Love, Graeff's boyfriend) breaks ranks with a battalion of alien invaders, who have come to earth to destroy the planet and re-purpose it as a breeding ground for gargons, giant lobster monsters that the aliens use for food. The gargon, in truth a lobster from a supermarket tank and superimposed on the film in macro-silhouette, is a brain-meltingly bad special effect.
Despite the fact that our hero looks like he should be writing tearfully sincere poems in his spiral notebook during study hall rather than saving the Earth, there's a stunningly sweet sincerity to Derek's appreciation of and affection for the simplicity of Earth life. Rayguns bought at a toy store, alien tech clearly stamped with the names of Earth manufacturing outfits, and lots of stock footage and music make this a glorious cheese-fest that would go on to be the basis of two awesome songs: Teenagers from Mars by the Misfits and and Teenagers from Outer Space by the Meteors.
This flick actually got distributed by Warner Brothers, and played on a double bill with the Godzilla sequel, Gigantis: The Fire Monster. Graeff later went crazy, and proclaimed himself Jesus Christ II. You can't make this stuff up.
Killers From Space (1954)
There are few names as revered in the annals of Hollywood as that of "Wilder." But this steaming pile of cowflop from molasses-fed heifers wasn't directed by Billy Wilder, the maker of classics like The Apartment and Some Like It Hot. Nope! This was expressed from the mind of W. Lee Wilder, Billy Wilder's brother, the maker of nuggets like Phantom from Space and The Snow Creature!
In a performance as a test pilot that could be called "stoic", or maybe "wooden", Peter Graves has a bad case of alien-induced PTSD. Turns out that a buncha ETs in love-handle-enhancing leotards and necktie belts, sporting ping-pong balls for eyes, are mutating bugs and lizards for the destruction of humanity. Graves stumbled on them and the bastards wiped his memory. The eventual miasma of rear-projected slime critters creates a kind of crescendo of crud.
Big Man Japan (2007)
An actual ... y'know ... good movie that made the list 'cuz of its deep sense of goofy lunacy. Japanese comic Hitoshi Matsumoto co-wrote, directed and stars in this truly messed up monster comedy that's an affectionate send-up of and tribute to Japanese dai kaiju (big creature) and tokusatsu (effects-heavy) movies and TV, such as Godzilla movies and Ultraman.
Mid-life-crisis-weary Masaru Daisatō is in a rut, despite his ability to grow to giant-size and fight Japan-smashing monsters in the guise of Big Man Japan, a sumo-like superhero who clubs creatures to death with a pipe. Filmed as a mockumentary while a camera crew follows poor schlub Daisatō around, the movie features an incredible array of freakishly fun monsters, like the Stink Monster ... whose effluvia is a threat to human life and the Leaping Monster, a critter that's just a leg with a head grafted to the thigh that's more disturbing than anything cooked up in the Thing prequel that's befouling movie screens this week.
Troll 2 (1990)
How to describe Troll 2, Claudio Fragasso's fake sequel to the movie Troll, that has developed its own cult following, that has played to packed midnight screenings, that is the focus of themed parties across the US, that has been called a movie worse than Plan 9, that so traumatized its child star Michael Stephenson that years later he made a very good documentary about Troll 2 called Best Worst Movie?
Evil vegetarian short people in spook masks and potato sacks (the costume design work of former Black Emmanuelle softcore porn star Laura Gemser!) turn folks into plants so they can eat them. Yes, that makes no sense. Glory in it! Marvel! At the fairy tale opening with its lovely princess sporting fake freckles applied so ineptly, they make it look like she sneezed into a can of pork and beans! Shudder! As our heroes nearly eat bewitched corn-on-the-cob with green frosting!
Cheer! As our stalwart hero dad (played by Alabama dentist and Best Worst Movie star George Hardy) yells at his son for his... creative... way of saving his family from eating said bewitched and be-frosted corn-on-the-cob! Stare dumbfoundedly! At the seduction-by-popcorn scene!
Get a hold of Troll 2, and track down Best Worst Movie while you're at it.
Zontar: The Thing from Venus (1966)
It's hard to choose just one cinematic abomination from the work of self-described schlockmeister Larry Buchanan. This public-domain beauty made the list because: it features a guy who was a real leading man as its star, John Agar; it has an awesome title that inspired the name of a great psychotronic magazine, Zontar: The Magazine from Venus. titles that start with a "Z" sound seen especially science-fiction-y.
Zontar is part of a series of stunningly cheap 1960s color remakes of stunningly cheap 1950s black-and-white movies that Buchanan made for American International Pictures, like The Eye Creatures (remake of Invasion of the Saucer Men) and Creature of Destruction (remake of The She-Creature). Beloved Zontar is a remake of Roger Corman's It Conquered the World, itself a movie so low-rent, it was the subject of a Frank Zappa song "Cheepnis" and a Zappa monologue on the album Roxy & Elsewhere.
Zontar is about a ... well ... thing ... from Venus ... who comes to ... y'know ... conquer the world. By itself, pretty much. With some help from an Earth ham radio operator. The glory of Larry Buchanan's movies is that they're so inept, rushed and cheap, they take on this dream-like quality that was greatly enhanced by watching them via snowy UHF signals at 2 in the morning, back in the day.
Battlefield Earth (2000)
Why Battlefield Earth, the movie that was the dream project of John Travolta, who wanted to make the flick as a tribute to L. Ron Hubbard, the author of the novel Battlefield Earth and the founder of Scientology? The movie that was called in the New York Times a contender for "the worst movie of this century?" That was given a Razzie as the worst movie of the decade? That bankrupted the studio that produced it?
Because rotten as it is, it's still kind of goofy fun to watch Travolta as an alien bad guy chewing the scenery like it was a baloney sandwich. The over-the-top direction by Roger Christian (who once made a really great SF movie called The Sender ) features dutched angles in every shot, so that if you're watching this craptacular failure with friends and drinking, you'll feel schnokered about two minutes in.
Sort of like Showgirls, Battlefield Earth has a malaise about it that's fun to watch in the same way it's fun to be RickRolled. At least the career of Travolta's co-star Barry Pepper wasn't wrecked by this.