While others have a Halloween tradition of watching truly horrifying movies, I go the opposite route and watch truly horrible movies. Partially it’s for entertainment’s sake and anyone who’s seen any of these five films likely has a laundry list of quotes they like to pull from them (“Eat shit and live, Bill.”). But there’s also something terrifying about knowing these movies got made and as far as we know, no one said anything during the development process to put a stop to it. Think of all the money spent on these pictures and all the better uses you could put it to. Like perhaps getting yourself your very own talking anatomy doll, which brings us right to…
5. Pin, A Plastic Nightmare (1988)
If you’ve heard of Pin, it’s likely either because the film was directed by The Amityville Horror screenwriter Sandor Stern, or because it prominently features a young(er) Terry O’Quinn, post-Stepfather but pre-Lost. O’Quinn plays Dr. Frank Linden, a stern father to two children and the husband to a neurotic, germophobe wife. Linden’s parental practices, as is often the case in horror, are the cause of the grisly incidents that take place but not in a way you’d expect. You see, Linden likes to use a vaguely creepy, mostly silly anatomy doll nicknamed “Pin” (short for Pinocchio) to teach his kids lessons about things like, oh, sex, throwing his voice in order to make Pin seem real to the children (hilariously he’s voice by Jonathan Banks, best know as Mike on Breaking Bad).
Things make a turn for the worse after Linden’s son Leon (David Hewlett, of Cube fame) witnesses Pin getting raped by a nurse. No, really, that actually happens. It would seem that witnessing that incident unhinges Leon, and he only worsens after his sister Ursula (Cynthia Preston) is forced to have an abortion performed by her own father. After the good doctor and his neurotic wife die in a car accident that’s indirectly caused by Pin, Leon and Ursula are left to their own devices.
Or would be, until Leon brings Pin home and starts dressing him up like a person in an effort to make the doll less creepy. And then starts assaulting people using the doll, because that will definitely make people appreciate Pin more. None of it is horrifying, instead it’s just a laughably bizarre Canadian film with questionable sexual politics. Unless you imagine the film from the perspective of the poor, constantly molested Pin, of course.
4. Executive Koala (2005)
There is absolutely no way to do the plot of Executive Koala justice, except to say that it delivers on its title and then some.
Directed by Minoru Kawasaki, who has somehow managed to make an entire career out of animal-person hybrid films in Japan, Executive Koala is about a koala who is an executive, complete with a rabbit boss. Other than a frog working at a convenience store, these two are the only human-like animals we meet in the film which makes for an odd disconnect since besides a few minor exceptions (including a guy who walks into the frog’s convenience store and says “Huh?! Frog?! Koala?! What?!”) no one points out the fact that these are animals.
Which enables the film to first play out like a noir-ish melodrama about the Executive Koala trying to remember what happened to his missing wife while also trying to begin a new life with his current girlfriend. After the girlfriend turns up dead, shit gets weird. Kawasaki uses the murder development to kick off a frenzied performance of genre hopping, as the noir is ditched in favor of a crossbreeding of slasher films and Memento, with detours through musicals, kung-fu flicks and video game fight sequences. Like all the movies on this list, Executive Koala is by no means a good film, but damn if it doesn’t leave you more entertained and bewildered than you’ve likely ever been. That is, until you’ve seen…
3. Hausu (1977)
Hausu is another Japanese film that defies logic. While technically it’s a haunted house picture, it’s also an accidental comedy that looks like something Vincent Price and Andy Warhol may have put together after a particularly bad acid trip.
A first time directorial effort from screenwriter Nobuhiko Obayashi, Hausu‘s genesis is almost as interesting as the film itself. Obayashi was actually hired to draft up a screenplay to capitalize on Jaws success but instead the screenwriter took some concepts from a dream his daughter had and made Hausu. Other than a human-eating piano, I’m not entirely sure how Obayashi thought this story was at all like Jaws, and the studio’s directors felt the same way, with none willing to step in and take the film on.
Which is how Obayashi was allowed to direct the picture, using almost exclusively non-professional actors. Not that the acting matters, since the story is nonsensical even by horror standards, following a group of schoolgirls who go to stay with head school girl Gorgeous’ Aunt. It’s basically just an excuse to have a bunch of schoolgirls with ridiculous nicknames attacked by the kind of house Jan Švankmajer might build. But my what a house it is, with a demonic cat, the aforementioned human-eating piano, an evil grandfather clock and a score of other no-longer-inanimate objects. Despite the fact that everyone is being eaten or killed by antiques, no one seems to mind and the film unfolds like a trip to the world’s freakiest amusement park. This is a movie that truly has to be seen to be believed and it looks like absolutely nothing you’ve seen before or will ever see again. And somehow it was a hit in Japan. I guess killer sharks weren’t what audiences wanted after all.
2. Troll 2 (1990)
Besides giving this list its title thanks to a documentary made about the film, Troll 2 is widely regarded as one of, if not the worst films ever made. The movie’s cult status is legendary and there’s a reason for that: Troll 2 is an ambitiously terrible work that fails on so many levels it comes back around to being a triumph.
Named Troll 2 because US distributors thought the movie would only succeed if it was given a connection to the vaguely successful clunker Troll, Troll 2 famously features no trolls. Instead, it’s about a boy and his family visiting the cozy little town of Nilbog, where everyone is a crazy militant vegetarian. Michael Stephenson plays Joshua, the boy hero of this little adventure, and his defining characteristic is that he sees a dead person, namely his late grandfather, who is pretty obsessive about goblins. Which is why Joshua is the only member of his family to figure out the truth behind Nilbog, thou
gh it should have been pretty easy for anyone with access to a mirror to discover.
Amazingly enough, the script for the film was written because Rosella Drudi, wife of director Claudio Fragasso, was pissed off at some friends who had become vegetarians. So she created the world’s first vegetarian horror film monsters, the goblin inhabitants of Nilbog who can only eat you if they’ve turned you into produce first through a miracle milk they sell at their otherwise barren drug store. The goblins look like kids whose mothers forced them into the worst Halloween costumes of all-time, and the chief villainess fares worse as her costume appears to have come secondhand from a librarian porno.
The surreal humor of Troll 2’s crappiness at least came about organically, since the director and all but one of the crew members only spoke Italian and the cast were mostly citizens from the town near Morgan, Utah, where the movie was shot, including at least one outpatient from the local mental institution. That the movie got made at all is pretty incredible, and that it turned out the way it did shouldn’t be surprising to anyone. Nonetheless, for sheer entertainment value, Troll 2 is difficult to beat and it’s right up there with The Room as the greatest accidental comedy ever produced.
1. Sleepaway Camp (1983)
Slasher films were all the rage in the ’80s but could anyone have predicted that the subgenre would birth something as gonzo as Sleepaway Camp? Beginning with the insane death of a man and one of his kids due to the world’s dumbest boating accident, Sleepaway Camp makes its lunacy known right off the bat, as our two lead characters, Angela and Ricky, are ushered off to camp by Angela’s aunt (?) Dr. Martha Thomas. Dr. Martha looks and behaves like Cillian Murphy’s Kitten Braden character from Breakfast on Pluto.
Odder still, the camp Angela and Ricky have been sent off to is literally running rampant with pedophiles, including a cook who stands by watching the kids get off the bus and tells his co-workers “Look at all that young fresh chicken. Where I come from we call ’em baldies. Make your mouth water don’t it?” Even the camp owner is a lech, eying up a few of the girls and making evening plans with them. To make matters worse, the kids are forced to run around in booty shorts and shirts that have less material than washclothes, and that goes for girls and boys alike. Is it any wonder that this camp would cause someone to snap and go on a killing spree?
Sleepaway Camp’s death scenes are admittedly inventive and the special effects aren’t too shabby, but until it reaches its mindfuck conclusion, the film is mostly enjoyable as a nonstop quotefest thanks to the insults the kids hurl at one another. Many of them come from Angela’s arch-nemesis Judy, who describes Angela as “A carpenter’s dream: flat as a board and easy to screw.” It’s difficult to determine the ages of the kids at this camp, since Ricky and Angela appear to be barely teenagers, while some of the other guys look like they’re in their thirties and the girls, especially Angela’s tormentors, are at least in their twenties.
The structure of the film is about what you’d expect from the genre, with the bullies getting taken out one by one in increasingly more inventive fashion, but towards the end the deaths seem to be indiscriminate. It’s as though director/writer Robert Hiltzik got bored trying to stuff morals into his perverted slasher film and just decided to kill off as many people as possible before the grand finale.
But holy fuck what a finale. If Hiltzik had only released the final 15 minutes of the film, his place in the horror pantheon would be cemented forever. Even on a list with vegetarian goblins, killer anatomy dolls, human-eating pianos and murderous koalas, Sleepaway Camp’s ending is the kind of horrific image that you will never, ever be able to get out of your brain. Which is exactly why you should seek it out.
When he’s not writing about the cape and spandex set, Nick Hanover is a book, film and music critic for Spectrum Culture and a staff writer for No Tofu Magazine. He also translates for “Partytime” Lukash’s Panel Panopticon.