There is, factually, no better time to lose three hours of your life to fruitlessly scrolling through Netflix than right now. Your grandpa is in town and he’s keen to see what’s happening this year on Yule Log. Your little brother is insisting that everyone will love some J-Pop concert video starring an androgynous robot tween in a mini-skirt. Mom just wants to watch something with a talking animal that takes place in rural Belguim—but she doesn’t care what.
This reminds me of a story
When I was a lad, my parents left me, my younger brother, and my older sister in a hotel room while they went out for some adult cavorting. We were probably in Florida, but who can remember?
In those days, there was no cable TV. There was no streaming media, either. All you had was—if you were lucky—a collection of VHS tapes the off-putting hotel clerk kept behind the desk.
We were lucky, and we weren’t. Because there was such a collection but there was no way in hell the three of us were all going to agree on what we wanted to watch. So we did what any sensible person would do: we chose something we all agreed we didn’t want to watch.
That was fair.
We picked some Z-grade chopsocky film, overdubbed into English from—who knows—Tagalog? Cantonese? Uzbeki? All I remember about it was a lot of people getting hacked apart by abysmally fake swordplay and some guy complaining, “Why I have to cook a fish?”
It was terrible, and we all hated it together, and we still, during inappropriate moments, thirty-five years later, will lament, “Why I have to cook a fish?”*
It is with this story in mind that we suggest the following ten-ish films that you and your taste-challenged family members can stream together this month. They are not all absolutely terrible; in fact, only one is. But that’s the one we most strongly recommend you insist on putting on if your familial unit breaks down in apoplectic rage while attempting to find a talking animal film that takes place in rural Belgium. Just tell mom the talking goat is coming in hour three and she’ll never find out if you were lying or not.
Because no one has made it all the way through our first film. Nobody. Ever.
The rest of them you might have more luck with. Some of them are actually great! Guess you’ll have to watch them all to find out which.
HBO Go / HBO Now
Pearl Harbor is Michael Bay’s three-hour attempt to make the Japanese sneak attack on the American fleet in Hawaii seem thoughtful in comparison. It is sort of like getting your mouthwash and your laundry soap confused, except plus three hours of Ben Affleck being romantic. It is, in a word, extremely not good. But yet… yet… there’s that bit with the goat in the third hour, where FDR (Jon Voigt; not kidding) fights a Gundam with his powerfist. It could happen? How would you know—unless you watch it all. We dare you. It couldn’t be worse than Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Or could it?
C’mon. It’s Tremors. Kevin Bacon fighting giant worm things in the desert. Sold, right? If you haven’t watched Tremors because it looks mentally deficient, you’re not thinking clearly. I mean: yes. It is mentally deficient, but that’s EXACTLY WHAT YOU NEED. Also, probably, another double bourbon. Go get yourself a double bourbon and put on Tremors. Because, I’m the dad, that’s why.
Behind the Candelabra
Seriously. You’re going to love this one. While you might reasonably expect a Liberace biopic to be excruciating, it is not. It is, instead, totally cruciating, which should be a word if it isn’t already. Both Matt Damon and Michael Douglas are out of this world in it and if this one had played in theaters instead of on HBO, it would wear so many Oscars it could pass for Liberace. Directed by Steven Soderbergh, Behind the Candelabra is a film that will make you happy in your happy pants except for all the sad bits. Those will make you sad in your sad pants—just like you’re used to being.
Baahubali: the Beginning
I watched this film. Or, I guess, half of this film, since this is “the Beginning” and there is another three hours of “the Conclusion” still on deck. But Baahubali is like the Indian Lord of the Rings meets Game of Thrones meets Project Runway meets some sort of wet furry thing your hand accidentally closes on when rummaging around in the back of your closet. (We don’t know what it is either; best not to think about it.) Baahubali is not good, exactly, nor is it bad—more it’s just sort of EVERYTHING and for a long time and also fairly hysterical for a film about a woman kept prisoner and the long-lost son who climbs a billion-foot high waterfall to rescue her with his charming mustache and his dom/sub archer-extraordinaire paramour. Just start this one somewhere in the middle while everyone is squabbling about what to watch and enjoy seeing their heads spin clean off.
Many, many films compete for the lofty title of ‘worst.’ Plan 9 From Outer Space is a classic contender—and it is in fact pretty terrible. Other people love to hate The Room, but—like Plan 9—it is a totally amateur affair. The fact that people who don’t know anything about making moves fail to make a good one is amusing, in a condescending sort of way, but it’s not in any way surprising. Making a real, feature film that people will pay money to see is horribly complicated and tremendously difficult, despite what looking at Ben Affleck might make you think. You need a team of around 100+ professionals, all deeply skilled in various technical arts. You need gobs of money and lawyers and agents. You also, most likely, need some small amount of skill. Just writing a script can take years. And so, we come to Battlefield Earth, which, if not the worst film of all time, is at least certainly a strong contender. Because Battlefield Earth is an adaptation of L. Ron Hubbard’s sci-fi novel, lovingly brought to life by Scientology mushbrain John Travolta and his assembled crew of Scientologist Hollywood on-clingers, looking to glorify their prophet. They had the money. They had the skill. They had the cred and the time and resources and, yet, what they have produced is so pube-straightingly, joint-invertingly, ghastly terrible you will not stop removing your eyes to check if they’re still working properly from the time it starts to its thankful finish. Every shot is askew. Every line is delivered as if the actor was instructed to channel Cookie Monster. Entire scenes appear to have been either cobbled together out of soggy hardware store circulars or excised from the film just when you might wish something explained to you, such as “what the fuck?” While I have not seen it in too long a time, there is one whole sequence in which a group of literal cavemen learn how to fly alien spacecraft in about 90 seconds by jamming buttons with their meaty fists. I think you should watch it.
It’s not the under-the-radar, minor masterpiece of genre that is Tremors, but it is Total Recall, in which Arnold Schwarzenegger gets his ass to Mars via Paul Verhoeven‘s direction and a vaguely tenuous connection to a Philip K. Dick short story. Total Recall is absurd in the exteme. Which is why it’s so much more enjoyable than you remember. Unless you’re the sort of person who watches it every month. In which case maybe it’s slightly less enjoyable than you remember. In any case, Verhoeven is, as ever, unhinged, there are some magnificent practical effects by the great Rob Bottin (of The Thing and RoboCop fame), and it co-stars both Ronny Cox and Michael Ironside. Would it have been a better movie if David Cronenberg (who was originally going to make it) had written and directed it? We’ll never know. But we can watch this version and dream.
Gremlins 2: The New Batch
Following the unlikely hit that was Christmas classic Gremlins, in which director Joe Dante made some kind of bizarro-world horror movie for children in which terrifying monsters besiege Universal’s town square backlot and murder Dick Miller, Warner Bros., desperate for Dante to direct a sequel, gave him complete creative control and a budget three times that of the original. So, naturally, Dante made a live-action-cartoon horror comedy that more or less feeds on the corpse of the original while playing like a lunatic, caffeine-fueled tiny monster soiree. There’s nothing like it. Nor should there be. If you want to leave your family in a potentially permanent state of bafflement and suspicion as to the state of your sanity, put on Gremlins 2 for them over the holidays.
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale
Here it is, folks, the Finnish Christmas monster movie you’ve been waiting for, in which the ancient beast known as Santa Claus is unearthed from the ice and, um, I think does some terrible things? And there are creepy old-man elf-monsters to contend with? It’s been a while since I watched this one, and I might have had a bit much o’ the ol’ xmas cheer when I did so, but let’s not let plot details worry us here. Rare Exports is beloved by many, or at least by the many who imagine Santa is a terrifying Scandinavian horned demon, and doesn’t that describe you, the typical Mind Control reader, to a T? I choose to believe that it does. Once you’ve watched Die Hard, Trading Places, and the greatest Christmas movie of all time, Christmas Evil, give Rare Exports a shot.
One from the Heart
A flop that bankrupted Francis Ford Coppola when it was released in 1982, One from the Heart is, like many failures, not exactly a good movie, but a really interesting bad one. Though it’s set around the 4th of July, its insane color scheme is a perfect fit with the gaudy light show that is Christmas. If nothing else, One from the Heart‘s cinematography (by master Vittorio Storaro) is something to be floored by. Rather than shoot the movie in Las Vegas, where it’s set, Coppola chose to do the whole movie on sets, creating a surreal, artificial look. Which look is either marvelously original or terrifying, depending, perhaps, on how much you’ve had to drink before watching it. The music is by Tom Waits and Crystal Gayle. Harry Dean Stanton shows up somewhere in it. It’s been forever since I’ve seen it, but I bet there are beautifully directed scenes among the detritus of dopey soap-opera plotting. Or who knows, maybe it’s a lost masterpiece. How about you watch it and let us know?
You’ve almost made it to the end. We’re not messing around anymore. At least Battlefield Earth has John Travolta cackling like a maniac every three minutes. Saturn 3 stars Kirk Douglas, Harvey Keitel, Farrah Fawcett, and a killer robot. I dare you to name three actors less suitable to a science fiction flick set on a space station orbiting Saturn. So unsuitable was Keitel (at least as far as his director was concerned) that his voice is dubbed over by another actor. More impressive still, Saturn 3 was directed by Stanley Donen, hugely famous for his musicals and comedies of the ’50s and ’60s. Why is Donen, at the end of his career, making a science fiction flick? In fact he was merely producing it, trying to cash in on the likes of Alien by having Farrah Fawcett in a skin-tight silver spacesuit fighting a killer robot, but when Kirk Douglas shit-canned original director John Barry, in came Donen. The results are eye-opening. Or the opposite, really. Thank heavens I can’t remember well enough to say for sure. I may have to watch it again to find out. If you do make it through Saturn 3, as a bonus you can read the novel Money, by Martin Amis, a “fictional” account of the making of a piece of shit science fiction movie. Martin Amis, aside from being a famous novelist, wrote Saturn 3‘s screenplay. He has some stories to tell.
THERE IS PROBABLY A VIDEO RENTAL STORE SOMEWHERE YOUR LITTLE SISTER CAN WALK TO IN THE SNOW WITHOUT LOSING HER FINGERS, OR YOU CAN 1-DAY DELIVER IT OFF AMAZON PRIME
(While we understand that the title of this post is “Streaming Salvation” and you might expect that you can stream all the films we’re recommending this month, the digital age has failed you in this one specific regard.)
It’s pretty bad. Yep. That Tommy Wisseau fellow is both seriously weird and clearly devoid of talent and/or a sense of what other humans are. We just watched The Disaster Artist over here at SB4MC and while it’s not great, and it doesn’t provide much in the way of answers to WTF, it does explain how a film like The Room can come into being. And, knowing that, The Room becomes just another bad film made by people who have no idea how to make a film—granted, also people who have no idea how to be alive. But your grandma will love it. Its delicate and nuanced treatment of the horrors of breast cancer serves as a lesson to us all.
- If anyone can tell me what film this was, I will be both gratified and terrified.
Saturn 3? You bastard.
Good list. What is it about science fiction movies that have the potential to be so enjoyably bad? Some of the worst films I’ve seen have been science fiction, and could work on this list: Aeon Flux, Jupiter Ascending, After Earth, and that one, Lockout, where Guy Pearce invades a space prison. But I think my ultimate vote for the best/worst scifi film to add would be Logan’s Run.
I have never understood why anyone liked Logan’s Run. Jupiter Ascending. Man. That was garbage. Lockout was just dull. But Saturn 3. Saturn 3 is genuinely terrible.
After Earth is probably worth watching as a double feature with Battlefield Earth because they are both Scientology propaganda tools for the sort of people who need alien brain bugs and volcanos to understand concepts like sharing and guilt.
Because it contains some of the finest over-acting ever captured on film: https://youtu.be/A2aC2UY-APQ (Speaking of Key and Peele, Michael York’s performance here totally reminds me of the way Jordan Peele might deliver this speech if it were part of a sketch.)
An interesting thing about Lockout is that both Vincent Regan and Jospeh Gilgun, neither of whom are Scottish, do genuinely excellent Scottish accents. However they’re Scottish accents from completely different parts of the country.
Well, it’s interesting to me at least.