Ask Burt Likko Anything, 2.5

Tod Kelly asks me for the “[f]ive worst horror movies of all time… Not just badly made, but so unwatchable, boringly bad that even as a bad horror movie aficionado you would rather punch kittens than have to sit through them again?” Now bear in mind, some bad movies are fun. Tod’s question asks for bad movies that aren’t fun, because they’re dull. Aficionados of Bad Cinema do have to sit through a lot of tedium hoping for those moments of sheer brilliance, and some movies never deliver. Some of them with surprisingly large budgets and big names attached.

And so in no particular order, I submit for your consideration the following stinkers:

redplanetRed Planet. Val Kilmer and Tom Sizemore have to explore Mars (no, not that Mars) to prepare it for terraforming because global warming is rendering Earth uninhabitable. Very early on during principal photograph, the two actors had an awful falling-out, and thereafter refused to shoot scenes together on the same set. This made having them be antagonists who had to learn how to work together to save the human race an awful challenge, which the director could not overcome, and it shows in the editing. Carrie-Anne Moss sits uselessly in an orbiting capsule, talking about her feelings; a perfectly good Terence Stamp does literally nothing at all. On a scale of “1” to “10,” with “10” being as scary and exciting as the original Alien, Red Planet scores a “Let Me The Fish Out Of This Theater And Give Me My Fishing Money Back.” You’ll be glad to know, however, that humanity is eventually saved, not by Val Kilmer and not by Tom Sizemore, but rather by intestinal worms. No, really: intestinal worms.

laserblastLaserblast. This one alien is on the run from some other aliens who are bounty-hunting it out in the hills just behind my house Mojave desert. An alien laser gun gets left behind, and is found by a teenager. Apparently the laser gun is possessed by some sort of evil demon because the kid goes on a rampage with it after getting it. Bad effects on par with early Doctor Who and original series Star Trek, bad stop-motion Claymation aliens, no explanation whatsoever for why a laser gun makes an apparently average kid go berserk, and then it just sort of ends. This movie hits a particularly sore spot for me as when I was a pre-teen, there were only drive-in movies in my part of the world, and for more than a year of my youth, every drive-in movie theater here showed a double feature of Laserblast followed by the movie that you had actually wanted to see.

empireoftheantsEmpire of the Ants. Local residents near a Florida sugar refinery go missing and the hunky deputy sheriff has to find out why. He does: one by one, they are being hypnotized by massive airborne releases of pheromones, turning them into zombie-like servants of a colony of giant ants. After twenty or so hours of screen time (actually only about an hour and a half, it just feels like twenty hours) this proves to be a disruptive factor in Joan Collins‘ attempt to scam a bunch of money in a swampland development scheme to a bunch of people who don’t actually have any money themselves. Bonus (SPOILER): Ol gur raq bs gur zbivr, gur nagf jva: gurl rvgure rng be pbaireg rirelobql. So in that sense, everything works out just fine. The ants, of course, are poorly-matted close-up shots of regular ants like you’d find living in your front lawn, but not animated with any Ray Harryhausen sort of charm.

robotmonsterRobot Monster in 3D (in 2D): You might think this is cheating on my part: Robot Monster gets mentioned in various prominent film critics’ lists of “worst movies of all time” every once in a while, but I’m going to go ahead and list it anyway because this one is really, really bad. It ought to be funny, it’s so bad, which is the frustrating part: it’s just bad. If you want so-bad-it’s-funny, I can point you in a lot of better directions. Start hereGet help. What’s that? Oh right, the synopsis: a typical 1950’s American family of white people are the sole survivors of the human race, trapped in Malibu’s Trancas Canyon with the eponymous Robot Monster, who is an advance scout for the others of his evil alien race. Only he’s not so much a robot monster as a guy in a gorilla suit with a fishbowl helmet (see left). The story is told from the perspective of a young boy with some really weird ideas about his (actually kinda hot) older sister: holy unresolved Oedipal issues, Batman! Quite possibly the worst dialogue I’ve ever heard in any movie, but things don’t really get weird until the dinosaurs show up. Also: clichéd trope dénouement!

lawnmowermanLawnmower Man: There was this Stephen King short story called “Lawnmower Man” and it was a pretty creepy story about a really weird lawn care service. And this movie initially claimed to be a screen adaptation of that creepy story until Stephen King sued them because that was pretty much an abject lie. Which might lead you to think that Stephen King and his attorneys were the only ones who made any money on this stink-bomb, but no: apparently someone made a sequel to this which is scores even lower on IMDB’s worst-of-all-time list. Think Flowers for Algernon meets Frankenstein in a virtual reality universe written by someone who had never used an actual computer. Only not so good as either of those stories. This movie was the first time I really understood the hero of an H.P. Lovecraft story: the first forty minutes of this movie left me willing to do nearly anything in exchange for a swift and painless death so as to release me from having to actually watch the rest. And yes, that’s Pierce Brosnan; it took him a while to learn his lesson.

I reserve the right to add to or alter this list at any time subject to recall, subsequent research, or whim. Feel free, Readers, to add your own descriptions of legendarily bad movies in the comments.

Sorry if I didn’t get to your question; try again next time. And thank you, everyone, for participating in this iteration of Ask Burt Likko Anything!

Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering litigator. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Recovering Former Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.


  1. Val Kilmer and Tom Sizemore had a falling out over Red Planet? They were together in Heat, what happened? Well, they’re both kinda crazy…

  2. I’m sure I’ve mentioned the Marlon Brando version of “The Island of Dr. Moreau” before, right?

    It is a glory. It is so bad it is a joy to watch. Not only is it awful in every possible way, but it is also a philosophical experience not unlike contemplating Zeno’s Paradoxes. At any point, one can pause the film and declare “It is metaphysically impossible for this film to get any worse. It is the platonic ideal of wretched cinema.” and then restart the film, only to watch as it somehow finds a way to get even worse.

    I mention it, not because it belongs on Burt’s list (I put in the “so terrible it’s funny” category), but because it stars Val Kilmer in yet another cinematic relationship gone sour. One of the amazing things about how bad the movie turned out is its pedigree. It stars Kilmer and Brando and Fairuza Balk and David Thewlis, and was directed by John Frakenheimer. (The latter two actors, tragically, actually try to turn in good performances despite starring in what is obviously a doomed feature.) And Frankenheimer famously refused to work with Kilmer ever again after this shoot because he was so awful. In fact, there is one glorious scene with Kilmer and Thewlis where the former has obviously not bothered to learn a single one of his lines, which the latter is desperately trying (and failing) to feed to him, but which (by virtue of its inclusion) must have been the best take they got.

    God, I love that movie.

  3. I actually like Lawnmower Man.
    I know it has nothing to do with the King novella. (better than print, IMHO)
    I just like the movie.
    It reminds me of the Matrix from the Genesis Shadowrun.

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