Top 10 Terrible and Bizarre Cult Classics

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Some films are great, some not so much, and some suck so bad that they get their own documentary, society, and theatrical production. The following is a list of movies that were terrible ideas to start with, were executed poorly, and have since gone on to not only be appreciated by the masses, but loved more than any earnest art house picture ever could. Unless that art house film featured vegetarian goblins.

10. Santa Claus Conquers the Martians

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People love Santa Claus, and they love space. So in 1964, someone got the idea to merge the two. Now someone, somewhere, must have taught: “What a ridiculous idea. That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.” Luckily, that sensible person was ignored, and the result is Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. The acting, sets, and costumes are terrible, though endearingly so, while the internal film logic necessary for most movies to succeed is conspicuous by its absence. It didn’t exactly conquer the world in 1964, and was pretty much forgotten during the intervening decades.

Until Mystery Science Theater 3000 came along, that us. Thanks to their riffing on the film, the Santa-Martian love-in began. In the ensuing years, this kitsch classic  has spawned its own comic, had a cameo on The Colbert Report, and been riffed on by Cinematic Titanic. In 1993, it also got its very own musical. Finding the home it was always destined for, it has been a staple of Comedy Central’s Christmas season for years.

9. Robot Monster

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Released in 3D in 1953, Robot Monster features a robot in a gorilla suit, dinosaurs, and illogical robot-human attraction. Waylaid by budgetary trouble (It was shot in four days, for about $16,000,) and an over-reliance on stock footage from older films, the movie never really stood a chance.

George Barrows played both Ro-Man, the titular robot, as well as his alien superior, the Great Guidance. Both character’s oddly-similar voices are never explained. Director Phil Tucker’s budget didn’t stretch to anything as outlandish as a robot costume, so he got the next best thing: a gorilla suit. The nifty outfit was topped off with a rather spiffy diving helmet.

Its production problems didn’t stop it from technically being a financial success. It made almost $1 million on its theatrical release (making its budget back approximately 62 times over,) and even managed a few decent reviews. Both Stephen King (who thought it was “art of quite a high nature” as a kid) and director John Carpenter have described it as a favorite.

8. Mystery of the Leaping Fish

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Founding member of United Artists, friend to Charlie Chaplin, and swashbuckling lead in The Mask of Zorro and Robin Hood, Douglas Fairbanks was a world-famous screen idol in the 1920’s. Before he made the leap to screen God though, Fairbanks appeared in some rather odd films. One such picture, that he would come to regret ever appearing in, was The Mystery of the Leaping Fish.

The film is a parody of the Sherlock Holmes stories, and lampoons the detective’s love of all things narcotic. It features the erstwhile sleuth (subtlety named Coke Ennyday) smoking and injecting his way through a literal bucketload of cocaine and opium. Like an untrained child, still waiting to be potty trained, his clock only has four settings: Eat, Sleep, Dope and Drink. Solving mysteries, or “work,” is clearly not a priority for this laissez-faire Sherlock.

The farce’s bizarre take on Arthur Conan Doyle’s most famous creation has long since taken on cult status. The Museum of Modern Art in New York City screened a restored 35mm print of the film in January 2009.

7. Eegah

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Here’s the whole plot of Eegah, probably drafted on the back of a beer mat: a caveman appears in sixties 1960’s California, and falls in love with a pretty Californian girl. Financed by Arch Hall Sr. as a starring vehicle for his son, Arch Hall Jr., it is another film in the long line of splendidly-awful movies that have gained notoriety after appearing on MST3K.

Hall Sr.’s (off-screen) line, “look out for snakes,” despite there being none on-screen, became something of a running joke on MST3K, and was also referenced in The Office.

6. Monster A Go-Go

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As troubled productions go, this is right up there with Apocalypse Now, although it had the considerable advantage of not having to deal with an elephantine Marlon Brando. Monster’s first director ran out of money, so Herschell Gordon-Lewis bought the unfinished film, and created a few additional scenes and some extra dialogue. Unfortunately, four years had elapsed since the initial production, and the director was unable to secure most of the original cast. So he did the only reasonable thing he could do: he replaced most of the characters halfway through the film with new ones, who filled pretty much identical roles. One of the original cast members who did return no longer looked enough like himself to play the same character, so he played that character’s brother.

Not being able to afford things like sets or special effects, much of the important points of the plot take place off-screen: the capture of the titular monster, his escape; y’know, the boring stuff. Come the film’s end, it was revealed that we had actually been had; there was no monster after all. Instead we were just left with some terrible, terrible excuses for storytelling.

5. Starcrash

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Is there any list that not improved by featuring a David Hasselhoff film? Probably. Not this one though. As you might have guessed from the title, Starcrash was a quickly (and cheaply-produced) Star Wars cash-in.

The production of the film was frequently halted due to financial issues, and its production company, American International Pictures, decided it was far, far too terrible to release. In stepped New World Pictures, and one of the world’s greatest cinematic disasters was set free upon the world. It’s been called a “masterpiece of unintentionally bad filmmaking,” and has been compared to Plan 9 From Outer Space, which is the sort of praise any young filmmaker would sell his left testicle for.

4. Mac and Me

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Proving that it’s not just cheaply produced B-movies that can get things terribly wrong (or right, depending on how you look at it,) Mac and Me is another movie attempting to cash in on a cultural touchstone. It was happy to pilfer liberally from the legacy of ET, telling the tale of a wheelchair-bound kid who befriends an escaped alien. They team up to phone home, and reunite Mac with his family.

As shameless as Lady Gaga in a nudist colony, the film is happy to shill, hawk and peddle as much merchandise as it possibly could fit into its 95-minute running time. The main character’s name is Mac, who only consumes Coca-Cola and Skittles, while an impromptu 4-minute dance number takes place in McDonald’s. The scene in question sees dozens of implausibly cheerful children inexplicably dancing in perfect sync, while a terrifying Ronald McDonald gazes on in the background. It comes off like a typical episode of Glee, only with more dancing alien.

At present time, Mac hasn’t managed to replace ET in the hearts of millions. The film has become a running joke between Paul Rudd and Conan O’ Brien though, which is almost the same thing.

3. Plan 9 From Outer Space

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Ed Wood probably deserves a list all to himself, not to mention knighthood. Universally lauded as the greatest worst director ever, Wood’s hapless attempts at filmmaking have endeared him to audiences the world over. Tim Burton even dedicated a whole film to him.

Plan 9 is his most famous creation, and one of his most bonkers (though they were all pretty bonkers). The basic story revolves around a group of aliens and their attempt to stop humanity by making a doomsday device that would destroy the universe. There are also some zombies thrown in for good measure.

Things really get odd though, with the fleeting appearances of Bela Lugosi. The Dracula star appeared in the movie despite the considerable handicap of being dead when filming began. Wood cut previously filmed footage of the fading star into his latest film with as much craft as a kindergarten production of Hamlet, and hired his wife’s chiropractor to impersonate Lugosi for the remainder of the film. Said chiropractor was a foot taller than Lugosi and didn’t look a thing like him, so Wood just told him to walk around with a cape over his face the entire time. The only people who noticed were severe nitpickers like everybody in the universe.

The continuity errors and clunky dialogue have become legendary. The best, perhaps, was the description of the “cigar-shaped” UFOs, that were clearly saucer-shaped. Numerous documentaries have chronicled the marvelous madness at the heart of Wood’s film, as well as songs, comic books, a video game, and a theatrical adaptation.

2. Death Bed: The Bed That Eats

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Death Bed: The Bed That Eats is another brilliantly titled film, with some of the greatest worst dialogue ever. For example, a dead man, imprisoned in a painting, exclaimed about the killer bed: “Oh my God, it’s waking up.”

Technically, the bed doesn’t actually eat anything; it seems to merely dissolve them in its digestive fluids while making chewing noises. The sound effects are terrifically weird throughout, and amount to a series of odd electronic blips, squeaks, and farts, that have very little to do with the action on-screen. It’s almost as if someone replaced the actual soundtrack with the sound of a kid playing Space Invaders on the Atari 2600. Also, a large amount of the dialogue takes place in people’s heads.

Created by director George Barry way back in 1977, for decades it only existed as a bootleg video. Then the director noticed it had gained quite an online fan base, and released it on DVD in 2003. It remains the only film Barry has ever made.

Oh, and if you wish to watch the movie below, be warned that there are some NSFW boobie shots. Also, people die horribly, but your boss probably doesn’t care about that.

1. Troll 2

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Troll 2 has the distinction of having perhaps the single greatest terrible plot in the history of film, maybe even storytelling itself. It tells the classic Shakespearean tale of a family pursued by vegetarian goblins who seek to turn the humans into plants, so they can eat them.

The first thing that should be pointed out about Troll 2 (besides the wonderful plot) is that it was not conceived as a sequel to the 1986 film Troll. Its distributor didn’t think it could succeed on its own (shocker,) and thus renamed and repackaged it as a sequel. There is no connection between the films whatsoever. Also, no actual trolls appear in Troll 2, unless you count the one who wrote this piece of trash.

The film is awful by pretty much any criteria imaginable; it’s so awful, in fact, you can’t find the whole thing online. With terrible acting, horrendous dialogue, and a plot as mad as a room full of Jokers, it should be about as enjoyable as a hacksaw to the genitals.

Of course, quality has never stopped a film becoming a cult hit. Since its release in 1990, Troll 2 has garnered a dedicated following. Its journey from critical derision to cult classic was chronicled in the documentary Best Worst Movie. Directed by Michael Stevenson, child star of Troll 2, the documentary received pretty much universal acclaim, something its subject never received.

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Kevin Forde edits the not-entirely-serious advice website selfhelp102.com and also tweets about stuff. 


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10 Comments

  1. Ed Wood had the most one-sided love affair ever: he absolutely loved movies, but movies did not love him back, to say the least.

    However, it is to his credit that he gave poor, ailing, forgotten Bela Lugosi a job when everyone else had turned their backs on him. Wood will thus have several centuries shaved off of his term in Cinema Purgatory.

  2. I absolutely loved this list. I haven’t laughed this hard in a while. I’ll be sure to look up some of these,Plan 9, Trolls and The Mystery of the Leaping Fish being at the top of my list.
    Great list!!

  3. I wouldn’t call most the movies on this list “cult classics”, but they do all have the commonality of being terrible.

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