The Terror of Tiny Town (1938)

The Terror of Tiny Town (1938) movie poster

director Sam Newfield
viewed: 07/13/2014

We each have our own cultural Hajjs.  Mine of late has been to see or to re-see some of the worst films of all time, or at least films that have long held that reputation.  Though The Terror of Tiny Town isn’t actually on the current Wikipedia list, it did make the Michael Medved original list of 50 worst films of all time.  While a number of films on Medved’s list seem dubious for such a classification (Alain Resnais’ Last Year at Marienbad (1961), Michelangelo Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point (1970), Richard Donner’s The Omen (1976)?), they deed winnow out some of the true classics of bad.

The Terror of Tiny Town always fascinated some part of me, at least until I saw it as a young teen (or however old I was when I finally saw it).  It’s famous for being the one all-midget Western Musical.  In which the midget cast rides Shetland ponies and rope calves in an otherwise semi-straightforward Western yarn.

It’s the kind of Exploitation film that the Hays Code didn’t apparently have any issue with.

For whatever reason, this film has drifted further into obscurity.  It’s such a strange cultural artifact.  It’s made me think a little more about “dwarfsploitation”, frankly.  Whereas The Terror of Tiny Town is exactly what it sets out to be, comic in the framing of little people is the Western scenario, modern films that employ casts of little people seem to not be particularly evolved away from this.  I’m thinking presently of Willow (1988) when I write this.

I mentioned the film when I was watching Werner Herzog’s bizarre Even Dwarfs Started Small (1970), which indeed would be an ideal pairing with this film in study of contrasts and strangenesses.  But I was also called to mind of Tod Browning’s Freaks (1932), much closer in time to this film.  And I was also brought to mind of the 1982 film Under the Rainbow, which doesn’t seem available presently.

I’m sure in the circles of the Little People of America, these topics and films are probably notorious and even possibly well-studied.  But for your average cinephile who maybe doesn’t spend much time considering the portrayal of “little people” through time, maybe such a study is more wanting.  Anyhow, it all came to mind.

For me, I had only seen the film once before.  As a tween or teen, the film didn’t exactly have the hysterical laughs that I was expecting from the likes of a Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959).  In fact, I think I found it a bit dull.  Though it did fulfill my having seen the film, which, as I’ve suggested, is one that I rarely find anyone who has ever heard of the darn thing.

This time through, I had to appreciate some of the gags in the saloon.  The make-up on the extras and costuming was actually pretty good, meeting the popular conventions of the Western genre at the time.  It’s not a mean-spirited affair, though obviously demeaning in a plethora of jokes and its entire conception.  I mean, it’s the only all-midget Western Musical.  There were no sequels or attempted re-makes.

It’s part of the appeal of Exploitation cinema sort of crystallized.  Whether in modern terms, it’s “inappropriate” or offensive or politically incorrect, it’s utterly unique.  I think at the time, demonstrations of little people were still common to carnivals, expos, even the World’s Fair, so in some ways it was not as unique in its day.   But it is a vision of something completely strange, outside of an norms of cinema and pop culture, and yet a real significant artifact of American culture and perception of its time.

Strangely, it was sort of fulfilling to see it again, this far odd little film.  The more odd and outre the better.

 

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1962)

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1962) movie poster

director Nicholas Webster
viewed: 07/05/2014

When it comes to the worst films ever made, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians tends to make the lists.  And it’s bad, of course.  I mean the title sort of tells you how hackneyed a concept it is.

But the film isn’t nearly the utter hack-job that movies like Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959) or Robot Monster (1953) are.  It’s insipid, sure, but it’s made for a kiddie audience so it panders on a different level.  Maybe that is what offers up some of its most annoying qualities.

The theme song that opens and closes the film, while a blast from a very different era, is chintzy, sure, but it’s actually a pretty catchy number, if annoying.  “S-A-N T-A C-L-A U-S, Hooray for Santy Claus!”   Okay, S-A-N T-A C-L-A U-S does not even spell “Santy Claus” but you know…

Some of the funnier elements are embodied in the set designs which plainly look to have come from the local hardware store with little embellishment.  It would be  an easy set to re-construct in that way.  One would hope the yucky-colored green skin tone paint didn’t poison anyone who had to wear it, including the very young Pia Zadora in a role that was made for trivia night.

The ultimate comic moment comes from the cardboard robot and the most ridiculous polar bear ever captured on film.  Those are two things for the book of classics.

But don’t get me wrong, I’m not defending Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.  It’s bad.  Pretty worthy of being on all-time lists.  I would just like to point out that a cheap but more accomplished job of film-making.

Though the fight sequences might be among the worst ever filmed too.

As Felix pointed out (because we ventured on this “one of the worst films of all-time” together) was that Santa Claus does not actually conquer any Martians.  He actually makes friends with them, tells corny jokes, and ultimately gives the Martians their own “Droppo Claus”.  I did joke that a more straight-forward modern remake as an action film where Santa Claus indeed does “conquer” the Martians might be a good opportunity for the modern makers of bad movies to attempt.

Robot Monster (1953)

Robot Monster (1953) movie poster

director Phil Tucker
viewed: 06/25/2014

Oh, Robot Monster, how did I fail to have ever seen you?  It’s kind of funny but since I decided to head along this road of watching the “worst movies of all time” alongside my trek of getting through major works of cinema that I’ve never seen, I have to say that I’ve been enjoying the former a bit more overall to an extent.

While there are no definitive lists of either “the best” or “the worst” of all time, I think that the list of worst is a bit more consistent.  I mean, “the best” is a particularly hard to define grouping, very much a matter of taste, and even the lists that are considered the most legitimate, like Sight and Sound’s Top 10, it’s a changing, changeable thing.

The worst films have stood the test of time largely.  And like any of these lists, recent entries tend to take up too much space and have yet to prove themselves, you find yourself going to the core of the classification.  The classics of bad cinema, if you will.

Phil Tucker’s Robot Monster made Medved and Dreyfus’s The Fifty Worst Films of All Time list and still remains on the Wikipedia page of worst films.  That is stamina.

It’s a completely unbaked sci-fi story of an alien invasion of one, a robot monster called Ro-man who has come to slay all Earth people.  Ro-man is a man in a gorilla suit with a sort of robotic headpiece where the gorilla’s head would be.  It is in many ways the exemplar of the lamest monster design in movie history.  And what’s funny is that something so lame can become so iconic as a result.

Ironically iconic.

Clocking in at only 62 minutes, it’s also funny how many extraneous shots of Ro-man walking up and down hills there are.  There is even an “Intermission” which is actually kind of cute.

The title sequence features lots of magazines of the day as the backdrop, which is kind of cool.  But there are also non-sequitur moments spliced in from other films of dinosaurs (both stop-motion and one with an alligator with a fin on its back wrestling a gila monster.)  Both moments get played twice.  And the ending…

Oh, the ending…  It’s all a dream…or is it?  But the best is the three shots in a row of Ro-man appearing from the cave at the very end.  This film was shot in 3-D but why the three times through on this ending is perplexing and also part of why this film is so pleasurably a classic in bad movie-making.  It truly belongs up there with Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959).

What can I say, it’s terrible.  I kind of loved it.

Eegah (1962)

Eegah (1962) movie poster

director Arch Hall Sr.
viewed: 06/18/2014

Considered one of the worst films ever made, Eegah hasn’t really ever been on my radar until just this week, when I decided to watch all the classic bad movies I can stand.

It’s pretty awesome.  A horror film about a giant caveman who has apparently been living in the California hills for eons, but suddenly stumbles on an adventurer, his daughter, and her rock’n’roll boyfriend.  Everything about this film is less than a quarter baked and it’s pretty hilarious.

You’ve got Richard Kiel, most famous for playing “Jaws” in the James Bond movies The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) and Moonraker (1979) as the caveman.   And you’ve got producer/director Arch Hall Sr. playing the adventurer.  And you’ve got Arch Hall Jr. as the rock’n’roller son who drives a dune buggy around the hills.

Actually, this father/son team made a number of pictures together, including Wild Guitar (1962) and The Sadist (1963).  The younger Arch Hall isn’t too bad at the music actually, though the low budget production doesn’t help with the probably post-production lip synch.

I wasn’t as giddy over Eegah as I was over The Horror of Party Beach (1964), but it’s a rock solid bad movie.  It’s got charm (man, I wonder how often I use that word.)  In fact, there is almost a little something special between Eegah, the caveman, and Roxy Miller (Marilyn Manning).  Maybe if it hadn’t been his son in the starring role, the elder Arch Hall might have let the caveman get the girl.  He certainly cleaned up pretty well, all things considered.

The Horror of Party Beach (1964)

The Horror of Party Beach  (1964) movie poster

director Del Tenney
viewed: 06/14/2014

I get some weird notions in my head.  Particularly when it comes to movies that I want to see.  After watching director Del Tenney’s I Eat Your Skin (1964) and seeing that he was also behind camp classic The Horror of Party Beach, I was like: “I gotta watch it! Pronto!”

I was familiar with The Horror of Party Beach from Michael Medved & Randy Dreyfuss’s The 50 Worst Films of All Time and the Golden Turkey Awards.  I had laughed about the snippets about the monster looking like he’s pingpong balls for eyes and hot dogs coming out of his mouth.  I’ve kind of had a penchant to actually go and watch the films from that list, all the classic bad movies (Turns out the list is really a mishmash of really bad movies and some art films that annoyed them).

The funny thing about The Horror of Party Beach is how much I frickin’ enjoyed it!

Sure, it’s got some bad acting, casting, dialog, silly monsters, and all that sort of stuff but it’s miles better than Ed Wood’s Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959).  It’s actually got some pretty interesting cinematography going on.  And then it’s got girls in bikinis dancing to the grooving surf tunes of The Del-Aires who perform such songs as “Wigglin’ Wobblin'”, “Joy Ride”,  and “The Zombie Stomp”.  It is indeed a snapshot of its time.

It’s actually pretty hilarious how the monsters come about.  Some radioactive waste gets dumped into the sea and mixes with algae and plankton and who knows what else, attaches to the skeleton of ancient pirates and POOF! You’ve got some very silly-looking Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) rip-offs.  It would actually make a semi-hilarious triple feature with that and Humanoids from the Deep (1980) another sea creatures and chemical waste movie from a later and more gory time.

I’m telling you, though, I really liked the movie.  It’s bad, of course, but nowhere as bad as you might think.  It’s actually hilariously charming and funny.  I Eat Your Skin is a much worse movie (though also not without its charms).

So, inspired, I’ve decided to work my way through the Wikipedia list of worst films, simply because it is a more legitimate list than Medved and Dreyfuss.  I’ll give them credit for possibly originating the search for bad movies and for helping to crown Ed Wood, Jr. and give him his name for all eternity as worst director of all time.  But really, their list is filled with totally inapt listings.

And for my money, I think I kinda loved The Horror of Party Beach.

Last Year at Marienbad (1961)

Last Year at Marienbad (1961) movie poster

director Alain Resnais
viewed: 03/07/2014

Last Year at Marienbad is a film that has been recommended many times and over many years and has long stood in my queue.  That I finally got around to watching it is in part with my march through many of the “great” films by “great” directors that I’ve never seen, a very apt one, in that I’d never seen any of director Alain Resnais’s films, not even Hiroshima, Mon Amour (1959) nor this one.  And sadly, the director died at age 91 a few days before I finally saw one of his films, oddly enough the day of the Oscars.

The film surprised me, mainly because I wasn’t aware of what its nature was, how avant-garde, if you will, the film was.  I see that it’s considered a work of Surrealism and I have to say that is certainly as aspect of what jumped to mind as I watched it.  It’s one of those films that no simple description does fair justice.

It opens with a recurring voice over motif that fades in and out, as the camera looks over the ornate details of a Baroque hotel interior.  If you didn’t know that you were in for an art film when you sat down, you quickly realize that you need an open mind and open thought process to comprehend what will unfold.

There is a man and a woman.  A man who is trying to respark a memory through suggestions and words, of a meeting beforehand.  And the woman has a husband, an eerie figure, who is a master at games and is shown firing a gun.  What the film is ultimately about seems to long have been open to debate.  Like what is the “real” story beneath the storytelling?  What “really” happened?  What is the “truth”?

It’s Surreal, yes, and Impressionistic, too, or stream-of-consciousness, or stream-of-subconscious.  It’s a dream.  A nightmare.

Things that came to my mind, my impressions, if you will:

Jean-Luc Godard and his breaks against traditional cinematic techniques.  Far more controlled and less happenstance is the feeling but the intentionality of jarring use of music, of acting, pushing the viewer out of traditional narrative techniques, and disruption.  Though very different indeed.

Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980).  The way the camera tracks through the halls of a great hotel, the ghostly dislocated camera.  Kubrick HAD to have seen this and this HAD to be an influence, right?

David Lynch.  No film in particular.

Luis Buñuel.

Jean Cocteau.

I don’t know.  Many things came to mind, images from shots in the garden evoked paintings of Giorgio de Chirico.

Such a strange, dark film.   Not what I was anticipating, not that I know what I anticipated.  Quite remarkable.

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974)

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974) movie poster

director Sam Peckinpah
  viewed: 01/06/2014

This is one movie that I’ve been wanting to see again since I first saw it about 20 years ago.  Recommended at the time by a friend with a prescient sense of the most perverse films, it’s probably the first film that I ever saw by “Bloody” Sam Peckinpah.  It’s a doozy.

Starring the amazing Warren Oates, who I was just discovering at the time, it’s the grittiest, guttiest, hard-drinkingest, crazy fest of a movie.   It all begins in Mexico (in fact it was entirely shot in Mexico so it begins, is and ends there too), where the patriarch of a wealthy family wants to know who has impregnated his young daughter.  When the answer is tortured out, he speaks the words that are the film’s title, “Bring me the head of Alfredo Garcia.”  And it does not need to be attached to a body.

An array of sleazy folks set out to find this ne’er-do-well Lothario, stumbling upon Warren Oates as the piano player in a wonderfully sleazy Mexico City bar.  Via his prostitute/singer girlfriend, Oates learns that Garcia met his own end (after sleeping with the girlfriend for three straight days) in a random car crash and is buried somewhere in a small village cemetery.  Oates takes off with her and a ton of booze and careens romantically to dig up his cash cow.  Only, he’s hardly alone in his search, and it only gets bloodier from moment to moment.

The thing I remembered the most about the film was Oates rolling through rural Mexico with a bundle on the seat beside him, flies buzzing all over it, with him conversing with the detached head.  I vaguely recalled a rape scene that was disturbing, but I think I got it a little mixed up with the really nasty one in Straw Dogs (1971) in which the girl being raped enjoys the act.  The thing in this film is that the would-be rapist is Kris Kristofferson and he doesn’t end up raping the girl (though she wants to make love to him).  It’s a little more ambiguous and ambivalent.  Peckinpah has his creepy flaws.  In the case of the film, this horrible attitude towards women sort of fits the despicable world that is everyone and everywhere.

It’s still very funny when Oates tells the rapists abducting his woman, “You guys are definitely on my shit list.”

The film is over the top in concept, grimy and sleazy, sweaty, and insane.  Genius.  Totally fucking genius.  And perverse.  An apex of perversity.

Godzilla vs. Hedorah

Godzilla vs. Hedorah (1971) movie poster

(1971) director Yoshimitsu Banno
viewed: 10/22/2011

Godzilla vs. Hedorah (a.k.a. Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster) is certainly not Godzilla’s strongest moment.  It’s also probably not his weakest moment either.  It’s about ecology.  Pollution.  It’s “The Lorax” of the Godzilla franchise.

For my money, Godzilla’s best villains were Ghidrah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964) (a.k.a. Monster Zero (1964)) and Mechagodzilla (Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974)).  But whether you’re fighting King Kong (King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962)) or Mothra (Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964), sometimes you have to take on the likes of Ebirah (Godzilla Versus the Sea Monster (1966), or Megalon, or, in this case, Hedorah.  Whereas Ebirah (the Sea Monster) is a giant crayfish, prawn or lobster, Hedorah is a mutated pollywog.  Mutated to love toxic fumes.

Godzilla himself is the result of toxic poisoning, mutated from a dinosaur egg by radiation from nuclear testing.  In some ways, Hedorah is a kindred spirit.  Only by this time, Godzilla stands with the people, not against them.  He’s no longer a resultant nature attacking the humanity that spawned him.  He’s now out there doing the social service of putting down this mutant amphibian, working with the humans (whose own technology to clean fix the problem fails them.)  His radioactive breath kick-starts the electronic blasts that manage to dehydrate Hedorah to death.

Of course, the question is posed again at the end: Is this the only Hedorah?  Or will there be more?

Hedorah, with his glowing red eyes and his inside body of muck, is moderately cool.  He’s cooler than Ebirah.  I ended up watching this one with Clara and the two girls from upstairs who had never seen a Godzilla movie before.  I had to assure them that it wasn’t going to be scary and that basically the good monster was going to beat up the bad monster in the end.  Really, that’s what all Godzilla movies are about, right?

Over the last 3 years, we’ve watched a number of the original series, the Showa series, of Godzilla films and I’m still keen to finish out the cycle.   There are a couple that aren’t available from Netflix (they haven’t been for whatever reason) so we’ve still got a couple outstanding.  For our Halloween “horror”-fest, at least one good movie featuring guys in rubber suits duking it our it a requisite.  And we have met it.