Wednesday, February 4, 2009

MIDNIGHT MOVIE MASSACRE: Is This the Worst Movie Ever Made?

I have to put it in the form of a question, since I didn't finish the movie. I held out for 45 minutes, but I dared not try for more. I felt at risk of spiritual death. I honestly felt my brain turn to stone while watching this film. It may be one of those cursed movies that others make movies about. Think of it as a kind of conceptual cross between Lamberto Bava's Demons and Uncle Josh Goes to the Moving Picture Show. It combines the sensibility of '80s exploitation and the narrative techniques of 1912 much as John Belushi combined the contents of his cheeks while making a zit.

First off, I was conned. My friend "Wendigo" had just picked up a set of "Mars" themed sci-fi films. The others were Flight to Mars, a quaint Cameron Mitchell starrer from 1951, and the original Invaders From Mars. The odd one out was a title called Attack From Mars. I found no reference to it in either Psychotronic guidebook, and I didn't think to go online and do an IMDB search before taking the plunge. The special feature on the disc was an "Alternate Title Sequence." Only when we started the actual movie did we realize that using the title Attack From Mars was what made the alternate an alternate. Once I saw the real title I hit the books again, but in retrospect I must conclude that Michael Weldon has a stronger stomach for this sort of thing than I do.

After a pre-credit intro hyping an imminent menace from Mars, we come to a movie theater taking tickets for a midnight show. The year is 1956. The feature attracts an eclectic audience. Here are some horny nerds; aren't they funny looking? Here comes a married couple, a fat wife and a milquetoast husband; aren't they funny looking? They buy out practically the entire snack bar. The fat lady eats a lot. Isn't that funny? One of the nerds hallucinates the main character of a coming attraction, but his cohort doesn't see it. Isn't that funny?

More people find seats inside the theater. Here come a couple of rubes. Are they hillbillies, religious fanatics, or theater people? They have outlandish costumes, perhaps stolen from the road company of Li'l Abner. Perhaps they're cast members themselves, since they have freckles painted on their faces. They gape goggle-eyed at the screen before the show begins. Isn't that funny? Then there's a drunk. He staggers and takes a pull from his flask. Later he stumbles and spills his snacks. Funny? How about the three fonzies who act like apes in the back row and respond to a projected admonition against vandalism by tearing apart a seat? Or how about the girl who looks like she stuck whole rolls of toilet paper in her bra, and her clueless boyfriend. Or the girl who sneezes. Isn't it funny to sneeze? She sneezes a lot. Isn't that funny?

A female denizen of Earth circa 1956, as imagined by the makers of
(photos from

The filmmakers will now try the daring trick of telling multiple stories at once. After showing trailers for Cat Women of the Moon and Devil Girl From Mars (retitled Sweater Girl From Mars), we are introduced to Space Patrol, done in full color and yet in some ways imitating a Republic serial. Weldon writes that this was once meant to be a film in its own right. I wonder what happened. Space Patrol follows a trio of adventurers "Back From the Future" to the preset in pursuit of a rogue time-traveller. They force three Earth people to give them their clothes and help them fit into the time period. It's clearly meant to be bad on purpose, but any sense of purpose is irrelevant. It's on-purpose bad in a way that makes The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra look like 2001. But to be fair, Space Patrol's narrative flow is disrupted somewhat by persistent cuts to the activities of the theater spectators. In any typical period of time, we'll see the fat lady eat, the sneezing girl sneeze, the hillbillies gape at the screen. Subplots develop. The fonzies strain to ogle one girl's cleavage, closing in on her until they appear to be fondling her in her sleep while her oblivious boyfriend gazes raptly at Space Patrol. The drunk annoys the hillbillies with his smell, but the girl hillbilly blames his noxious fart on her boyfriend, whom she sends to the restroom. When last seen, the drunk was plying her with popcorn. The fat lady finishes her food, but "I'm still hungry!" The sneezer sneezes until she produces what I took to be a long strand of gum and Wendigo identified tentatively as a lasagna noodle from her nose. She drops this from the balcony, and is soon sneezing again. We fall back into a pattern. Movie clip. Fat woman eats. Fonzies fondle chick. Girl sneezes. The nerds remain horny. Isn't this funny?

Amazing special effects characterize MIDNIGHT MOVIE MASSACRE, from synthetic snot (above) to flesh pumping (below).

You might think it was enough of a challenge to juggle this many plot threads, especially since the director's juggling technique leaves quite the mess on the floor. But to make things more interesting, a flying saucer deposits a deadly mist around the theater, and murders begin. These killings are illustrated in the classic manner: red sprays from offscreen sources stain walls, furniture and appliances. Oh, they're cheating just like the old movies would. I get it! Yes, but then I got it -- the deal breaker scene. The director starts intercutting a fidgety kid into his usual sequence of scenes. At first I was wondering whether the mere existence of a child was supposed to be funny, but the brat eventually slides out of his seat and into the lobby.

He enters the manager's office and finds a charnel house. The manager has been dismembered, and body parts and pools of blood lay all over. Blood drips down a white clock radio. There's a pile of green alien gunk (I assumed the worst) on the manager's desk. In a tortuously attenuated sequence, the child contemplates the scene before him. He sticks his finger in the pool of blood. He ponders whether to dip his lollipop in the alien gunk. We cut back repeatedly to what may have been the exact same shot of blood running down the clock radio. We see the body parts, the kid, the gunk, the clock, the lollipop, the kid, the clock...until his parents finally find him and take him out of the theater, complaining that Space Patrol was a lousy movie. That was my cue to quit.

It wouldn't surprise me if someone stepped forward to defend Midnight Movie Massacre as an homage or deadpan parody of the kind of film it seems to be. People being what they are, someone is bound to find the movie's systematic failure to achieve humor funny unto itself. Somebody probably "gets" this movie. If so, that person should be quarantined. This film supports my theory that the worst movie ever made, whatever it may really be, must be a failed comedy, since other bad films can be redeemed by our laughing at them, while the worst must be one that we cannot laugh at. Human nature is resilient, however, and people are capable of laughing at anything. I've lasted through some truly bad comedies like Dracula the Dirty Old Man or Robin Hood: Men In Tights, but none of them struck me the same way as this one did, which was slightly like having a TV set dropped on my head. But some people might still find that to be a good thing. Is there a movie from which no one can salvage anything? Is Midnight Movie Massacre that film? The question can only be settled by the great democracy of time -- and, to be fair, by those brave souls who've seen the entire picture.

But let us punish the guilty. Larry Jacobs and Mark Strock directed it. Six people wrote it, including '50s genre poacher Wade Williams. IMDB doesn't match actors with roles, but all their names are on the record. They all did an admirable job in the 1980s of making a movie (the theater part, that is) that looked at least twenty years behind the times -- and I go back only that far because the film's in color.


The Vicar of VHS said...

Excellent write-up of an experience I think all trash-movie treasure-hunters have had--finding that one flick that seems intent on frustrating and thwarting any attempt on the viewer's part to enjoy it. I'm not reviewing my recent watch of "Satan's Children" for just that reason.

And I totally support your theory that failed comedies are the worst of the worst. Well-put.

>>Is there a movie from which no one can salvage anything?

I know I'm not one to preach on this, as usually *I'm* the guy who's the only one who can enjoy a universally despised movie, but I'm thinking the answer here is "no, there's not." Another un-reviewed recent watch of mine was a screener I got from an indie horror company who had the idea to spoof cannibal films. I've read other reviews saying how hilarious the flick was, which confuses me, as I never even cracked a smile. It takes all kinds to make a world, as they say.

The Vicar of VHS said...

By the way, Unc, you've been Dardos'd!

Full details here:

I would have emailed, but you're a mysterious one, you are. ;)

Samuel Wilson said...

Holy crap! Vicar, I am not worthy, but I shall do my duty just the same in a forthcoming post.

Samuel Wilson said...

As far as the question of a universally unenjoyed movie goes, I suppose that if anything can be made a fetish, as seems to be the case the more you learn about the world, so anything can be laughed at. I learned this at a university screening of Paths of Glory when the audience roared after a general says of the executed protagonists, "the men died well." I'm sure that's not the effect Kirk Douglas desired, though I'm not sure about Stanley Kubrick's intentions.

I've also gone without reviewing movies I've watched since starting the blog that lack any content of redeeming interest, but Midnight Movie Massacre seemed to require comment because it was bad in an almost transcendent way that makes it a potential milestone in cinema history.

NobbyNormalSuperstar said...

There is a catchy country song in this film that has nifty lyrics and i have watched the film 4 times as i used to have a copy on VHS.I like the film and will be buying it soon as it is available to the masses on DVD.One mans agonising pain is another mans pleasure.Each to their own and me to a midnight movie:)