My Top Ten | B-MoviesB-Movies are low-budget films that are "so bad, they're good". Of all my "lists", this one was by far the most fun to create. Growing up in the city of Chicago with the bitter cold winters and blistering hot summers, there wasn't always much to do. We didn't have regular family outings, cell phones, or computers...we had one TV and our imaginations, more than enough for hours of entertainment. Suffice it to say, life can be hard, but whenever I am presented with an image of a monster in a rubber suit en route to Tokyo, I can't help but punch my fist into the air and shout, "Yesssss!!". Enjoy.
1 | Imagine if you were given a bubble machine, diving helmet, chalkboard, a gorilla suit, a TV (including antennae), random stock footage of reptiles, and 66 minutes in which to make a movie -- what would you do? No doubt, you would have been the proud director of Robot Monster and one of the worse films ever made. How do I know? Because that is basically what Phil Tucker did in 1953, and what makes you think your "vision" would have been any better, hmmm? The best part? Your musical score is going to come from Elmer Berstein. Yes, the same person who would later score The Ten Commandments, The Magnificent Seven, and The Great Escape. **Claps excitedly.
In my opinion, Ro-man (left), represents all misunderstood monsters. He suffers from a serious identity crisis late into the movie, where he repeatedly bemoans, "I cannot, but I must". On top of all his angst, he is horny. I mean, really...who can't relate? I can't make this stuff up, you just need to see it for yourself. Absolutely priceless.
2 | As mentioned, I grew up in the city of Chicago. In the mid-70s, WGN Television 9 (local TV station) would air Creature Features on Saturday evenings. I cannot emphasize what a treat this was for me on the occasion I would get to watch it -- staying up late, lights out, Jiffy Pop made on the *stovetop*, and the like of classic horror films such as Creature from the Black Lagoon, Dracula, Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, The Mummy's Tomb, and The Invisible Man. I have since become an avid B-rated movie fan, largely due to these childhood memories that I will always cherish (there weren't many); movies like Robot Monster made the genre an obsession.
In contrast was The Lone Ranger. I don't know anything about its history, nor do I care to learn. All I know is that aside from televised church services and TV evangelists that needed your money, it was the *only* show on TV early Sunday mornings (this is just shy of cable days with only four channels to choose from). I can't place why it doesn't represent some sort of endearing nostalgia like the others, but it was torture. Perhaps it's a default association with the perfect and big-haired evangelists that still freak me out to this day. Regardless, if I ever hear the words, "Hi-ho, Silver, away!"...I will either openly weep or slap someone. No, that's not an invitation. Kthxbai.
Then there was Johnny Sokko and his Flying Robot, a lesser known Japanese low budget sci-fi. I grew up thinking Tokyo was a city on a small island that served as the personal stomping grounds for 200 foot tall reptile-like monsters on a near weekly basis, usually Sunday afternoons. But futuristic Johnny Sokko, sporting his suspiciously looking motorcycle helmet, had a secret weapon no one else did -- a flying robot which he controlled through a wrist watch that put the Captain Crunch Decoder Ring to shame. Not only did he fly on command, but his pre-battle warm-ups were a precursor to Madonna's Vogue that would appear almost a decade later. Check it out here if you don't believe me. Remember, you heard it here first.
3 | Plan 9 from Outer Space, directed by Ed Wood in 1959 starring Gregory Walcott, Maila "Vampire" Nurmi, and Bela Lugosi (posthumously). This movie rolled its eyes as it did the Limbo under the "bar" I did not think could be set any lower by Robot Monster in 1953. More use of random stock footage, plot continuity that resembles an unsolved Rubik's cube, and awful (just awful) special effects -- to the extent you can clearly see the hand of someone moving a prop and strings attached to the flying saucers (which are actually hub caps). The image on the right? That is someone's shower curtain in the background, and for whatever reason, I just couldn't be anymore pleased. In fact, there are *so* many blatant flaws it's a perfect movie to play the 'Hi Bob' drinking game to. So why are the aliens so angry? Well...""Because all you of Earth are idiots!" Today's translation: You all suck! Duh. What makes this movie such a classic is that Ed Wood really believed he was making something profound and insightful, and it was obvious to everyone but him what an abysmal failure it was.
4 | Army of Darkness (Action/Comedy), third in the Evil Dead trilogy, directed by Sam Raimi in 1992 starring Bruce Campbell and Elizabeth Davidtz. This movie epitomizes the artistic style and genre known as "camp". Our hero (I think) is Ash played by Bruce Campbell. I hesitate here because he talks *so* much smack that simply cannot be backed up, you never quite know whether or not he is going to get his ass kicked into the another century. Ironically enough, that is exactly what happens. He's the train wreck you just can't take your eyes off of. There are far too many memorable quotes to mention, so I will leave you with just one: Duke Henry: I am Henry the Red, Duke of Shale, Lord of the Northland and leader of its peoples. Ash: Well, he-lloooo, Mister Fancypants. I've got news for you, pal, you ain't leadin' but two things right now -- Jack and shit -- and Jack left town.
5 | Gamera, produced by Daiei Motion Pictures in 1965 starring...well, Gamera. I am not alone when I say that Gamera was a victim of speciesism in species-racist Japan. Gamera never gained the popularity Japan's beloved Godzilla did (the "spirit" of Godzilla is actually that of Tokyo's enemy), thereby proving the fact that Japanese people prefer lizards over turtles. When you factor in other similarities and differences between the two, the equation becomes as follows:
The many faces of Gamera have changed over the years, but a key characteristic remains constant as one film critic so eloquently points out:
" Considering that Gamera never needs to refuel, we must assume he is organic and not mechanical. Therefore, the jet blasts come not from burning petrol, but from the byproducts of organic material. This is not a matter of shame for the Japanese, who are more frank about bodily processes, and even have a best-selling children's book named The Gas We Pass. Yes, Gamera is powered by farts."
THIS is what I'm talkin' 'bout, yo. My job here is done -- now get outta here.
6 | Pink Flamingos, directed by John Waters in 1972 starring female impersonator, Divine. This movie is an "exercise in poor taste" as the original theatrical release poster discloses, which is an understatement to say the least. The film came in at number 29 on the list of 50 Films to See Before You Die, a 2006 show in the UK. While that sounds promising, it's not the type of movie you should watch with anyone without apologizing profusely well in advance...even then, be prepared to either lose a friend or find your soulmate. There are several scenes that gave new and literal meaning to 'ROFLMAO' (first and only time I have ever actually done this, so it seemed fitting to mention) as I was thinking: a) Who would ever think of that? b) Who could do it?? and c) In the unlikely event someone did and could, who would EVER film it??? If you have seen it, you know what I am referring to. In a twisted way that I cannot explain, this is one of the funniest movies I have ever seen -- and for that, I am very sorry.
7 | Anything "old school" that includes Ray Harryhausen's stop-motion photography/animation, most notably Jason and the Argonauts, The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, and Clash of the Titans. I am a huge fan of his work, even more so than today's fancy CGI effects...and certainly much more respect for the technique used.
Stop-motion photography requires long hours of hard work to produce even a few seconds of film footage. Clay figures are often used in which the object is moved in small increments between individually photographed frames, creating the illusion of movement when the series of frames is played as a continuous sequence. A single error can cause many days worth of material to be wasted. I was mesmerized by these movies as a kid, and even though this technique has been virtually replaced by the computer, its long-lasting "effect" has not been lost on me.
8 | Re-animator, directed by Stuart Gordon in 1985 starring Jeffrey Combs. Based on a book by the same name from H.P. Lovecraft, but that's not the point. The tagline sums it up best: "Herbert West has a very good head on his shoulders... and another one in a dish on his desk." It's all about gore, guts, and gratuitous nudity -- the usual suspects of any b-flick. Now I love a quality **campy** decapitation as much as the next person, but it's the off-beat and dry sense of humor this movie offers that makes me laugh more than usual. A sample of which includes: "You're never going to receive credit for my discovery. Who's going to believe a talking head? Get a job in a sideshow." Where to begin with this "battle-of-wits" dialogue? I am laughing as I type this, just go watch it.
9 | Godzilla vs Megalon produced by Toho Company Ltd in 1973. Back to monsters in rubber suits fighting enemies that spawn as a direct result of environmental pollution or nuclear testing...ahhh, my comfort zone. There isn't a Godzilla movie I don't hold in high esteem, but this one holds a special place. Maybe it's because he teams up with Jet Jaguar, a robot that resembles Johnny Sokko's Flying Robot. Regardless, the dynamic duo battle Megalon (and his teammate, Gigan) in some of the best rubber monster suit choreography I have seen. It also features the infamous Godzilla "tail slide" which is nothing but pure art in motion. A cute video remix of both can be seen here. Without fail, I always need to dry my eyes at the end of this movie as the triumphant Godzilla and Jet Jaguar shake hands and go their separate ways. Tokyo is safe once again -- at least until next Sunday afternoon.
10 | Reserved, directed by Pete, Peter, someone well known today. There is a gem of a movie that I simply cannot remember the name of. It will come to me eventually, so stay tuned.
Not surprising, it has to do with zombies and entrails. And no, not the obvious one. C'mon, give me more credit than that. It's about a mama's boy living with his overbearing mother (and no, not that one either) who gets bitten by some rodent...and like I said, zombies, lotsa zombies. Got any ideas, lemme know.
Edit: Interestingly enough, a google search of "Rodent Zombies Peter"' produces not what I am looking for, BUT I very may well have uncovered a hidden treasure. Alas, it's a trailer of a German movie named Dod Sno (I think?) without subtitles...all I know is that is has something to do with Hitler and swastika-sporting zombies that can run. And there is snow. I must know more. Check it out here.