Pajiba's Favorite Craptastic Horror Films
Pajiba's Guide to What's Good for You / The Pajiba Staff
Guides | October 31, 2008 | Comments ()
Publisher’s Note: The following post originally ran in Halloween of 2006. We’re re-posting it today, because we’re too lazy to come up with another Halloween Guide this year. — DR
Craptastic (adj): In a good sense, the quality of being so crappy that the object is humorous or desirable.
Etymology: blend of the words “crap” and “fantastic”
e.g., Dude! Snakes on a Motherfucking Plane was totally craptastic!
Source: Urban Dictionary
Genuinely good horror films have always been a rarity in Hollywood. Filmmakers, for whatever reason, have immense difficulties creating organic cinematic terror. Too often, attempts at being moody and atmospheric turn out dull, lifeless, marrow-sucking affairs (e.g., 2005’s The Amityville Horror, When a Stranger Calls [1979 & 2006]), while those who aim for scary or horrific wind up pointlessly filleting, piercing, shredding, knifing, sawing, shooting, or goring some attractive teenager with little or no payoff (Jeepers Creepers, Urban Legends, the Last Summer trilogy). On the rare occasion that some enterprising young director does stumble upon something that actually works, studios invariably ruin one’s fondness for the original by inflicting upon us a tired string of sequels and remakes (A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Blair Witch Project, The Omen, The Exorcist).
But once in a great while, whether intentional or not, the product of a filmmaker’s best intentions is a laughably absurd horror flick — a film so appallingly bad, it’s awesome (we’d have used “awesomely bad” ourselves but for the indelible association with VH1). Truly craptastic films have the power to transcend the traditional horror genre — they are hilarious, for sure. But they also work to elicit squirms, squeals, or outright scares. In fact, over the course of a typical craptastic film’s shelf life, a video store clerk can become confused as to which section of the store it belongs: horror or comedy. And the very best belong in both.
For those few unfamiliar with craptastic films (also known as craptacular, crapilicous, crapulous, or, occasionally, shittastic!), there are a few pointers we can offer newbies for optimum viewing experiences. First, craptastic films should be watched late at night and while intoxicated (the more the better). Ideally, two or more craptastic films should be watched back-to-back to heighten the level of absurdity. And, finally, craptastic films should be seen in the same denominations allowed in southern skating rinks during the 1980s: A guy and a girl, two girls, or two girls and a guy (or multiples thereof). Never, I repeat never watch a truly craptastic film alone; then it’s just crappy.
And if you’re planning a craptastic horror marathon in the near future, allow us to offer our top 10 choices. Happy Halloween!
Cursed (2005) — From Shannon Elizabeth’s opening-scene “Lay off the crackpipe!” to the final beheading, Wes Craven’s attempt at a contemporary werewolf movie is an absurd, excessive mess of horror clichés, teen-movie clichés, and inspired, out-of-left-field ingenuity. Beset with production problems and largely re-shot, it’s not the movie Craven originally intended, but it turned out to be one of his finest comedies. The way Christina Ricci physicalizes her sudden lupine urges is both funny and surprisingly graceful, and Milo Ventimiglia’s sexual confusion is as touching as it is goofy. But the real scene-stealer here is the underappreciated Judy Greer, playing a vengeful bitch who will do anything to get what she wants, a trait that comes in handy since she has the thankless job of being Scott Baio’s publicist. That’s right, Scott Baio, who makes a mildly self-deprecating cameo and lends his aura of so-lame-it’s-hip pop-culture irrelevance to the whole film. Cursed’s writing may not measure up to that of any film in the Scream trilogy, but those who prefer camp over intentional comedy will appreciate Craven’s whatever-sticks approach to reviving his nearly dead film. Plus, it’s got some Baio in it. — Jeremy C. Fox
Dead and Breakfast (2004) — Sporting a who’s who of beloved but irrelevant B-level stars, including David Carradine, Jeremy Sisto, Diedrich Bader, and Portia de Rossi (who also appears in Cursed), Dead and Breakfast is about six friends who sleep over in a bed and breakfast located in Lovelock, a town whose “quirky” residents are possessed. There’s a moment in Dead and Breakfast when the absurdity of the film will either strike you as hysterically awesome or simply be lost on you, and if you share the wicked sense of humor of the filmmakers of this delightful little gem, it will definitely be the latter: The trio of honky-tonk troubadours who have been serenading us throughout the film (and zombified alongside most of the town’s denizens) burst into a rap/country ballad while a host of the undead line-dance with choreography derived from Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” (YouTube clip found here ). It doesn’t do justice to describe it with words — it makes no sense, and it’s completely awesome, just like this movie. — Phillip Stephens
The Final Destination Trilogy (2000 - 2006) — At their core, horror/slasher flicks are all about pretty kids getting killed with lots of gore in stupid and twisted ways. By this definition, the Final Destination flicks are simply the best horror/slasher flicks ever, with Death itself clomping around as the malevolent stalker. The premise of every movie is comfortingly similar: A group of kids avoid a gruesome group death thanks to a vision, but now that they’ve escaped Death’s design, Death is pissed and coming after them in increasingly ridiculous ways. There are 20 or so deaths between the three flicks, including plenty of impalements, dismemberments, and decapitations. But that’s not the full picture. We’re talking things like impalement-by-ladder, dismemberment-by-chicken-wire, and decapitation-by-train-chain. Not to mention the truly great deaths like crushed-by-pane-of-glass, liquefied-by-speeding-bus, or incinerated-by-tanning-bed. Every death scene tries to best the last, and this goal is usually met, thanks to the frequent use of Chekhov’s guns in a Rube Goldberg machine-like fashion, only with a bit more gore than either Chekhov or Goldberg likely imagined. Look, folks. The word “genius” is bandied about an awful lot these days. But here, there is simply no other appropriate word. Fuck Star Wars. Fuck The Lord of the Rings. Final Destination is the motherfucking Trilogy, end of discussion. … Well, until it’s disqualified when we’re gloriously blessed with Final Destination 4. — Seth Freilich
Friday the 13th Part III (1982) — A former roommate of mine once decided to take full advantage of his Netflix membership by renting a bunch of, well, crap. It was through his indulgences that I saw the first four installments of the Friday the 13th series, including Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, which turned out to have a wildly inaccurate title. I’ve never been one for torture-porn — I’ve never seen Saw or any of its ilk — but there’s something inherently fun about slasher flicks, especially the classics. The first time you hear that “chk chk chk ah ah ah” musical cue in Friday the 13th, it’s unnerving to realize you’re seeing the birth of a stereotype after two decades of its being mocked. And the first film in the series, dated though it now appears (honestly, what teens know the lyrics to “Michael, Row the Boat Ashore”?), offers some pretty decent scares, including one of the best shocker endings ever filmed. But oh, the laughable, sweaty pile of dreck that is Friday the 13th Part III. The film is one giant train-wreck of a movie, right down to the fat kid named Shelly who just wants to be loved but winds up creeping all hell out of the girls at the camp. There’s also a local biker gang that provides trouble for this round’s band of doomed outdoorsy teens; apparently, an unstoppable psycho who never speaks and murders everyone he sees wasn’t enough of a villain, so screenwriter Martin Kitrosser cooked up the pseudo-punkish Foxy, Loco, and Ali. This is pretty much where the wheels come off the crazy wagon: The film commits the cardinal sin of the genre by simply not being scary, and worse, it soars past dull and lands squarely in the zone of unintentional comedy. But worst of all: The comedy isn’t even that good. Friday the 13th Part III is a horror film without chills and a camp comedy that never draws a smile. About the only thing going for it is that this is where the machete-wielding Jason gets that iconic hockey mask. I guess Shelly was good for something after all. — Daniel Carlson
Jason X (2001) — “What the hell is going on?”
“Jason fucking Voorhees. That’s what’s going on!”
Nine years after Jason-fucking-Voorhees went to hell, he winds up in space. And in the year 2455. And Jason don’t like the future. So the “unstoppable killing machine” does the only thing he knows: He goes on a rampage. Ultimately, at least 25 die by his hand, and that’s not even including the presumed thousands who bite it when he causes a space station to blow up! There’s not really much to say about the actual movie. As one would expect, the dialogue is awful, the acting is atrocious, and the attempts at intentional humor generally fail miserably. But that’s not a bad thing — to the contrary, these are all ingredients that help make the final stew so damn entertaining. How can you not love watching the hot blonde doctor’s face get dipped into liquid nitrogen and then shattered against a desk? Or seeing a “dead” Jason accidentally rebuilt and modified into an Uber-Jason? Uber-Jason, people — need I say any more? As an added bonus, there’s a 17-minute “making of” video on the DVD that’s hilarious in its own right because of how serious folks are about this movie. For example, one actor claims, with an utterly straight face, that “it’s really, really scary.” But the best moment is when another actor claims that there are “these wonderful acting moments,” and the video then cuts to a scene where magnetic nipples fall off an android chick’s tits. … Oh yeah, did I forget to mention the movie has magnetic nipples? — SF
Return of the Living Dead (1985) — After the seminal 1968 zombie film, Night of the Living Dead, creators George Romero and John Russo split the rights to the sequels. Romero, of course, went on to make Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead, the two greatest zombie flicks of all time (at least until Shaun of the Dead and 28 Days Later came along). Russo, however, went in a lighter, more comedic direction, creating the Living Dead franchise. The first in Russo’s series, Return of the Living Dead featured Clu Gulager, familiar to fans of “Project Greenlight III” as the director’s father. Return is about the very toxic chemicals thought to have inspired the Night zombies to come alive, which escape a medical supply warehouse and stir up the dead after an infected corpse is cremated and spread in a rainstorm. The film actually stands pretty well on its own, despite its Craptastic qualities. Romero’s franchise is infinitely superior to Russo’s, thanks to Tom Savini’s kick-ass special makeup effects, but the Living Dead films have something that Romero’s didn’t: An incredible fucking sense of humor (replete with self-referential nods to the original Night of the Living Dead — take that Wes Craven!) and a bare-chested Linnea Quigley — ’80s scream queen and craptastic icon — punking out on a gravestone. In addition to terrible acting, killer one liners (“Chuck, I never did like you. Oh, but God, hold me tight.”), low-budget gore, and a pretty shitty soundtrack (The Cramps notwithstanding), Return of the Living Dead is also a pretty clever satire on the narcissistic, whiney ’80s youth, whose brains were literally being sucked dry by insatiable zombie Reaganites. Save Return of the Living Dead until the end of a craptastic marathon, when your body is craving a modicum of quality. — Dustin Rowles
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986) — From the very first moment the narrator begins speedily reading through the overwritten title cards, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is a joyously stupid movie. While 1974’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre broke ground in the genre and acted as a spiritual godfather to modern slasher pics and politically relevant horror, the sequel that followed 12 years later was a forerunner of the mindless, direct-to-video sequels that have become inescapable in the DVD era. Dennis Hopper stars as a former Texas Marshal out to hunt down chainsaw-wielding Leatherface, who slaughtered his nephew more than a decade earlier. Hopper, showing all the charisma and talent he would later bring to Super Mario Bros., chews scenery like an absolute loon, almost as if he’s determined to suck every last bit of credibility from the film (it works). It’s shocking that director Tobe Hooper, who helmed the original, returned to give life to such a shatteringly inane sequel. This time around, Leatherface is palling around with Chop Top (Bill Moseley), who occasionally shouts “‘Nam flashback!” while scratching the metal plate in his head with a wire hanger. Leatherface and Chop Top lay siege to a radio station and attack Stretch (Caroline Williams), who’s agreed to help Hopper for reasons far too pointless to enumerate. At one point, Leatherface even rubs his stilled chainsaw against Stretch’s spread thighs, and begins to hump his chainsaw a little. Yep. Dumb story short, Stretch escapes and winds up trapped in Leatherface’s underground bunker o’ doom, at which point Hopper comes to the rescue with three giant chainsaws of his own: two smaller ones slung over his shoulders with what have to be custom-made bandoleros, and a frighteningly huge one the he swings against the rafters of the subterranean compound, screaming “Bring it all down!” over and over again. But at this point, the film has already collapsed under the weight of its own idiocy. — DC
They Live (1988) — The line “I am here to chew bubblegum and kick ass, and I’m all out of bubblegum!” pretty much sums up the asinine machismo of John Carpenter’s They Live, a film that purports that ’80s yuppiedom was actually a guise for alien subversion! The skeletal aliens, whose appearance is only revealed through a pair of nifty shades, try to enslave humanity through subliminal slogans such as “WATCH TV” and “CONFORM,” giving They Live all the allegorical subtlety of a sledgehammer, a metaphor that becomes particularly apt when star “Rowdy” Roddy Piper and Keith David beat the ever-loving shit out of each other for six minutes in a fight sequence complete with headbutts, groin stomps, body slams, and suplexes. It doesn’t get any dumber than this … or more awesome. — PS
The Toxic Avenger (1985) — The Toxic Avenger is about Melvin, a slightly retarded janitor with a dumb grin perpetually etched on his face. He works at the ’80s-era Tromaville Gym, where headbands, denim shirts, and soft-core sex are as pervasive as the synthesized music in the porn-inspired soundtrack. (Note: This is not a pro-feminist film). The meatheads and their bimbo girlfriends are also fond of driving their cars over pedestrian heads, popping their skulls like pimples on roadways and collecting points, which vary depending on the target. They like to fuck with Melvin, until their sexual taunts and emotional torture drive him to jump out of a window and land in a vat of toxic acid below, giving rise to The Toxic Avenger, a hideously deformed vigilante with an amped up Revenge of the Nerds sense of justice. He’s like Batman, only he’s really hard to look at, and his promiscuous, drug-dealing victims usually wind up with only half a head and a mop covering the remainder of their face. Also, his urine is green and chunky, though his big-chested, blind love interest doesn’t seem to mind. The campy gore is both plentiful and deliciously cheesy, if you can stomach some of the comic brutality (one man, for instance, tries desperately to stick his intestines back in is stomach after Toxie rips them out; in another scene, borrowed in Final Destination 3, a man is impaled by a weight machine.) Any and all Craptastic marathons should feature at least one film from Troma, a low-budget studio that specializes in Craptastic flicks. But nothing really competes with the original Toxic Avenger. Harder intoxicants, however, are required if you’re going to bother with any of the three sequels, the comic book, or the “Musikill.” — DR
Trick or Treat (1986) — This delicious nugget of ’80s cheese stars a mulleted Marc Price (Skippy from TV’s “Family Ties”) as whiny headbanger Eddie “Ragman” Weinbauer, whose obsession with a vaguely satanic metal singer, Sammi Curr (Tony Fields), makes Stan’s admiration for Eminem seem healthy (“Nobody understands him like I do!”). After Curr dies in a mysterious hotel fire, Skippy discovers, quite naturally, that backward-masked messages on Curr’s records allow him to communicate from beyond the grave and eventually to return from the dead and play at his old high school’s Halloween dance. Oh, and also to kill some people.
Trick or Treat’s PMRC-friendly premise is a real hoot — particularly given that Curr’s bland, middle-of-the-road metal (by some outfit called Fastway) is far too lame to be convincingly satanic — but what really sells me on this one is the casting. As if Skippy as leading man weren’t enough, we also get Doug Savant from “Desperate Housewives” as Skippy’s asshole-jock nemesis, KISS’ Gene Simmons as Skippy’s disc-jockey buddy Nuke, and Ozzy Osbourne as a TV preacher crusading against satanic messages. Suggested viewing strategy: Invite a few friends over, pop open a few pumpkin ales, and listen to Ratt’s Out of the Cellar all the way through as a prelude. — JCF