Movie buffs will sometimes talk more passionately about bad movies they love -- from "Plan 9 from Outer Space" to "Mommie Dearest" -- than acknowledged classics such as "Citizen Kane" or "Vertigo."
"When people talk about good movies, they're polite, but when they talk about bad movies their interest always ratchets up," Fairfield critic Phil Hall says of the impulse that led him to write "The Greatest Bad Movies of All Time" (Bear Manor Media, $21.95).
In a recent interview, Hall said there is often "more fun in talking about bad movies. ... People will often quote dialogue from them."
The longtime critic for the Film Threat website has gathered together an amazing array of bad movies, from cult favorites like "Airport 1975" to such oddities as Jean-Luc Godard's little seen version of "King Lear," starring Woody Allen and Molly Ringwald.
Hall also takes readers into the underground of stinkers that have been long unavailable except in bootleg editions, including the four-hour version of Bob Dylan's "Renaldo and Clara."
The movies in his book are what Hall calls "the anti-classics," ranging over most of the major genres, from drama to comedy, documentary to porn.
In the introduction, Hall writes, "If there is a common ground, it comes via the audience's shock: It is hard to comprehend that such films exist."
The critic said he wasn't interested in filling a book with schlocky horror movies or cheap Japanese science-fiction films from earlier eras -- those targets are too easy. Instead, Hall shows us how some of the greatest stars, such as Rex Harrison and Richard Burton, stumbled in terrible films like the 1969 disaster, "Staircase."
Hall said the trigger for the book happened a few years ago when he was acting in an independent film and someone on the set said, "Have you seen 'The Room'?"
A laptop was pulled out and cast members started quoting lines from the notorious 2003 cult film, starring Tommy Wiseau, which some fans believe is the worst-acted movie of all time (choice clips are available on YouTube).
Part of the fun of really obscure bad films, Hall said, is having to track them down on YouTube and Internet sites, such as iOffer, specializing in unlicensed bootleg copies of films that have never been released via legitimate video sources.
"YouTube is an extraordinary source, a godsend for films you can't find on DVD," Hall said, adding that buffs who post these goodies always seem to figure out ways to elude cease-and-desist orders from copyright holders.
The book includes a 1975 20th Century Fox release, "All This and World War II," which became a lost film after rights to the Beatles music on the soundtrack were withdrawn, making a videocassette or DVD release impossible.
"I searched for that film for four or five years," Hall said. "I finally got a copy from a washing machine repairman in Belfast (Ireland) who had taped it off the BBC. ... It is very unlikely that it ever will be re-released."
Hall said one of his favorite films in the book -- "Airport 1975" -- might have played a role in his eventual occupation as a critic, when he saw it as a 9-year-old child in the Bronx, N.Y.
"I realized even then that there was something wrong in that movie," he said, laughing, of the daffy plot about a stewardess (Karen Black) who has to take over the controls of a 747 after the entire flight crew is killed in a collision with a small passenger plane.
Hall's book is permeated with affection for the bad movies we love.
"I didn't want to use the book just to make fun of bad movies. ... They're a part of our pop culture, and film history ... a parallel universe," he said.
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