Ed Wood and Bela Lugosi creating utter dreck.

Ed Wood and Bela Lugosi creating utter dreck.

“Oh my God, you’re getting the worst film ever made,” the circulation clerk at the Tufts Media Center told me as I checked out Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Salo or 120 Days of Sodom.  I countered that I had seen films that were probably worse, including Caligula and Human Highway.

The clerks had never heard of Human Highway, so I described it to them.  They then looked it up, were dismayed to find out that Tufts doesn’t carry it and asked their boss why not.

It reminded me of my friend Curtis, who, with a bunch of friends, every year on New Year’s Eve watches a truly awful film.  I recommended Human Highway to them, if they could find it, right after they had just watched The Star Wars Holiday Special (which isn’t in this list for the fact that it’s not a feature film).In the end, after watching Salo (a lot of it on fast-forward, as it is unbelievably repulsive and I thought I might have to go vomit at a couple of points), I decided it doesn’t merit inclusion on a list such as this.  It’s close, and is truly the most repulsive film I have ever seen, but I didn’t find it utterly morally repugnant like Caligula, or completely devoid of any style like some of the other films here.  Pasolini had something he was trying to say (it was to be the start of his Circle of Death of films to follow the three films he had just made to be the Circle of Life, but he was murdered before the film was released and never made the other two).  I strongly recommend you never watch it, unless you have a very strong stomach or, like I am, are watching your way through the Criterion Collection.

Unlike the clerks at Tufts, I don’t relish watching bad films.  That’s why this list isn’t terribly long.  Of the 5402 films in my spreadsheet, only 36 rated below *.  That’s less than 1 percent of all the films I’ve seen.  But I’ve still seen enough to make this list.

I rate things on a four star system.  I reserve the 1/2 star for truly awful films, but for the extra special horrible films, the ones completely devoid of any talent or quality, I give them 0 stars.  That’s what this list is drawn from.  But first, a few honorary mentions:

Honorary mentions to North and What Planet Are You From, because they are not only 1/2 star films, but low down on that list, and because they were made by talented directors who should have known better (Rob Reiner and Mike Nichols).  And unlike say, 1/2 star films by James Cameron (Piranha Part Two) and David Cronenberg (The Brood), they were made well into Reiner and Nichols’ respective careers, at a point where they shouldn’t be making such films.

Honorary mentions to The Swarm, Krakatoa – East of Java (which is a ridiculous title since Krakatoa is west of Java) and Norbit, for being the only 1/2 star films to earn an Academy Award nomination.

Now for the contenders:

  • Showgirls (Paul Verhoeven) – 1995

I saw this film in the theater while waiting for my friend John to get off work (at the theater) and boy did I instantly regret it.  It didn’t even qualify as a porn film.  It attempted to be good (some people will argue that it’s supposed to be camp, but I don’t buy it) and the acting is bad on a whole new level, and it has not a single erotic scene in it.  Useless on every level.  For a long time, this was my only 0 star film.

  • Plan Nine from Outer Space (Ed Wood) – 1959

Long crowned as the worst film ever made, and it definitely competes.  However, it at least can be watched enjoyably for how bad it is.  But sadly, not a single person in the entire film has an ounce of talent involved.  Yet, it’s not as bad as . . .

  • Glen or Glenda (Ed Wood) – 1953

The only film on this list I watched with friends to enjoy how bad it was, and it was worse than I thought it would be.  Worse than Plan 9.  The extra scenes put in by the production company to attempt to make it erotic just made it worse.  At least Bride of the Monster earned * from me, so Ed Wood made at least one film that had something decent about it.

  • Human Highway (Neil Young) – 1983

I already mentioned this on the list of best uses of songs in film because of the bizarre (and very, very long) version of “Hey Hey My My” performed by (wait for it) Neil Young and Devo.  This film also stars Russ Tamblyn (Riff from West Side Story) and Dean Stockwell, but is bad on a whole new level, and almost impossible to find, to boot.  The only reason I saw it was that my friend David Armstrong had it (he was a major Neil Young fan), but even he had never watched it all the way through.  For years this was the worst film I had ever seen.  Then it got knocked off.

And the winner is:

Like Kate Winslet, Helen Mirren is nude in a lot of films.  But none are as bad as Caligula.

Like Kate Winslet, Helen Mirren is nude in a lot of films. But none are as bad as Caligula.

  • Caligula (Tinto Brass) – 1980

Caligula combines the sheer awfulness of acting that Showgirls had (which is more annoying, as it is actually stocked with talented actors like Helen Mirren, Malcolm McDowell and Peter O’Toole), the truly awful film making of the Ed Wood films, the mind boggling horrible story telling of Human Highway, but adds a new dimension: that of being morally repugnant.  At least Salo had the excuse that it was attempting to tell the story of what it was like to grow up during the times of Fascist Italy.  It was not meant to be a form of entertainment.  Caligula seems like it is actually trying to entertain and be erotic with the brutal depictions of violence, sex and depravity.

I’ll just leave you with the first two paragraphs of Roger Ebert’s review, which pretty much say it all:

“Caligula” is sickening, utterly worthless, shameful trash. If it is not the worst film I have ever seen, that makes it all the more shameful: People with talent allowed themselves to participate in this travesty. Disgusted and unspeakably depressed, I walked out of the film after two hours of its 170-minute length. That was on Saturday night, as a line of hundreds of people stretched down Lincoln Ave., waiting to pay $7.50 apiece to become eyewitnesses to shame.

I wanted to tell them … what did I want to tell them? What I’m telling you now. That this film is not only garbage on an artistic level, but that it is also garbage on the crude and base level where it no doubt hopes to find its audience. “Caligula” is not good art, It is not good cinema, and it is not good porn.