And the list continues. These are the movies that are so bad you can’t help but wonder if they were intended to be so.
They’re the movies that, when your roommates walk in on you watching them, prompt them to stop in bewilderment and confusedly look back and forth between the screen and your face like they just walked in on you playing dress-up tea party with your childhood stuffed animals. Then they join in without a word, watching out of sheer morbid curiosity.
Here we go:
No Retreat, No Surrender (1986)
No Retreat, No Surrender was a favorite of mine as a child, although back then I genuinely enjoyed it and had no idea how awful it was. This 80’s kung-fu disaster-piece is the best kind of B-movie – and calling it a B-movie is being supremely generous. It’s chock full of unintentional racism, synth-scored montages, mis-synched sound bytes, unexplained romance, and more.
Our story begins at a humble LA-based martial arts studio, where our protagonist, Jason, studies under the tutelage of his father, a high level black belt in Karate. After a lesson in which Jason is reprimanded by his father for using Jeet Kune Do (the martial arts style created by Bruce Lee) moves in a sparring match, three intimidating gentlemen – one of whom is played by a very young Jean-Claude Van Damme – show up at the studio and begin making sinister and vague demands of Jason’s father. When he declines, he is forced to fight and winds up with a broken leg courtesy of JCVD.
For some reason Jason’s father loses his dojo in the wake of this incident, and the family moves to Seattle to run away from… I don’t know what. While moving into the new house Jason befriends a nearby neighbor, RJ, who brings all of your classic 1980’s breakdancin’, fast-talkin’, jerry curl havin’ fun into the mix. RJ notices that Jason is obsessed with Bruce Lee and martial arts after putting on an impromptu dance performance in Jason’s garage/training facility and suggests that Jason check out the local dojo.
Before this happens, however, we learn that RJ has an unexplained feud with a local bully, a mean-looking chubster who is stuffing his face 90% of the time he is on screen. While treating himself and his pals to an obscene amount of cheeseburgers at the local burger joint, the bully spies RJ and proceeds to start fighting with him. Jason is strolling by and notices, prompting him to jump in and whoop some ass until the fight is broken up.
When Jason and RJ arrive at the dojo, it turns out that fatty is a student, and he lies to the instructor about Jason having started the fight. The instructor humiliates Jason in front of the entire dojo, and Jason runs away. Then we cut to a party where Jason inexplicably seems to have a semi-girlfriend, who the dojo instructor wants all to himself. They fight at the party, and Jason loses. He runs to the grave of his hero, Bruce Lee, and asks for guidance. This is when things get good.
Bruce Lee’s ghost appears and starts training Jason. He is full of ancient proverbs and fortune cookie wisdom and teaches Jason how to be a martial arts badass. Then, at a local martial arts tournament, who should appear but Jean-Claude Van Damme and his cronies, ready to take on all newcomers. After the evil JCVD is done injuring all other challengers by way of blatantly cheating, the new and improved Bruce Lee-trained Jason steps in to claim his vengeance.
Yes, this is a long description of the movie, but I guarantee you it in no way spoils the experience. This is one you need to see to believe it’s real.
The Hillz (2004)
The Hillz is actually very important to me personally. It’s the first bad movie I ever watched regularly solely because it was bad. It spawned within me a love of ironic film-watching. It stars a cast of no-names and Paris Hilton, who – even though plays a pretty minor role in the film – is featured on the promo cover.
The story chronicles Steve-Five, a local hero who returns to his hometown after having become a college baseball star. He meets up with his old crew to hang out and have some fun over the summer, but it turns out that all of his old friends have become gang-bangers, thieves, drug dealers and rapists. Steve-Five is torn between his loyalty to his old friends and the fact that he isn’t an unscrupulous sociopath like everyone else in the entire movie.
Meanwhile, in the midst of this moral struggle, Steve-Five is actively pursuing the love of his life, Paris Hilton (that’s not her character’s name, but I imagine it’s what she’s like in real-life so what’s the difference?), who is stringing him along even though she is actively in a relationship with someone else.
Tensions rise as Steve starts to realize he may not actually know who his friends are anymore, culminating in some very anti-climactic drama.
The Hillz is so good because it has no idea how horrible it is. It’s attempts at comedy are so obliviously unfunny that they become hilarious, and it’s attempts at drama are akin to watching an episode of My Super Sweet 16 where the main girl pouts over getting a black and white spotted pony instead of a white and brown one. It’s extremely quotable, as well. Here’s the opening line, delivered by our protagonist.
“They say your life flashes before your eyes when faced with death. When it happened to me, nothing came up, ’cause my life was pretty good.”
Clearly an attempt to put a clever spin on a cliché “deep” inner monologue that falls just a little short of being the least bit coherent.
If you are a member of the cult of bad movie fandom, The Hillz is definitely a must-see.
Surf Ninjas (1993)
This movie is insane. Surf Ninjas is just a massive clusterfuck of random ninjas, weird fart jokes, psychic powers, raging hormones, and Rob Schneider. Its plot centers on two young boys who, unbeknownst to them, are actually the long lost princes of some ancient Hawaiian ninja culture. Once this comes to light, the evil Colonel Chi (played by legendary Leslie Nielsen – who knows what he’s coin gin this), decides to send his army of infinite ninjas to brutally murder them.
With the help of Rob Schneider and a good guy ninja, the two boys escape. They are instructed by good guy ninja that they must reclaim their throne and stop the evil warlord, Colonel Chi. One of them gets super ninja powers and somehow learns how to kick ass, and the other one gets some kind of psychic ability that allows him to see the future and control the present through use of his Gameboy. I’m pretty sure that was just to get money from Nintendo.
Now, I have to be fair. This is the only movie I’ve listed that was actually intended to be a kids’ movie, so it’s understandable that it would be a little more silly. But come on, there are still standards, You can do the ninja-themed kids’ movie right – just look at Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and 3 Ninjas. Surf Ninjas is nothing short of appalling.
The circumstances under which I watched this movie were pretty ideal, and I’d recommend them to anyone. Buy it. Save it for when you move into a new apartment. On that first night when you’ve moved everything but are too lazy to unpack anything except your TV, which you put on a box of kitchenware, pop this bad boy in there. Go grab a 12-pack of your favorite beer, or X amount of your favorite mind-altering indulgence, invite a friend over, and just let the absurdity wash over you.
Written by: Richard Reitzfeld