Well, here we are in October, which means it’s time for…what season are the stores already celebrating? Christmas? And then Saint Patrick’s Day next week? Ugh. Well, I’m a purist, and this is the Halloween season. Every year at this time, it seems like everyone puts together a list of their favorite horror movies, so that others can bask in the scares and the bloodshed. And while these lists are great, they tend to be a little repetitive, and showcase the same movies year after year. I mean, I love “Halloween” and “The Blair Witch Project” as much as the next person (well, the latter doesn’t get as much love as it should), but there are plenty of other great things to watch this time of year. So with that in mind, I present to you the first of my own Halloween watchlists, which will hopefully get a little love to some of the more obscure gems out there.
Let’s ease into the Halloween season with some laughs. I’m not talking horror movies that have some humor, like “Scream,” or even parodies like “Scary Movie.” I’m talking about movies so bad, that they are unintentionally funny. Or, some people who are much wittier than most of us make them funny. This list is admittedly skewed towards a certain genre, but stick with me here, and you won’t be sorry. I promise.
I am a sucker for a good found footage movie. And apparently for really bad found footage movies, too. There are lots of great ones out there, like the aforementioned “The Blair Witch Project” and “Grave Encounters,” and there are plenty of terrible entries. But none of the awful ones can touch the creepy goof-fest that is “Bad Ben.” Produced solely by writer and star NIgel Bach, the film is shot entirely on an iPhone and some security cameras, in Bach’s real-life home, for an estimated budget of about $300. How awesome is that? Bach stars as Tom Riley, a poor schlub who buys a home in southern NJ, near the Pine Barrens, at a sheriff’s sale. He’s never been inside the house, and decides to document his moving-in process. Luckily for us, there’s also security cameras already installed in the home, and they help him to document all of the weird things that start happening once he is settled in. He encounters evidence of past murders in the home, Satanic rituals in the attic, ghosts, demons, and even the Jersey Devil, but nothing is as terrifying as seeing middle-aged Tom Riley running around in his underwear. Lots of unintentional laughs here, but the movie is oddly compelling, and you will find yourself rooting for Tom despite him being a fairly unlikable character. There are also some sequels, not as good as the original, but definitely worth checking out: “Steelmanville Road” is a prequel and explores the deaths in the home prior to Tom buying it; “Badder Ben: The Final Chapter” is awesomely meta and has Tom returning to the home with some paranormal investigators who liked his original film (and spoilers, is NOT the final chapter); and “Bad Ben: The Mandela Effect” is a collection of retellings of the original film, in different universes. You should also check our “The Making of the Bad Ben Trilogy.” Bach takes us through how he filmed the movies, accomplished the special effects, and shows that in reality, he’s a good guy who can laugh at himself for the awkwardly hilarious horror movie he tried to make. Good stuff all around.
Mystery Science Theater 3000: Boggy Creek II
For those not in the know, Mystery Science Theater 3000 was a show that ran on Comedy Central (and later on the Sci-Fi Channel) from 1989 to 1996. The basic premise: the show’s host (first played by creator Joel Hodgson, and later by head writer Mike Nelson) are trapped in space by mad scientists, and forced to watch bad movies, with the help of his robot friends Crow T. Robot and Tom Servo. The only way they can get through the movies is to crack jokes, or “riff,” on the films to make them easier to watch. The results are hilarious, and the show became a cult classic, even garnering a recent revival with new episodes on Netflix. My favorite episode from the original run mixes horror with cryptozoology, in the comically awful “Boggy Creek II: And the Legend Continues.” Seemingly a sequel to the cult classic “The Legend of Boggy Creek,” it’s technically the third Boggy Creek movie, and not really a sequel. Whereas the original film was a documentary with reenactments of actual events, this film is a fictionalized tale, with director Charles B. Pierce playing University of Arkansas professor Brian C. Lockhart, who goes looking for the Boggy Creek creature with three of his students. Lockhart is grumpy and cantankerous, his students are dim-witted and shallow, and they get into all sorts of wacky adventures with hillbillies and outhouses as they search for Bigfoot in the swamps of southern Arkansas. Mike and the bots make this movie not only watchable, but enjoyable. The jokes are fast, furious, and funny as hell. If your sides don’t hurt by the time this movie is over, you and I can’t be friends.
Rifftrax: Birdemic (Live)
Years after MST3K had ended its run, Mike Nelson formed Rifftrax, a website that provided his solo commentary available as an audio file that was able to be downloaded and synced to a user’s home copy of a movie. A few years later, MST3K alum Bill Corbett (Crow T. Robot) and Kevin Murphy (Tom Servo) joined Rifftrax, and the trio started releasing fully downloadable movies and shorts with their riffs included, just like Mystery Science Theater 3000. They also started doing live shows, which were simulcast to theaters nationwide. One of their best live events was “Birdemic,” a horrendously bad ripoff Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds.” And by horrendously bad, I mean it’s just amazing that this film ever saw the light of day. Many people would say “Plan 9 from Outer Space” is the worst movie ever made, but it’s a masterpiece compared to this movie. Plagued by bad editing, continuity errors, terrible dialogue, wooden acting, botched lines, audio that dips in and out, a nonsensical story, and a holier-than-thou message about saving the environment presented with the subtlety of a “Three Stooges” bit, the film is a complete and utter dumpster fire. But all of that is nothing compared to the truly laughable special effects. And please note, nothing I can say here can adequately convey the ineptitude of the effects in this film. And we are not talking about fantastical creatures from the depths of someone’s imagination. We are talking about birds. Normal, every day, run of the mill birds. Not giant birds, not mutant birds. Just birds. Your jaw will drop. A 5-year old and a free iPhone app could do better. The Rifftrax guys are master riffers, so the jokes are all perfect, and the live reactions just make it all the funnier. As a bonus, there’s a short “educational” film up first, called “Norman Checks In,” which is about yet another down on his luck schlub that has nothing go right for him as he spends a night at a hotel. Not sure what’s so educational about that, but it’s comedy gold.
Mystery Science Theater 3000: Cry Wilderness
After “Mystery Science Theater 3000” was canceled by the Sci-Fi Channel (as it was called at the time), the creators lost the rights to the show, which sort of forced them to pursue other projects, and in the case of Rifftrax, to riff without the signature MST3K silhouettes. But in 2015, creator Joel Hodgson regained the rights, and started a Kickstarter campaign to bring the show back. It was the most successful Film & Video Kickstarter ever, raising over $5.76 million. Netflix picked up the show, and we got an 11th season, with an all new cast including Jonah Ray, Felicia Day, and Patton Oswalt. Overall, I wasn’t thrilled with this reboot. The amount of money they raised, along with the backing of Netflix, allowed the new MST3K to be flashier, with slicker production, better-articulated robots, and celebrity guest appearances. The charm of the original, a low-budget puppet show filmed in Minnesota and replete with bloopers and prop malfunctions, was gone. The new run isn’t bad, but it lacks a lot of the spontaneity and natural feel of the older episodes. But one of the best entries in the return is “Cry Wilderness.” It’s another Bigfoot adventure, but with all the side effects of a bad acid trip. Paul Cooper is away at boarding school, and gets a telepathic message from his old pal Sasquatch, and he goes off in into the woods to search for him. His father, a park ranger, and one of his hunting buddies meets up with Paul on his quest, and God bless you if you can follow along with the mid-80s storytelling lunacy. But I found this to be one of the better episodes from the Netflix run, as it feels less rehearsed and more natural than some of the others.
Incognito Cinema Warriors XP: Resident Evil Series
For my money, the true successor to MST3K is Incognito Cinema Warriors XP. Created in 2008 by Rikk Wolf, ICWXP is a loving homage to MST3K, and follows the same basic format: Rikk is stranded in a movie theater during a zombie apocalypse, and makes fun of bad movies with his robot pals Topsy Bot 5000, Flux Namtari, and Johnny Cylon. Even Mike Nelson of MST3K/ Rifftrax has praised their riffing skills. The show is truer to the original MST3K, and has that more low-budget, off the cuff feel, and it works really well. Silhouettes and all. And honestly, I wish they had been given the reins to the MST3K reboot. And while they may have been inspired by MST3K, their humor is a little more adult-oriented; as such, they are more free in what they can say, as well as how and what they riff. Rikk is a great guy, genuinely nice and down to earth, and the whole crew love their fanbase just as much as they love their craft. They interact with their fans on Facebook as easily and as regularly as you would chat with a longtime friend. Anyways, more recently they have branched out to riff shorts, trailers, and video games, and my recommendations for this list are two of their video game riffs: Resident Evil and Resident Evil VII. These survival-horror zombie games are perfect for Halloween, rife with jump scares, blood, gore, and creepy music. Plus the source material is just awkward and dated enough for a good-natured ribbing. Er, um, riffing. And as a bonus, most of their stuff can be found on YouTube, so be sure to like, comment, subscribe!