Monthly Archives: March 2018

The Unfortunate Beginning of Psychotronic Film

The Fifty Worst Films of All Time - The Unfortunate Beginning of Psychotronic Film

There have long been admires of the strange and incompetent in film. But as a definable thing, we really have to go back to 1978 and Harry Medved’s The Fifty Worst Films of All Time. Note that these were not primarily psychotronic films. Medved is a film lover (and I dare say a psychotronic film lover), so he didn’t primarily go after low budget films. Many of them were big budget films like the 1973 musical version of Lost Horizon. And others were smash successes like Airport 1975. There’s not one Ed Wood film in the book, although it does have a fair share of independent cheapies.

But Medved writes in the introduction of the book:

At this point, we might as well come clean and make an embarrassing confession: we get a kick out of bad films. What’s more, we’re convinced we’re not alone. How else can you possibly explain the continued popularity of TV’s “Late Late Shows” unless you assume there are hundreds of thousands of people out there who take a perverse pleasure in particularly ludicrous entertainments?

Those who know me, will know that I shudder a few times reading even that small quote. But I believe that Harry Medved was about 16-years-old when he wrote it. And I can’t but think that he has matured in his thinking, even if he hasn’t reached my point of understanding that in these supposedly bad films, there are things to love.

Attack of The Golden Turkey Awards

Sadly, two years later, Harry Medved hooked up with his older brother Michael Medved to write The Golden Turkey Awards. It makes sense that Michael would go on to be a professional reviewer, because he has all the arrogance and lack of creativity that is required in a film “critic.” This book is far less academic than the first, and goes after low budget films much more. Most sad of all, The Golden Turkey Awards was much more successful than The Fifty Worst Films of All Time.

The book even attacks Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, a classic. If you can’t see the art in that film, I’m afraid that you are hopeless. I will doubtless discuss the book more later, but I simply can’t find my copy at the moment.

How Plan 9 From Outer Space Got Smeared

This led to everyone “knowing” that Ed Wood was the worst director of all time and that Plan 9 From Outer Space was the worst film. These aren’t even debatable claims; they are simply wrong. The main thing Wood lacked was a second unit director. And Plan 9 From Outer Space is actually a fairly enjoyable film if you just sit down and watch it. I suspect 90 percent of the people who complain about Plan 9 have only ever seen what was in Ed Wood.

But the main thing to remember about The Golden Turkey Awards is that it was hugely influential. Although Michael Weldon’s Psychotronic TV (started in 1980) was not based on it, it’s clear that the Medved brothers had opened a niche in film criticism. The fact that they did it in a grotesque way doesn’t really matter.

The Defining of Psychotronic Film

Although the Medveds made their money, it is Michael Weldon who stands as the king of the genre because his approach was the opposite of theirs. He appreciated them — warts and all — and sometimes because of the warts.

I do sometimes get a chuckle out of something going terribly wrong. When I watch Plan 9 and the headstones tip because the grass carpet is pulled, I always smile. But I also remember what Wood says in the movie Ed Wood when one of the backers complains about this, “Nobody will ever notice that. Filmmaking is not about the tiny details. It’s about the big picture!”

He’s right. When I first saw the film, I didn’t notice this or any number of other problems. That’s because I was involved with the story. And 90 percent of viewers are the same way. This is why films panned by “critics” are often huge successes. And anyone who listens to “critics” is a fool.

Most people will enjoy Plan 9 much more than Die Wand. I love them both. But most people will find Die Wand very slow — and too intellectual. Plan 9 From Outer Space, on the other hand, is action-packed. It is filled with that 1950s American plucky optimism, even while the theme of the film is subversive. But you’d have a hard time finding a professional “critic” recommending Plan 9 over Die Wand.

“Oh, the Pain”

It’s sad that psychotronic film as a genre had such unfortunate beginnings. This is especially true because most people are still stuck in The Golden Turkey Awards way of looking at these films. I, always tending toward messianic behavior, want to see that change. With it’s disreputable beginnings with the Medved brothers (although I understand that they weren’t focusing on psychotronic film, since the concept hadn’t even been invented yet), it is amazing that psychotronic film has come so far.

Here is a quote from Bill Warren in Flying Saucers Over Hollywood (available in some versions of Plan 9 From Outer Space) about the film that the Medveds would have us believe is the worst film ever made:

It’s interesting all the way through and that’s more than you can say about a lot of pictures, because the biggest sin a film can commit is being dull. And Plan 9, whatever it is, is not dull.

(Warren also says, “The fact that he made these pictures against all odds, including his total lack of talent as a filmmaker, I think is what speaks the best of him. I mean, he really wanted to do this. And he did it. And the big difference between Ed Wood and his detractors like the Medveds and other people who really put him down and said he was not just a bad filmmaker but a worthless filmmaker — which is two different things — is that he actually made these movies by God.”)

When a person laughs at poor quality filmmaking, it is usually a sign that they know nothing about how movies are made. But laugh at these films all you like — as long as you also respect them. Because they deserve to be respected, as Harry Medved understood. (The less said about his brother the better.) In the same documentary, an older and wiser Harry Medved reflects on Ed Wood’s later life, “I think that it really broke him, the fact that he ended up directing super-8 movies for some porno series called The Encyclopedia of Sex. This is not a job for a guy who made such classics as Plan 9 and Bride of the Monster and Glen or Glenda.”

Afterword: Ed Wood Box Set

Ed Wood BoxCheck it out: The Ed Wood Box. It contains a film that I haven’t seen (although I’m not a huge Ed Wood fan). This looks like a collection that every psychotronic film lover should own. It includes: Glen or Genda, Jail Bait, Bride of the Monster, Plan 9 From Outer Space, Night of the Ghouls, and The Haunted World of Ed Wood (more a special features disc than a documentary).

Old Dracula and the Stupidity of Critics Like Roger Ebert

Old DraculaOld Dracula is a 1974 British horror comedy.

It was originally released as Vampira. The reason for that name is that Vampira[1] (Teresa Graves) is Dracula’s old flame, who is now dead. Well, I guess she was dead before, but now she’s dead dead or in a coma. I didn’t see the beginning of the film.

Dracula (David Niven) wants her back. Old age is so lonely. So he gets blood from a number of Playboy playmates. But this turns Vampira into a black-skinned woman. So the film is about Dracula’s attempt to turn Vimpira white. In the end, Dracula is turned black.

Racial Politics In 1970s Film

This was 1974, after all, and inter-racial couples were still taboo. Although they were not all that unusual, they were certainly not something seen in mainstream films. So it’s a happy ending, even if David Niven looks ridiculous in black face.

Shortly after Vampira was released, Young Frankenstein was released and became a huge hit. It was the fourth highest grossing movie of 1974, even though it was released on 15 December.

Roger Ebert Pretends He Doesn’t Know How Films Are Made

So when the distributor took the film to the US in 1975, they called it Old Dracula, hoping to goose the film with the similar title. It doesn’t make much sense to me, because it took me forever to connect “Old Dracula” with “Young Frankenstein.”

The films couldn’t be more different. Old Dracula is a very British comedy — more droll than exquisitely silly like Young Frankenstein[2].

So the distributor changed the name. This led the supposedly good film “critic” Roger Ebert to write, “The movie’s obviously intended as a rip-off of Young Frankenstein, right down to the artwork in the ads.

Old Dracula Was Released Before Young Frankenstein

Young FrankensteinBut Old Dracula was released before it. It was doubtless also conceived and produced before it. Ebert knows how movies are made. He can’t possibly have thought that the producers of Old Dracula saw Young Frankenstein doing so well at the very end of 1974, got the money and casting set, had a screenplay (that is clearly not targeting the same audience) written, shot, edited, and released it within a year.

But there he is. He gives the film one star and calls it incoherent. I haven’t created a page for the film, because I’ve only been able to see the last half of the film, and I had no problem following it.

What’s more, major film “critics” get a whole package on the films they are going to review. That’s how, in the days before Wikipedia and IMDb, film “critics” knew lots of inside information about the films, including the names of minor actors.

How Roger Ebert Could Have Liked Old Dracula

But let’s face it. If Young Frankenstein had never been produced, Ebert would have given the film a chance. (He spends two paragraphs trying to convince us that he did give it a chance because of Niven and director Clive Donner. In a 5 paragraph review, that screams, “I went into this film determined to pan it!”)

I’m not suggesting that Ebert would have loved the film. From what I saw, I’d guess he would have given it 2 and a half or 3 stars. Or maybe only 2 stars. But not one. Not with this movie.

In the quote above, Ebert says the artwork was meant to rip-off Young Frankenstein. I’ve included the images of both posters. Could any objective person say one was trying to rip-off the other?

Film “Critics” Suck

I’m so tired of film “critics.” And it’s particularly bad when you consider that popular music criticism is actually pretty good. Yet people continue to listen to these film blowhards.

Look forward to a full page on the film. I’m hoping I can rent it, because it sells for $20, and I’m not that interested in the film.

[1] Although spelled the same way as Maila Nurmi’s character, her name is pronounced with soft “i” — undoubtedly not wanting to associate the character with Maila Nurmi.

[2] For the record, the brilliance of Young Frankenstein is due to Gene Wilder, not Mel Brooks. From interviews, it’s clear that Brooks had very little to do with the writing. A less narcissistic director wouldn’t even have put his name on the credits. The same is largely true of Blazing Saddles where Brooks did everything he could to minimize Andrew Bergman, the brilliant comedy writer and director. I will admit that I have a very low opinion of Brooks, but it is based on everything I’ve learned over the years. Read the chapter on The Producers in Ralph Rosenblum’s book When The Shooting Stops … The Cutting Begins: A Film Editor’s Story.

The Multi-Disc-Type Rip-Off

Todd and the Book of Pure EvilI recently bought Todd and the Book of Pure Evil: The End of the End. The story of buying it is interesting, and I will include it in the Afterword at the bottom of this article.

After two seasons of the television show Todd and the Book of Pure Evil, it was canceled. So the producers go money to make an animated final film to tie everything up. This was great, because more or less the same thing was promised for the series Deadwood, but it fell through and it really sucked.

It was advertised as a blu-ray set. I assumed it contained 3 blu-ray discs. The problem was that I didn’t own a blu-ray player. But I bought a blu-ray player for my computer, and shelled out $39.99 for the product — such was my desire to finish off Todd and the Book of Pure Evil.

What $39.99 Buys You

But for a product advertised as blu-ray, this was pretty short on blu-ray discs. It contained one blu-ray with extra features, a DVD that contained the audio commentary as the only interesting extra, and a CD of the soundtrack. I’ve never been much of a fan of the music on the show. It’s okay. I suffer from the problem of being a trained musician with wide taste. I can tell the difference between greatness and mediocrity in most forms of music. And Todd and the Book of Pure Evil has always featured professionally created mediocrity.

The idea that someone who wants the movie would want the soundtrack is preposterous. This is why soundtracks are sold separately from films. So the soundtrack was just added for padding. Basically, your $39.99 gets you one blu-ray disc and that it is. They threw the other two discs in to justify the price.

Todd and the Book of Pure Evil: The End of the End

Price Gouging

Think about this. Throw away the CD, and you have one DVD and one blu-ray. And the DVD is simply a subset of the blu-ray. What is the point of this? You either want a DVD or you want a blu-ray. You don’t want both. So what the distributor is doing is simply forcing you to pay an exorbitant price for an extra disc that you do not want and probably can’t even use. (Blu-ray has never taken off. Most people are perfectly happy with their DVDs.)

This is madness. It’s not as though DVDs and blu-rays are not already expensive enough. And in the case of Todd and the Book of Pure Evil all of the extras are on the Blu-ray. So if you do not have a Blu-ray player you don’t even get the full complement of extras that at are available.

It would be a trivial matter for the producers of Todd and the Book of Pure Evil to have released a single disc DVD of the film selling for 10 or $15. Or they could have had a second DVD with the extras one it and sold it for $20. But instead they have been depending upon people like me who would be willing to pay more than double the value of the set just to watch the film.

This Film Didn’t Need to Make Money

And remember that this movie was primarily financed by an Indiegogo campaign. They did not have to pay back most of their backers with money but rather gifts. Mostly, they gave backers stupid things like a Crowley High diploma or six playing cards they made up. For $25, you could get a downloadable version of the film. This was by far the biggest donation level. If you wanted a DVD, you had to donate $99.

But some of those gifts weren’t even things. For example, for just $2,500, 7 people had their likenesses used in the cartoon to be killed. That’s better than free money because otherwise, they would have had to either make up a face, or pay someone to use their likeness.

Now I know they got money from other sources, but I suspect the Indiegogo campaign was the main financing since they were only asking for $75,000 and ended up getting $123,160.

Money Grab

What I most love about psychotronic films is that they are usually made for love. Yes, their naive makers often hope they will make money. (Trust me, I know about this. I’ve had published three books published, and only one of them has made more than the advance I was given. When the first one was published, I really thought it would do well. But I have to admit that the first one I wrote is the one that actually sold pretty well — and is no on its second edition.)

So why the money grab? I really do wonder. I think blu-ray is a scam anyway. Most people do not care about the higher definition. And at least on computers they run incredibly slow slowly. Most people would prefer to simply have DVDs (with some system that made NTSC and PAL or regions the same so no one ever had to worry about it).

It’s like cassettes and 8-track players. The sound quality of both were much worse than LPs. So are CDs! But why were cassettes and 8-track players really popular once and way are CDs popular today? Because they were easy to deal with. It’s the same thing with video.

The End of the End Isn’t That Good

To make matters worse, the final episode is not nearly as good as the series was simply because it is animated. There is something very funny about watching gallons of fake blood fly everywhere in live action. Animated it’s just stupid. When The Student Body (episode of the same name) rips apart and blood flies everywhere, I could hardly stop laughing. I didn’t laugh a single equivalent sight gag in the animated film.

So I ended up paying substantially more ($39.99) for an 80 minute animated film that was mostly funded by donations than I did for 9 hours of the television show (series one and series two — less than $20 for both — as I write this, $17.68 plus tax) which was much better.

Is Todd and the Book of Pure Evil Psychotronic?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad that they got to make the final film and to pull it all together. And listening to the commentary it is clear that they had thought out the entire series completely before they started it. So it all works well. But this just leaves me with a very bad taste in my mouth. And it makes me seriously consider redefining the meaning of psychotronics.

But what do I expect when psychotronic film goes mainstream? I will stick to the older psychotronic films. They never break my heart.


I see how Amazon stays in business: good customer service. Because they are a vile and manipulative, and I would even say criminal organization. I have been waiting six years for the constantly promised final end to “Todd and the Book of Pure Evil.” And finally, late last year it came out: Todd and the Book of Pure Evil: The End of the End. So I went to Amazon. It had it in blu-ray, which I didn’t want (because I didn’t have a player at that time), with three discs and all kinds of extras. But there was a little link, “DVD.” It was cheaper and came on only one DVD. But I just wanted to watch it. I didn’t need the extras. So I clicked and bought it with one click.

But I made a mistake. The DVD button didn’t take me to a one-disc DVD version of Todd and the Book of Pure Evil: The End of the End. (And note, nothing said anything like “You might also like!”) It took me to the page for the first season of the show, which I’ve owned for years.

My Mistake

Okay, my bad. I should have been more careful. But this page is clearly designed to make people do exactly what I did. So I was going to send it back. But I couldn’t just send the item back, I had to use one of their services, all of which cost $4.99 to ship. Fun Fact: it is cheaper to mail a DVD first class than media mail. Obvious conclusion of fun fact: Amazon screws its customers at every opportunity.

So okay: I blew $10. No big deal. But I wanted Amazon to know that I was unhappy. Unfortunately, there was no way to do it except if you ship it back. I wasn’t going to do that. I was just going to give it to the library. But eventually, I found their phone number and called on the off chance that I could talk to an actual person. Remember: all I want to do is say, “I think this page, and many more like it, are deceptive and I think you should stop doing it.” That’s it. I didn’t want money. I knew that Amazon would continue to screw over their customers. But I wanted to have my say.

Customer Service

I called and got to a live person almost immediately. The representative talked in a way that made me think he wasn’t listening to me. But he did. He followed me better than anyone ever has before. Apparently if you go to the trouble (the first time anyway) of calling them, they’ll do more. The representative told me keep the DVD and they would refund my money. I had them refund it to my Amazon account because I thought there was a streaming version that I could purchase. There isn’t. There’s only the $39.99, three disc set of which I only want one.

So through great customer service, they saved a customer. But I still think they are evil. I know they will continue this practice and that 99% of the people will not take the time to find their phone number and call. When most of them see the shipping rates, they will drop the whole thing. They are still an incredibly evil country that will destroy capitalism and democracy in this country.

But I got to see the movie. See my page on Todd and the Book of Pure Evil. There isn’t much there yet, but it will slowly get finished.

Kobe Bryant Wins Oscar for Best Animated Short With Dear Basketball?!

Dear Basketball
I hate the Academy Awards. No film lover — much less a psychotronic film lover — should have any patience for this narcissistic display. So I didn’t watched a second of last night’s event. But I did read that Kobe Bryant won an Oscar for Best Animated Short for “his” film Dear Basketball. It is mostly stirring controversy because (I don’t know if you’ve heard) sexism is no longer allowed in Hollywood.

And there’s this little problem that Kobe Bryant, to a fair degree of certainty, raped a young woman in 2003. Ultimately, like most rich men, Bryant bought his way out of his legal problems. I don’t like to mix artists with their personal lives, although I must admit that after I got to the point of believing the allegations against Woody Allen, I haven’t been able to watch any of his films. Some like Manhattan are particularly troublesome at the same time that it’s hard to deprive myself of some of Gordon Willis’ best work.

Since When Is Kobe Bryant a Filmmaker?

But what really bugs me here is that Kobe Bryant isn’t a filmmaker. He’s just a rich guy who hired the best people in the field to make something for him. It’s really the creation of Glen Keane, a man usually referred to as “legendary animator.” The music was created by John Williams, a film composer so well known and respected that I can’t imagine anyone reading this not knowing him. His themes for Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind are major parts of the soundtrack of America.

All Bryant provided was the money and what people are calling a poem, “Dear Basketball.” I wouldn’t call it a poem. A bunch of lines written on a piece of paper is not a poem. That’s especially true when those lines are riddled with platitudes and cliches. “Dear Basketball” doesn’t have a transcendent phrase in it. What’s more, the “poem” is little more than a grand tribute to its writer’s ability to play basketball. It isn’t about basketball. That might generate something of interest. But as it stands, this would fail in a high school sophomore creative writing class.

The Oscars Are a Popularity Contest

I know why Bryant won. He was a member of the Los Angeles Lakers for 20 years. He was well-known and well-liked in the Los Angeles area for much of the time — minus occasional downs when he raped or did other things. So he’s popular. So he won. The Academy Awards don’t have anything to do with the quality of the films. It’s a popularity test. And this is the most obvious and pathetic example I’ve seen so far.

There’s another thing. I understand that given that all ticket prices are the same, all films should be judged equally at the box office. But when it comes to awards, I think it’s unfair to judge a $100 million film with a $10,000 film. There are men and women’s categories in the Olympic games because men and women have different physical resources. Why isn’t it the same with film? The truth is, the Academy won’t even consider nominating low budget films except under extraordinary circumstances. The Academy Awards is just one long commercial for big-time filmmaking. What does it say to the students who showed so much creativity that they managed to sneak by Hollywood’s natural shallowness? It says lots. But mostly, it says art doesn’t matter and money does.

Dear Basketball Isn’t Even Very Good

But the amazing thing is, the film itself is not that good. Sure, it’s professionally produced. How could it not be?! It was made by a bunch of professionals. But it uses an animation style that was considered cool before Kobe Bryant began playing for the Lakers over two decades ago. The music is saccharine, designed to make the viewer cry despite the fact that there is nothing on the screen to warrant it. I don’t know. Am I supposed to feel bad that a man got to live his ultimate dreams and get paid hundreds of millions of dollars for it now has to retire from one aspect of the game?[1]

Forget the Academy Awards and Hollywood

The one good thing about Kobe Bryant winning an Oscar for Best Animated Short is that no one can seriously argue that the Academy Awards have any artistic merit. If a film wins an award, it means it was either commercially successful or made by popular people, and the the product didn’t completely suck. But that’s perfect, really. Because that’s Hollywood: an industry designed to make money by making things that aren’t too offensive to the keen viewer. (They mostly fail at that, but they do try.)

[1] Note that if he really loved playing basketball so much, he could go and play in another league. It just wouldn’t be one that paid him tens of millions of dollars per year. And his career is hardly over. He can do different things in the NBA for the rest of his life. But judging from what I’ve seen, he will choose to do the things that will get him the most attention and money.