Paul Verhoeven’s stripper-turned-star saga Showgirls is often the first film people mention when talking about guilty pleasure movies. Saved by the Bell actress Elizabeth Berkley bared all for audiences in the 1995 tale, which found her as a drifting dancer climbing the ranks from seedy clubs to Vegas headliner. It’s completely glossy, bitchy, nude, and juvenile — devoid of eroticism or even anything fascinatingly perverted. Still, it’s hard to turn away from Berkley’s earnest and wildly energetic performance. Plus, the epileptic sex scene — in which Kyle MacLachlan looks absolutely terrified — provides endless amounts of laughter and confusion.
Some of you might give us the business over this one, but we’ve got to keep it real: Scarface is garish, melodramatic, and if not for Pacino’s over the top performance would be completely forgettable. Regardless, the actor’s Tony Montana — a Cuban refugee who takes control of the Miami cocaine trade — has achieved pop culture fame, particularly in hip hop circles. The film is actually a remake of a much better movie. Howard Hawks directed the 1932 original, which has become a classic. De Palma’s version is sleazy fun, but it’s certainly no masterpiece.
A quick peek at IMDb’s rankings shows that cult gem Troll 2 ranks in the bottom 100 movies as voted by users (currently sitting at #83). Italian exploitation director Claudio Fragasso directed the movie and co-wrote the script with his wife, despite speaking very little English at the time — a fact that becomes clear once you hear the actors reading the script verbatim, which Fragasso insisted upon. Despite the awful screenplay, poor acting (thanks to a local dentist amongst others), and terrible production value, there’s something inherently charming about the movie featuring vegetarian goblins. It’s also one of cinema’s greatest endurance tests. Despite its awfulness, the film has been embraced by cult film fans everywhere (for more on that, check out the awesome documentary Best Worst Movie ) thanks to highly quotable lines like the one below.
The Ten Commandments
Cecil B. DeMille’s biblical soap opera is almost vulgar in its excess — including a slew of histrionic performances from some of Hollywood’s biggest names — but it never fails to capture the attention of audiences with its muscular retelling. Call us crazy, but we find it hard to believe that Nefretiri would call Moses a “stubborn, splendid, adorable fool.” We can’t resist her camp command of the Egyptian Queen, though. This was the showman director’s final film making the religious spectacle an iconic favorite that deserves its place in cinema history.
Glen or Glenda
Ed Wood’s cross-dressing, sex-change melodrama is an unintentionally hilarious mix of social commentary and autobiography (by now, most cinephiles know about Wood’s penchant for skirts instead of slacks), filled with enough bizarre and surreal transitions to make it a favorite for directors like David Lynch. When you get past the drug-addled Bela Lugosi who plays God and plethora of angora (Wood’s favorite), it’s evident that the film is a brave and heartfelt effort with a deeply personal touch.
We could have listed several so-bad-they’re-good action films in this spot, but we chose to go with one that features a winning (and sometimes questionable) combination of director John Woo’s stylized prowess, beloved actor Lance Henriksen’s snarling skill, and Jean-Claude Van Damme’s amazing jump kicks. This is one of the most entertaining films to feature the 1980’s action action, as the “Muscles from Brussels” sports a permed mullet, telepathically communicates with pigeons, battles a rattlesnake, and surfs a speeding motorcycle. Henriksen’s baddie is memorable, and the rest you have to see to believe. For another best, worst moment in Van Damme’s career, see the 1984 breakdancing disaster known as Breakin’. Did we mention he dances in a skintight onesie in the movie? Observe, below.
It’s impossible to tear your eyes away from Faye Dunaway (and her eyebrows) as Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest. It’s a swirling, over the top performance that depicts the relationship Crawford had with her adopted children. The actress disinherited siblings Christina and Christopher, after which her daughter wrote a tell-all memoir about the lifelong physical and emotional abusive she endured from dear mum. It’s a screamy screen adaptation of the book, which features some of the best freak out moments in cinema. Dunaway scrubs floors with lunatic abandon and famously threatens with wire hangers — all moments we’re thankful for since Frank Perry’s flat direction and mediocre everything else aren’t standouts. For a “best, worst” of Crawford’s, see camp-drama Mildred Pierce .
Criterion recently adopted Nobuhiko Obayashi’s Hausu (House) — a film described as “an episode of Scooby Doo as directed by Dario Argento” — into their lineup, but the film was negatively received upon release. The bizarre tale about a schoolgirl and friends who encounter supernatural insanity at a country home is baffling at times, but the horror-comedy quotient and uniquely astounding visuals make up for the confusing and fairly average plotline. It’s an experience that demands your attention.
Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!
Russ Meyer’s bodacious bad girls in exploitation cult hit Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! deliver all the kitsch vulgarity you can stand. The busty girl gang brings the ultraviolence and spews one-liners like gloriously bad poetry. If you can see beyond the trashy, cheeky show, Meyer’s darkly satirical approach and handling of gender and sexual anxiety will fascinate.
Carnival of Souls
With a cast composed of unknowns and local performers, and a commercial director at the helm, it’s surprising that Carnival of Souls turned out to be as riveting and gorgeous as it did. Sure, the performances are often comedic and awkward, but the film never quite crosses the line into utter cheese, making it all the more strange and unsettling. That ambiguity works in its favor when it comes to the ghoulish characters. They become more frightening since we can’t actually categorize them as zombies, or ghosts, or other supernatural terrors. Gene Moore’s uncanny organ score and director Herk Harvey’s breathtaking cinematography makes you wonder how the underappreciated cult classic ended up floating around the public domain.