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The 20 Best Worst Sci-Fi Movies of All Time
THE TWENTY BEST WORST SF MOVIES
by Brian Rose [76576,3053]
The clock shows. 2:46 am. Your eyelids are glued to your forehead. You've
counted all the little dots in the ceiling already. One last hope--the TV
guide. You scan through the pages. Lots of one-star movies. What to watch?
THIS CAN HAPPEN TO YOU!
Or, say you're in the video store, craving something new. Sure, you could
see "Empire Strikes Back" for the fortieth time, or you can take a chance on..
I'm not saying I'm here to solve your sleeping problems. I'm not even here
to tell you what are good movies and bad movies. All I'm saying here is that
these movies--all guaranteed one-star movies, if that--are some of the best of
the worst movies ever made. Some are comedies, some came out that way with no
help from the makers. Some you wonder who gave up the money to make, some are
serious movies gone astray. All are worth watching (at least once, so you can
say you did).
In no particular order:
PLAN NINE FROM OUTER SPACE (59)--directed by the amazing Ed Woods Jr.
What can be said that hasn't already? Michael Weldon says in"The Psychotronic
Guide to Film", "...not actually the worst film ever made, but it's the most
entertaining one you'll find". Leonard Maltin writes, "Hailed as the worst
movie ever made; certainly one of the funniest". Bit parts by Tor Johnson,
Vampira, and Bela himself. Everyone knows by now the story of Bela Lugosi
dying two days into the filming. In fact, the only whole scene left of Bela
shows him crying at his wife's funeral (doctors probably told him of his health;
they were tears of joy at getting out of the film). Director Woods got his
wife's doctor to fill in, even though he was a good foot taller than Lugosi.
No problem. He held his vampire cape over his face and never said a word.
The acting was poor, the dialogue ludicrous. The sets were slapped together;
you could see the cockpit of a plane was a shower curtain over a door frame,
the cemetary was inside (the floor was visible around the "grass"), the
control panels rows of lights. As John Candy said in IT CAME FROM HOLLY-
WOOD, "you can almost not see those wires" on the pie tin flying saucers.
Aliens try to take over the world by resurrecting the dead. Tor, Bela, and
Vampira all are called up. Criswell the hypnotist is the narrator. He says
it's "all based on sworn testimony". Like the Salem witch trials, I'll bet.
ROBOT MONSTER (53)--directed by Phil Tucker. Right up there with P9 (^)
is this classic cheapie, and I do mean cheeeeep. The title monster is a
gorilla suit with a cardboard diving helmet. He can't figure out how a
group of humans escaped global genocide from his "calcinator death ray".
He gets the word from his boss on a shortwave radio that makes bubbles when
operating. Gregory Moffet, George Nadar (king of this kind of thing),
Claudia Barrett, and Selena Royle round out the riveting cast. Made in
four days for under $20,000. Welan says "Movies don't come any better",
but he's a sickie. MORE CLASSIC STUFF!
ATTACK OF THE KILLER TOMATOS (78)--directed by John DeBello. I know, I know.
Most people I've talked to thought this was incredibly boring. Well, that's
why we're here, right? Most people were expecting satire on the level of
"Airplane". Some of the best lines in moviedom, including bad lib-synced
Japanese scientists, an advertising firm that compares killer tomato
plants with nuclear plants ("Nuclear plants aren't tasty!"), the best
black disguise man around (Washington and Hitler, as well as a tomato),
and a gung-ho Rambo precursor who chases an assassin (who shot six people
from a mile away with his revolver) across town on foot, trailing his
parachute. A Jaws-like scene with tomatos is a scream. The helicopter
crash is real. Don't let them talk you out of it!
FROZEN DEAD, THE (67)--directed by Herbert J. Leder. Dana Andrews is a Nazi
experimenting with suspended animation at the end of WWII. He freezes some
of the young Nazi fanatics and keeps them in his walk-in freezer. He tries
to revive them in '67, but their brains are dead. Probably read some of the
dialogue. A girl gets her head chopped off and saved, but she saves the day
by developing telepathy to warn the good guys. She also animates an arm
hanging on the wall to strangle the Nazis. Some of the most ludicrous
dialogue and bad acting around (Dana as a Nazi is a knee-slapper). Always
on television. Watch for it.
GREEN SLIME, THE (68)--directed by Kinji Fukasaku. Robert Horton, Richard
Jaeckel, and Luciana Paluzzi fight the title goo in a space station. Not
even on the same scale as other Japanese sf movies, and that's saying some-
thing. The one-eyed monsters looked like someone dropped a bowl of cold
oatmeal on a midget holding a beach ball. Shooting them only made them
multiply (but not act any better). American hacks writing and producing,
Japanese hacks directing and special-effecting...what could be better? A
must see, all over the tube.
ASTRO ZOMBIES (68)--directed by Ted V. Mikels. John Carradine, who should
know better but often doesn't, is a typical mad scientist puttering around
with zombies (the worst; actors in skeleton masks). Foreign agents are
after his work, though God only knows why. They're led by 50's sex-and-
B-movie symbol Tura Santana. Wendall Corey, as the CIA man, gets in their
way. Wayne Rodgers (of M*A*S*H) co-wrote and produced this cutie, but try
and ask him about a sequel now.
BRAIN FROM PLANET AROUS (58)--directed by Nathan Hertz (Juran). Welan
calls it "The ultimate John Agar film!" Who am I to argue? A floating,
giant brain with eyes called Gor takes over Agar's mind. He destroys an
airplane by staring and laughing. A good-guy brain (good-brain?) named Vol
takes over Agar's dog. Good choice, as he got the one with the most acting
ability. Agar's girlfriend attacks the evil brain with an axe when it isn't
thinking. Something about a giant brain materializing in a room gave me
nightmares for years. Maybe it was the acting. The director also did HELL-
CATS OF THE NAVY (with Ronald Reagan), and actually tells people that.
DESTROY ALL MONSTERS (68)--directed by Inoshiro Honda. If you've seen
one Japanese monster movie, you've seen them all, right? True, if it was
this one. The twentith anniversary of Toho Studios was celebrated by the
biggest monster fight of all time. Aliens from Kilaak control the monsters
from the Moon. Starring Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan, Manda (snake from ATRAGON),
Angurus (title monster from GODZILLA VS. THE FIRE MONSTER), Baragon (from
FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD), Spigas (spider from SON OF GODZILLA), and
the ever-popular Ghidrah (MONSTER ZERO). Plus some people, too, I think.
Crush, crumble and chomp!
MESA OF LOST WOMEN (52)--directed by Herbert Tevos & Ron Damond. Mad
scientist Jackie Coogan (Uncle Fester, here with hair and glasses) creates
superwomen in the desert. Features the best lobotomized scientist in film,
who leads Allan Nixon to the shindig. Lots of women with 50's style breasts
from every Z-picture around. Giant tarantulas, too. You've heard the music
in lots of pictures since. Kind of hard to wade through, although the voice
over narration is a true scream. Tandra Quinn is great as the head Lost
Woman. My wife objects to this being here, as she says it's a really good
movie, but look at her taste in men.
HORROR OF PARTY BEACH (64)--directed by Del Tenney. Surfers meet monsters.
Great music in what was billed as the first horror monster musical. Skulls
in the ocean (Jimmy Hoffa's, no doubt) get a radioactive bath, and turn into
monsters with good taste in women. They all go after the bikini-clad ones
with the big breasts. The best part is the newspaper headlines that keep
you informed in case you dropped off for part of it. Sodium kills them, so
be sure to pack some for your next beach BBQ.
PROPHESY (79)--directed by John Frankenheimer. Sounded like magic to the
studio. David Seltzer comes off his big hit (THE OMEN) to write a horror
story with environmental and Indian rights overtones, to star the new hit
Talia Shire (ROCKY). It had Robert Foxworth and Armand Assante duking it
out for brooding male lead. Couldn't miss, right? The results are hilarious.
Mutant Bears, from mercury posioning no less, are tearing up the Northwest.
Pregnant cellist Shire and doctor Foxworth are smack in the middle. Assante
is an Indian activist. Chief Dan George smokes until his fingers burn.
Shire and Foxworth find a baby mutant bear. Includes one of the best scenes
in movies, in which a sheriff pokes his head out of a hole to see if mama mutant
bear is still around. She is. Logging companies are to blame (for the bears,
not the script).
MOLE PEOPLE, THE (56)--directed by Virgil Vogel. Introduced by Dr. Frank
Baxter, of early TV documentaries, this movie is great more for the cast than
anything. Wonderful John Agar and perfect father Hugh Beaumont (before the
Beaver) shinny down a hole in Asia. Guess what they find--not one, but two
underground races. The bad guys are the albinos, the good guys are the title
moles. John falls in love (of course) with an albino. Alan Napier (Alfred
of BATMAN fame) is a Sumerian. Sword fights, too. All the fun of a 50's
comic book (which it later became).
NAVY VS. THE NIGHT MONSTERS (66)--directed by Micheal Hoey. Acid-based
plants attack a South Pole Navy base. They heat things up for growth reasons
(and so the producer wouldn't have to pay for fake snow). The cast is all first-
rate (for this kind of thing)--Mamie Van Doren, Anthony Eisley (from DRACULA
VS. FRANKENSTEIN), Pamela Mason, Bill Gray (Bud on FATHER KNOWS BEST), Russ
Bender (who must have made 300 movies in the 50's), and "the multi-talented
(and dead) Bobby Van" (from Welan). Hoey also wrote this, and probably put
up the money, too, as this is inane even by 50's standards. Plants walk, spit
acid (later used much more effectivly in DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS), and eat flesh.
They especially had a taste for B-movie queens. Welan also calls it "a top
must-see feature". It is.
RADAR MEN FROM THE MOON/ZOMBIES OF THE STRATOSPHERE (51 & 52)--directed
by Frank C. Brannon. Republic will always be known as the serial company,
and these are two of the best reasons. Brannon resurrected some good flying
sequences and the flying suit with the famous bullet-shaped helmet from his
KING OF THE ROCKETMEN (49) serial and gave them to Commando Cody, Sky Mar-
shall of the Universe (George Wallace in RADAR MEN, Judd Holdren in ZOMBIES).
The first serial after FLASH GORDON to be set in space. Cody goes to the
Moon in the first to stop aliens from taking over Earth with an atomic gun
(everything was atomic in these days). Clayton Moore (he of Lone Ranger
fame) is a bad guy. The same fight scene is used thoughout. The second
had aliens secretly invading Earth. One of the hooded creeps is Leonard
Nimoy (his greatest role?). Everything in these serials was from something
else. Republic was big on recycling. Holdren was Cody on TV.
IT CONQUERED THE WORLD/ZONTAR, THING FROM VENUS (56 & 66)--IT directed
by Roger Corman, ZONTAR directed by Larry Buchanan. IT was Roger Corman's
second sf movie, and you can see why he occupies the lofty spot he has today.
The monster is a giant radish with arms and teeth. Lee Van Cleef is the
monster's stooge on Earth. It takes over people with bats that bite their
heads. Peter Graves is the hero. He kills his wife when she is taken over.
Van Cleef's wife is killed by the monster, so he attacks it with a blow
torch. Apparently, Venusians never developed a resistance to that. Russ
Bender, Dick Miller, and Charles B. Griffith round out the cast. ZONTAR
was a remake, without the giant vegetable. He was a scaly rubber suit.
Still had those bats, though. John Agar was the hero in this one, fighting
Anthony Huston as the traitor. Laser gun fire was done by turning the film
negative. Some historic dialogue. Catch either one.
SCANNERS (81)--directed by David Cronenberg. Newest movie on this list
(studios can't make the B-movies like they once did). Bad-guy telepath
Michael Ironside (the hit man in TV's "V" and Overdog in SPACEHUNTER) is
collecting up others like him to take over. Seems he was "invented" by
Patrick McGoohan (with a beard) with a drug given to pregnant women. Sounds
not-so-unlikely now. Stephan Lack is the good guy bum with the power
McGoohan sends to infiltrate the scanners. The scanners are actually
treated rather well here, with Lack frying some poor woman in the beginning
because she was thinking bad thoughts about him and he couldn't help him-
self. Ironside drilled a hole in his head to "let the voices out". He
also makes a head explode in a great scene. Lack and Ironside get into
it at the end. Special effects by Dick Smith (THE EXORCIST). Cronenberg
has a whole section in "Coming Soon", a book about exploitation movies.
He did VIDEODROME (another pretty amazing movie) next.
VALLEY OF THE GWANGI (69)--directed by James O'Connolly. Someone at
Warner got the idea that cowboys vs. dinosaurs would be great. Actually,
the story was written by Willis O'Brien (the father of stop-motion ani-
mation who did KING KONG). He took some scenes originally planned for
KONG and later written out. The studio went whole hog on the effects,
getting Ray Harryhausen to do the monsters. Great scenes include fights
between dinosaurs, cowboys roping Gwangi, the monster fighting an elephant
and wrecking a church. Welan calls it "one of THE BEST animated movies
ever..." Gila Golen owns the wild west circus that captures Gwangi for its
show. James Franciscus is the love interest. Richard Carlson (you'll
recognize him) is the spurned lover. Produced by Charles Schneer, Harry-
hausen's producer for the Sinbad and Jason movies. Wonderful stuff.
ATTACK OF THE CRAB MONSTERS (57)--directed by Roger Corman. Only one
crab here, but it's a doozy. Atomic mutation (isn't it always) causes the
crab to grow and grow. It eats the heads off scientists stranded on the
proverbial desert island. In a great twist, it sucks up their knowledge
and uses their voices! Great crab work, if you overlook the feet sticking
out from the bottom. Big, non-crab eyes, too. Hearing the crab talk
makes it all worthwhile. Richard Garland, Pamela Duncan, and Russell
Johnson (the Professor in "Gilligan's Island") fight the thing. One of
the shortest movies made (64 minutes), but no one was paying Corman big
bucks for this kind of thing.
INVASION OF THE SAUCER MEN/THE EYE CREATURES (57 & 65)--SAUCER MEN
directed by Edward L. Cahn, EYE CREATURES directed by Larry Buchanan.
Teen thrills and monsters. In both movies, aliens land and inject people
with alchohol from their fingernails. They get drunk and die. No one
believes the kids who see this, because they're drunk, too. Frank Gorshin
(the Riddler) and Lyn Osborne are con men who do believe, and get theirs.
Aliens by Paul Blaisdell (creator of the giant beet in IT CONQUERED THE
WORLD, above). With a great bit on one of the aliens' hands getting cut
off, growing an eye, and slashing tires. Russ Bender is the sheriff. EYE
CREATURES is a TV remake with giant aliens and John Ashley as the hero.
This movie, with almost exactly the same dialogue, has caused more flashbacks
in drugged-out people watching late at night than any other. Lights do the
aliens in, so the local youths gather their hot rods together and beam
the monsters down with their headlights. The oldsters then realize that
there is a place for kids and cars. Pretty fun stuff, and the teens-
theme would be used later two years later in the much more popular BLOB.
This list is by no means complete, but it was the best twenty I thought
of. If you have a movie that you think meets these stringent qualifications,
or just want to comment or criticize, please let me know. I love this
kind of thing, and would certainly like to talk to others who feel (or
don't feel) the same. Future articles I'm working on include the REAL
best of the B-movies, the kind of thing you will want to catch if you
haven't already, and the most over-rated movies around (I guarantee some
of these will get me lots of flack from irate movielovers).
RECOMMENDED READING--I refer a lot to one of the best books around
for sf, horror, and fantasy fans, entitled "THE PSYCHOTRONIC ENCYCLOPEDIA
OF FILM" (Michael Weldon, 1983 Ballantine). This book includes blurbs
about movies of all types; as Weldon states in the intro, "Psychotronic
films range from sincere social commentary to degrading trash. They
concern teenagers, rock'n'roll, juvenile delinquents, monsters, aliens,
killers, spies, detectives, bikers, communists, drugs, natural catastrophes,
atomic bombs, the prehistoric past, and the projected future. They star
ex-models,ex-sport stars, would-be Marilyns, future Presidents (and First
Ladies), dead rock stars, and has-beens of all types." Ah, my kind of
book. This is simply the best book in the world for this kind of trash
and you should have it, especially if you've gone this far in this.
Other books I use are:
-Brooks, Tim and Earl Marsh. "THE COMPLETE DIRECTORY TO PRIME TIME
NETWORK TV SHOWS". Ballantine 1981. (A newer version is out now)
-Maltin, Leonard "LEONARD MALTIN'S TV MOVIES AND VIDEO GUIDE". New
American Library 1987. (Not much on each film, but a good work to
refer to for credit info, which I love)
-Halliwell, Leslie "HALLIWELL'S FILM GUIDE" Scribners 1981 (second
edition). (He's up to the fifth edition, now, and I'm about to go
out and get it. Consistant format with the most complete credit
info. Also, bits from reviews of the time of the movie, a real
good source of info about how the movie was viewed then).
I also have a slew of horror movie books that I use on and off. The
PSYCHOTRONIC has a good bibliography for some of these, and those books
probably have others listed. Look around and you'll find them.
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