Okay, first the ground rules… I’m sure any one of us could come up with a list of forty or fifty movies that failed miserably at the goal of taking us into a new and exciting reality…or even just keeping us awake. I’m not talking about lousy movies of which there are hundreds. …Oh, what the hell, let’s get the goofy part out of our system and be done with it: I love sci-fi, but Robot Monster was pretty damn awful. The monster was a guy in an over-sized gorilla suit wearing a diving helmet with antennae.
Plan 9 From Outer Space was so incredibly terrible, I’ve watched it three times. In the middle of filming it, the actor, Bela Lugosi (Dracula) did, indeed, die. Consequently, the actor they plugged in walked around holding a cape in front of his face…for the whole rest of the movie! And that was one of the smaller infractions.
Shifting Gears to a Different Type of Movie: This category includes movies, which may have been great, but had such a lasting adverse effect that you wish you’d never seen it.
Here’s my first candidate. Keep in mind, at the time, I thought and continue to think that this was a GREAT movie: Jaws. This has very little to do with dialogue, special effects, arc of the plot, characterization. What it succeeded in doing to me and to millions of people who go to the ocean, was scare the beejeezus out of me for about a decade. Where before, I’d have had no qualms about hopping out of a fishing boat and paddling around in the ocean, now, the moment I hit the salt water, I hear Montovani playing the Jaws theme. I imagine a two-ton toothy machine-of-death streaking up underneath me. Was that decade of angst worth watching a cool movie? For me, it wasn’t. In the back of my mind, I still keep looking for that dorsal fin. Things get worse below:
Platoon: Superb movie, by the way. Unforgettable. It creates the world of insanity that was Vietnam. You are there. You live it and you suffer the insanity. Having served in the Air Force during the Vietnam War, this one was too close to home for me. Yeah, it was an excellent movie. Really, really didn’t need to watch it though.
Every Nuclear War Movie: One of the other jobs I had while in the Air Force was that of LES officer, Launch Enable Officer for the 18 Titan II nuclear missile sites that ringed Tucson, Arizona. The tales that bubble up from a job like this are daunting and never leave your psyche. Why anyone would voluntarily pay money to “go to that place” in their mind and experience what a nuclear war is like… is either insensitive or borderline masochistic…in my opinion. The threat was there in the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s. Guess what… It’s still here, only in a slightly modified scenario. Now we have suitcase warheads.
Going into a Titan II silo was like entering a James Bond movie only it was for real and took place during the Cold War. Security codes…followed by a thing called a duress code if by chance a .45 was pointed at your head and…you were under duress.. What a mild word for a monstrous scenario. One long elevator ride…down, down, down. Three seven-ton steel blast doors to swing open…manually, while 20 feet away, a very tall silver bird nested, waiting for two officers to insert their keys into the switches to be turned simultaneously. That’s all it takes, folks and the prospect of destroying a million people by the twist of two fingers is both daunting and unforgettable. There is nothing at all romantic about nuclear missiles or nuclear wars.
Looking for Mr. Goodbar: Depending on when your formative years were, you notice a little…or a lot the fact that movie makers have upped-the-ante on violence. Way back when, it used to be enough that somebody got shot and a bit of blood trickled. But then to entice the box office sales, they added a bit of sadism, sprinkled with new and avant garde ways to kill people. Then they began to perfect the sadism and cool new ways to torture people to a finely honed science. And we wonder where the copycat whackos get their ideas. Looking for Mr. Goodbar, produced in 1977 was a break-out example of gratuitous sadism and torture. Very sorry I watched it.
Still Alice: Here’s a movie which you, quite possibly, haven’t seen yet. It’s getting nominated for academy awards even as I type and I understand it’s one helluva great movie as far as depicting Alzheimer’s Disease is concerned. Are Pamela and I going to watch it? No, we are not. Not now…not ever…and for a similar reason that I regret having watched Jaws. Here’s the thing: Alzheimer’s unlike many forms of cancer and other serious diseases has, at this moment in time, a ZERO survival rate. ZERO… How many people will become afflicted with this disease? Enough that this one disease alone, may flatten our economy in the future. It is romantically referred to as The Long Goodbye. Ask any care giver how accurate that statement is and they’ll wince. It’s slow hell. I have absolutely ZERO desire to put my mind in a position where I will be contemplating my or Pamela’s descent into non-existence. You choose for yourself. Tell me what you got out of the movie.
The Pacific: The Pacific, ranks in my mind as one of the great television series of all time and for exactly the opposite reason that you might expect. In this ten-part series you live through the entire process of what war is, from the naive reasons for enlisting, to the pathetic attempts of the military to prepare anyone for what is to come, to the slowly growing reality of how monstrous and inhumane war really is. On the parameter of regretting watching it, I have to place it really high. You’d have to be off to think this is a fun movie in any way whatsoever. But this series provides mothers and fathers, girl friends and buddies with a tool. If you were to have a “young buck” itching to go over to kick butt, kill some dudes for the cool glory of it all, sit them down and have them watch a series such as this.
Band of Brothers is a similar genre and nearly as compelling. The main difference is it takes place in the European Theater rather than the Pacific. No one who has actually served in the military comes back a macho man. They may enlist that way, but you don’t stay that way. Patriotism and love of country quickly evaporate to loyalty to your flight, your squadron, your battalion or just the buddies squatting in the mud around you. Yep, you’ll regret watching either of these series, but every single person who enlists has a right to know what the hell they are getting into.
As is often the case, Pamela and I confer on these blogs/ essays. Most of the time we agree…but not always. Women (and I’m paying them a compliment now) seem to have gotten it straight a lot better than we men as to what to be frightened of. Women worry about getting raped, murdered, robbed, abused. Consequently, most women think sci fi is a bit dopey. I’m quoting now, “Henry, are you really afraid some guy dressed up in a black plastic suit with fangs but no eyes is going to get you? Are you really worried that Alien is hiding in OUR basement?” “Uhmmmmm…when you put it that way…” What really good sci-fi/horror movies do, however, is appeal not to your logic but to man’s visceral fear of the unknown…or our imaginations gone wild.
On the other side of the aisle, I’ve been hearing about Soylent Green since it came out in 1973. That’s like…quite a while ago. It was an early dystopian Earth of the future, where everyone was about to starve to death. To alleviate the problem, when you got to a certain age (plug in 10 years older than whatever you are now) you reported to a building where they gave you a great send-off with music, movies, a little booze, at which point they converted your body into Soylent Green crackers, to feed the starving masses. I wondered what they tasted like…chicken…or pork and it seemed like a marginally good idea for solving world hunger. Pamela was not…and continues to remain unamused.
A Cautionary Metaphor: Did you ever get a bad tank of gas? Maybe a little grit or water, sludge in one tank and your car runs like crap? In many ways, your mind isn’t all that different. If you feed it a long-term diet of sadism, murder, rape, torture…profound disrespect for women or for one group of individuals that doesn’t look or think like you, that mental “food” that you ingested into your brain….has consequences. Be mindful of what you watch. Be mindful of whom you believe. Be mindful of what you let your children watch in those formative years. Be mindful of what computer games they’re ingesting. It makes more of a difference than you think.
P.S. I’ve always wanted a shot at doing a truly lousy (read that as cult) movie. I already have the premise: Unlike giant ants, moths, gorillas, my movie would take place in a sleepy New England harbor town with a sleazy bistro that’s bellying-up in debt. At night, during a full moon, gigantic lobsters the size of orange bulldozers crawl into town, destroy Buicks and eat comely young women like cocktail weenies.
Nothing can stop them, not B-52s, not 1950s saber jets, not even the flying wing like in War of the Worlds. The intrepid owner of the bistro, lures one lobster into a great big fire pit where they torch it with charcoal liter and charcoal briquettes. It works!!!…and….they discover that these huge monster lobsters…are also tasty! The rest is left to your imagination. There…my contribution. Working Title: Joe’s Italian Bistro vs. the Lobster Monsters.