We’ve all heard of (and probably watched) tons of classic trashy drive-in movies: The Blob, Plan 9 From Outer Space, and much of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 canon. But dozens of cult-worthy flicks have languished for years in relative obscurity, some with small followings and others with no recognition at all. Terrible movies made before camp was cool are oddly comforting to watch, so we’ve picked ten for your enjoyment while you wait out the dreary weather. Grab some popcorn, call your friends, and get settled in for conniving women, terrifying aliens and lots of screaming.
This one does have a pretty serious cult following, but it’s so transfixing we couldn’t help putting it first on the list. Clocking in at just over two hours, it follows naïve schoolgirl Candy as she stumbles through a series of increasingly bizarre sexual encounters. This deeply psychedelic movie would be unwatchable were it not for a serious commitment to making each scenario even more astonishing than the ones before, and it’s almost impossible to tell whether or not the movie’s creators were sincere. If for no other reason, watch it for the cameos: among others, we get Ringo Starr as a Mexican gardener, Marlon Brando as a guru living in the back of an 18-wheeler, and Richard Burton as a megalomaniacal poet. If that’s not enough to convince you, we don’t know what is.
Invasion of the Star Creatures (1963)
According to this screwball-meets-sci-fi romp, we should expect not bug-eyed gray men but buxom, seven-foot-tall babes when aliens finally invade Earth. These highly intelligent space scientists are on a mission to understand our ways, and their unwitting teachers are bumbling GIs who volunteer to educate them about love — through lots of makeouts. Oh, and the girls also breed giant robot plant-men with superstrength. You’ll do facepalm after facepalm at the movie’s heavy-handed jokes, but the whole thing is so silly it’s impossible not to love.
The Female Bunch (1969)
Released as the women’s lib movement was just becoming big news, this cautionary sexploitation tale follows a young girl who falls in with a gang of murderous (and murderously horny) cowgirls. They live together on an expansive ranch where no men are allowed, and anyone caught trespassing is subject to brutal justice. On occasion, the gals will go out for a night of alcohol-fueled sex romps, which usually end very badly for their chosen partners. Like most B-movies whose main characters are women, this one paints the ladies as either pure and meek or empowered and corrupt. But this isn’t the ’60s anymore, and we’d definitely rather hang with this female bunch than a bunch of housewives.
High School Confidential! (1958)
An undercover cop assumes the guise of a high school student to investigate a suspected drug ring within the student body — and considering this was the ’50s, you can probably guess that the movie’s a slightly more understated version of Reefer Madness. He soon causes enough trouble at school to earn the trust of the bad crowd, who sell weed and heroin at parties and drag races. A convoluted, overly twisted plot ensues, but, of course, the bad guys get their due in the end. We can learn many important lessons from this film: marijuana is a gateway drug, you can hide five pounds of it in the hubcap of your car, and people who are high are prone to lengthy and intelligent confessions which end with them renouncing drug usage. Sounds about right to us.
The Angry Red Planet (1959)
Trips to Mars are standard fare for campy sci-fi flicks, but this one is so lacking in logic and taste it might just be the best of the bunch. It begins with the reappearance of a spacecraft previously thought lost, and after the Pentagon skillfully lands it, the rescued crew recounts a terrifying ordeal. After traveling to the Red Planet, the astronauts of MR-1 land on Mars and are greeted by a plethora of deadly surprises. Carnivorous plants, an enormous amoeba, and Martians all attack them at various points, but nothing lives up to their ultimate adversary: the Rat-Bat-Spider Nightmare. No, seriously, that is what they call it. Also, we’re pretty sure the writers of Arrested Development took a page out of this movie’s screenplay for the mole-Tobias and jetpack-George Michael fight scene in Season 3.
Attack of the Puppet People (1958)
Usually with movies titled “Attack of the (fill in the blank)” it’s a villainous monster doing the attacking. But in this case it’s the film’s heroes, innocent folk shrunk into helpless playthings by a maniacal scientist who succumbs to insanity after his wife leaves him. The movie was rushed into production following the success of 1957’s The Incredible Shrinking Man, but the technological novelty of tiny people couldn’t compensate for terrible execution and it flopped in the box office. But 50 years later Attack of the Puppet People is hilarious and manages to stick out above the masses of mid-century throwaway horror features — and that should earn it a spot in your next midnight movie marathon.
The X from Outer Space (1967)
We simply don’t understand why this Japanese sci-fi horror movie hasn’t found more appreciation in the States. It combines classic giant-monster cliches and mod ’60s styling — guaranteed bad movie gold. And, even better, the American version is dubbed. A mission to Mars goes awry when mysterious spores emanating from the planet coat the spaceship and the astronauts are forced to turn back… though it doesn’t stop them from throwing a very swanky dinner party while still on board. There’s romance, suspense, and an oddly cute, fire-breathing, chicken-like reptilian monster named Girara that lays siege on Tokyo. We’ll take him over Godzilla anytime.
The Saga of the Viking Women and Their Voyage to the Land of the Sea Serpent (1957)
This one’s as gloriously terrible as its title is verbose, which is to say: very. Fearless (and scantily-clad) Viking women cast off to the high seas in search of their long-lost male counterparts and encounter a terrifying Nessie-esque sea monster en route. After falling into a cheap-looking whirlpool they term a “vortex,” they wind up on a strange island where, upon imprisonment by its ruler, they discover their menfolk chained as slaves. A surprisingly well-paced escape plot ensues, featuring lots of low-budget fight scenes and special effects. But the titular sea serpent? Just one brief appearance, and we’re guessing even the film’s creators were ashamed of its inability to inspire terror. MST3K riffed on this one, but we think it deserves your undivided attention.
Fiend Without a Face (1958)
This movie begins when a mysteriously murdered Canadian’s notebook is found filled with data recorded outside an Air Force base. The U.S. military thinks he’s a spy, but he was actually studying how the noise from planes taking off affected cows in a nearby pasture. If intrigue that turns out to be about cows isn’t enough to convince you to see this movie, it gets better: the strange death in the beginning was actually the doing of a mad scientist who has created — wait for it — brain-eating monsters that are also invisible. And will hunt down, kill, and subsequently eat the brains of anyone who doesn’t take the time to watch Fiend Without a Face. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.
Not of This Earth (1957)
Mercifully short but still long enough to entertain, show this over-the-top disaster to any Twilight fans you know. There’s a blood famine on the planet Davanna, and the vampiric citizens send one of their own to Earth to bring back human blood for transfusion. His death-ray eyes kill victims before he drains them, and a flying, tentacled creature helps him collect his precious nourishment. Thin on plot and thick on screaming, this is a guiltless B-movie pleasure. It was remade in 1988 as an intentionally campy screamfest, and with the whole distant-planet drought thing going on, it also suggests shades of David Bowie movies to come.