Some people like fine wine, Bergman and turtlenecks. Others prefer to rummage through society’s trash can until their hands are filthy with wonderful mess. Film critic and Rotten Tomatoes’ contributor Michael Adams belongs firmly to the second group. As if to prove his instability, he set out on a quest to find the Worst Film Ever Made, which involved watching more than 400 horrible movies in their entirety — in one year — while also finding time to host a TV show, work as an editor at Empire magazine and appear in George Romero’s Survival of the Dead. The results are chronicled in his book, Showgirls, Teen Wolves and Astro Zombies. We spoke to him recently to find out what drives a man to such depravity…
RT: So… you set out to watch a bad movie a day for an entire year. I guess the question most people are wondering is, ‘Why?’ Why would you subject yourself to such madness?
MA: “For fun” — just like Borat shooting bears. I genuinely thought it’d be fun to do, to write and to read. The question “What’s the worst movie ever made?” occurred to me after watching Material Girls, which was at that time number one on the IMDb’s user-voted bottom 100. Clearly, while it was hideous, it wasn’t as bad as, say, Santa With Muscles. It had been nearly 30 years since Plan 9 From Outer Space was crowned “worst movie ever made” but it wasn’t even on the IMDb’s bottom 100. The question seemed a relevant one, given how many “best-ever” movie lists we have. It quickly became apparent there would be hundreds of really crappy movies to get through if I had a hope of answering the question. Doing at least one a day for a year seemed doable. It’d give me a far-reaching sample, and a compressed enough time frame so I was judging them each in more or less the same mind set.
You must be the first person alive to list Material Girls as an inspiration for anything — do you look back upon it with fondness, given the crud you’ve sat through since?
Funnily enough, about two weeks after I finished my year of bad movies it popped up on cable. My other half, Clare, said, “Hey, Material Girls is on — do you want to watch it?” I most certainly didn’t. Not out of bad-movie fatigue but because Material Girls is horrible rather than any sort of schlocky fun. It’s no surprise, given the title, and its cinematic crappiness, that it came from Madonna’s production company. Thanks, oh mighty Madge!
Was there ever a point at which you thought, “This is insane, I’m being consumed by this ridiculous quest”?
Yes, often. Thing was, in the month before I started the quest, I committed thousands of dollars to buying up bad movies on DVD and VHS, so there was never really a question of giving up because then I would’ve wasted a lot of money. Money I didn’t really have, by the way. But during the year, when I caught myself increasing my already maxed-out Visa’s limit so I could pay rent and buy another dozen flicks from Al Adamson or Andy Milligan, I did question my sanity and whether I was becoming some weird sort of addict. And it did become obsessive. When I wasn’t watching bad movies I was reading about them and investigating the subjects they talk about. It takes you down some odd pathways. I learned about locust swarming patterns from a scientist thanks to Exorcist II: The Heretic and the prevalence of cross-dressing in mid-1950s American in relation to Glen Or Glenda.
Without giving away the ending, did you find the Worst Movie Ever Made — and was the result what you expected?
As for results, I didn’t know what to expect. In the first few weeks I did see a flick called Search For The Beast and think, ‘There can’t be anything worse’. What surprised me is that I found efforts every bit as awful and then, incredibly, movies that lowered the bar further still. I’ve found a few that’d startle anyone who thinks that Manos: The Hands of Fate is the worst movie ever made. These bad boys make the celebrated works of Ed Wood look like Orson Welles in comparison. I think there will be debate over my choices. I welcome it because if people can watch the 20 I nominate in the book — or at least the worst few — and find something they think sucks harder, I’d love to hear about it.
What surprised you the most in your journey? Were there films that emerged as genuinely entertaining, or not as bad as you’d expected?
The tales behind the movies intrigued me as much as the films themselves. When you see a bad movie, you think, ‘Who? What? Why?’ I was amazed at how many times I’d scratch the surface and find some story of tragedy or triumph, whether it was Shriek of the Mutilated director Michael Findlay’s grisly demise or The Mighty Gorga star Megan Timothy’s remarkable recovery from a catastrophic brain injury. As for the movies, there were dozens that were genuinely entertaining from some perspective from start to finish. Many of the others had enough moments of inadvertent comedy or oddball interest to help offset the boredom. And then there were those real stinkers with nothing to recommend whatsoever. Good ones? There are too many to mention. I have a lot of amount of affection for flicks like Maniac, Shark Attack 3: Megalodon, The Room, The Giant Claw, The Oscar, Beyond the Forest, The Black Godfather, For Y’ur Height Only, Frankenstein Island, Teenagers From Outer Space, The Carpetbaggers, Road House… as well as the ‘classics’ like Showgirls, Plan 9, Battlefield Earth and Reefer Madness. There are dozens more.
What was the worst line of dialogue or scene you endured?
That’s a tough call. Worst-worst? Or worst-best? As for the funniest, I’m saying the infamous line from Shark Attack 3. No! Scratch that. The best-worst if from Road House: “I used to f–k guys like you in prison!” Said as a threat, during a fight! Possibly the best line ever. Priceless. As for the worst-worst? Any line at all from The Room or Ben & Arthur. As for worst scene? That’d be the eight-minute digging-in-the-mud-puddle from my “winning” worst-ever flick.
If you had to name a worst-ever sequel, what would it be?
Another Nine And A Half Weeks. You could use it to chemically castrate sex offenders. It is so woefully dull and anti-erotic. There are also those “seemquels” where a movie is titled to cash-in on an earlier film, despite having little or nothing to do with it. Hollywood High Part 2 was one of those. Mind-bogglingly boring.
Many A-List stars get skewered in your book for their poor career decisions — Stallone, Travolta, Arnie. Who do you think made the worst professional left turn?
It’s hard to believe how Teflon-coated John Travolta is. He’s well liked, loved even, despite his career being littered with turkeys. His first-ever movie was one — The Devil’s Rain, which is amusingly awful. And as soon as he became a star with Saturday Night Fever and Grease he went and made the insanely dull Moment To Moment. He became nearly unemployable after Stayin’ Alive and Perfect and The Experts. Then, no sooner had he made his comeback with Pulp Fiction and become a $20m man, he used his new clout for Razzie-bait Battlefield Earth. It keeps going. He was brilliant in Hairspray but then he does rubbish like Old Dogs. I’d say he’s the most erratic A-lister we have. I love him for it.
Just how obsessed with the Sasquatch are you? There’s quite a hefty section dedicated to the hairy beast.
Man, you should’ve seen that chapter before it was edited down! There were pages of history about Bigfoot and interviews with Sasquatch hunters, one of whom told me he believed there were 200 such creatures living in the Pacific Northwest and they held Survivor-like tribal councils to govern themselves! I watched another movie, too, The Capture of Bigfoot, that had to be edited out for space. Yes, for a few days there I went deeeeep into Bigfoot. But then I’d move on to the next mini-obsession.
Who’s committed the greater cinematic crimes: Bigfoot or Madonna?
Madonna, hands-down. What I’d love, though, would be for Madge to make a Bigfoot movie.
It definitely helps to know there are a lot of other bad-movie lovers out there. I got these guys to nominate their worst movies ever, so I could then watch ’em and form an opinion. I was standing on the shoulders of giants — when Leonard Maltin tells you the five worst films he’s ever seen in his long career, you take notice. What I learned from these guys, and, well from just about everyone I talked to, whether they were filmmakers or taxi drivers, is that bad-movie love is spread far and wide. You might not want to watch them back to back non-stop, but sometimes there’s nothing better than chortling through the cinematic works of spirited amateurs — or their opposite: self-important Hollywood A-listers who don’t realize that they’re working on a bloated piece of junk.
What was the experience like working on set with George A. Romero for Survival of the Dead? He was obviously impressed with your idea to respond to it…
George and I bonded talking about bad movies and he asked me to be a zombie on Survival of the Dead [see picture, above left]. It was a lot of fun, staggering around, face covered in awesome make-up, and George was very patient. Acting — even as a brain-dead zombie — doesn’t come naturally to me and I needed five takes to fall down dead. But despite my falling-down failings, George was kind enough to read my book, enjoy it and write the foreword. He’s a champ, one of the few filmmakers who makes himself accessible to his fans. He turns 70 on February 4 so I’d like to take this opportunity to say “Happy birthday” to a true gentleman.
Did you talk to any of the filmmakers who had the misfortune of appearing in your book? How did they react?
Uwe Boll earns a rightful place, I’m sure. Given his propensity to fight his critics, would you be up for a bout? And who do you think would win?
Ha! I asked Uwe about that and he said he only hates critics who unfairly criticize his movies. I think I gave them a fair appraisal so he probably won’t come looking to punch me out. I actually got him to rate his own films out of 10 and he was under no illusions about them, giving them pretty low marks that were about the same as I what I rated ’em.
What’s the worst movie you’ve seen recently?
Management, with Jennifer Aniston and Steve Zahn. It got some great reviews but it was just awful. I was howling at how terrible this supposed romantic-comic-drama was.
What’s a critically reviled movie you consider to be great, and what’s an acclaimed movie you reckon stinks?
Showgirls, Teen Wolves and Astro Zombies is out now.
Click here as Adams runs down his 25 Favorite Bad Movies.