5 Notoriously Terrible Films That Actually Aren't So Terrible
Heaven's Gate slowly makes its way to the Egyptian
Over the last six months, Michael Cimino's Heaven's Gate has screened to sold-out crowds at the Venice and New York film festivals and received a sumptuous DVD/Blu-ray upgrade courtesy of the Criterion Collection. This is par for the course for a lot of old movies, but more than a little odd for one that's been widely considered the biggest blunder in Hollywood history for much of its 32-year existence. Cimino's phenomenally unsuccessful followup to his Best Picture-winning The Deer Hunter ran $30 million over budget, attracted swarms of negative press before a single person had even seen it, was pulled from theaters after a disastrous one-week run in a single theater, put United Artists out of business, and signaled the director-driven New Hollywood's death knell.
The screening of the film at the Egyptian this Saturday, with Cimino there in person, will signal something new: the completion of its critical reevaluation. In light of this reappraisal, we decided to look at four other movies that were (and, in some cases, still are) notoriously reviled. Mainstays of lists like this one have been avoided for the sake of variety; if you haven't already, go give Plan 9 from Outer Space and Showgirls another chance.
4. Peeping Tom
The initial response to Michael Powell's take on a voyeur/serial killer with an especially inventive approach to dispatching his victims was so vitriolic that if effectively ended the filmmaker's career in his native England. Between its inherently dark subject matter and chilling depiction of a murderer who targets women, it's easy to see why: Peeping Tom touched on a number of issues that few were ready to address in 1960. Critics and audiences alike have since come to their senses -- except perhaps in Finland, where it's apparently still banned -- and hailed it as the masterwork in suspense it truly is. Now considered a cult classic, the movie's critical resurgence was described thusly by Powell himself: "I make a film that nobody wants to see and then, thirty years later, everybody has either seen it or wants to see it." Better late than never.
David Fincher's debut film went through a production process that was nearly as troubled as that of Heaven's Gate. Fincher, who came to the project as a well-known director of music videos, was initially forced to work without a finished script and ultimately disavowed the entire film as a result of massive studio interference. Beginning the film with the offscreen death of two well-known characters from Aliens didn't improve the situation -- James Cameron, who directed that film, called it "a slap in the face" -- but was only one aspect of the awful reviews that greeted the film upon its 1992 release. 2003's "Assembly Cut" (with which Fincher was entirely uninvolved) upped its reputation from terrible to divisive, with many coming around and rightfully acknowledging Alien³ as perhaps the headiest installment in this perennial franchise--not to mention a sign of great things to come from Fincher.
Pauly Shore's 1996 jaunt through the eponymous eco-structure has never been so lucky. To date it stands as the worst-reviewed film in Metacritic's history -- eight different critics awarded it a score of 0 -- as well as a box-office failure despite being aimed at a rather un-discerning crowd. But taken as a repository of mid-'90s optimism, the Shore- and Stephen Baldwin-starring buddy comedy works as a distinct cultural artifact with more than a few (admittedly mindless) laughs along the way. Shore's unique persona probably couldn't have risen to prominence at any other time and, like all seemingly vacuous cultural phenomena, was both a product and reflection of its time. This after-the-fact poignancy certainly didn't factor into the actual making of the film and thus couldn't have been evident at at the time of its release, but the years following Bio-Dome's release have crystallized its dual parody-glamorization of its brain-dead protagonists into a fitting time capsule for, and representation of, a bygone era.
1. Freddy Got Fingered
The same is true of Tom Green's first (and, to date, only) foray into feature filmmaking. Think of this 2001 comedy (Metascore: 13) as an 87-minute piece of bizarre performance art rather than an attempt at crafting a conventional narrative and a case begins to emerge for it being savant-like in its brilliant stupidity. Not unlike Bio-Dome, the actual plot takes a backseat to one-off gags that quickly separate those who consider Green's particular brand of humor brilliant from those who find it utterly repugnant and/or impossible to stomach. But must the two be mutually exclusive? I daresay I'm not alone in thinking not. A certain keyboard-heavy scene has resonated with viewers so much, in fact, that one of them put together a ten-hour YouTube loop of it: Daddy, would you like some sausage?
Get the Theater
Your weekly guide to local culture with calendar listings and theater, dance, and comedy reviews.