If you haven’t heard of the 1984 film Threads, you are certainly not alone. There aren’t many BBC made-for-television movies that are talked about at all 35 years after their airing, let alone have wide name recognition after all of that time. I wasn’t made aware of this movie until I was in college, and it was part of a class I took on The Cold War. I remember it being covered along with The Day After, as examples of Cold War nuclear fears manifested on film. As you can imagine, it is a pretty bleak affair, as summed up in its IMDb synopsis:
The effects of a nuclear holocaust on the working class city of Sheffield, England and the eventual long-term effects of nuclear war on civilization.
Recently, Nashville’s Belcourt Theatre held a one-night theatrical screening of this nightmarish speculative vision of the aftermath and carnage of nuclear war – something that is a rarity for television movies. This is was my first time watching the film in its entirety – my class only included clips as I recall.
To begin with, this is an emotionally potent piece, even today – I can only imagine what it was like to watch contemporaneously. Screenwriter Barry Hines put some real effort into creating a wide cast of tangible and grounded characters – some likable, some not – before literally obliterating them in fire, ash, and languishing torment. While the early segments felt unnecessarily lengthy and banal when I was watching them, I didn’t realize how much I was connecting with the dull and realistic humanity of the characters until they began vaporizing.
The film’s director, Mick Jackson, did a handful of theatrical movies following Threads, including Volcano and The Bodyguard, but this is almost certainly his most lasting work. While it isn’t necessarily remarkably shot or edited, it is immensely affecting as a complete package. The combination of Hines’s writing, shocking makeup effects work, and a handful of key performances is a gut-punch of a cautionary tale.
That said, I’m not sure if I can recommend it. It has some pretty serious pacing issues due to its unconventional structure, inconsistent and often unnecessary narration, and is nowhere near the realm of entertainment. For people interested in Cold War history, I think it is a great watch, and it can be a great call to action towards denuclearization, but it is also definitely a product of its era. This isn’t going to have the impact on someone today as it had in 1984 – there’s too much distance between the viewer and the threat now. This was designed very particularly for a contemporaneous audience, and I think that is something that definitely comes through today. Personally, I am glad I watched Threads, despite its flaws. However, I don’t think I’ll ever watch it again, either.
First off, the list is based on live rankings, so it is in constant flux. Movies come and go off of the list with significant frequency. After all, the list measures the public perception of the worst movies of all time, and that is undoubtedly going to change over time. For instance, Saving Christmas and Gunday popped on the list while I was going through it, and a few movies I covered dropped off.
I’ve only officially gone back to the IMDb Bottom 100 once since I completed my challenge at the end of 2014, to cover new list addition Theodore Rex. One of my readers recently asked me if I was keeping up with the latest rankings – admittedly, that answer is essentially “no.” However, I did take a look at the current rankings, and something major stuck out to me – not only are there a ton of new films, but almost all of those inaccessible films are now off of the list. I’m not sure if this is due to a change in the list’s qualifications, of if IMDb community members manually voted them off the list with unwarranted high ratings, but someone taking on this challenge now would have a much easier time of it.
Here are the films that have cracked the IMDb Bottom 100 (and held their position) since I wrapped my challenge in 2014. Movies that I have covered have their reviews linked.
I’m not going to say that I’m going to go back to cover all of these new additions to the list – you couldn’t pay me enough to sit through that many parody movies, and I simply don’t have the free time that I used to – but I will say that a good number of these were already in my mental queue. Rollerball is a movie that I have intended to cover since I started the blog; Blair Witch 2 has been on my short list since I saw the GoodBadFlicks defense of the film; Kazaam is on my imminent list of movies to cover due to the whole Mandela Effect controversy, and plenty of others here have my attention.
I can say this though – I’m going to be paying attention to this list again. I have a feeling that it’ll give me some ideas.
Today, I’m going to take a look at Tobe Hooper’s bizarre 1990 film, Spontaneous Combustion.
The plot of Spontaneous Combustion is summarized on IMDb as follows:
A young man finds out that his parents had been used in an atomic-weapons experiment shortly before he was born, and that the results have had some unexpected effects on him.
Spontaneous Combustion was co-written and directed by Tobe Hooper, who was responsible for classics of the horror genre like Poultergeist and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. However, he is also known for some of his later, cheesier works, like The Mangler, Lifeforce, Invaders From Mars, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, a couple of which I have previously covered here on the blog.
The cast of Spontaneous Combustion includes Brad Dourif (One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, Mississippi Burning, Deadwood, Child’s Play, Senseless, Dune, Body Parts), Cynthia Bain (Pumpkinhead), Jon Cypher (Masters of the Universe), William Prince (Spies Like Us, The Stepford Wives, Network), Melinda Dillon (Harry and The Hendersons, Magnolia, Close Encounters of the Third Kind), and Dick Warlock (Pumpkinhead, The Abyss, Halloween II).
The cinematographer for the film was Levie Isaacks, whose other credits include The Guyver, Tooth Fairy 2, The Dentist, Leprechaun, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation, Children of the Corn II, and numerous episodes of shows like Tales From The Crypt, Dawson’s Creek, CSI:NY, and Malcolm In The Middle.
The editor for Spontaneous Combustion was David Kern, also who cut Maniac Cop, Maniac Cop 2, Maniac Cop 3, It’s Alive III, and Class of 1999 II, served as an additional editor on Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Monster Trucks, Kong: Skull Island, and Captain America: Civil War, and was a sound editor on Purple Rain, Hook, and Rush Hour.
The musical score for the film was composed by Graeme Revell, a prolific film scorer whose credits include The Crow, Daredevil, Sin City, Pitch Black, Freddy vs. Jason, From Dusk Till Dawn, Suicide Kings, Street Fighter, Tank Girl, Hard Target, and The Craft, among many others.
The team of effects workers on Spontaneous Combustion included William Tony Hooper (Demon Knight, Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2), Stephen David Brooks (The Mangler, Spaceballs, Lifeforce), Michael R. Jones (Ghostbusters, The Return of Swamp Thing, I Come In Peace), and John Dykstra (Star Wars, Spider-Man, Lifeforce, Batman & Robin).
The inspiration for Spontaneous Combustion is the phenomena of spontaneous human combustion (SHC). This is a term to describe cases where a human body combusts without an apparent external source of ignition. In contrast to the claims of the film, reported cases of SHC are very uncommon, to the point that there is significant doubt that the phenomena exists at all.
Brad Dourif’s character in the film is shown to have the power of pyrokinesis, which is defined as the ability to create and control fire with the mind. In reality, this alleged psychic ability has never been proven to exist, but it comes up relatively frequently in fictitious works, such as comics like The Fantastic Four and The X-Men, cartoons like Avatar: The Last Airbender, video games like Street Fighter, and books/movies like Firestarter.
Critically, Spontaneous Combustion mostly went under the radar. What reviews do exist, however, aren’t particularly positive. The film has an IMDb user rating of 4.6/10, and a Rotten Tomatoes audience score of 18%. A Spin magazine review of the movie referred to it as “incoherent,” claimed that it “moves too fast for logic,” pointed out the “too many subplots” and “icky, ridiculous effects,” but nevertheless concluded that the end product is still “a lot of fun” despite the movie’s low quality, likening it to Troma films.
I certainly can’t argue that there aren’t problems with Spontaneous Combustion. However, there are quite a few things I liked about this weird little movie. Chief among these positives is the performance of Brad Dourif – he is a pretty fantastic character actor to start with, but this is just perfect casting. The guy always seems at least low-key pissed off, with a dash of biting wit on top, and that mixture works perfectly for this fiery character. Dourif pretty much carries the movie on his own, and to his credit, he is able to do it.
Another huge positive to this film is its concept – this is just a damn cool idea, and something that doesn’t hit the screen very often. Pyrokinesis is pretty cinematic, and allows for some cool effects work. More importantly, though, the intersection of theme and character here is fascinating. As opposed to scientists who are undone by their own inventions, like a Dr. Jekyll or a Dr. Brundle, Dourif’s character here is a victim of someone else’s madness. He’s not burdened by a karmic system for his misdeeds or hubris – he’s unjustly cursed from birth. While he does give in to a clear anger problem, he is forced into this emotional (and physical) combustion by external sources – like the constant deceit from those around him – which is a lovely irony given the technical definition of SHC.
It may be a minor point, but I also love that the film is effectively book-ended by the song “I Don’t Want to Set the World On Fire” by The Ink Spots. This is a song that has been used quite a bit in movies, television, and video games, but I think it particularly fits well here. It can be interpreted thematically as indicative of the fact that Sam never desired to have his abilities, nor did he desire to go on his eventual fiery rampage – again, these were externally thrust upon him. It is also a neat aesthetic foil for the tone of the film – it is a calm, romantic song, set against a frenetic and furiously violent movie. My only complaint is that I wish it was actually at the end of the film – instead, it comes back just prior to the falling action.
Still, this is far from a great movie. It is founded on some ridiculous fears of nuclear energy and unfounded beliefs in SHC, which put it on pretty shaky footing for me. The writing also doesn’t always logically hold together, and some performers (Dourif) make the dialogue work much better than others. That said, I think this is a totally serviceable deep cut for fans of bizarre science-fiction horror movies. Dourif’s performance and the effects work are worth seeking it out on their own, in my opinion.
Today, I’m going to look at a particularly loathed horror reboot: 2014’s Leprechaun: Origins.
The plot of Leprechaun: Origins is summarized on IMDb as follows:
Two young couples backpacking through Ireland discover that one of Ireland’s most famous legends is a terrifying reality.
The director for Leprechaun: Origins was Zach Lipovsky, who had previously done directing work only on television movies and short films. However, he has gone on to since direct more consistently on television, and is currently attached to a Kim Possible movie.
Taking over the role as the eponymous Leprechaun in the film is professional wrestler Dylan Postl, also known as “Hornswaggle.” Postl has been wrestling for WWE since 2006, and has no other notable acting credits. His association with WWE is likely what got him the role, as the film was produced by WWE studios, which has frequently cast notable wrestlers as actors. Past examples of this practice include John Cena in 12 Rounds, Kane in See No Evil, The Rock in The Scorpion King, and Steve Austin in The Condemned.
The cinematographer for Leprechaun: Origins was Mahlon Todd Williams, whose other credits include 12 Rounds 3, See No Evil 2, and numerous episodes of the television series Legends of Tomorrow.
The editor for the film was Mark Stevens, who also cut The Final Destination, The Number 23, 8MM, Batman Forever, Phone Booth, Freddy vs. Jason, and Batman & Robin, among other films.
Allegedly, star Dylan Postl has never seen a Leprechaun movie, and intentionally didn’t view them after getting the part – he didn’t want his performance to be influenced by the one given by Warwick Davis.
Speaking of Warwick Davis, he apparently wasn’t asked to be involved with Leprechaun: Origins, and has public stated that he would have loved to have reprised his role.
Leprechaun: Origins was widely loathed by critics and audiences alike: it currently holds highly unenviable review statistics, like a 3.3/10 IMDb user rating, and Rotten Tomatoes scores of 0% from critics and 9% from audiences.
the main characters are so bland that you won’t know their names before they start being offed by the so-called leprechaun. I know B-movie characters are meant to be cannon fodder, but watching cardboard cutouts getting eaten isn’t all that much fun.
This review points out one of the biggest problems with this movie – there is nothing here for an audience to latch on to. There’s nothing inherently wrong with having “cardboard cutouts” making up most of the cast, but something in the film has to give the audience a reason to pay attention. For a lot of slashers, that comes in the form of creatively gore-y demises for the aforementioned cutouts. For the Leprechaun films, though, that engagement has also come from the goofy charisma and rhyming schemes offered by Warwick Davis. Hornswaggle, in this ill-fated reimagining, doesn’t have a chance to win over the audience in the same way. This is because his character is now merely a growling, humorless, feral monster – solely a mechanism for murder.
The fact that this film totally lacks cheesy tone of the original Leprechaun movies says to me that the production had no understanding of what made those movies unique and beloved by fans. My suspicion is that WWE came up with the idea for this movie specifically because they had Hornswaggle – a little person with an Irish stage theme – under contract. This wasn’t a movie made with an intention or vision beyond a capitalistic desire for revenue, and that comes through in the dispassionate final product. It is kind of ironic that this movie was fueled by greed alone – it sounds to me like the kind of thing that would put someone on a murderous leprechaun’s shit list.
On the whole, this is a boring, gruelingly unimaginative horror film, that sits in stark contrast to its predecessors in the franchise. There honestly isn’t a single thing to recommend about it – this is a total and complete failure of a movie. However, it might whet your appetite for a goofy Leprechaun classic – Leprechaun 3, perhaps?
Reviews/Trivia of B-Movies, Bad Movies, and Cult Movies.