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The Worst of the Worst Voting Scandal

Sunday, 15th June, 2003

Maybe my mother dropped me on my head when I was a baby. Maybe it's a freakish personality quirk. Maybe I just have a masochistic streak the size of Roseanne's breakfast. What is it that draws me to the worst films in history, the most golden golden turkeys of them all?

I don't know and frankly I don't care. I'm just happy that someone gave Ed Wood and Fred Olen Ray and Jess Franco cameras and financing and every other thing they needed to indulge their cinematic fantasies. I'm even happier that the technologies of DVD and KazaaLite and online ordering are making such things available cheaply, easily and quickly.

A mere fortnight ago I watched the AFI special on the greatest heroes and villains of all time, a list that reflected in its surprisingly fair choices the quality that has flitted through the age of Hollywood like a butterfly, highly elusive but stunningly beautiful when discovered. Today, in stark contrast, I sat through a movie that ranks as a serious contender for the most inept film of all time, the misguided 1964 epic, 'Santa Claus Conquers the Martians', as presented by 'Mystery Science Theater 3000'.

Using different portions of my brain, I thoroughly enjoyed both.

It was refreshing to see Gregory Peck's Atticus Finch make greatest hero amidst a bevy of other black and white stars instead of the almost expected rundown of Arnold Schwarzenegger's greatest hits. No heathens, the AFI. Yet Santa Claus still holds an incredible attraction. When the acting of a ten year old Pia Zadora shines above the leads you know you have something special. Both definitely have their place.

Santa Claus may have conquered the Martians but he hasn't quite conquered the Internet Movie Database, the most comprehensive and thoroughly useful cinematic site on the web. IMDb maintains a list of the bottom hundred movies, according to votes, and old Father Christmas is slumming it down in 12th place on that list, sandwiched by Bill Cosby's attempt at a spy comedy, 'Leonard Part 6', and the shameless indulgence of Mariah Carey's ego trip, 'Glitter'.

I've been a fan of this page for many years and am still trying to track down some of the lurid gems that it has made me aware of, such as 'Quest for the Lost City' (ancient Canadian wrestling cult bent on world domination), 'The Horror of Party Beach' (beach community terrorised by radioactive sludge monsters) or 'They Saved Hitler's Brain' (pretty much self explanatory). However much of the vitality of the page has now sadly vanished because of a single policy change.

Previously it took fifty votes for a film to qualify for inclusion in the bottom hundred list, but now this has been raised to the bizarrely inexplicable number of 625. Now the character of the page has changed and, in my humble opinion, is relatively worthless.

A year and a half ago, I posted a link to this page on an online community for discussion, but sadly didn't copy and paste the entire list. Thankfully I did at least post the top five which included three 1960s movies: 'Manos, the Hands of Fate', 'The Wild World of Batwoman' and 'Monster a-Go Go'. A search down the current list returns only three 1960s films in the entire hundred! Manos still ranks as the worst of all time, but Batwoman and the Monster (not that there was a monster in Monster a-Go Go anyway) have disappeared, victims of not yet attracting 625 votes.

In case you didn't quite catch that, I'll run it past you again: there are only three films from the entire decade of the 1960s in the worst hundred of all time! That makes no sense whatsoever. Even more surprising, there are only two (both Ed Wood movies) from the 1950s. In other words, the golden age of the golden turkey when men couldn't act, robots were cardboard and extras were whoever happened to be walking past at the time, is almost totally unrepresented.

So what has taken the place of these drive-in era abominations? In the main, modern big budget sequels. Fully three quarters of the list dates from the last fifteen years and 33 of them are sequels. Then there are the wretched remakes, the painful parodies and, of course, the blatantly commercial tv or video game tie-ins.

That there are so many sequels in the list is understandable for all the wrong reasons. They are recent films from major studios who gave them a wide release and who have continued to abuse the fame of their successful predecessors in the vague hope of milking the slightest profit out of them. They are frequently shown on television, turn up with regularity in charity shops, fleamarkets and car boot sales and leap into unsuspecting hands by virtue of their name. After all, if you enjoyed 'Smokey and the Bandit', why not watch 'Smokey and the Bandit III'? Yet another reason to force our children to understand logic.

Through their wide availability these sequels are far more likely to receive 625 votes than some black and white drive-in movie that even Blockbusters have never heard of. 'The Wild World of Batwoman' is relatively famous in z-grade film circles yet has still only mustered 446 votes at present count. 'Monster a-Go Go' only has 330. Surely dropping the 625 qualification barrier to 50 or 100 would be far more accurate?

As an example of what is currently overlooked, 'The Wild World of Batwoman' was made by a man named Jerry Warren. After progressing from actor to director in 1956 he made eleven of the lowest quality films imaginable. Amazingly enough, Batwoman may not even be the worst.

For 'Curse of the Stone Hand', his 1964 production of a Robert Louis Stevenson short story, he took two Chilean movies made in 1945, extracted a third from each and patched them together with new footage of John Carradine and Katherine Victor (later to become Batwoman) into a meaningless cannibalised mess. Most of the cast were presumably so ashamed of the finished product that they insisted on pseudonyms.

As dismal as the 'Police Academy' series got, did it ever get as bad as this? The IMDb policy would suggest so, as there are no less than four 'Police Academy' films in the current worst hundred, but I certainly wouldn't.

The hundredth place under the current scheme is 'Soul Survivors' with a rating of 3.6 out of a possible 10. Jerry Warren's eleven films as director average a measly 1.9, with only one, 1957's 'The Incredible Petrified World' scoring outside the current worst hundred. Amazingly, four of them score less than the current worst movie title holder, 'Manos, the Hands of Fate', and its pitiful one and a half.

Unfortunately these eleven films carry an average of only 58 votes apiece, and that is heavily biased by Batwoman's 446. Second most voted for is his comeback picture, 'Frankenstein Island' with a mere 46 votes, not quite enough to qualify even under the old criteria of at least fifty. But with its score currently at a stunning 1.0 out of 10, only four more votes would have enabled it to enter the chart at number one. Now it won't even get recognition as a hit and not so knowledgeable IMDb readers won't ever get to hear Jerry Warren's name.

This can only be a bad thing. A worst of the worst list should be exactly that and it's simply not going to happen under the current policy. To illustrate just how out of touch the list currently is, the remake of 'Rollerball' appears at 37, higher up than 'Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot'. Given that Sylvester Stallone is so ashamed of the film that he won't even watch it himself, I don't think anyone can really justify this placement.

Other dubious entrants include 'Halloween III: Season of the Witch', 'Nothing But Trouble' and 'Ballistic: Ecks vs Sever'. While none of them are the greatest films ever made, they are quality films that are worthwhile even after repeated viewings. Why they are ranked as some of the worst ever made belies belief.

I've mailed IMDb to ask them about this policy and hopefully I'll receive a reply soon. Given the consistently excellent work that they have done over the last ten years or so, I'm sure there must be some reason or other.

In the meantime I'm pretty sure Ed Wood is turning in his grave, in jumpy black and white stock footage, naturally.

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