So bad they're brilliant: 12 comedians pick their favourite crappy movies
As Glasgow Comedy Festival celebrates the awful glory that is Highlander 2 and Reefer Madness, we dug a little deeper into this treasure chest of terrible
Batman and Robin
It's a special kind of alchemy that turns a bad movie into something greater than the sum of its parts. The Room, for example has made itself a cottage industry out of being an awful film that glass-half-full-types have deemed a universal experience worth returning to the cinema again and again for. Troll 2 has become a treasure passed from one movie fan to another for being the worst film ever made, they even made a documentary about it. Glasgow International Comedy Festival is celebrating two such films, Highlander 2 and Reefer Madness, by screening them with live commentary from comedians Joe Heenan and Billy Kirkwood. Knowing that we all have our guilty pleasures, we thought we'd catch up with another dozen comedians and go to them to pick their favourite bad movies and explain why they love them so…
Andrew Doyle: A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge
Wes Craven's original A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) was an inspired reinvention of the traditional bogeyman motif. In the 1985 sequel, directed by Jack Sholder, the franchise moved in a bizarre and unexpected direction. Whereas fans had anticipated more gore and mayhem from Freddy Krueger, what they actually got was the gayest horror film ever made.
Mark Patton plays Jesse, the least convincing heterosexual in screen history. Jesse has a girlfriend, a Meryl Streep lookalike called Lisa, but is utterly indifferent to her advances. He prefers the company of his friend Grady, a handsome athletic 'jock'. Freddy visits Jesse in his dreams, and becomes a symbol of his struggle to accept his repressed homosexuality; Freddy does not wish to kill Jesse, but literally to enter him, to claim his body. 'I need you, Jesse', he tells him. It'd be quite romantic if it weren't for the grotesque corpse-like face and the deadly blades glued to his fingers.
The lack of subtlety is hilarious with a Freudian symbolism so overt that it's like being smacked in the face repeatedly with a giant phallus: there's the melting candle and dripping wax around the naked Jesse (which Patton later complained made him look like the star of a bukkake film); there's Jesse's daydream in Biology class in which he finds himself enveloped by a huge snake; there's the homoerotic wrestling with Grady in which Jesse's backside is needlessly exposed; there's Coach Schneider's death scene, where he is literally attacked by balls (albeit of the sports variety) before being tied up naked in a shower room and whipped with towels; there's Jesse's flamboyant wardrobe, his camp dancing, and the fact that he has a board game called Probe on his bedroom shelf. In this hyper-gay context, even the name of the high school – Springwood – seems to have erectile connotations.
That Freddy's Revenge was ever made at all is astonishing. Scriptwriter David Chaskin had effectively hijacked the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise in order to create a serious meditation on the difficulties of being a closeted gay teen in 1980s America. With a distinct lack of any sense of humour or self-awareness, the entire project is inescapably pretentious. But that's also why it's so compelling. On its own misguided terms, it's a kind of masterpiece.
Andrew Doyle: Future Tense, Blackfriars Basement, Glasgow, Fri 24 Mar.
Bec Hill: Batman & Robin
There are so many things that make 1997's Batman & Robin terrible: the 'Bat-Credit Card', George Clooney's armour nipples, the general criminals-dressed-as-90s-ravers vibe. But my favourite terrible thing about it? Arnold Schwarzenegger's Mr Freeze 'puns'. Especially as so many of them are SO RARELY ACTUAL PUNS... 'The Iceman Cometh': just the name of a play that happens to have the word 'Iceman' in it. 'Let's kick some ice': not a thing. 'What killed the dinosaurs? The Ice Age!' Literally, just a fact.
Batman & Robin is regularly ridiculed and rightly so. But you know what? We're still talking about it. And it's for this reason that, if I can't be the best comedian in the world, I'd be happy to be considered the worst. Because at least then I'm still being considered.
Bec Hill & Tiernan Douieb: Work in Progress, The Hug and Pint, Glasgow, Sun 12 Mar.
Ed Patrick: Fallen
The 1998 film starring Denzel Washington (John Hobbes) and John Goodman (Jonesy), is about a police detective who aims to track down a murderous demon. It had a lukewarm / ice-cold reception with reviews such as 'this film assumes the audience has the collective IQ of a turnip' (CinemaBlend). I like this film and have watched it several times, possibly because I have the IQ of a turnip. But despite the flaws and the far-fetched themes, there's something else about this movie, something significantly darker, something that even Hobbes couldn't figure out: John Goodman's singing.
I'm not talking about Goodman's qualities as a singer, but the consequences of his tuneful contribution to film sequels since. For instance, The Blues Brothers: I love this film, but the sequel Blues Brothers 2000 is a heart-sinkingly poor follow-up, and Goodman sings in it. When was it released? One month after his Fallen gig. Even more painful is the sequel to The Jungle Book, one of my favourite movies ever. Released in 2003 I can barely watch the panned The Jungle Book 2: you can even hear the chuckling mischievousness of the Fallen demon destroying a great film through Goodman's rendition of 'Bare Necessities'.
So, beware: Fallen has unleashed a sequel-destroying demon that manifests itself through John Goodman's singing. Frozen 2 is due out in 2019: be wary of the cast.
Ed Patrick: Junior Optimist, Liberté, Glasgow, Sat 18 Mar.
Fern Brady: Showgirls
It feels like a betrayal to describe Showgirls as my favourite bad film as it is both my favourite bad film and favourite film. I have now seen Showgirls more than any other film and, like a great novel or poem, I find new perspectives on it with each viewing. What's not to like? Incredible dialogue ('everybody got AIDS and shit!'), baffling nail-varnish metaphors, Elizabeth Berkley's insane acting, the lesbian subtext, the knowledge that Kyle MacLachlan is, to this day, mortified he ever did the film.
My relationship with my best friend was founded entirely on Showgirls. We once had a Showgirls-themed flatwarming party complete with real strippers and semi-naked men in gold hot pants. I also painstakingly attempted to learn one of the Goddess dances for her birthday, which was much harder than I anticipated having had no actual dance training.
Showgirls is also a more accurate portrayal of the fiercely competitive comedy circuit than of any strip club. Consequently, I use it as a guide in my working life. To quote Cristal Connors: 'there's always someone younger and hungrier coming down the stairs after you'. This is both symbolic and literal as I would literally kick older comedians down the stairs for fame.
My ambition in life is to become rich enough that I can afford to fund Showgirls 2, though persuading Elizabeth Berkley to return after Showgirls destroyed her career will be the biggest obstacle.
Fern Brady: Male Comedienne, Blackfriars Basement, Glasgow, Fri 24 Mar.
Hailey Boyle: Ewoks: The Battle for Endor
Ewoks: The Battle for Endor has the rare honour of being a sequel that surpasses the original (Caravan of Courage features large spiders and I simply will not stand for oversized spiders outside a Harry Potter film). A young girl's entire family is wiped out in the first ten minutes and she must live with the ewoks, which was my dream as a child. The only other humans she even encounters are Wilford Brimley and a lady that can turn into a bird which is pretty badass. There are pies, muffins, songs, explosions, and a hang glider made from the skin and bones which a dinosaur left behind from its kills. What more can a lady ask for?
Hailey Boyle: Committed, Blackfriars Basement, Glasgow, Sun 26 Mar.
Josh Howie: Taken
We all know that your choice of favourite movies utterly defines who you are as a human being, so it's a lot of pressure picking my favourite 'bad' movie. Whose idea of 'bad' are we talking about here? One person's 'bad' is another person's 'cultural highlight', especially with the distinction between high and low culture arguably tied into a larger paradigm concerning class. I think the most important thing, though, is not to over-analyse it, something Bryan Mills aka Liam Neeson aka Angry Dad would also have a problem with in Taken.
For those of you not familiar with this behemoth of exploitation cinema, Taken has Liam Neeson chasing and killing loads of darker-skinned baddies in order to find his daughter because she has the receipt for a karaoke machine that he wants to return. What makes this film bad? There's the dubious racism (admittedly it's not as bad as the undubious kind). There's the disbelief that the Albanian mob are thick enough to believe Liam Neeson really works for the French Interior Ministry, as he speaks to them in English with an Irish accent.
But, boy oh boy, it gets so much right. Every five minutes there's another set-piece of Liam Neeson being totally badass. That guy can fight yo! And all his victims totally deserve it. Even that French guy's wife. How dare she not have any Diet Coke in the house! I even cheer the torture scene as Liam leaves 'Marco from Tropoja' to be electrocuted to death, and this is from someone constantly screaming at their kids to turns the lights off when they leave a room.
Perhaps, though, it's the story of a father who loves his child, which really draws me in: a father who'll do anything in order to save that which is most important to him. But the ending would be different if I was Liam Neeson. After fighting my way through, and killing, and running, and being cut-up, and shooting the last eyeliner-wearing bastard between the eyes, and my beautiful beloved daughter was finally safe, I'd say to her: 'I told you so! This is exactly what happens if you listen to your mother!'
Josh Howie's Messed Up, The Stand, Glasgow, Mon 20 Mar.
Julia Sutherland: Happy Gilmore
'What?? Friends listen to "Endless Love" in the dark!' OK, so my favourite (supposed) bad movie is Happy Gilmore. 'It stars Adam Sandler as the title character, an unsuccessful ice hockey player who discovers a talent for golf' (thanks for the succinct précis, Wikipedia!).
'Just tap it in. Just tap it in. Give it a little tappy, tap, tap, taparoo.'
If you watch only one Adam Sandler film (which some people might say is the recommended limit for numbers of Adam Sandler films you should ever watch) it MUST be this one. The film is an absolute classic. And he's hilarious in it. Really. Watching him scream at a golf ball: 'why you don't you just go HOME? That's your HOME! Are you too good for your HOME? ANSWER ME!' = hilarious. I still have lines from the film randomly pop into my head and I spontaneously chuckle:
Shooter McGavin: 'I eat pieces of shit like you for breakfast!' Happy: 'You eat pieces of shit for breakfast?'
I used to watch this film when I was a student living with four other girls in a flatshare, with a limited collection of VHS to keep us entertained on the rare nights we stayed in rather than going out and drinking cheap vodka and ending the night puking in our hands.
Fast forward a couple of years and I'm teaching snowboarding in Colorado. I'm at the bar ordering a round of après bourbons for me and my fellow instructors when I look beside me and there's this girl who I TOTALLY know.
She was probably in one of my classes, I reckon. So I say 'hi! I totally know you! Did I teach you snowboarding?' She says 'no, sorry.' And I say 'where do you live? What's your name?' She says 'er, LA? I'm Julie?' (you might see where this is going: ten points for you). She's very polite but quite sure we don't know each other, yet I continue, undeterred, with my insistent line of questioning.
When I get back to my seat, the other instructors reveal that she was, in fact, the actress who played 'Virginia Venit', Adam Sandler's love interest in Happy Gilmore: I'd just spent ten minutes berating poor Julie Bowen for not remembering me from watching her face on my TV screen literally 100 times. So I guess the lesson here is that cheap vodka addles the brain: if you can't place someone you recognise, TREAD CAREFULLY.
Julia Sutherland: The 40-Year-Old Version, Yesbar, Glasgow, Sun 12 Mar; Julia Sutherland hosts New Material Night, Yesbar, Glasgow, Wed 15, 22 Mar; Gary Little & Julia Sutherland: Jailmates, Cottiers, Glasgow, Fri 17 Mar.
Keir McAllister: Criminal
I have a passionate love of a very specific genre of bad movie where professional people take utter lunacy incredibly seriously. Up until recently, numero uno in this category was Command Performance where (Ru)Dolph Lundgren plays a drummer in a death metal band who are giving a concert in Moscow for the Russian premier. A kidnap plot goes down (obviously) and Lundgren has to foil the kidnappers over 90 minutes of the most horrific nonsense you've ever watched since the recent inauguration.
What makes Command Performance so compelling is that the whole thing is undertaken with the gravitas of an Ingmar Bergman film. It's a thing of tragic beauty. However, that has now been superseded by Criminal, a film with a plot so unhinged I imagine the writer's brain exploded immediately upon being told it was to be made.
So, a CIA agent gets killed because he confronts a warehouse full of angry, heavily-armed terrorists with a small pistol and a kooky grin. Despite the manner of his death proving, beyond any reasonable doubt, that he was a total idiot, the CIA think it's a good use of costly, groundbreaking technology to inject his dead brain into ageing, psychotic maniac Kevin Costner. The CIA's masterplan is that the psychopath they've kept chained naked to a wall in an American castle (presumably Disney World) for the last 20 years, is going to be so appreciative that he'll volunteer to pick up the case and, with the help of a dead idiot now living inside his brain, they will prevent impending Armageddon...
I really want to meet the genius who wrote this. I'm assuming it was a nine-year-old boy on a sugar high. Did I mention this film has an additional cast that includes Gary Oldman and Tommy Lee Jones?!! They don't even seem that drunk in it. You can tell Tommy is a bit high in a couple of scenes, but they do a reasonable job of covering it up. I'd go as far to say it's a masterpiece. OK, maybe not a masterpiece, but it's better than Dances with Wolves. Not even Costner can argue with that.
Keir McAllister & Gus Lymburn: Top of Their Game, The Stand, Glasgow, Sat 18 Mar.
Keith Farnan: Missing in Action
For most of my life, there was no such thing as a bad movie. All movies were amazing in some way. I had no taste. Absolutely none. The worst special effects in the schlockiest horror films didn't even register as anything other than 'amazing'. I didn't know what bad acting looked like. I did not discern when it came to genre. I didn't know what genre meant. I didn't know what discern meant. In many ways I still don't. From magazines, I would cut out the posters for all sorts of terrible horror films and paste them on my wall; the more body parts scattered on a movie poster, the better.
But such joyful innocence couldn't last. I moved to Dublin and discovered a store called Laser, the Irish equivalent of whatever LA store Tarantino used to hang out in. Slowly but surely I worked my way through all the great directors of world cinema until I found myself sneering at the multiplex-occupying-dross that lacked depth, character or subtext (the irony was I lacked all those things as well). But then, someone had the temerity to dismiss Missing in Action with Chuck Norris.
I was already going to be a big fan of Missing in Action having developed a fascination with the Vietnam War. I had seen almost all representations of that war on screen, everything from the quiet heroism of the TV series, China Beach, to the slo-mo riddled drama of Platoon. Missing in Action had none of their subtlety and represented an American attempt to insert heroism into a lost war as Chuck returns to Vietnam so that no man is left behind (yes, I know, he supported Trump, but that's democrazy for you).
The plot's straight to the point, the acting is functional and the special effects are, well, special. At one stage, Chuck appears out of the water with a machine gun like a camo-clad Neptune. In slow motion. Technically, there's no way that gun should work. But it's Chuck Norris. The gun won't jam. The gun's too afraid of him to jam. In many ways, there's really no such thing as a bad Chuck Norris movie. A bad Chuck Norris political endorsement maybe, but not a bad movie.
Keith Farnan: Anonymous, The Stand, Glasgow, Sun 19 Mar.
Stuart Cosgrove: The Locket
I was forced to watch this as part of a seminar on cinema and psychoanalysis. The story, with its interminable inner-flashbacks, involves a soon-to-be-married woman torturing herself about a locket she stole as a kid. Moral of the story: don't steal and think you will have a happy marriage. Some think it's a masterpiece of the film-noir genre, but for me it was an insult to kleptomania. Bobby Moore nicked a bracelet and they made him a national hero.
Stuart Cosgrove & Tam Cowan: Off the Bawl, King's Theatre, Glasgow, Fri 17 Mar.
Stuart Goldsmith: Jack Reacher
Leaving aside the fact that the only character trait Mr Reacher has in the books is his immense height, the subsequent casting of Tom Cruise and enraging of fans thereof, the reason this is the perfect bad movie is much simpler: every lone wolf / hero / agent / hitman / tough-guy-with-a-first-name-beginning-with-J has a narrative superpower. I don't just mean Bond's accuracy with a pistol or Bourne's neck-snapping prowess; a narrative superpower is much more important than some physical trick.
Bond's narrative ability is that he looks like an absolute boss all the time. Bourne's is that he's painted into an impossible corner but gets out of it using only a lamp and a piece of foil. But Reacher's is the ultimate: he announces what he's going to do and then he bloody does it.
'This is an unfair fight,' he says to five guys, 'it's three against one.'
'Three? Can't you count?' scoff the villains.
'As soon as I take out the big guy, two of you will run away. You and, er, you.'
He then takes out the big guy. The first coward runs away. The second coward, who Jack had taken a moment to identify, dithers for as long as Reacher did in identifying him, and then runs away. Bam!
You might as well start the film with Reacher saying 'I'm going to solve this, kill everyone involved, and then at the end shoot the villain in cold blood'. And in this age of fake news and capricious politicians, that's what we're crying out for: COMMITMENT!
Stuart Goldsmith: Compared to What, The Stand, Glasgow, Mon 13 Mar.
Susie McCabe: Grease 2
We all know Grease is a classic. Grease 2, however, is one of the worst sequels ever made. But, personally, I love it: who needs Danny and Sandy when we have Michael and Stephanie? Michael Carrington is the British cousin to the original Sandy: he is posh, clean-cut and sounds like he could be in Mary Poppins. When he is being shown around Rydell by Frenchy, it prompts me to ask: how long can it take you to be qualified as a beauty therapist in the Grease franchise? Doctors have been trained quicker.
Played by one Michelle Pfeiffer, sassy Stephanie is leader of the Pink Ladies and going out with Johnny, head of the new T-Birds. The opening scene is a flashmob of 1960s American teenagers with letters on their cardigans or in cheerleading outfits, singing and dancing to the opening number, 'Back to School Again'. I can vouch that when I attended school in the 1990s, at no point did we ever sing and dance about going back to school. Also, I can guarantee that no teachers raised a flag when we turned up.
Stephanie is scunnered with Johnny and kisses the next guy through the door, who is none other than a now-smitten Michael. After he asks Stephanie out, she describes her ideal guy in 'Cool Rider' which sounds like a tribute to any Meat Loaf song, but written by someone much less talented. Later on, when Michael has made a similar change to the original Sandy as he is now less uptight and in leathers, the T-Birds let him join the gang and he gets together with Stephanie.
Basically what we have here is a tale of divisions through gangs, class and heightened teenage hormones . What we don't have is West Side Story. This is a sequel that could never live up to the original and would always be unfairly judged. The songs are cheesy if catchy and the acting is often terrible, but it cheers up a rainy Sunday afternoon at least once a year. Altogether now: 'we will be together like...'
Susie McCabe: Let's Get Physical, The Stand, Glasgow, Sat 18, Fri 24 Mar.
Watch Bad Movies with Great Comedians, Comedian Tattoo Studio, Glasgow, Thu 9 Mar (Reefer Madness), Wed 22 Mar (Highlander 2).
As told to Brian Donaldson