IMDb Bottom 100: Bat People

Bat People / It Lives By Night

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“Bat People” is yet another recent addition to the IMDb Bottom 100. As with many other members of the list, this is a B-movie that had the great misfortune to be featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000. However, I didn’t think it was a particularly notable entry in the series. Overall, it has a pretty standard B-movie formula, and is very similar to other movies I have covered in the IMDb Bottom 100 already (namely “Horrors of Spider Island” and “Track of the Moon Beast”). Basically, someone is bitten by a bat, and then slowly becomes a bat-man through a serious of murderous fits.

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A murderous fit of a batman

As is not unusual with low budget B-flicks of the time, this is another film with a good number of alternate titles. IMDb recognizes “Bat People” as the official name, but it is also widely known as “It Lives By Night” due to the popularity of the MST3K episode (which ran it under the less-used alt title).

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As far as interesting trivia goes, “Bat People” was Stan Winston’s first feature film makeup work, which is a real shame given how awful the lighting is in most of the movie. The makeup effects that you can make out in the darkness don’t look totally horrible, which isn’t exactly shocking given the storied career in special effects and makeup that he would ultimately have.

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These are probably the best-lighted shots of makeup in the movie

While the acting and writing in “Bat People” could certainly be better, nothing is nearly as distractingly awful about this movie as the lighting. Given much of the movie takes place in caves and at night, you have to expect a fair deal of darkness. That said, there is a way to deal with filming at night, and this flick totally fails at pulling it off. Even the opening shot is so dark that it is unclear what the image is supposed to be for a number of seconds.

As far as other complaints go, I wasn’t really impressed with the execution of the ending. Part of this is due to the fact that the twist wasn’t set up well enough in the writing, but there also wasn’t much of a sense of suspense in the final sequence like there should have been.

Overall, this is a pretty forgettable and skippable movie that I can’t recommend on its own devices. The story is formulaic enough that it is pretty easy to follow along, but there just isn’t much entertaining going on as the movie progresses. That said, this was a really fun episode of MST3K, and the comedic commentary really works well with this one. It isn’t the best MST3K episode, but it is a pretty good one worth checking out.

IMDb Bottom 100: Battlefield Earth

Battlefield Earth

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Ok, look. Everyone has reviewed “Battlefield Earth”. There is literally no ground left to tread, and no stone left to turn over. Here are just a handful of existing “Battlefield Earth” reviews that are totally worth your time to check out:

If that’s not enough for you, go give a listen to the eviscerating episode of “How Did This Get Made?” on the movie.

Now that you have watched and listened to all of those reviews, you are at the point where I was when I started watching this movie for the first time. I already knew about the hammy acting, the bad effects, the baffling editing, the behind-the-scenes troubles, the Razzies, and the whole cavalcade of incompetencies and bizarrities surrounding the movie. And, really, there isn’t anything else to say. Here is the opening to Roger Ebert’s half-star review, who sums it all up as well as anyone could:

“Battlefield Earth” is like taking a bus trip with someone who has needed a bath for a long time. It’s not merely bad; it’s unpleasant in a hostile way. The visuals are grubby and drab. The characters are unkempt and have rotten teeth. Breathing tubes hang from their noses like ropes of snot. The soundtrack sounds like the boom mike is being slammed against the inside of a 55-gallon drum.

I will note something about “Battlefield Earth”: it is a near-perfect example of a Hollywood bad movie. I’ve covered a lot of movies in the IMDb Bottom 100, but most of them have been foreign or independent productions. However, there is nothing quite like an all-star failure that had high expectations. I think the only other IMDb Bottom 100 flicks that had a comparable fall are “Gigli” and “Foodfight”, and neither of them were quite as catastrophic or public as “Battlefield Earth”.

This movie was supposed to be *big*. There was tons of money behind it, lots of marketing,  a line of toys, blueprints for sequels, and everything you would expect from a top-tier box office performer. The colossal failure of this movie, particularly in the wake of successful sci-fi flicks like “The Matrix”, was a real shock.

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As you would expect, the behind-the-scenes hubris is palpable when you watch this movie. The overconfidence exudes from every frame, which is part of what makes the failure of this film so damn satisfying in comparison to its low-budget cohorts in the IMDb Bottom 100. Here is a relevant quote from Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Rifftrax member Kevin Murphy, as recorded in “Showgirls, Teen Wolves, and Astro Zombies” by Michael Adams:

“When you see a film like Warren Beatty’s “Town & Country”, you can see all of the ego in the world on the screen…Schadenfreude is a classic human emotion. We have a passion for seeing people we hold up as models of success fall down. That goes back to Aristophanes. All the badness just comes off the screen – incompetently made and morally bankrupt, a nice combination.”

Murphy absolutely nails a major part of why it is so much fun to watch a big-budget bad movie. These flicks aren’t necessarily the worst things out there, but they very much failed to meet blockbuster expectations. Movies like “Batman & Robin” and “Spider-Man 3” immediately come to mind in this category: they are nowhere near as incompetent as “Oasis of the Zombies” or “Monster A Go Go”, but they are way more entertaining failures to watch through due to that sweet, sweet schadenfreude.

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Every joke about the ridiculous makeup and costuming has already been made. I guarantee it.

I absolutely recommend “Battlefield Earth” to any bad movie fans. Despite some issues with pacing, the things that are bad about this movie add to the unintentional entertainment value. Objectively, it isn’t realistically bad enough to make an honest Bottom 100 ranking, but I have no issue with it being in the IMDb Bottom 100: there is just to much to hate and enjoy about this movie that it fits right in down there.

Plotopsy Podcast #4 – Santa Claus Conquers The Martians

Santa Claus Conquers The Martians

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Today, as part of the “15 Days of Bad Christmas Movies” pod crawl, I will be talking about the B-movie holiday classic and IMDb Bottom 100 stalwart, “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians”.

To begin with, the setting of “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians” is a bit peculiar. In this universe, Santa Claus is an established, real person: there is no particular mystery or mysticism associated with him. This is fairly bizarre for a Christmas movie, to say the least: most use the mystery surrounding him as part of the story. The movie even opens with Santa being casually interviewed on TV at the north pole (where he, of course, has a physical workshop in the near-uninhabitable tundra). This sequence also features the first appearance of the character Mrs. Claus on the big screen, as “SCCTM” predated “Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer” to the theaters by 3 weeks in 1964. Santa also strangely forgets the names of his reindeer during this scene, famously referring to “Blitzen” as “Nixon”. Keep in mind, at this point in time Nixon was only know as the former Vice President of the United States, and as the man who lost the Presidency to a Catholic.

Part of the charm of “SCCTM” comes from a horde of cheap effects used throughout the film: these include the kind-of animated introductory credits, a man in a polar bear suit that makes the bear fight in Lou Ferrigno’s “Hercules” look dignified, a cardboard killer robot named Torg (not to be confused with Torgo from “Manos: The Hands of Fate”), space ships of Ed Wood levels of quality, and martian costumes consisting of what appear to be spare television and vacuum cleaner parts. Last but not least, the Martians carry magic guns (capable of freezing or tickling targets) that are just recolored “Wham-O” air blasters. Personally, I can’t hold the fact that the production was frugal with effects too harshly against them, but the end result of all of these cost-saving decisions is pretty entertaining to see on screen.

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A lot of fanfare has been made regarding the inaccuracy of the title of this movie. Santa does not do any fighting in the movie, and doesn’t claim Mars for the glory of the North Pole. The more accurate title is “Santa Claus and the Martian Civil War”: the conflict of the story comes from a split in martian society over whether the joy of Christmas should be assimilated into their lifestyle. The martian elder Chochem warns that the children of Mars will become rebellious if they are not exposed to yule-tide cheer, a controversial declaration which sparks the initial martian expedition to retrieve Santa in the first place, and plants the seeds of the eventual martian rebellion by Voldar. so if anything Santa is a catalyst to conflict, not a space conquistador.

Despite not featuring any real conquering, there is a climactic fight scene in the movie, in which toys are used by Santa Claus and the martian children to annoy and distract Voldar and the martian rebels until they are subdued by Kimar and his loyalist soldiers. It is a frenetically shot scene that needs to be seen to be believed, and is perhaps the most infamous sequence in the film.

The leader of the martian rebels, Voldar, is one of the most purely evil characters in the history of film. He not only convinces the martians to kidnap and interrogate a pair of human children, but he also attempts to murder Santa Claus and two kidnapped children on multiple occasions, including an incident in which he attempts to launch them into the void of space via an airlock. He is also established to be particularly bellicose and fond of war, at one point commenting on Mars’s past as a military society. Mars, of course, is the romanticized name for Greek god Ares, who is the god of war in both mythologies. He also has a legendarily villainous mustache, just in case it wasn’t clear to the audience that he would be the mutinous villain of the story.

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Voldar, ordering a robot to murder children
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Voldar is the one with the stache, of course

It is worth noting that the Martian naming conventions in the script and by and large astoundingly lazy: four of the primary martian characters are named Kimar, Momar, Bomar, Girmar. standing for “King Martian”, “Mom Martian”, “Boy Martian”, and “Girl Martian”, respectively.

One of the most memorable parts of “SCCTM” is undeniably the theme song, Hooray for Santa (or Santy) Claus: it is absurdly catchy, and features some mean trumpet work to boot. I specifically recall finding the sheet music to this is my high school band’s archives, and despite my pleadings, we ultimately never performed it publicly. The song is arguably the best thing to come about as a result of this film, though you probably won’t hear it on a Christmas radio station.

Infamous actress Pia Zadora appears in this film as Girmar in her first on-screen role (she was 8 years old at the time). She is best known as a punching bag for movie critics in the 1980s, particularly for her Razzie nominated roles in “Butterfly” and “The Lonely Lady”. Bafflingly, she also received a Golden Globe for her performance in “Butterfly”, a decision that is mocked and criticized to this day

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One of these is Pia Zadora. Flip a coin, I can’t tell them apart. Does that make me a Martian racist?

At the end of the movie, it is decided that one of the martians (Dropo, who provides much of the film’s comic relief) will take on all the duties of Santa Claus for Mars. It is never made clear as to why this wasn’t tried in the first place: the martians have a concept of what Santa does, and it is established that they have earth television programs that feature him prominently. Why wouldn’t they try to replicate Santa’s work first, instead of going through the trouble of apprehending Santa? Who knows?

The cult status of SCCTM is iconic among “so bad it is good movies” and Christmas movies alike. it particularly took off in popularity after it was featured in the show MST3K in the 1990s.  The movie has since seen multiple adaptations to the stage, is often cited as one of the worst movies of all time in professional publications, has become a staple in the IMDb Bottom 100 ranking, inspired a spin-off novelization, and was even re-dubbed in Brazil as a drug comedy called “Santa and the Magic Powder”. It was re-riffed live by the Mike Nelson MST3K crew as part of a Rifftrax Live event in December of 2013, which was simulcast in theaters around the United States and Canada.

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Promo for the Live Rifftrax of “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians” from December 2013.
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Photo from a stage production of “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians” in Fullerton, CA

As to the Plotopsy of SCCTM, what went wrong with this production? As I previously mentioned, the defining aspect of the movie is frugality, bordering on frank cheapness. That said, there is an honest charm to this film that has turned it into the cult classic that it is, much of which is rooted in those same financial limitations of the production. So, when it comes down to it, the movie’s weakness is its strength, and it wouldn’t be what it is without it. The cheesy writing is also often criticized, but to a certain degree, that was unavoidable: after all, this was intended as a simple children’s film, so cheesy elements were going to seep in regardless.  Director Nicholas Webster did have success directing television, so he certainly wasn’t incompetent behind a camera (though the failure of SCCTM pretty much killed his chances with features). There are even some shockingly half-decent shots to be found in SCCTM, so unlike many bad movies, it isn’t so much a failure on a technical level.

I can’t recommend this one highly enough, especially with the MST3k riffs. It is horrible and absolutely deserving of a place in the IMDb Bottom 100, but it is also an absolute blast. Definitely check it out if you haven’t already, it is readily available on YouTube.

 

You can catch up with the 15 Days of Bad Christmas Movies over with the Stinker Madness Podcast who just covered “Home Alone 3”, the If We Made It Podcast who just did “Ernest Saves Christmas”, the JT Movie Podcast, who took aim at “Jack Frost” this week (notably the creepy snowman one, not the Michael Keaton one), and Dark Corners of This Sick World on YouTube, who are featuring one of my personal holiday bad movie favorites this coming Monday, “Elves”: because nothing says Merry Christmas like a Nazi incest plot.

Make sure to tune in next week for my next entry in the 15 Days of Bad Christmas Movies, which will feature the Hulk Hogan vehicle and fellow IMDB bottom 100 member, “Santa with Muscles”

IMDb Bottom 100: The Album (Part 2)

You can check out the first installment here.

Track of the Moon Beast

Hobgoblins

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians

Copper Mountain

Foodfight

Anne B Real

AAG

From Justin to Kelly

Popstar

Eegah

Friday the 13th Part V

Bratz: The Movie


IMDb Bottom 100: Baby Geniuses

Baby Geniuses

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One of the great questions surrounding the stalwarts of the IMDb Bottom 100 is “Which is worse, ‘Baby Geniuses’ or ‘Baby Geniuses 2?'” In general, most seem to think less of the Jon Voight led sequel. However, The Nostalgia Critic made an interesting case for the first movie being the lesser. Personally, I agree with NC on this one: I think that despite “Baby Geniuses 2” being the more incompetent movie (which is saying a lot), Jon Voight’s performance manages to make it a more entertaining watch than “Baby Geniuses”.  “Baby Geniuses” does have its own cast of self-debasing actors, most notably Christopher Lloyd (“Back to the Future”) and Kathleen Turner (“War of the Roses”), but neither of them get the same kind of screen time or go to nearly the same over-the-top lengths as Voight does in the sequel, which is strangely kind of a weakness to “Baby Geniuses” when it comes down to a comparison.

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“Baby Geniuses” has one particular sequence that qualifies, surprisingly, as unadulterated nightmare fuel. For whatever reason, a lot of the plot takes place around an amusement park that features a host of remote-controlled animatronic creatures. Among these animatronics are Santa Claus, a terrifying clown that could put Tim Curry to shame, and a horrific 8-foot baby that is equipped with a speaker. During the climax of the movie, the genius babies take over the animatronics to create a distraction, which leads to a horrifying battle between a small army of security personnel and a robotic horde of terrifying animatronics, led by a bellowing giant baby. It is really unsettling and out of place to say the least.

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“Baby Geniuses” mercifully doesn’t resort to the cheesy computer generated effects that the sequels do, but the stunts and voice-over work are aggravatingly obnoxious none-the-less. It goes without saying that the babies weren’t exactly stellar actors, and it isn’t like there was much anyone could do about that (apart from not making a movie about babies). Does that make it forgivable? Absolutely not. The experience of watching babies giggle and flail while adults provide their voices is miserable, even if it was all unavoidable by the picture’s very design.

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There is an interesting question to be asked of the “Baby Geniuses” franchise: who is the target audience of the movies? Are young children supposed to be enjoying these movies? Are babies supposed to be gawking at the noises and colors? Or is the goal of these movies to entertain elderly people who find babies unbearably cute? Honestly, I’m not convinced that the people behind the franchise are totally sure of this. It seems like these movies aim for all of these targets, which is almost certainly part of why they are ultimately so damn weird.

One of the strangest aspects of this movie involves a mysterious maturation process that all of the babies go through when they hit 2 years old (if I recall correctly). Without much warning, it is shown that each baby character loses all of their memories and thoughts as they turn into…actual people? In any case, all of the babies are aware of this process, and they face it not unlike an adult would face the prospect of death. Essentially, the characters are dying: all of their defining characteristics and personalities disappear in the blink of an eye. To say that this is really bizarre to see in a movie about super-intelligent babies is a massive understatement. I did not expect to see babies go through an existential crisis when I turned on this movie. I mean, who would?

If there is anything positive to say about “Baby Geniuses” it is that the plot is very straightforward. It boils down to a simple case of mistaken identity, which is as close as the movie ever gets to being Hitchcock-ian. In any case, there isn’t anything particularly wrong with the plot or the structure of the film: all of the frills on top of it are just shitty.

Overall, it is impossible to recommend “Baby Geniuses” as an enjoyable bad movie. Most of the film is just boring when it comes down to it, and there are very few sequences that prove entertaining. To the sequel’s credit, there are certainly more bafflingly watchable moments to be had there, courtesy of the Academy Award winning actor Jon Voight. The most I can recommend is to find a supercut of highlights of the two movies, or check out detailed video reviews of them.

IMDb Bottom 100: Ator, The Blade Master

Ator, The Blade Master / The Cave Dwellers

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“Ator, The Blade Master” is part of a series of sword and sandal movies, which wasn’t exactly clear to me when I started watching the movie. It strikes me from looking at some of the alt titles that there may have been an attempt to market this more as a standalone movie than as a second installment. Apart from some flashbacks early in the movie, there wasn’t much sense that this was the continuation of a previous story. Admittedly, I have not seen the first of these movies, so I don’t know how much actually carries over to this one.

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Speaking of alternate titles, this movie is probably most famously known as “Cave Dwellers”. This title comes from  a particularly bad TV cut that the MST3k folks got a hold of and featured on the show, in which the intro titles are just blacked out and replaced with the alternates. The episode is one of their best for sure, and the shoddy copy of the film gives them plenty to work with.

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“Ator” has some really fun moments interspersed throughout the movie, including an amazing sequence in which bombs are dropped from a hang-glider on to a castle, but the overall pacing to the movie is absolutely atrocious, and makes something that could be a lot of fun into a pretty dull watch. Even the fight choreography, where it exists, is pretty disappointing, but the shots are all bad enough that it wouldn’t matter much anyway. There are so many mechanical issues with this movie that it absolutely boggles the mind, from cinematography to choreography to editing.

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The acting in “Ator” is a pretty mixed bag: the villain of the story is absolutely amazing, and hams up the role as much as you could possibly image. He not only has bad guy facial hair, but also dons one of the most ridiculous bird helmets that I have ever seen. On the other end of the spectrum is the elderly “Wise One”, who drags the entire movie down with his drawn-out line reads and pauses. Whenever he is on screen, the movie moves along like molasses. In the dead center of the two is the fellow playing the eponymous Ator, who could not look the part any better. He has some ridiculous lines, but he certainly never phones in the performance.

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Right: Bird helmet bad guy. Left: The worst actor in the movie
*poke*
*poke*

I can’t recommend the whole experience of watching “Ator, The Blade Master”, just because the pacing slows down so much in the body of the film. That said, I can definitely recommend checking out a supercut of the MST3k highlights to get the gist of the film, that would be more than worth your time.

As a side note, there is a very similar bad movie out there that I enjoyed much more than “Ator”: “Yor: Hunter of the Future”. The movie stars Reb Brown (from IMDb Bottom 100 flick “Space Mutiny”), and features a hilariously incoherent theme song. Overall, there is a lot more ridiculously entertaining stuff going on in that movie, so it is more of an interesting watch if you are sitting down to enjoy yourself.

IMDb Bottom 100: Oasis of the Zombies

Oasis of the Zombies / Treasure of the Living Dead

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“Oasis of the Zombies” is  genuine Z-grade dreck, something I didn’t expect to see much of in the IMDb Bottom 100, mostly due to the relative obscurity of most of these movies.  That said, it is unarguably of low enough quality to qualify for any elite ranking of horrible films.

As is the case with many Z-movies, there are a whole lot of alternate titles for this one. The official IMDb entry is as “Treasure of the Living Dead”, I assume because that is a better translation of the actual title. However, I am most familiar with it as “Oasis of the Zombies”, which is also how the film is currently listed on Netflix. So, those are the two I am going to go with here.

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I was pretty shocked to find that this movie was made in the 1980s, because the quality is such that I though it was made much earlier than that. It might be possible that this was done on purpose as an homage, but I am not inclined to give this flick the benefit of the doubt on any artistic intentions.

The cinematography in “Oasis of the Zombies” is down-right  laughable. It is rarely clear what the characters are doing, or what is actually happening on screen. Most of the shots are either so distant that nothing is clear, or so close up that you can see nothing other than a zombie’s face. It is incredibly tiring to say the least. Worse yet, and I can’t believe that this is a necessary complaint for a motion picture, but there is not enough motion in this picture. So little happens on screen that there is nothing to keep your attention on the film. I honestly could have been distracted away from watching this movie by the faint sound of wind in the distance. Speaking of sound, the only thing worse than the cinematography in this film is the miserable sound work,  for both the music and the dialogue. The soundtrack is hypnotically repetitive (in a bad way), and the dialogue is near inaudible throughout the movie. That said, that is just what Z-movies are like when it comes down to it. From what I can tell, all of these complaints are fairly typical from this kind of production.

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On to a brief positive about the film: the plot isn’t so bad when you can follow it. The idea of cursed Nazi zombies is pretty solid, and when you throw in a gold hunt into the mix, things get even more interesting thematically. The more I watched the movie, the more I was reminded of the infinitely more entertaining movie  “Dead Snow”, which deals with a similar setup with frigid mountains substituting in for the desert setting of “Oasis”.

“Oasis” has a handful of ok zombie effects, but the low budget of the production really shows itself as the same shots of zombies are reused over and over again. Each time I saw the same zombie makeup, the shot looked less and less convincing to me, until it all just started to look goofy. As is the principle with most monster movies: less is definitely more.

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All in all, “Oasis of the Zombies” is really difficult to sit through, mostly due to the fact that there is no sense of progression. There isn’t anything to redeem the film entertainment-wise, so I don’t have any reason to recommend it.

One question about this movie really has me curious: why is this movie known? I recognized the title “Oasis of the Zombies” but I have no idea why. It takes a not-insignificant quota of votes for a movie to qualify for the IMDb Bottom 100, so that weeds out most of the Z-grade films out there. As far as I know, this was not an MST3k feature, which is how most movies like this get the awareness and votes to break into the ranking. When it comes down to it,  I feel like it is one among many Z-movies, standing out from the pack for no particular reason that I can put my finger on.