Lucas Mangum is an award-nominated horror author of several books and a trash movie enthusiast. He lives in Austin with his family.
The description, “so bad it’s good,” has been around for decades. People have applied it to films as different from each other as the cult classic Rocky Horror Picture Show and Roland Emmerich’s disaster of a disaster movie, The Day After Tomorrow. It’s really become a term of endearment. In fact, it’s not unlikely to find cinephiles who prefer to watch terrible movies to watching good ones. Some critics, such as the now legendary troop from Mystery Science Theater 3000, have made a career out of watching these trashy treasures.
It’s not enough for a movie just to suck, however, if it is to earn this dubiously honorable title. For example, snooze-fests like Snakes on a Plane or Mega Shark versus Giant Octopus, films which set out to suck on purpose, are undeserving of such a title because they aren’t failures, let alone compelling ones. Furthermore, it’s rare for someone to describe a big budget bore as so bad it’s good. It could be because they, given their resources, shouldn’t have failed. Lacking compelling excuses for failure, they are shunned for it. There are exceptions, of course. The Sharknado franchise undoubtedly set out for idiocy, yet amassed an impressive cult following. Colossal failure Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice certainly had lofty aspirations, but, for some reason, remains a watchable disaster in a Franken-film sort of way.
The Room and Troll 2 (a film which earned its own documentary, entitled Best Worst Movie) are some of the more notable entries in this bizarre category, but if you’re brave enough to search beyond such entry-level selections, a whole landfill of glorious garbage awaits your discovery, garbage such as the films listed below.
1. Night Killer (A.K.A. Texas Chainsaw 3)
Where to start with this one? Do we start with the knockoff Freddy Krueger costume with its rubber mask and flimsy knife fingers? Or how about the main character sitting in front of a mirror, caressing her exposed breasts while she has a mini-existential crisis? There's also the fact that it was released overseas as Texas Chainsaw 3, despite the absence of Texas or chainsaws. This film was written by Claudio Fragrasso and directed by Bruno Mattei (under one of his many pseudonyms). A duo with whom you'll be quite familiar by the end of this list.
Gums is the porno you never knew you wanted: a Jaws parody in which a mermaid terrorizes the men in a seaside community (all of whom have a strange penchant for skinny-dipping) by fellating them to death. Boasting character names such as Captain Carl Clitoris and Sheriff Rooster Coxswain, this film has no shortage of self-awareness or terrible puns. Not particularly titillating despite the copious amounts of nudity, it's still an oddly compelling watch for all its absurdity.
3. Raw Force (a.k.a. Kung Fu Cannibals)
Raw Force takes an everything but the kitchen sink approach to its storytelling. The basic plot involves group of martial arts students who travel by boat to a mysterious island haunted by the ghosts of disgraced martial artists, but the island is also home to cannibals, militants, and zombies. The ensuing shenanigans on both the boat and the island are absurd, offensive, and impossible to look away from.
4. Hell of the Living Dead (a.k.a. Virus)
The second Fragrasso/Mattei collaboration on this list is most notable for its shameless "borrowing" of music written for other films by genre heavyweights, Goblin. Shot in only five weeks, it follows a news reporter's investigation of a chemical spill in New Guinea where she runs afoul of violent commandos and flesh-starved zombies. It also contains some of the most awesomely terrible dialogue your apt to hear anywhere. For a teaser, read these jaw-droppingly awful quotes.
5. Butcher, Baker, Nightmare-Maker (a.k.a. Night Warning)
Despite its ridiculous title and some incredibly cringeworthy moments, Butcher, Baker, Nightmare-Maker features some heavier themes which make it an outlier on this list. It's a psychological thriller and takes a valiant stab at social commentary, but it also features an over-the-top performance by Susan Tyrrell as a mother who has a sexual obsession with her son. It's a ballsy, Freudian inversion, rife with WTF moments.
6. Cruel Jaws (a.k.a. Jaws 5)
Despite its alternate billing as the fifth film in the Jaws franchise, Cruel Jaws is more an amalgamation of the first three films in the franchise. Its cast of characters consists of a poor man's Hulk Hogan, an Aaron Eckhart doppleganger, and an animatronic shark head with massive nostrils. Another collaboration from Fragrasso and Mattei, Cruel Jaws boasts incredibly jarring transitions, lots of stock footage, and did I mention the animatronic shark head with massive nostrils?
7. Cathy's Curse
This much-maligned ripoff of The Exorcist follows the shenanigans that ensue after a young girl is possessed by the spirit of her dead aunt. The film moves at a dreary pace, but like many films on this list, it's got a train wreck quality which have given it a cult following in subsequent years. According to IMDB, the lead actress Randi Allen didn't read the script until the first day of shooting, and subsequently never worked in cinema again. Whether or not her career's brevity has to do with her performance in this film is up for debate.
8. Wild Beasts
Written and directed by the reviled and revered Franco Prosperi (Mondo Cane, Goodbye Uncle Tom), this 1984 shocker shows exactly what happens when zoo animals ingest PCP and get loose. Exactly what happens. This movie is 100% realistic. Maybe a documentary. Notable sequences involve a tiger running amok in a subway tunnel, a near-decapitation by a polar bear (which almost happened for real during production), and an elephant stampede on an airport runway. Don't give PCP to zoo animals.
9. Rats: Night of Terror
The final Fragrasso/Mattei entry on this list takes place in a post-apocalyptic wasteland where people have names like Chocolate, Lucifer, and Video. The story follows a group of people who surface one hundred years after a devastating nuclear war and stumble upon a lab overrun by killer rats. Some truly abysmal effects and one of the most jaw-dropping endings in any film (good or bad), make this an all-time gem of trash cinema.
10. Lady Terminator
This insane Indonesian action horror film, follows a young anthropology student who gets possessed by the spirit of an evil queen and goes on to reenact scenes from The Terminator. A final battle featuring ultra-80s super-friends, laser eyes, and a deadpanned statement of grief ("Tubbs, my buddy.") make this one of the most memorable bad movies of ever. Also, the antagonist has an eel living in her vagina that turns into a dagger whenever she is "tamed." Lady Terminator is a doozy.
Lucas Mangum (author) from Austin on May 28, 2020:
It's so good! I saw it for the first time at 6 a.m. in the middle of a movie marathon that had been going since noon the previous day. I couldn't believe what I was seeing.