Let us pause for a moment to bid farewell to Vampira, a once-legendary Hollywood figure whose questionable contributions to popular culture have been all but forgotten. The horror hostess template for Elvira, Vampira (Maila Nurmi) was a slinky she-demon dressed in black who, after a very brief television career, made a living injecting her singular persona into a variety of terrible, terrible films. She is best remembered for her role as a ghastly ghoul in Plan 9 From Outer Space , a film so terrible that it has to be experienced.
Vampira died last week in, appropriately, Hollywood. Her passing brought to mind not only Plan 9 and the rest of her questionable filmography but also the vast storehouse of movies which are so bad that, transcending their own artistic stumbles and falls, they become oddly enjoyable. They aren't exactly guilty pleasures. Instead, they are movies so ridiculously awful that they offer very real, if unintentional, amusement. Here are five of my so-bad-they-are-good favorites:
SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS (1964): When the world is in peril from outer space invaders, who are you going to call? The cavalry? Superman? Ghostbusters? No way. You call Santa. This bizzaro Christmas (sort of) flick finds St. Nick kidnapped by Martians, forced to spread Christmas cheer on the red planet. The very observant might spy a very young Pia Zadora, who went on to make a slew of terrible films.
THIS ISLAND EARTH (1955): When the world is in peril from outer space invaders, who are you going to call? For this movie, oddly enough, it's the Professor (Russell Johnson) from Gilligan's Island . A singularly peculiar movie, This Island Earth features big-headed aliens spouting exposition, damsels in distress and a flying saucer journey complete with colored lights. Surprisingly, the Professor never breaks out his coconut phone to call for castaway reinforcement.
CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954): I love this movie. That being said, I recognize that it isn't great cinema or even a particularly good movie. Still, who can't help but embrace the idea of a boat trip down a mysterious river to the secret grotto of a fish guy who loves the ladies. Don't we all, Mr. Gillman, don't we all?
THE WILD ANGELS (1966): Every motorcycle movie cliche was either invented or appropriated for this B movie masterpiece. Angels stars Peter Fonda and Bruce Dern as Hells Angels who find themselves in dire circumstances after trying to retrieve a stolen bike. In true '60s exploitation flick fashion, the drama ends with a lawless party and the promise that absolutely no life lessons have been learned.
PRINCE VALIANT (1954): Let's be honest: The sight of Robert Wagner in the worst wig in Hollywood history alone is worth the price of admission. But wait, there's more: How about King Arthur's knights squaring off against Viking marauders? Wait, there's still more: How about master thespians Sterling Hayden and James Mason chewing scenery as, respectively, Sir Gawaine and the villainous Sir Brack? Janet Leigh as the damsel, in yet another odd wig? Man, there's just so much here to love and hate.
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