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The Schlockmeisters: The Men Who Made the Bad Movies We Love

A pop culture addict who loves to talk about movies, music, books, comics, and all of the other things that move and entertain us.

For so long, science fiction and fantasy movies were treated as the red-headed step-children of film. It was greasy kids' stuff. No one took it seriously and studios would not put much money into it. But the audience was still there. This allowed filmmakers whose reach may have exceeded their grasp to make movies and get them out in front of an audience.

Sometimes these movies caught on. Sometimes they caught on for the wrong reasons. Sometimes they were just so prevalent in the pop culture landscape they were able to influence it just by not going away. The point is, every once in a while a really bad filmmaker is able to influence popular culture in spite of himself. I am going to talk about three of those filmmakers now.


Ed Wood

Ed Wood has become synonymous with bad movies. Most famous (or infamous) for his masterpiece Plan 9 from Outer Space, Mr. Wood made many great monuments of bad film. Glen or Glenda was about crossdressers, a subject Ed knew well being one himself. Night of the Ghouls and Bride of the Monster were cheesy horror at its best, with monsters that didn't move and actors who couldn't act. The Sinister Urge and The Violent Years are exploitation films at their corniest.

Wood had a passion for filmmaking, but very little knowledge. He became friends with cult celebrities (before that was even a thing) like Bela Lugosi and Vampira, and convinced them to be in his movies. He somehow talked a group of Southern Baptists interested in making Christian propaganda films into instead financing his movie about aliens bringing the dead back to life as zombies to take over the earth. He turned his own penchant for wearing women's clothes into an exploitation movie about crossdressing.

When Lugosi died before Plan 9 began filming, he didn't let this stop him from making the former Dracula the star of his movie. He simply used some old test footage he had shot of the actor and had his chiropractor double in some scenes with his cape up over his face to hide the switch.

Plan 9 from Outer Space

My personal favorite touch in his movies is in Plan 9, when the pilots of an airplane see a U.F.O. The cockpit is an open space with two fake airplane controls in front of the men, with a curtain behind them separating them from the rest of the plane. The lighting is so bad that they cast giant shadows behind them. Wood wanted so badly to tell his stories, and he didn't sweat the little details. He made do as best he could with no budget and resources. Even though the movies are cheesy and everyone involved was bad at what they were doing, you have to admire the resolve of a man who really wanted to make movies, and so found a way to go out and do it.

Unfortunately, Wood found it harder to get work, and started making soft-core movies. Frustrated in his ambitions, he became an alcoholic and died in 1978. In 1980, Plan 9 was named the Worst Movie Ever Made, and this caused a resurgence in interest in his movies. He is now considered a cult director, his movies are available on DVD and a couple have been featured on the great show Mystery Science Theater 300. He was also immortalized in a biopic made by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp, back when those two things still meant something.

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Roger Corman

Roger Corman also made cheap, bad movies. But he has the redeeming aspect of having helped a few really great directors and actors get their start in the business. The list of people that he has worked with includes William Shatner, Jack Nicholson, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, and Ron Howard. He also helped distribute several great foreign films in the U.S., including some by Ingmar Bergman, Federico Fellini, and Akira Kurosawa.

Focusing on cheap action and horror movies, Corman either directed or produced a great many that would become underground geek classics or ironic, so-bad-they-are-good movies. While generally regarded as a B-film hack, his work has been influential to a lot of aspiring filmmakers, and some of it was actually pretty good. He has been said to have produced more than 300 movies and directed more than 50. As a result, he has entertained a great many people over the years. His work has also been featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Menahem Golan

Menahem Golan just barely missed out on geek godhood. An Israeli director who came to America to make movies, he made some that would have won him immortality if they had been great. Instead, they were mostly awful, and if they are remembered today at all it is mostly to laugh at them. He did have some modest success in movies though.

He was responsible for the Charles Bronson Death Wish movies, which were really popular when I was a kid. His Cannon movie group made a lot of action movies, starring various commandos and ninjas played by some reasonably big names. Sylvester Stallone, Chuck Norris, and Jean Claude Van-Damme all made movies for this company.

Where he just missed the mark in being a geek icon is with comic book movies. While he did somehow manage to win the rights to make a Superman movie, the one he made was the ridiculous Superman IV The Quest For Peace, which is the movie that killed the franchise for a couple of decades. He made a Captain America that is so silly it is unwatchable. He Masters of the Universe, but could not afford to portray Eternia, so he brought He-Man and Skeletor to Earth, losing everything that made the cartoon really cool, and replacing Orko with one of the elf guys from Legend. He wanted to make Spider-Man, but just was not able to make it happen. His story is one of what-if's. What is he had had more money to put into just one of these movies? What if better story and costuming choices had been made? What if he had been able to realize a Spider-Man move two decades before Sam Raimi?

The one thing these men had in common is that they wanted to make movies, and they were not going to let small things like a lack of money or talent stop them. They made a lot of movies, mostly bad, but these movies were watched by so many that they still had an enormous impact on film and geek culture to this day. Sure, you have to laugh at them, but I think you also have to admire them too, at least just a little bit.

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