Rick Sloane, after seeing the popularity of pint-sized creature features like Gremlins (1984), Ghoulies (1984), and Critters (1986), decided to capitalize on the trend by creating 1988’s Hobgoblins. The film gained its certified awfulness after being relentlessly riffed upon on Mystery Science Theater 3000, and show writer Paul Chaplin later reflected,
“Oh, man. You have no idea the torture it was to watch this movie several times in the space of a week. It shoots right to the top of the list of the worst movies we’ve ever done. Speaking personally, the only one I hated as much was probably Overdrawn At The Memory Bank, and even that experience bred a less intense sort of hate, leaving an aftertaste not quite so malignant and foul. On the bright side, there’s potential for a real peace in Northern Ireland for the first time in living memory. At least this movie did nothing to prevent that.”
Hobgoblins attempts, and fails, to be a sex-comedy horror film. There isn’t a funny joke to be found, and it’s the only sex-comedy I’ve come across that makes intercourse look unappealing. The acting is awful, but even if it were good one is unlikely to want to see any of these characters live more than a few seconds after they’re introduced. One dumbfounding scene involves a rake fight in which two guys endlessly strike the handles together. Perhaps even more unnecessary is the musical live performance we get at Club Scum, where the movie stops so we can see an entire song being played.
Most hilarious of all, however, are the creatures themselves. Sloane has stated that he didn’t see the hobgoblins until just before scheduling was set to begin, and they’re a far cry from the world of Jim Henson. What we get are hand-puppets and plush toys that barely move – if they move at all – and watching the actors fight with them, rolling around on the ground, is a sight to behold. Honestly, it’s the only genuine laugh you’re likely to get out of the film. It’s not high entertainment, but it is a tasteless form of one.
In 1963 exploitation director Herschell Gordon Lewis released Blood Feast, considered the first “splatter” film, a shocking milestone in horror. Two years later he needed a second film for his double-bill release with Moonshine Mountain, and he acquired a half-completed Bill Rebane film called Terror at Halfday which Rebane had abandoned in 1961 due to depleted finances. Lewis finished the film, recasting different actors to continue character roles and slapping it together as quickly as possible. One actor which he re-hired from the Rebane portion had changed his appearance so dramatically that he was recast as the brother of the original character. Lewis put minimal effort into completing the film, and it shows. Boy, does it show.
Firstly, the title is an absolute misnomer. The term “a Go-Go” refers to unrestrained, erotic dancing, particularly to popular music, and while there’s a gratuitous dance scene, there is nothing unrestrained about this film. Monster A-Go Go (1965) is the nadir of such suggested dynamism. Instead we get an incoherent plot about a returning astronaut who is either replaced by or transformed into a tall skulking monster (Henry Hite).
Rebane’s story was muddy at best, but Lewis’s additions only served to confuse rather than clarify matters. The film mainly consists of static shots of people talking… and talking… and talking. We hear about the monster being captured and escaping, but never see it. The same is true for anything else that might be of interest. When we are shown the monster, the screen is often too dark to make out what’s happening. Likewise, sometimes the audio is so poorly rendered the listener must strain to hear what’s being said (and then they’ll wonder why they even bothered). In one scene sure to induce eye rolls, instead of an actual phone ringing we hear an actor voicing a quick “bbbrrrr” imitation before pretending to answer it.
Supposedly the guys at Mystery Science Theater 3000, who featured this film in 1993, considered this to officially be the worst film they ever did on the show. If you must see this film, I strongly suggest you do so with their company, as even with their colorful commentary Monster A-Go Go is a torturous test of endurance.
Horror’s “Worst” Films – The Horror of Party Beach (1964)
The film that billed itself as “The First Horror Monster Musical” was fifteen years later described by Stephen King as “… an abysmal wet fart of a picture” (Danse Macabre 164). Filmed in Connecticut, The Horror of Party Beach (1964) sought to cash in on the popularity of both the Roger Corman-style shockers and beach party movies by combining the two genres, complete with rock ‘n’ roll tunes, biker gangs, and “beach blanket boppers in their bikinis and ball-huggers.” When director Del Tenney passed away in 2013, the Stamford Advocatehad this to say: “Connecticut had its own Ed Wood, an actor, director and entrepreneur named Del Tenney who made a series of truly awful pictures in the Stamford area during the 1960s, the most notorious of which is Horror of Party Beach, a 1964 drive-in quickie about an atomic mutation that terrorizes Stamford (“party beach” was actually Shippan Point).”
The story tells of creatures created by dumped toxic waste who come ashore to kill beach-goers – young people dumb enough to continually return to the site of danger to display their bad 60s beach fashion, bad 60s beach dancing, and bad 60s innuendos. The monsters are a far cry from the Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) and look stiff and made from papier-mâché. Tenney directs the film with the grace of someone who just discovered the features on their new camcorder as zooms are continuously and needlessly overused. Add to this an offensive mammy stereotype that makes it difficult to believe that The Civil Rights Act would be signed just a few months after the film’s release. Finally, we get some original music by The Del-Aires, although the drummer is conspicuously absent despite our clearly hearing percussion.
Nevertheless, even Stephen King was willing to grant it some credit for being ahead of its time (and not just by foreseeing the popularity of motorcycle movies). King sees some credibility, albeit unintentional, in the film’s pointing towards the impending danger in how we dispose of nuclear waste:
“The fact that they created a film which foresaw a problem that would become very real ten miles down the road was only an accident… but an accident, like Three Mile Island, that perhaps had to happen, sooner or later. I find it quite amusing that this grainy, low-budget rock ‘n’ roll horror picture arrived at ground zero with its Geiger counters clicking long before The China Syndrome was even a twinkle in anyone’s eye.”
Even a broken clock is right twice a day, as the saying goes, and it takes only a little seemingly insignificant spark to reveal spilled gasoline. But we don’t go to movies like The Horror of Party Beach to be stimulated intellectually – we’re looking for other parts of the body to be stimulated. While it’s goofy and tame today, it was sort of sexy stuff back then. For modern viewers, however, it at least still passes for tasteless entertainment.
Horror’s “Worst” Films: Tasteless Entertainment or Endurance Test?
An Introduction to the Review Series
The horror genre has been host to many (dis)honors, and one would be remiss to not include among them the recognitions for Worst Movies Ever Made. The genre has more entries than any other due to its ability to consistently churn out profitable films which have little-to-no artistic merit. Certainly, the horror genre is rich with great art and meaningful metaphors and examinations of personal and societal woes, and all those things that attract the intellect and enrich the soul. This is why horror matters. But sometimes, we turn to the genre for baser reasons – blood, beasts, and boobs (what Harley Poe refers to as “them sacred triple-Bs”). This is why horror is fun.
But there’s another reason we turn to horror. We adore the classics and we allow them to become a part of our psyche, but we recognize that those great films are few and far between. Over the years we’ve developed thick skins, enduring countless hours of on-screen disappointments, becoming savvier and more discerning with each viewing. We’ve seen scares done wrong more times than right, but we persevere knowing that the next film might be the one to crawl beneath our skin and latch onto our brain, just like we want it to. Along the way we’ve tasted the bitter salts of bad filmmaking and have developed a tolerance, and sometimes an acquired preference, for it.
Let’s face it, as dedicated horror fans, no matter how shitty a film might be, we tend to take certain joys in reveling in their awfulness. Horror (and to a lesser extent sci-fi) is the only genre that when it fails it crosses over and becomes a comedy, albeit of the unintentional variety. We sift through countless hours of dreck in order to find that glitter of treasure, and to not find humor in what can at times feel like a fruitless endeavor would drive a lesser viewer to insanity. We laugh so as not to cry.
Entertainment can be found in anticipating the tired beats and ogling at the awkward dialogue, hopefully while in the company of some friends and judgment impairing beverages. These palate cleansers allow us to appreciate masterful craft when we see it, keeping us from becoming jaded, pretentious hipsters. Let us take a moment to thank them for that. Lesser films can also serve, as Stephen King has written, as junk food. We know there’s no nutritional value there, but it’s satisfying to indulge the Id over the Superego at times. Junk food has its place in life – the same is true for bad horror movies. Not every film need be a serious work of artistic expression – sometimes it’s enough to just have a good time. We should also remember that filmmaking is a complicated, messy process and that if anything artistic remains in the end product it is a small secular miracle. It’s actually extraordinary that more films don’t turn out as bad as some of the films on this list, but those that do serve to teach us what does work in film by demonstrating what doesn’t.
Some bad movies transcend the spectrum of good taste and come full circle, becoming genuine entertainment once again, often accidentally, and those are generally the best in the oft-named So-Bad-It’s-Good category. Those are the films made with the best intentions, but they’re like text written by people who don’t speak the language, like those “engrish” signs seen across Asia and photographed by giggling Anglophone tourists – you stare for a moment while your brain tries to process what you’re reading, and you can’t help but laugh at the result (I suppose the same could be said about amateur film blogs, but I digress).
Like all the best laid plans of mice and men sometimes Lenny doesn’t get to tend his rabbits. As a related aside, I recall showing Gary Sinese’s Of Mice and Men (1992), a film I found to be an affecting adaptation of Steinbeck’s classic novel, to a friend, anticipating his reaction to the final scene to be the same as mine – namely, riveted silence. Bang! My friend bowled over on the couch, clutching his stomach –laughing hysterically. It goes to show that one man’s gold is another man’s brass. Humor, like horror, is often subjective. Even bad films, therefore, can have legitimate fan bases; to each his own.
Of course, some movies really are simply, objectively bad, lacking any entertainment value. Their fate is to dwell in that twilight haze of boredom and pain. Some break that taste spectrum mentioned above only to return right back to awfulness. The films listed below represent horror and monster films that have been generally regarded by notable critics as being the worst ever made, beginning with 1953’s Robot Monster. Certainly, the 1940s had many terrible Poverty Row flicks, some starring Bela Lugosi as his career began to tailspin (he’ll be revisited below), but those will be dealt with in some capacity at a later time on this blog. Similarly, two oft-mentioned films will get a more focused treatment elsewhere when the time comes on the website: Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977) and I Spit on Your Grave (1978) (the latter which may deserve more credit than critics have allowed).
We should begin by laying the ground rules: I have chosen to forgo my usual grading system here because, frankly, all these films utterly fail as cinema. It’s accepted that they are replete with incompetent directing, poor acting, sometimes incomprehensible writing, and all the other things that make moving pictures into the cinematic art form. They get F’s, every last one.
So the question then becomes, Can they be considered real entertainment or are they simply masochistic tests of endurance? Is it worth the morbidly curious, rubber-necking genre fan to seek out these non-films so as to participate in some communal movie-watching schadenfreude? In the short reviews below, I will examine just how bad these films are and try to cull something positive from them, if I can. I’ll suggest if any of these are worth seeking out as entertainment (preferably with good-humored friends and a couple of beers), or if you’ll need the company of MST3K, when available, to cope through the experience. Put simply, I’ll judge whether the film at hand is Tasteless Entertainment or simply an Endurance Test.
This series includes the following films (and more will likely be added over time as I come across them):