Last week I discovered this wonderful website, dedicated to some of the worst films ever made. I had no idea that there were films called Attack of the Giant Leeches or Mars Needs Women, so I decided to try a couple and see just how dreadful they were.
The first movie I watched was a 1960s Italian science fiction film called I Criminali della Galassia (Criminals of the Galaxy), which was dubbed into English and released as Wild Wild Planet.
Frankly, the phrase "1960s Italian science fiction" is more than enough to make me want to watch a film, particularly given that the Anglo-American vision of the future is often so dull.
Would you really want to live in the dreary, politically correct universe of Captain Jean-Luc Picard or 2001: A Space Odyssey, when there are alternatives like this:
I've no idea what this movie is about. Admittedly I'd had a couple a drinks when I watched Wild Wild Planet, but even if I'd been stone cold sober with a can of Red Bull and Mark Kermode sitting next to me, I'd be none the wiser. It's an utterly mad film.
From what I could glean, Wild Wild Planet is about a series of kidnappings committed by attractive young women who are assisted by bald hermaphrodites in black leather coats and dark glasses. The victims are instantly shrunk to a fifth of their normal size so that they can be conveniently transported in a suitcase. They are then taken to another planet, where a mad scientist restores the victims to their normal size, then grafts them onto the body of someone of the opposite sex to create a new, super-race.
This scene gives you the gist of it:
As you can see, the special effects are in a class of their own. I rather like the fashions, particularly the fascisti black coats and dark glasses. Who says bald men aren't sexy?
There are many reasons for watching films like Wild Wild Planet, but what particularly appeals to me is how much it tells you about the zeitgeist of mid-1960s Italy. This film is the product of an age in which Modernism was still in the ascendancy and people genuinely believed that they were on the brink of a Space Age.
Like most popular science fiction films, the Wild Wild Planet's vision of the future is always an über-present, rather than a bold, radically different vision of society; so it's mini skirts a go-go and lots of patronising men.
It's strange how bad films can be so depressing when they're contemporary, but enjoyable when they're a few decades old. I suppose it's because we know that these films are just aberrations, rather than harbingers of the end of Western civilisation.
Wild Wild Planet may be a dreadful movie, but it looks comparatively sensible compared to this absurd film:
I don't know where to begin with Zeta One. It is possibly the worst British film ever made and it comes as no surprise to learn that the director Michael Cort didn't work again.
There are two excellent articles (here and here) that give a summary of the plot, which appears to involve a battle between topless women from another planet and James Robertson Justice (aided by Charles Hawtrey).
There is also a secret agent called James Word, whose role never seems to be clearly defined. However, he seems to be enjoying himself:
The climax of Zeta One involves a battle between the topless warriors and a group of Scottish gamekeepers. This must be one of the most ridiculous things I've ever seen:
What does Zeta One tell us about 1969? First, that it was possible to conceive and produce a film as ridiculous as this without being sectioned under the 1963 Mental Health Act. Second, that in the wake of the famous Lady Chatterley trial, our popular culture was obsessed with sex.
This strange brand of titillating sauciness continued right through the 70s, with plenty of superfluous nudity in films, book covers and record sleeves.
Then, of course, in the early 80s, it all changed. The advent of the VCR meant that titillation was replaced by genuine pornography. Also, when AIDS first entered the public consciousness with photos of the dying Rock Hudson, sexual promiscuity no longer seemed so appealing.
The final nail in the coffin was probably the "New Conservatism" of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan.
It has been said that if you really want to capture the flavour of a particular period, a second-rate crime novel is far better than a classic. I'm not sure if the same rule always applies to films (is Zeta One more authentically 60s than Alfie?).
I think I'll have to do some more research.