So many bad movies, so little time.  So, I introduce the "ToJT" Notebook to resolve in briefer form the lingering question of whether or not what is lurking in that dusty crevice of cinema history is actually lost treasure, or simply rancid.  Of course, sometimes you just know, and as the film whirs on you sink into a pit of self loathing, despising yourself for not following your instincts, and hope against all hope that the whole thing is saved by something exceptional, releasing the ecstatic emanations that can only be generated by the most uniquely inept of auteurs and actors.  If you're like me, you're cursed with the compulsion to look, and all too aware that the more you see the harder it becomes.  It's been a bountiful few months for bad movie viewing, and I thought I would take this opportunity to once again weed out the "Terrible" from the "Just Terrible":

Tiptoes (dir. Matthew Bright, 2003)

You may be skeptic if I told you that an indie drama that stars Matthew McConaughey and Kate Beckinsale as a couple going through their first pregnancy is a Terrible delight.  But, when you add in the fact that the controversy around the pregnancy is because Beckinsale's character is worried that her baby might be a dwarf because McConaughey's brother, played by Gary Oldman, is a dwarf, then you might be more convinced.  Designed as a movie that (I guess?!) was supposed to address issues around living as a dwarf in a socially conscious way, Tiptoes neither achieves that goal, nor succeeds in any of it's other dramatic premises.  The film is not only cringe inducing for the obvious reasons involving the film maker's efforts to create the dwarf illusion with a combination of camera tricks, Oldman dwarf-doubling, and the use of fake legs and rigged furniture, but also for it's maddening inability to create any forward dramatic momentum in regards to the McConaughey/Beckinsale relationship.  The film unintentionally reaches the aspirations of the Absurd, as the couple ceaselessly enact scenes where they discuss the pregnancy without seeming to move the film forward in any way, while the audience is left to ponder exactly what the intended tone was supposed to be, and why the perfectly capable actor and dwarf Peter Dinklage (as Oldman's best friend and fellow three-wheeling nomad) wasn't cast in the lead role, if not just to save time.  The film's conclusion is an entirely unearned jaw-dropper, despite Goldman's utterly realist dedication to the role (the film's one triumph, which for Oldman fans will come as no surprise).
Palate Cleanser:  Tom McCarthy's excellent indie The Station Agent from the same year, starring Peter Dinklage.

Ghost Rider (dir. Mark Steven Johnson, 2007)
     +  Ghost Rider:  Spirit of Vengence (dir. Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, 2012)

I haven't exactly been keeping up with the Robert Pollard-esque output of Nicolas Cage, though I did catch up with a few of his films when I was working on the last ECSTATIC "In Conversation" piece for Leaving Las Vegas.  After a double feature of The Rock and Con Air (in retrospect, probably both better candidates for "Terrible?" or "Just Terrible?") I finally made my way to Ghost Rider, which is based on a Marvel comic I often enjoyed as a kid.  I say finally because I actually went to see Ghost Rider in a mid-west multiplex on it's opening night with my dear friend and fellow bad movie aficionado Kris Murray, a person I have seen more bad movies with than, perhaps, anyone.  It's not so much that we consciously seek out the "Just Terrible" (though it's probably happened), but more often than not we're simply burned by what we assumed would be a harmless and entertaining night of back-of-the-theater popcorn munching.  In retrospect, I'm not sure which aspect of our attempt to see Ghost Rider is more ridiculous:  1)  that it was SOLD OUT, or 2) the realization that the film we bought a ticket to instead, the Silence of the Lambs prequel Hannibal Rising, was even worse.  (On second thought, after this long of not thinking at all about Hannibal Rising I don't want to be unfair to the film...so lets just say they're both just fucking terrible, and leave it at that.)  The real crime to report is that the Neveldine/Taylor sequel, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengence, didn't breath any new life into the franchise, much less blow the whole franchise up to ecstatic proportions, which is an expectation they have earned, to some extent.  The directing duo perhaps needed more control over the script to once again reach the delirious heights of their debut from 2006, Crank, and it's completely inadvisable yet entirely triumphant sequel, Crank 2: High Voltage, which flies so gloriously off the rails that it ends up paying hilarious homage to the Godzilla franchise.  Sadly, in Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengence they show very little of that humor or willingness to let the film be silly, which is the only thing that might have saved it.  As it is, it joins the ranks of Clash of the Titans, Tron: Legacy, and Captain America as the least spectacular (and consciousness challenging) 3D films of recent memory.
Palate Cleanser:  Triple, dry cappuccino and a double feature of Crank and Crank 2: High Voltage.

Let Me Die a Woman (dir. Doris Wishman, 1977)

Doris Wishman films have been compared to primitive art in the sense that she seemed to be working without a template, or any sense that there might be a template, and ended up with products of Sexploitation sin-ema that appeared to be the work of someone inventing the craft of film making with each production.  As a way to cope with the death of her husband in the late 50's, Wishman took up the camera to make a series of "Nudie Cutie" pictures like Nude on the Moon and Diary of a Nudist.  Wishman's work ran the gamut of genre sub-divisions in that period of grindhouse fare, from weird Roughie/Horror films like The Amazing Transplant (which involves a timid virgin being driven to rape due to his possessed transplant penis) to perhaps her most known work, the two films she made with the endowments of Chesty Morgan in 1974, Double Agent 73 and Deadly Weapons.  As detailed in the special "Transgendered Edition" Synapse DVD's excellent liner notes and production history, it took much of the 1970's, and maybe even some of the 80's, to create and release Let Me Die a Woman, a film that no one should watch without knowing what they're getting into, especially if they are as squeamish as I am about watching surgical footage involving the genitalia.  Though some Exploitation from this era seems fairly tame today, Let Me Die a Woman still has the stuff for those seeking pure shock value, as in one scene depicting the dangers of do-it-yourself sex changes involving a hammer and chisel that may put one in mind of S/M performance art guru Bob Flanagan.  I'll admit that the FF button was hit a few times during my at-home screening of Let Me Die a Woman, but it should be noted that part of the fun of Wishman's films is watching the way in which she curiously cobbles them together.  One scene of particular note here involves Richard Towers (the actor who portrayed Dr. Collingwood in Wes Craven's Last House on the Left) picking up a prostitute on a park bench in the late 70's, then time travelling five our six years by the mere opening of a bedroom door, whereupon his temples have very noticeably un-grayed.  Other uncomfortable chuckles came from the "medical doctor" at the center of the picture (whose office seems to completely change locations 2 or 3 times) using his pointer to draw attention to the various features of live transgendered subjects with all the enthusiasm of an elderly sixth grade biology instructor.  For those looking to seriously engage with the history of trans culture, know that the film has to be read within the context of 70's Sexploitation--as the liner notes remind us, since the film does contain so many different modes of addressing it's subject, it is "simultaneously less and more" than anything you could have expected. For this reason, Wishman's films create so many interesting tensions, which in this case are even present in the title (why isn't it called "Let Me Live a Woman"?).  Ultimately, it's Wishman's Ed Wood-like conviction to her utter schlock that I rest the convictions of my recommendation on here.
ECSTATIC Rating:   Terrible
Palate Cleanser:  A couple of Hairy Eyeballs and some lighter Wishman fare, like Nude on the Moon.

Masters of the Universe (dir. Gary Goddard, 1987)

Speaking of hitting the FF button, this pioneer of the "Toy-to-Screen" genre, instigated by the Mattel line of He-Man toys, is an unmitigated dare to follow through to the credits (much less the post-credit "Surprise!" that teases a possible sequel).  It's hard for me to imagine that even the most die-hard fans of the cartoon that inspired this sword-and-sorcery abomination would find anything worth their time here, but I'm sure it's fans are out there.  In fact, I looked into this possibility briefly, and it turns out that the IMDB has heard from a number of the film's supporters, some of whom have created essential discussion lists around burning questions like "Did Dolph take steroids?" and "Why does He-Man have a cape?!?!"  Lartronic from Akron, OH gives this mild recommendation:
There is no deep thinking, you just sit back and watch. I really enjoyed watching this, it's the kind of movie you can get wrapped up in, just like "The Ice Pirates". All in all a worthwhile view.
Despite the presence of Lundgren in the lead role, who holds a Master's degree in chemical engineering from the University of Sydney and was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to MIT, Masters of the Universe indeed requires no deep thinking.  As for it's comparable ability to swaddle you comfortably like an Ice Pirates, I have my doubts.  Then again, there are more hearty defenders of the film out there, like Ross from Ottawa who simply calls it "WITHOUT QUESTION THE GREATEST SWORD AND SORCERY EPIC EVER!!!":
Not only does this film stand tall on it's own achievements but it is also clearly the inspiration for that well loved classic "Beastmaster 2: Through the Portal of Time". It follows the mythos of the original He-Man mini comics (the ones that came with the toys) more than the plot of the animated series, as such He-Man is not secretly Prince Adam.  
Ross goes on to praise Langella's work as Skeletor, as well as the bold choices of Goddard's direction, but I have to disagree with his overall assessment, as I found the whole affair kind of boring.  Perhaps catching up with Beastmaster 2: Through the Portal of Time will broaden my frame of reference.  As for my journey to Eternia, not even the hilarious disconnect between the film's two worlds--the He-Man Universe and the 80's high school flick starring Courtney Cox--could elevate this flick to the Terrible.
ECSTATIC Rating:  Just Terrible
Palate Cleanser:  Evidently, Beastmaster 2: Through the Portal of Time 

Death Bed:  The Bed That Eats (dir. George Barry, 1977)

A film so obscure that even the director forgot he had made it until stumbling across some scant discussion of it online, Death Bed: The Bed That Eats has to stand as one of the best bad movie rescues of all time.  Production began in a now-demolished castle on a small island off the coast of Detroit in 1972, but the film wasn't printed until 1977, and only released on DVD in 2003.  In that time, Barry was surprised to learn the film had developed a cult following on the bootleg circuit.  Like many, I first heard reference to the film on Patton Oswalt's stand-up album "Werewolves and Lollipops," which so succinctly sums up the breaking point that many ultimately reach when cognitively dealing with the best of the Terrible, which is the realization that at some point in history somebody actually said, as Patton puts it:  "We are shooting this masterpiece!"  Yes, people actually worked on Death Bed: The Bed That Eats (although it would be hard to make the case for the actress in the still above, who often appears less-than-conscious, perhaps winning the award for the least engaged actress in history), but the truly puzzling and delightfully frustrating aspects of it don't stop there.  Although director Barry claims in the DVD that he never found the story all that bizarre, the film is actually exceedingly bizarre beyond what the title already suggests.  The film is, in fact, about a bed that is evidently filled with an enormous amount of yellow bile due to it being possessed by a demon who has trapped an artist forever behind a painting of the artist's own making, where the bed often disposes of the jewelry of it's victims, until the artist can somehow communicate to a visitor of the castle where the bed is stored, which can only happen once every ten years (demons trapped in beds only fall asleep once every ten years) to create a ritual of flame around the bed which will replace the corpse of a dead girl, a victim of the demon when it was alive, with the person who lights the flames around the bed.  Or something.    
ECSTATIC Rating:  Terrible
Palate Cleanser:  Vino, Pepto, and some complimentary piece of odd possession cinema like Christine or Maximum Overdrive

Teen Witch (dir.  Dorian Walker, 1989)

Finally, I am beholden to say a few words about Making the Grade director Dorian Walker's Teen Witch, a movie I would have never seen had it not been for the request of a dedicated ECSTATIC reader.  Although I deeply appreciate all of my readers and am open to any suggestions or recommendations, particularly for the "ToJT" section of the blog, Teen Witch is a film that makes me want to reconsider that open invitation, along with my general faith in humanity.  Teen Witch might strike those who were coming of age around the time of it's release as a delightful romp of 80's nostalgia, perfect viewing for re-living those junior high sleepovers with a couple of friends and a few bottles of wine.  Another way of thinking about it would be as the very oozing, fetid tip of the festering, culminating cyst of 80's cinema, forever preserved on DVD as a message to the Future of the mindless cultural depths we have fathomed.  Containing a performance by the strangest of 80's child actors, Joshua John Miller, utterly miscast as Robin Lively's younger brother, the film's flat out unwatchable nature is augmented with a bit of that River's Edge flavor.  The epitome of the "Just Terrible?"  One can never be sure.  Now, let us never speak of it again.
ECSTATIC Rating:  Just Terrible
Palate Cleanser:  A bag of squid jerky


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