Rupert Pupkin Speaks: "Bad" Movies We Love Guest Post: Jon Abrams ""

Saturday, June 23, 2012

"Bad" Movies We Love Guest Post: Jon Abrams

Jon Abrams – no relation to JJ – is a New York-based writer and cartoonist who has written for television, comics, and various internet venues. Jon’s work and credits can be found at his site, Demon’s Resume. You can contact him on Twitter as @jonnyabomb.


If you ask me, none of us have enough time on this planet to worry about so-called guilty pleasures. If I like a movie, there’s no shame in it for me. If I genuinely despise a movie, I try mighty hard to keep it to myself. Most movies are made by real people with thoughts and feelings, and a lot of hard work went into both the greats, and the ones that don’t turn out so hot. That said, not all movies are created equal. I’ve mystified many friends, colleagues, and family members by my insistence that I loved a movie, even though I recognized why they were right to determine that it was “bad.” I’ve mystified just as many people by asserting my complete lack of interest in several esteemed movies which are widely regarded as “good.” (This has been known to happen during awards season.) It’s valuable to have an objective standard of quality by which to measure any type of art, even one so subjective as movies. But it’s also important to watch movies with your heart and your soul. Some lesser-crafted movies are easier able to connect with you in a particular time and place in your life than a much more finely-tuned precision instrument of cinema. And sometimes, you just need a laugh. What follows are the first ten examples that came to mind of “bad” movies I love, with a couple runners-up. I could have kept this going all day, but I had to stop sometime. A man needs to eat.


Hsing Hsing Wang (Mighty Peking Man) (1977)
I first discovered this one thanks to Quentin Tarantino’s short-lived Rolling Thunder DVD label, which I sorely miss and pray one day returns. Mighty Peking Man is what happened when Hong Kong’s prolific Shaw Brothers Studios, best known for their run of kung fu epics, tried to cash in on the 1976 remake of King Kong. Like Roger Corman,  the Shaw Brothers in their heyday produced terrifically memorable cult items and monumentally inept abominations in equal proportions. Mighty Peking Man falls into the latter category. A team of adventurers, guided by the intrepid alcoholic Johnny (Danny Lee), heads to the Himalayas with an army of natives in order to glimpse the legendary Peking Man, a gargantuan ape-like monster. In the wilderness, Johnny encounters and falls in love with the feral yet incongruously bodacious Samantha (Evelyn Kraft) – think a lady Tarzan in constant danger of a nip slip – a romance which doesn’t go over well with Mighty Peking Man, who found and raised Samantha since childhood. Don’t ask. It’s hard for me to overstate how dramatically inferior Mighty Peking Man is to any other version of King Kong ever made, yet it’s infinitely more hysterical than any of them. For one thing, you’ll never see a more atrocious gorilla costume in a kaiju film. Well,  costume(s) plural! Mighty Peking Man doesn’t even have a consistent appearance from shot to shot. Next, Evelyn Kraft as Samantha, visually appealing as she is, gives a non-self-aware performance for the ages. No woman has ever been quite so aggressively acrobatic while being so close to losing her bikini. And there are some doped-up animal performers in this movie who would make the ASPCA shudder.  The thing with Mighty Peking Man is that you need to stop watching it after the first 45  minutes or so – first because it’s not healthy to laugh that hard for that long, second because its latter half takes an unfortunate dip into unintended sadism that isn’t fun  even ironically. But for that first stretch, man – hoo boy.

Private School (1983)
If you get deep enough into film-fanatic circles, you will find us split into two camps: The kind who know director Noel Black for his 1968 potboiler Pretty Poison, with Tuesday Weld and Anthony Perkins, and those who know him for his 1983 teen sex comedy  Private School, starring Phoebe Cates, Matthew Modine, and Betsy Russell. Oh,  Betsy Russell. As the “bad girl” who tries to lure Matthew Modine away from “good girl”  Phoebe Cates, Betsy Russell made the kind of indelible impression on legions of pre-pubescent moviegoers and VHS hounds that only a handful of voluptuous redheads in cinema history have ever made. To men of a younger generation, Betsy Russell  is our Rita Hayworth and the topless horseback ride she takes is her Gilda moment. She may not be a household name, but Betsy Russell solidified a generation’s sexual orientations. Doubtless she also sparked a number of film editing careers, since many  budding filmmakers’ first experience cutting footage was our desperate attempts to edit  Matthew Modine and that guy who played “Bubba” out of the many scenes where an energetic and enthusiastic Betsy Russell appears in varying degrees of undress. I’ll tell you how much Betsy Russell meant to my budding libido at the time – I could barely be bothered to notice Phoebe Cates in the same movie. Phoebe Cates! There’s no higher compliment. Now, the rest of Private School is substandard Porky’s (which itself is fairly substandard Animal House), but since it’s the shuttle delivering an atomic payload, it’s difficult not to feel grateful to the movie.

Canicule (Dog Day) (1984)
Now this movie I actually hate, but I’m so fascinated by how awful and ugly it is that it had to make this list. Understand that Lee Marvin is probably my favorite old-school movie star. There was none other remotely like him. He was eminently watchable  in every single movie he made. But what happens when the movie around him is horrendously unwatchable? Dog Day was made at the tail end of Lee Marvin’s phenomenal career, and it’s the opposite of a dignified capstone. It’s the first time  onscreen that his trademark gray hair made him look  weary and aging. I blame the French. Dog Day – or Canicule, as it’s less appealingly known in its native tongue – is a French  production, from a French director, with a largely French supporting cast. It’s hard to find much background information on this movie, since no one anywhere remembers it fondly. (There’s certainly no mention of it in Marvin’s biography.) It starts out with a fairly straightforward set-up, as Lee Marvin and his associate/girlfriend Tina Louise (Ginger from Gilligan’s Island, if we must) rob a bank and go on the lam. The girlfriend doesn’t make it, but Marvin keeps going, ending up at a farmhouse that contains the kind of authentically disturbing characters that make the heavies in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre look like The First Wives’ Club. The least upsetting of them is David Bennent (the baby-man from The Tin Drum), the most upsetting is-- well, it’s a toss-up. To put it kindly, no one in this part of movie was cast for their physical beauty, and the dingy, clumsy filmmaking does them no favors. The film revels in ugliness, and I mean ugly in a conceptual sense – the child played by David Bennent is involved in a creepy orgy, a suicide is played for laughs, and there is actually a character played by an African actor who these bastard filmmakers had the gall to name “Doudou Cadillac.” Make no mistake: They’re calling a black guy “Doo-Doo.” Really, it’s horrendous. But the movie is like a hideous wreck in which a loved one is entombed – the memory is impossible to erase.

Berry Gordy’s The Last Dragon (1985)
Back to unequivocal adoration: I love this movie way more than I love most conventionally accepted “classic films.” Given the choice, I’d opt to watch this movie over Citizen Kane, Casablanca, and even The Godfather. There, it’s out. I said it. I accept that no one will ever let me call this a good movie, but the rest of the world is going to have to accept my [completely sober] insistence that this is a one-of-a- kind genre occurrence, and for that alone it deserves respect. As the story of young Leroy “Bruce Leroy” Green (Taimak) and his mission to defend popular VJ Laura Charles (Vanity) against evil arcade owner Eddie Arkadian (Chris Murney) and local bully The Shogun Of Harlem (Julius J. Carry III), The Last Dragon stands alone in its genre -- the Motown-kung fu-action-romantic-comedy musical. There’s so much genuine goodness about The Last Dragon. It teaches kids about Bruce Lee. It gave early-career employment to legendary character-actors Mike Starr, Chazz Palminteri, and William H. Macy. It has music from Willie Hutch, Stevie Wonder, and Vanity. It has a kid who’s been tied up by bad guys escaping by break-dancing out of the ropes. This movie is a positive force for the universe. I watch it and I smile. It’s one of my few nostalgic indulgences – but it’s still fun to watch as an adult. I fear the potential remake, despite the involvement of Sam Jackson and the RZA and despite the personal assurance I’ve received from Taimak himself (!). The Last Dragon was lightning in a bottle, and let’s face it, it’s not actually possible to catch lightning in a bottle… unless a genuine miracle is involved.

Deadly Friend (1986)
In 1984, Wes Craven made A Nightmare On Elm Street. Two years later, the phenomenally compromised Deadly Friend threatened to revoke his horror-master status. Deadly Friend only works as a comedy, but if you look at it that way, it’s phenomenal. The movie concerns one of those 1980s genius kids who invents a bright yellow robot named “B.B.” (voiced by the same guy who voiced Roger Rabbit). The robot, which is like a big yellow Johnny Five from Short Circuit if Johnny Five had been willing to crush the nuts of neighborhood bullies like a vise, is the equivalent of problem dog. The kid loves him, but he bites, and eventually he’s got to be put down. Luckily, the one holding the shotgun is the one-of-a-kind Anne Ramsey – you know her from The Goonies, Throw Momma From The Train, and Scrooged. She plays the mean neighborhood lady who shoots up the kid’s robot. A sad day. Meanwhile, the kid has managed to befriend his troubled next-door neighbor, who is played by a very young, distressingly-cute Kristy Swanson. The girl, Sam, suffers under an abusive father, who ends up knocking her down the stairs, which sends her into a  coma. Having now lost his two only friends, what else can the science kid do but put B.B.’s robot personality into Kristy Swanson’s body? If this were any other 1980s teen movie, there’d be sexual overtones, but it’s a Wes Craven flick, so the robot Sam has to end up going on a killing rampage, despite the fact that, no offense, Kristy Swanson isn’t all that scary. Come for the scene where Kristy Swanson destroys Anne Ramsey with a basketball, stay for the hilariously non-frightening end-credits song where B.B. the robot raps over ominous synthesizer strains.

El Semental De Palo Alto (1988)
I lived in a heavily-multicultural Los Angeles for several years, and my local video store (last of a dying breed!) had a vast Spanish-language section. On a drunken impulse, my buddies and I decided to expand our linguistic horizons by choosing a Mexican movie. We chose wisely. El Semental De Palo Alto is a Mexican sex comedy from the 1980s, about a grossly obese, constantly-sweating romantic lead whose prodigious endowments – which comes complete with cartoon sound effects! – leads to a picaresque Forrest Gump adventure where he beds (and impregnates!) many foxy babes and enrages all of their husbands. If this sounds at all appealing, you may also be a drunken twenty-something, in which case, allow me to direct you to YouTube where you can apparently watch the movie in its entirety. (Warning: It’s surprisingly hard-R.)

Ghostbusters 2 (1989)
My love for the original Ghostbusters is infinite, so it took me a lot of distance before Icould ever admit to the flaws of the sequel. I get it now. It’s not a great movie. Fine.That doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of goodness happening around the edges of the under-cooked main plot about rivers of slime and demon paintings. For one thing, I still enjoy the “Whatever Happened To?” opening scenes which establish what these guys have been up to since they saved Manhattan from paranormal ruin five years previous – particularly Bill Murray’s Peter Venkman making a living as a TV psychic talk-show host. (Which Sigourney Weaver’s character somewhat predicted in the original, when they first met!) Despite the flaws in the script, all of the character beats between the guys, and between Bill Murray and Sigourney Weaver, feel completely right to me. And there are a ton of hyper-specific hyper-quotable Aykroyd/Ramis lines to be found amidst all the kooky accents and the baby stuff. More than anything, it’s just a pleasure to have this group assembled again. I’d rather hang with these characters in a problematic movie than other most characters anywhere else.

The Big Hit (1998)
I can’t entirely decide if this is a smart movie spoofing dumb action movies, or just a really dumb action movie. It was directed by Hong Kong mainstay Kirk Wong (Crime Story) and written by Ben Ramsey (who later directed the super-fun Blood & Bone), which suggests at least some degree of self-awareness. It features Mark Wahlberg fresh off Boogie Nights and Christina Applegate fresh off Married With Children, at a time in both of their careers where they were best known for dim characters so it was still tough to tell if they were in on the joke. The Big Hit is enjoyable, kinetic, and cartoonish – even if it’s only as superficial as it seems, it would still be entertaining, but there’s a level of post-Tarantino film-referencing meta-textual comedy going on that seems to be very much intentional. Extra-credit goes to the Looney-Tunes-style performance by Lou Diamond Phillips as (spoiler) the movie’s villain.

The Master Of Disguise (2002)
In this internet battlefield where everyone’s a writer and descriptive adjectives have lost much of their impact, I still must insist that The Master Of Disguise is astonishing. Mystifying. Flabbergasting. Dumbfounding. Stupifying. Every single thing about it is shocking, starting with the fact that it was directed by Happy Madison’s in-house production designer. Did you know that Adam Sandler movies have production design?!? Next, it’s a starring vehicle for Dana Carvey. Dana Carvey is never less than genuinely lovable, but even those of us who grew up on his comedy have to admit that Dana Carvey’s impersonation-heavy ways in 2002 felt long past their sell-by date. Then there’s the plot: Carvey plays Pistachio Disguisey (really), a simple waiter who finds out that he is descended from a long line of Italian masters of disguise, most recently his grandfather, Grandfather Disguisey, and his father, Fabrizio Disguisey (a traumatized James Brolin). Not a single disguise that this guy puts on is remotely recognizable within the sphere of human behavior or even the laws of physics. But to call this movie and Carvey’s antics “cartoonish” would probably result in a defamation suit from Disney. Pistachio Disguisey’s costumes are stunningly stupid, in a way that no one else could possibly ever imagine in twenty lifetimes. It goes far beyond comedy, past the Twilight Zone, into an entirely new dimension. You almost have to take your eyes off what Carvey is doing and watch his incredibly-mismatched romantic lead, Jennifer Esposito, as she very visibly tries to wrap her head around what’s going on next to her. Thankfully, there is relief: The movie barely lasts a full hour. Then again, pads out its running time with literally fifteen minutes of bloopers and outtakes.

Your Highness (2011)
Yes, internet, I loved this movie. Sorry! Was I not supposed to enjoy a silly-stupid sword-and-sorcery movie starring Danny McBride and James Franco? It could be better, sure, but it’s still pretty fun. Besides, McBride and director David Gordon Green deserve a lifetime all-access pass for Eastbound & Down, and James Franco has done plenty to earn the benefit of the doubt in his own right. He’s the perfect over-earnest straight man to McBride’s loud-mouthed lout. To me, their not-even-trying accents and sporadic camaraderie are a total gas. The problem with this movie, I think, is that the villains are just too gross and not at all menacing. In this kind of comedy, the bad guys ultimately need to be a little bit scary – they can’t be competing for punchlines. Think of Gozer The Gozerian in Ghostbusters, think of David Lo Pan in Big Trouble In Little China, think of Victor Maitland in Beverly Hills Cop. If Justin Theroux and in particular Damian Lewis had been allowed to play it straight, I think the movie would have worked better. As it is, it’s silly and a bit of a mess, but it still cracks me up. If only for the scene with the Wise Wizard, which I still can hardly wrap my mind around on account of how insanely funny it is, this movie entirely justifies its existence.

A few others:

For Y’ur Height Only (1981)
This entry hails from the Phillipines, and it’s a shoddy overdubbed imitation of a James Bond movie, only starring a man who stood less than three feet tall. Total exploitation, but it’s impossible to resist Weng-Weng’s charms. I laughed at everyone who said they liked the jetpack scene in Kick-Ass. Weng-Weng did it thirty years ago, and with more panache (in an all-white disco-suit).

Under The Rainbow (1981)
At the height of their powers, Chevy Chase and Carrie Fisher were trapped in this misbegotten “true story” of the drunken orgy that took place when, during the filming of The Wizard Of Oz, all of the Munchkins stayed in one hotel. I’d heard about this travesty for years, and only saw it recently. It managed to dive deep below my entirely corrupted expectations. Would you believe it’s all a dream?

Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo (1984)
A lot of people bring up this movie ironically. I love it without quotation marks. Always have. It’s goofy, but joyous. Great soundtrack too.

Krush Groove (1985)
Talk about a great soundtrack! This is one of the better soundtracks ever, no joke. Run-DMC, The Beastie Boys, LL Cool J, Kurtis Blow, Sheila E., New Edition, and The Fat Boys – and they’re all onscreen! Probably the funniest part is how producer Russell Simmons cast ageless heartthrob Blair Underwood in the role of himself.

Chopping Mall (1986) 
Killer robots torment teens in a shopping mall in the San Fernando valley.

Action Jackson (1988) 
Huge Carl Weathers fan. Huge Vanity fan. This movie’s got ‘em both.

Samurai Cop (1989)
Micro-budgeted action epic about a mega-mulleted rogue cop who faces (no pun intended) off against beloved cult icon Robert Z’Dar. Transcends description. Must be seen to be believed. And even then, you won’t.

Nothing But Trouble (1991)
I love Dan Aykroyd and this is definitely the most thoroughly Dan Aykroyd movie of all the Dan Aykroyd movies of all time.

House Party 3 (1993)
It’s not the Pajama Jammy-Jam. It’s the one after that one, the one without Martin Lawrence. I love this movie for one simple reason: Bernie Mac as “Uncle Vester”. I saw this movie way back when, in the theaters with my friends, and all of Bernie Mac’s scenes just blew the roof off and the doors out. This was before Friday, before The Kings Of Comedy, before Ocean’s Eleven, before Bad Santa, before his TV show, right near the start of his way-too-short career. Anyone who saw Bernie Mac in House Party 3 knew right away that all of his successes that followed were inevitable.

Leprechaun (1993)
Killer leprechaun torments a pre-fame Jennifer Aniston.

Dragon Wars: D-War (2007)
Somehow veteran character actor Robert Forster (Alligator, Jackie Brown) and comedian Craig Robinson (The Office, Pineapple Express) got themselves wrapped up in the eternal struggle between giant warring dragons. Warning: Contains multiple uses of the word “Imoogi.”


William Bibbiani said...

I, too, was shocked to find that Dragon Wars was actually a highly watchable piece of silliness.

And I, too, espouse The Big Hit's brilliance.

Anonymous said...

I am going to have to check out MIGHTY PEKING MAN because I love my Shaw Brothers covered in cheese. -Deb

Anonymous said...

MIGHTY PEKING MAN is on Netflix, btw.

Mike said...

Oh, what is wrong with me? I’m getting pangs of nostalgia over Under the Rainbow, which I watched over and over on cable TV as a young’un back in the early 80s. I thought it was a real hoot back then but something tells me it wouldn’t hold up.

The perfect cheesy Shaw Brothers double feature: Mighty Peking Man and Infra-Man.

Horstmar said...

For one thing, you'll never see a more atrocious gorilla costume in a kaiju film. Well, costume(s) plural! Mighty Peking Man doesn't even have a ...