The 10 Greatest Terrible Films of All Time, in All Possible Universes

  1. Death Race 2000, starring Sly Stallone, some other people, and yes, Grasshopper, David Carradine! I think we’ve all fantasized about this (driving over pedestrians for points, not David Carradine, although there’s something mighty fetching about that bizarro rubber suit he’s wearing…). And in case you thought the eponymous death race was just for men, there are some great women racers, too. Vive le difference!

  2. Nudist Colony of the Dead, starring … wait for it … no one you’ve ever heard of. Except for some young lady who later went on to be a gaffer or something for Edward Scissorhands. This film is extremely bad, and it knows it. The premise is that a group of nudists engage in a suicide pact, pledging to come back as zombies and kill the zealots who got them booted off their land. Shameless and sick, but oh-so funny. Plus, with the surging popularity of films like Chicago and Moulin Rouge, the fact that this irreverent freakfest is also a musical can only work in its favor. Right?

  3. They Live, starring “Rowdy” Roddy Piper. This cinematic beauty is famous for its 20-minute fight over an exceptional pair of sunglasses, a scene which has been parodied in everything from South Park to, I think, The Simpsons. Nothing says drama better than Skeletor-faced aliens throwing gang signs. Remember those banners reading, “OBEY”? This is actually a good riff on the subtext of advertising, although it’s hammed up so much you could get trichinosis. That’s what bad sci-fi is all about, folks–highlighting the inadequacies of society by causing us to shoot Mello Yello out of our collective indoctrinated nose.

  4. Clash of the Titans, starring Harry Hamlin, Burgess Meredith (all those books, but his glasses are broken!), Maggie Smith, the oddly bosomy Ursula Andress, Sir Laurence Olivier, and a bevy of low-tech beasts, some of whom are very nasty indeed. We see a bit too much of Mr. Hamlin’s chest hair and not enough of Burgess Meredith’s. Medusa really steals the show here as the ultimate moped girl.

  5. Ishtar, starring Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman. Oh yes, I know you’ve heard about this one, but it’s actually hilarious. The first half, anyway. Beatty and Hoffman are a couple of talentless songwriters who write about things like lawnmowers. These scenes are reminiscent of the Christopher Guest mockumentary-style films (i.e., Waiting for Guffman, This Is Spinal Tap), in which the characters fail to realize the absurdity of what they’re doing, while the audience is in on the joke. Give it a try. Best quote: from Beatty’s character, who has just discovered a Moroccan colleague of theirs is actually a woman, “Look at what you have!”

  6. Attack of the Killer Tomatoes!, starring, um, David Miller and Sharon Taylor (aliases, if ever I heard any–question is, why wouldn’t they want to be identified with this fantastic movie?). This little gem features an eastern bloc Olympic swimmer eating steroid cereal, a character named Mason Dixon, a black man disguising himself (effectively) as Adolph Hitler, a song so bad it can kill (this conceit was later employed in Mars Attacks, in which aliens are destroyed by the vocal stylings of Slim Whitman), and, of course, scads of tomatoes with nought but malice on their minds. Low-budget and worth every freakin’ penny, I say.

  7. Cherry 2000, starring Melanie Griffith. This is a favorite of my husband, for reasons passing understanding. Ok, so maybe it’s got something to do with the idea of robot love slaves. But regardless, it’s a great saga of a regular old Joe going on a heroic search for robot love, only to discover that Melanie Griffith, as his butched-up tracker guide, is way cooler. As a bonus, she can speak in complete sentences, easily out-philosophizing the robot with its paltry ten-word vocabulary (which included an appalling overuse of the word “pretty”). Also, there is a brief bit by Larry Fishburne, that friendly precursor to the stately Laurence, who you can find in such cultural standards as Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. You’ve got to admire an actor who marks the beginning of his serious acting career with a change in name.* And you can see why, too: Larry is that guy you go bowling with, while Laurence is clearly destined to be Othello. Sayonara Cowboy Curtis. We hardly knew ye.

*Alright, so he did Apocalypse Now under the name Larry. But how serious was that film, really?

  1. Escape from New York, starring Kurt Russell, Ernest Borgnine, Isaac Hayes, and Donald “Halloween” Pleasence. Snake Plissken is everyone’s favorite criminal in this tale of love, redemption, and post-apocalyptic mullets. The premise? New York City is a maximum security prison where prisoners have to fend for themselves. When the President’s aircraft crashes there, Snake has to try to steal him back from the baddies. Problem is, Isaac Hayes is so cool, you almost want him to win instead.

  2. Freaked, starring Alex Winters, Brooke Shields, and Randy Quaid. This film was made at the height of the nation’s love affair with mutation. A young rock star is exposed to toxic chemicals (a stretch, I realize) and transforms into a hideous mutant. There are giant, Rastafarian eyeballs and erudite earthworms. The highlight is Randy Quaid swaggering around like an uprooted Southern general, sounding delightfully like a cross between a napalm-sniffing Robert Duvall and Yosemite Sam (a mutation joke–get it?).

  3. A tie!

a. Andy Warhol’s Dracula, starring Udo Kier (you might recognize him as the square, tradition-minded vampire patriarch in Blade). Really more of an adult film at times, although it aspires to social commentary about the inevitable dissolution of the bourgeoisie. A generic beefcake with a hammer and sickle flag in his room busily deflowers the daughters of a wealthy landowner, while Udo Kier stumbles around looking (in vain) for “wirgin blood.” I’ll admit it. I felt sorry for the bloodsucker.

b. Plan 9 from Outer Space, starring Bela Lugosi, who, we all know, died during the filming of it, and the preternaturally skinny Finn, Vampira. It’s directed by ambitious, angora-loving Ed Wood. What’s the plot? Who cares? Something about nefarious aliens who re-animate corpses and try to blow up the sun. Too bad they couldn’t re-animate Lugosi, who is mysteriously and inexplicably absent from the last half of the film.

NOTES ABOUT MY PICKS: I kind of wanted to feature Krull in this list. This was one of my favorite films when I was a child, right up there with that animated version of The Hobbit. However, after purchasing Krull on the cheap and watching it again fairly recently, I was pretty disappointed. It isn’t quite the masterpiece I remember it to be, but it does feature a barely pubescent Liam Neeson, which has got to count for something. Also, Frankenhooker kept tugging at my heartstrings and begging to be included, but it is not entertaining and really has nothing to recommend it but its clever name. And just for the record, Army of Darkness, although brilliant, was WAY too obvious.