The Joy of Stinkers

Ro-Man the alien invader, garbed in gorilla suit and diving helmet, has all but wiped out humankind with a deadly bubble machine. Jane Fonda is being pecked to death by budgies, a midget James Bond knocks off half the male population of Manila, and supersized leeches terrorise the Florida Everglades.

The fascination of awful movies can’t really be explained. They reach that point of being so bad that they are good. Local devotees are deprived, because the Incredibly Strange Film Festival passes us by. To fill the gap, we organised a neighbourhood mini-fest called The Darling Duds of May, which finished its Monday night run recently – much to the relief of some.

Any self-respecting DVD player would vomit up these discs. Ours held it together, as did we with the aid of mulled wine and popcorn.

The opener had to be Barbarella, the 1968 sci-fi stinker that made a sex symbol of Fonda – legend has it she later tried to buy every print. Costing US$9 million, it is high-art tat with few equals. Needless to say, it became a cult hit (you know you’ve achieved cultdom when a pop group steals a character’s name for their own).

Jane was married to B-movie producer Roger Vadim at the time. He chose to divest his nubile bride of as many skin-tight outfits as possible while she thwarted a plot to invade Earth. I counted seven costumes, some of them designed by a bloke called Paco Rabanne, who apparently went on to make a name for himself in the rag trade.

The budgies almost managed to strip Jane but she slid through a secret trapdoor into the lair of rebel chief Dildano (David Hemmings in hotpants).

Barbarella: “I suppose you realise you saved my life.”

Dildano: “A life without cause is a life without effect.”

Barbarella is a spoof, but so inept that it still achieves the “appalling” status beloved of Dud fans. Classical Irish actor Milo O’Shea, decked out in a Masonic pinny as villain Duran Duran, must have been checking his bank balance every night of the shoot.

Meanwhile, the costume designer for Attack of the Giant Leeches (1959) merely had to drape a scuba diver in black polythene and stick a doughnut on his mask to stay within a budget of about $20.

The 1950s excelled in such drive-in dross, all centred around space invaders or creatures mutated by radiation. Prevailing American values dictated that the women were either Madonnas or tarts, with the former invariably the fiancee of the hero and the daughter of the boffin on hand to enunciate the script’s daft science.

Intriguingly, Leeches has quite a gay subtext, with male characters stroking each other affectionately, and gun-toting park ranger Steve answering the door bare-chested – and performing one scene, somewhat prominently, sans underwear beneath his khakis, a sharp-eyed female viewer later informed us. We should charitably assume that the product placement deal with Jockey fell through at the last minute.

Square-jawed Steve’s future father-in-law dispatches the blood-suckers by tossing a dozen sticks of dynamite into the pond, so they were obviously stuck for an ending.

Robot Monster (1953) also didn’t quite live up to its tacky promise, despite the ape suit, lousy dialogue, dirt-cheap production values, shots spliced in from a dinosaur movie, and endless scenes of Ro-Man lumbering along desert paths (some of them repeated).

As he is about to exterminate the last family on Earth, he develops the hots for the professor’s daughter, Alice, whose top is so sheer she needn’t have bothered dressing.

Alice, meanwhile, is finally getting it on with her dad’s assistant, Roy. They stroll together in the desert, Roy shirtless because of the heat and Alice all but shirtless because it sells movie tickets to pimply teens. When Ro-Man approaches, Roy scoops Alice up into his bare arms and runs to safety. As you do.

Emotions prove to be Ro-Man’s downfall. He is tortured by his orders to zap Alice. “I cannot – yet I must. How do you calculate that? At what point on the graph do ‘must’ and ‘cannot’ meet? Yet I must – but I cannot!” Hamlet knew such turmoil.

The scriptwriter, the splendidly named Wyott Ordung, has devices that Shakespeare lacked, and Ro-Man is summarily zapped by his interplanetary boss, The Great Guidance – which is a cute little job title I hope we see adopted by our own managers.

To be fair, Robot Monster had been upstaged the week before by the festival hit, For Y’ur Height Only (1981). Pint-sized Agent 00 violates every code of political correctness as he thumps battalions of bad guys in the sensitive spot he is at eye level with. He also parachutes out of a high-rise hotel room using an umbrella and yes, takes his shirt off to seduce the ladies.

“The only thing worse than a midget James Bond is a semi-naked midget James Bond,” one of our audience groaned in delight.

Be warned: the showdown with evil genius Mr Giant – who is plotting global domination, natch – threatens bladder control if you’ve over-indulged in the mulled wine.

We might repeat the Darling Duds next year. I fancy Cat Women of the Moon (1953), and who wouldn’t be tempted by Devil Girl From Mars (1954), in which, according to IMDB.com, “an uptight, leather-clad female alien, armed with a raygun and accompanied by a menacing robot, comes to Earth to collect men as breeding stock”?

Wait up . . . I think I dated her once. Obviously, I didn’t make the cut.

PS: Thanks to all those who had a shot at tallying the song titles in my last piece, but the chocolate fish remains unwon. The closest pick was 102 – three short. The sneakies included If (by Bread) and She (by Charles Aznavour).