To paraphrase Shirley Jackson: “Some movies are just born bad”. Like the cursed and lethal videotape from the popular Japanese film, “The Ring,” some movies exist to inflict harm on its viewers. Don’t confuse these malicious beasties with the innocuous ineptitude of “bad” movies like “Plan Nine from Outer Space” or “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes.” These are fun, harmless movies. They didn’t mean to be awful. Like Jessica Rabbit, these movies aren’t bad; they were just shot that way.
No, I’m talking about blights on the collective unconscious. Movies that were made to cause pain. Make no mistake: these films do not like you. In fact, they hate you, and hope with their very blackened souls that you will leap out a window to escape their wretchedness. Hateful, spiteful movies like these include the remake of The Haunting, “Speed 2,” “Twister” (hmm, I’m sensing a Jan De Bont pattern – could he be the great horned god of evil movies?), and “Jaws 4: The Revenge” (“This time, it’s personal!”). These are the Films of the Damned. They should only be viewed under extreme caution. Recently, in my quest to warn mankind about evil movies, I came across two more to add to the Mr. Yuck List.
The first, and perhaps the biggest, most expensive travesty ever committed against our silver screens is, of course, Battlefield Earth. It almost seems redundant to talk about it here, after having seen it lambasted by every man, woman and child who has come into contact with it. Anyone who is not John Travolta, as a matter of fact. But it has come to my attention that people are continuing to watch this movie – to see if it is as bad as everyone says!! Well, allow me to clear up any misconception with a resounding, “Yes, you fools!!” Yes, for the love of god, this is as bad as they say. And worse!
Yes, it is true: every shot is a forty-five degree Dutch angle. Yes, John Travolta does seem to be doing an impression of Rowan Atkinson while dressed as Bob Marley. Yes, it’s true that humans go from a primitive cave-dwelling civilization to easily comprehending the delicate skill of piloting advanced technology in a matter of days. Nothing makes the smallest amount of sense in this film. Why is there no oral history handed down among the humans that would explain what happened to modern civilization? Why does Travolta help human Barry Pepper learn about the alien culture and then get mad when Pepper learns about the alien culture? Why the hell would an advanced civilization call themselves “Psychlos”? How could two races virtually co-exist for one thousand years without either knowing anything about the other? Or am I being completely naïve here? (And Travolta still has every intention of making a sequel. *Sigh*)
But as bad as Battlefield Earth is, I recently saw something worse. Watching “Children of the Living Dead” ranks up there with slamming my hand repeatedly in a door as something I will never do again. At least Battlefield Earth has some kitsch value – even though it should still be treated like radiation. “Children of the Living Dead” is the Ebola virus of bad movies. It will leave a bad taste in your mind. After this movie ended, I felt like I’d spent several months as the prettiest boy in prison.
A plotless, diarrheic movie, “COTLD” ostensibly takes place in the same world created by John Russo in the much-maligned Night of the Living Dead – 30th Anniversary Edition (what I like to call the “disco remix”) – where zombies abound and… well, that’s about it. This time, we’re told, the zombies are created by a serial killer named Abbott Hayes. Hayes, we’re told, became a serial killer because (are you ready for this?) his mother dressed him as a girl. If that were all it took to create serial killers, there wouldn’t be a Rocky Horror audience left alive!
(Let me state right now, for the record, that John Russo, co-writer of the original “Night of the Living Dead,” and director of such films as “The Majorettes,” “Midnight,” and the underrated “Heartstopper,” had nothing to do with “Children of the Living Dead.” Yes, his name is in the credits as “executive producer”, but don’t let that fool you. For all his faults as an artist, Jack is basically a good guy at heart. He could not, in good conscience, be a part of this crime against humanity.)
Like any good geek, I have sought out a few people involved in this heresy. The working conditions, I was informed, were laughable at best. And everyone I’d interviewed agrees that the sole criminal behind this desecration is screenwriter Karen Lee Wolf. You might remember Wolf’s name connected as Associate Producer on Night of the Living Dead – The Disco Remix and a little gem called “Heated Vengeance” starring noted thespians Michael J. Pollard, and Richard Hatch (“Battlestar Galactica”). Aside from being the scribe behind this misadventure, Wolf is also the daughter of the producer and chief investor, Joseph Wolf. Therefore, whatever she said on set was law. Or so I’m led to believe from my sources. Wolf’s role as Law Giver overruled director Tor Ramsey, who in turn, overruled talented cinematographer and all-around sweetheart Bill Hinzman, who, in turn, did his best to keep everyone in focus (not necessarily a good thing, actually).
Law Giver Karen Wolf is also responsible for such lines of dialogue as: “Many of us will be killed by those things, so let’s be careful out there” (said by the cowardly sheriff-turned-hero – not exactly the St. Crispin’s Day speech, eh?); and “Of all the places in all the world, my dad chose to build his car dealership in zombie central” (not exactly “Dude, where’s my car?”, eh?). Wolf also adds to the zombie mythology with the little tidbit of information (delivered by Tom Savini himself, the movie’s sole burst of energy) that zombies are not attracted to children. Yet this information is neither explained or even addressed again. Which brings up a curious point. Except for a batch of little bullet-headed offspring at the beginning, “Children of the Living Dead” contains no children.
Other lapses include beautiful drinking-game continuity gaffes: take a drink every time you see the same three zombies take shots in the head. Take a drink during the wonderful “hard hat scene” – in which two construction workers have a conversation, and the one holding the bright yellow hard hat in one shot, mysteriously loses it in the next. Then gets it back. Then loses it. Back. Gone. Wheee! We’re all smashed and the scene’s still going! Let’s not even examine how characters can utterly miss a zombie nine inches away at one point, then become a sharpshooter the next. Maybe they have special zombie guns – aim in any direction, kill three zombies. American know-how at its finest. Mercifully, the movie itself must know how bad it is, because roughly seventy-five grueling minutes in, the film just stops. No conclusion, no dénouement, just credits. Very teeny, very rapid credits – fortunately for all involved.
Some very good, honest, decent, upstanding people were unfortunately involved in this travesty. I choose to look at these lapses in otherwise good judgment as their falling under some sort of cultish mind-control. It’s the only logical explanation. Doubtless, they will all survive and go on to better things – as it’s a cinematic impossibility that they will go on to do anything worse.
So, name your poison: Battlefield Earth, or “Children of the Living Dead.” Which one is worse? Who can tell? Remember to wear protective goggles when viewing these movies. And make sure you wash your mind out with something good afterwards. I recommend large doses of “Kafka,” “Wild Zero,” and Shadow of the Vampire.
Mike Watt attempts to explore all the things that make Geek culture great, as well as pointing out all the things that make Geeks genetically superior to all other humans. During the course of this exploration, he may undoubtedly have to reveal horrid truths about Hollywood and Mainstream Cinema, as they compare to the riches of independent filmmaking. Ultimately, he hopes to bring higher awareness of and respect to Geek Culture, as well as secure a hefty book deal and the accolades of his (richer) peers. Feel free to lavish him with affection (or bitch at him) at email@example.com.
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