Someone on Facebook yesterday put up a post asking everyone to list their favorite bad movie and that got me thinking: Ever sit down to watch a movie and it was so bad that it was great? I love a good/bad movie. These movies become our guilty pleasures and we might even be a little embarrassed if someone found out that we liked one of them. I actually don’t hide it. I love bad films along with the good. It is one of my joys in life to share these movies with others and hope they see the charm in them that I do. These are the movies that filmmakers were very serious about when they made them and somehow they ended up campy, over the top and at times the acting in them was less than stellar. I have selected 4 of these films for my column this week. Although the movies might only win the Razzie Awards they do have one thing in common: Kick ass women characters that I cherish watching. Now grab some popcorn and a soda and sit back and relax, this is going to be bad….really bad, and you’re going to love it. This is Movie Bad Girl of the Week: The Great Ladies of Bad Cinema Edition.
First up is one of my favorite bad sci-fi films. Shot in 1959 on a shoe string budget and not released until 1962 I gladly give you:
Virginia Leith as Jan Compton
“The Brain That Wouldn’t Die”
Dr. Bill Cortner (Herb Evers) is a brilliant surgeon although his methods are a bit unorthodox. He has been experimenting with keeping human tissue alive for transplants. He is determined to make a name for himself. He has been working by trial and error and midway through the film we will meet one of his mistakes. On a night like any other Bill and his fiancee’ Jan are out on a drive when they have a terrible accident and poor Jan is decapitated. Bill who has been working with keeping human tissue alive collects her head and using all his skill manages to revive it. Now Jan’s head sits in a tray in Bill’s lab. She wants to be allowed to die, Bill one the other hand has decided it would be much better for both of them if her murders a young woman, cuts her head off and replaces it with Jan’s. Isn’t that what any of us would do. The situation will go from bad to worse as Jan becomes increasingly agitated that Bill won’t let her go. It’s not like she can walk out. She begins communicating with his “mistake”, a man who’s transplant surgery went wrong turning him into a mongoloid man. Together (in a surprisingly violent conclusion for a movie of the time) Jan and the mongoloid man will put a stop to Bill once and for all.
The plot is ridiculous. Jan’s head is alive yet she has no heart or lungs but somehow her vocal cords are in tact. Think about this. You have to be a pretty damn good actor to play a head. You can’t gesture with your hands or use body language and somehow Virginia Leith pulls it off with a huge amount of success. You actually like her and want to see her set free from her torment of surviving without a body. One scene of note for being especially sleazy and fun is a sequence where Bill goes to a Burlesque club in search of a body for the head that he loves. The cat fight between the women vying for Bill’s attention is trashy fun. If you want to watch one of those old movies that populated drive in screens everywhere where the kids were more interested in making out than watching the movie then this is the one for you. “The Brain That Wouldn’t Die” is campy, violent, trashy fun.
Next up in this cavalcade of badness is a motion picture that was taken from a bestselling novel, had a big budget, a stellar cast and along the way something went wrong…terribly wrong. I am so glad it did. Our next bad ass lady is:
Patty Duke as Neely O’Hara
“Valley of the Dolls”
Every so often a studio makes a lavish and expensive movie and then wishes they hadn’t. This is one of those movies. Based on the bestselling novel of the same name by Jacqueline Susann “Valley of the Dolls’ focuses on the lives of three beautiful young women all trying to make it in the world of entertainment. One of the ladies is Anne Welles (Barbara Parkins) who begins as working as a secretary for a talent agent and eventually becomes a sought after model. Next is the devastatingly beautiful Jennifer North (Sharon Tate) who sadly doesn’t possess much real talent. She starts out in a chorus line and eventually ends up making foreign art films, nudies as Neely O’Hara (Patty Duke) likes to call them. Ah Neely! The third and by far the most interesting of the ladies. We meet her as a woman in her late teens or early 20’s and she is in a Broadway show with the legendary Helen Lawson (played to bitchy perfection by Susan Hayward). She cuts Neely’s song because it is a showstopper and in a Helen Lawson show there can only be one star…Helen Lawson. This begins a feud that will go on for years. The 3 ladies lives intertwine over the years. We travel with Neely who works her ass off to make a name for herself. Sadly she becomes addicted to liquor and “dolls.” “Dolls” for those of you that do not know are barbiturates. We watch her transform from a perky, bright and beautiful young woman into a monster who drinks, pops pills, sleeps around, treats people like shit and eventually implodes. We have so much fun watching her crash and burn. Don’t believe me? Watch the movie and see for yourself.
Patty Duke is one of my favorite actresses and to be honest this is my 2nd favorite of her performances (the first being Helen Keller in “The Miracle Worker”) Her performance is so dreadfully campy and over the top in this movie that you cannot stop watching her. Her anger comes off with her sounding like a little kid having a tantrum and some of the dialogue she spouts is unbelievably comical in highly dramatic moments. Here is the thing though. Neely is a character that people love. She is a movie bad girl because of her inappropriate behavior. She adopts an attitude of “I don’t care, I’m Neely O’Hara dammit” and it works. I am glad that Patty has embraced this film which over the years has gathered a huge cult following. Look up the gem and see how much fun an awful movie can be. Here is a small sampling below. Enjoy!
Let’s move along to our next feature. Has there ever been a women in prison film that is actually good? I think they’re all the same movie. The actors change but the plot is always the same. A basically good girl gets arrested. She ends up in prison where she is terrorized by inmates and staff alike. She suffers physical, sexual and emotional abuse. She begins to toughen up. A riot takes place at the end. The movie ends with the young woman getting her freedom. What so you do when that formula becomes old hat? You make a parody where you exaggerate the already over the top plot and you hire rocker Wendy O. Williams (who was in her late 30’s) to play a 15 year old girl. Who will notice?
Wendy O. Williams as Charlie Chambliss
“Reform School Girls”
“Reform School Girls” is a blast from start to finish. They take every cliche in the book and then over do it. The girls all lounge around in lingerie (in reform school mind you), they work in the shop making license plates or if they’re being punished they work the fields being given a lunch consisting of bread and water, which is preferable to the slop in the cafeteria. One dish is referred to as fish lips and rice…YUM! Amazingly not once do we see them in a classroom. They are kids? Right? They suffer sexual abuse at the hand of their matron, a huge woman named Edna (some of the girls call her Eddie when they get to know her a little better) who enjoys raping the girls using hoses that belong under the hood of a car. The dorm is run by a tough lesbian teen named Charlie. The girls have to deal with her as well and she is mean as hell. She and Edna are close….really close. Of course as with all these movies Edna betrays her and Charlie sides with the girls in the dorm to bring the bitch down.
Wendy O. Williams was best known as the lead singer of “The Plasmatics”. She was a tough woman in the music world and she is a tough girl (she was 38 or 39 at the time) in reform school. The characters in this movie rock and Wendy O as Charlie is the cherry on top of a tasteless, funny and 100 % exciting movie. I met Wendy O. Williams once before her tragic suicide. She told me a couple of stories about this film but that will be a different column. In the meantime kick back and watch this film. You have to see it to believe it…and you still won’t believe it.
I can’t believe we’re almost done. I have saved my favorite bad movie of them all for last. Take a guess which movie that is before scrolling down…and I mean I Love Love Love this movie. Scroll down for the answer.
Elizabeth Berkley as Nomi Malone
“Showgirls” is one of the biggest cinematic disasters of all time. I saw this movie in the theater no less than 25 times because I had so much fun watching it. The story is about a young woman who comes to Las Vegas with the ambition of being a showgirl in one of the hotel shows. She will go to battle with the star of the show she ends up in and gets sucked into this dazzling world of entertainment where drugs, backstabbing and sex are all normal in any given day. Nomi is a great role model as long as you do the opposite of what she does. She gets caught up in the glitz and has to decide how far will she go to have her dream come true.
Elizabeth Berkley is Fabulous and Fierce in this movie and her performance is so far over the top you might get a nosebleed. She drops the “F” bomb at least once every 30 seconds she is on screen. She walks around naked through most of the movie. Nomi eats like she hasn’t been fed in 3 months and she dances like she drank a bunch of 5 hour energy shots while she was pissed off. What more could you ask out of a character or a movie? It is lavish and splashy, the musical numbers are filled with high energy and it is trashy, glamorous fun. The movie also teaches us that maybe we should not have wild sex in a swimming pool…it looks like speared trout. The movie is not for those who are easily offended but for those of you that aren’t…you are in for one hell of a good time.
There you have it. 4 bad films (that have all gained cult status) with ladies that are incredibly bad ass! I would love to hear what some of your favorite bad films are. I am always looking for something new to fall in love with. Have a good week and enjoy your guilty pleasures. Who said bad couldn’t be good?