Bad Movies For Bad People
This past April, I lost my best friend Jeff Siegrist. Jeff was many things to many people, as I elucidated in my tribute to him that the local paper, Worcester Magazine, was kind enough to publish. This will serve as a further tribute to him; Jeff and I were both collectors of strange things, but possibly his biggest passion was for movies. A cinephile of the highest order, he specialized in the extremely weird outsider films, the B-movies, pornography, art films, and the like, but was also grounded in the classics of the medium. He saw beauty in all of it. Sometimes for fun he would publish a list of 100 movies he happened to be thinking of that day. It occurred to me that a fitting tribute to his memory would be to share just some of the films he loved, because he took great joy in introducing people to these cultural oddities.
Included as well will be some commentary from our mutual friend Andy Dupont, with whom Jeff used to review movies on YouTube along with Erin 'Riles' Reilly.
Without further ado...
Plan 9 From Outer Space (1957, Ed Wood)
The quintessential oddball movie, it is often described as the worst movie of all time. Jeff was more charitable though, and would say "people who say that haven't seen the other bad movies that are out there. Plan 9 is funny, and fun to watch. You can't say that about a lot of legitimately bad movies." Andy says of the movie "we watched this every few years and it always had something new and hilarious for us to find." I would add that it's notable as Bela Lugosi's final film, and that Vampira and Tor Johnson are probably my favorite movie zombies of all time.
Jeff's fascination with Ed Wood, Plan 9's writer and director, extended through his entire filmography. I would be remiss in not mentioning Glen or Glenda? and Bride of the Monster but further, Wood's whole life story and trajectory as an artist were inspirational to Jeff. He once had me watch Orgy of the Dead, a film "based on a novel by Edward D. Wood" that featured the Amazing Criswell, bloated and flushed, watching a parade of women perform suggestive dances partially nude. We laughed through the whole thing; the very idea that this had ever been a novel was absurd, and poor Criswell looking as though he needed to get drunk before filming any of his scenes.
Blood Feast (1963, Herschell Gordon Lewis)
"Have you ever had... An Egyptian Feast?" This line from the movie, delivered by the devilish caterer Fuad Ramses, became a running joke between Jeff and his friends. "We said this one line from the movie a billion times" said Andy, and it was funny every time. Another great line from the film is the detective who says "looks like it's going to be another one of those long, hard ones..."
The premise for this movie is simply that a caterer, the aforementioned Fuad Ramses, tricks a customer into ordering an Egyptian Feast - a ritual human sacrifice to the goddess Ishtar. In order to get the human parts needed, he must go on a psychopathic killing spree. This movie was a pioneer of the subgenre of horror known as "splatter", and its gore and vulgarity drew the ire of critics at the time. Herschell Gordon Lewis became known as "The Godfather of Gore", and much like Ed Wood Jeff endeavored to watch all of his films, which ranged from blood-soaked schlock to nudie-cutie films.
The World's Greatest Sinner (1962, Timothy Carey)
Timothy Carey was an incredibly odd and larger than life character, and naturally Jeff admired the heck out of him. As a character actor he appeared in films like Kubrick's Paths of Glory and The Killing, and later in the Monkees' psychedelic romp Head. Jeff loved telling me stories about the wild and unpredictable Carey; how he turned down a role in The Godfather, about his propensity for pulling guns on people he worked with, or how he let loose his attack dogs on John Cassavetes.
The World's Greatest Sinner is Carey's twisted idea of a masterpiece. He wrote, directed, and starred in a tale about an insurance salesman who one day decides that he is, in fact, God. He is tempted into such ideas by a serpent Devil character, who only appears briefly but is voiced by Paul Frees of Rocky and Bullwinkle fame. Carey's character, now calling himself God Hilliard, starts spreading the word by way of some of the most awkward rock and roll you've ever witnessed. He goes into politics, seduces old ladies, alienates his family, and in the end has a showdown with God. That's right, it ends with a fight of God vs God... and God wins.
Notable also is the theme song written by a young Frank Zappa, well before the Mothers of Invention had recorded anything. Knowing that I was a huge Zappa fan, Jeff introduced me to this movie early on. That's the way he was; he would always try to cater his weird selections to those he'd be viewing with.
Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky (1993, Lam Nai-Choi)
The English dubbing is poor, the action is insane, and the camp factor is high. It's easy to see why Jeff, along with other cult movie aficionados, appreciated it. If you think you can stomach it, look it up!
The Godmonster of Indian Flats (1973, Fredric Hobbs)
I'm throwing this one into the mix because I don't think Jeff and I ever laughed harder at a movie monster. The inexplicably named Godmonster is easily the least threatening creature I've seen in a film. The monster is essentially a very large, bipedal sheep with deformities on its arms causing one to be too short, and the other to hang limply at its side. The monster mainly causes havoc by lumbering around and being weird looking. There is a tangled up trainwreck of several plots going on, but to be honest I only remember laughing at the weird beastie. This film was shown to me during a time of intersecting interests between myself and Jeff, when he began watching classic cryptozoological documentaries such as The Legend of Bigfoot. It was always nice when he'd venture over to my side of the weird a bit, and we could talk Bigfoot, UFOs, or the Occult. We also had a shared interest in the films made by the The Unarius Academy, the UFO cult run by Ruth 'Uriel' Norman. The aesthetic of the flying saucers in those movies was just the perfect bridge between Jeff's love of ham-fisted outsider cinema with heart, and my fanciful love of the wyrd and wonderful flights of fancy that these saucers can take us on.
If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do? (1971, Ron Ormond)
The Saucer Life Podcast has a great episode about this and Schmidt's other exploits. From what I understand, Ormond was nearly killed later and became a devout Christian, considering his survival to be miraculous. This led to the several films he made with Pirkle, of which If Footmen Tire You... is the best known.
Jeff so loved this cultural oddity that he would return to it periodically, laughing at it each time. He also used the evil commie from the movie as his avatar frequently over the years. That scene is particularly hilarious- the nefarious communist gives the children candy, then has them ask Jesus for candy. You see? You put your faith in Christ and he gives you no candy!
There are so many more movies to talk about, and I will be following this post up in the future periodically with further selections from Jeff's curated collection. I covered some of the big ones here, and I would be remiss if I didn't mention the films of Kenneth Anger, Alejandro Jodorowski, and David Lynch - Those were among Jeff's favorites, and I don't know that I could do them justice here. Suffice to say, the first time I saw Eraserhead it was because Jeff let me borrow his copy... shortly after I found out that I was going to be a father. So, thanks for that, Jeff, where ever you are...