The Worst Movie Ever Made
This has proven to be a popular subject over the years, no matter the age, no matter the gender, no matter the socio-economic status; people just like to talk about rotten movies. Over the weeks and months to come I'm going to be looking at favorites, top ten lists, actors, writers, producers, and directors, but I thought I'd start by offering everyone an open forum on a subject people seem to love.
For my money (and I have literally made money on this), the only real contender for this title is Fire Maidens from Outer Space. This steaming turd of a movie was written, produced, and directed by Cy Roth, released on an unsuspecting public in 1956, and the question I still struggle to answer is, "Why?" The movie appears to have been made on a budget of $50.00 by a guy who salvaged a camera from a trash bin during his escape from an insane asylum. It starred Anthony Dexter, Susan Shaw, and a handful of other would-be actors who appeared in this film without any sort of mask or disguise, thereby bringing promising careers to a screeching halt.
Allow me to hum a few bars for you: The setting is the near future of 1956. There is no suggestion that space travel is common, nor even in its infancy. Mankind is preparing to take those tentative steps into space, and the natural target for one of these very early (if not the first) expeditions is the 13th moon of Jupiter, a site certainly on my short list of prime destinations. Our five intrepid astronauts are packed into their trusty V-2 (stock footage gets a workout here), and bundled off toward said moon. Following the obligatory tense encounter with the highly dangerous space-popcorn of the Asteroid Belt, prompting an inane comment from one of the men that "This reminds me of my wife when she's mad," their navigation proves faultless, and they land, backing down their exhaust trail, sucking flames and smoke back into their combustion chamber in an early example of environmental responsibility.
Find this far-fetched? Better save some skepticism for later; this is hard science, compared to what follows. Having landed on a strange planet, they test the atmosphere by opening the hatch, and rather fortunately finding it, and the gravity, and most astonishingly, the sunshine and climate, most remarkably like Earth's, they climb down a wooden ladder and begin to explore. They have no interest in the lush vegetation that surrounds them on all sides; apparently nothing that doesn't sport sharp teeth and a surly disposition is worth studying. They tramp in an apparently random direction through the vegetation for about a mile, I guess, when they come to a vine-covered vertical surface. Pushing the vines aside, they find a geometric pattern of seemingly worked stones.
An aside here: If you could hold a seance with Gene Roddenberry, he would probably tell you that he invented the concept of the Science Officer, embodied in Spock, whose function is to explain complicated scientific principles that support the plot to the non-scientist audience. I submit that these guys beat Star Trek to that concept by a decade. Upon exposing the stones behind these vines, Mr. Prototypical Science Officer screws up his face in study, then turns to the others and makes his first Momentous Pronouncement: "Looks like a wall!"
They don't get a whole lot of time to contemplate this, as the aforementioned owner of the sharp teeth and surly disposition chooses this moment to put in an appearance. Hearing a threatening noise, our intrepid heroes turn to discover the source. And there it is, at the top of a hill that looks to be about three-quarters of a mile away, a tall, skinny stunt man in a gorilla-esque fright mask and black body suit with clearly visible zippers, waving his "claws" in the air and shouting at the top of his lungs, I swear, "Raaaaaaaawww! Raaaaaaaawww!" Scariest monster ever; first time I saw this thing, I almost soiled myself!
Unflappably brave captain draws his Colt Model 1911, .45 caliber pistol, and bangs off a half-dozen shots... Bodysuit Monster continues to roar. Having personal experience with the weapon, I'd question whether a 1911 could hit the broad side of Los Angeles at that range, but Mr. Science Officer has complete faith in his captain's marksmanship, as he presses our hero's arm down and makes his second Momentous Pronouncement: "Bullets have no effect!" Not to worry. Unflappably brave captain has a backup plan. "I'll throw a grenade!" he declares, and reaching to his belt, grabs nothing, raises his empty fist to his mouth and mimes pulling the pin on a grenade, then throws nothing probably 1500 yards uphill, whereupon an appropriately-sized explosion detonates between Bodysuit Monster's feet. Though completely uninjured by the blast, Bodysuit Monster is startled by this development. We know this, because in what is undoubtedly the best piece of acting in this movie, the uncredited stuntman in a fright mask manages to mime surprise before he runs off over the hill.
Think that's my whole case? Hardly. All this is just a warmup, and I defy any first-time viewer to pass this point without a package of airsickness bags ready to hand. Having come all the way from Earth, our intrepid astronauts are not about to be put off by a wall of any kind, and they fairly quickly find a way to the other side, where they find themselves in the garden of a temple/palace of remarkably Mediterranean architecture. Living there in what amounts to a fortress they can never leave (because of Bodysuit Monster) are one old man, and a group of sixteen nubile women, all in their mid-twenties, and clad in tennis dresses. Nice arrangement, you might think? Not so much. The old man declares that "These are my daughters." No sign of Mom around. Not surprising, as apparently the strain of birthing and raising a litter of sixteen human children did her in years ago. But this is nothing compared to his next revelation, which is that they are the last survivors of Atlantis, having fled Earth (how?) following the earthquake/volcano/tsunami that destroyed Atlantis 3000 years ago. You have to wonder why they didn't just move to the Riviera, but beyond that, how is it that a stone-age people who can invent space travel in the few weeks notice that a volcano might have given them haven't been able to invent a Bodysuit Monster trap in 3000 years? And, haven't fashions changed one tiny bit in that time?
But, I digress. There are cliques among the Atlanteans who have different ideas about what to do with the men, the men, for reasons I never understood, can't wait to get out of there and back to their rocketship, the monster finally finds a way in (after 3000 years of trying?) and has to be dealt with, and through it all, having forgotten to pack a copy of Chutes and Ladders when they were leaving Earth, the women dance. This is their only visible form of recreation (no word on what the old man does), and they dance to the never-ending strains of Polovetsian Dance No. 2 from Prince Igor by Borodin. Fans of leisure-suited lounge singers will recognize this as Stranger in Paradise, and once you see this movie, you will never hear that song again without being reduced to stitches; very embarrassing if you're a jazz fan as I am.
I first encountered this howler in the early '60s on an afternoon movie presentation where they showed some horrible old flick, and toward the end, asked a trivia question about it, and the third caller with the right answer won a hundred bucks or something. I didn't win that contest, but I've since won about that amount betting with my friends that they couldn't show me a worse movie than this. Back before cable and VHS, it used to show up a couple of times a year on the Late Late Show and similar outlets. Plan Nine from Outer Space was always a popular nominee, a paradox that took it out of the running by default. One guy thought he had me with Wrestling Women vs The Aztec Mummy; he paid. Another friend came up with something I've mercifully forgotten the name of in which some Clyde Beatty-type hunter led a safari to a jungle area of Northern India where they discovered a surviving herd of woolly mammoths, and hilarity ensued. He not only paid, he apologized for wasting my time while he was doing it. Here's how bad this movie is: MST3K took a run at it in I believe their fourth season, and they couldn't get enough traction to make it work as a joke. Like the putrid dungpile it is, it responds to nothing, simply lying there and stinking up the joint.
I recommend that everyone see this movie, simply to establish a benchmark against which every other movie you ever see, no matter how bad, will exhibit some sort of redeeming feature. I'm at a loss to tell you how you might see it, since to the best of my knowledge, it has never been immortalized on DVD or even VHS. It doesn't appear on many mainstream television outlets these days, although if you have a local cable outlet along the lines of The Stinkeroo Channel or Disasterpiece Theater, you may have a shot. If you can't find it elsewhere, you can get hold of the MST3K season that has it. It's really worth a look, as an educational experience if nothing else.
It's forty years on from those days, and I'm way past betting on the relative quality of movies. That's a very subjective field at best, though I have to say, in the face of this hound, an awful lot of eloquent debaters have given up without a fight. Nonetheless, a lot of movies have been put in the can since those days, and if you can name something worse than this, I'd like to hear about it! Well, friends, the floor is yours; what have you got?