Book Review: The Greatest Bad Movies of All Time by Phil Hall

A fun read, but I wouldn't consider it a worthy collection of reviews.
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I’m a fan of “worst movie ever” books because someone’s definition of worst isn’t always yours.  On top of that, it’s always fun to read someone discussing a movie that has an asinine plot or terrible actors because no one sets out to direct a terrible movie, right?  Author Phil Hall has a conversational and witty writing style, and he uses that to strong effect in his book, The Greatest Bad Movies of All Time, recently released by BearManor Media.  What’s at odds with his writing style is the various moments that feel as if a first-time writer wrote this; from word repetition to dubious research and an overall question about what the title actually means.  For every applaud I gave to Hall, I had one a complaint that I wish had been fixed, but I believe he’s an author who loves movies and could go on to write awesome film books.

The Greatest Bad Movies of All Time explores one hundred films that Hall considers the worst of the worst.  At least that was the intent I saw in the earlier chapters.  Hall includes movies that are bad-movie mainstays such as The Terror of Tiny Town and The Adventures of Pluto Nash.  He also reviews movies I was beyond happy to hear someone else complain about because they’re underscore pieces of crap.  His review of the 1970s biopic on Marilyn Monroe, Goodbye, Norma Jean still irritates over a year after writing my original review and I’m glad I’m not the only one who has been subjected to that horror; Hall seems to have a strong stomach when it comes to watching trash.  

However, he takes a turn towards the latter half of the book where he includes movies that he finds aren’t as bad as they appear.  Doesn’t that contradict the opening introduction which meant to showcase only the worst movies?  So are these movies than “so bad, they’re good” (I’d say hell no to Goodbye, Norma Jean)?  He sums up the discrepancy during a review of Plan 9 from Outer Space: “the notion of a 'worst film of all time' is as elusive as a 'best film of all time.'  Unless you've seen every single film that has been released, you cannot possibly make a statement of one film being superior to or inferior to all of the other flicks ever made” (180).  So then why title your book “Greatest Bad Movies of All Time” if you agree that people like you can’t make that claim?  It’s confusing, especially considering Hall puts Mystic River in this book which had universal critical acclaim and awards, and so doesn’t this make him hypocritical?  

Hall does appear to have watched a broad swath of movies, and while the majority tends to be from the ‘70s on up, he does include older movies such as In Old Chicago and silents such as Charlie Chaplin’s Triple Trouble.  As mentioned earlier, Hall has a fun conversational tone that he takes to his writing as if he’s discussing the films right in front of you.  Unfortunately, he’s an author who suffers from writer’s cramp in terms of the word repetition.  Let’s just say his usage of the word “enervate” is used in over a dozen reviews, some back to back to the point that you want to give the man a dictionary.

He also suffers from some dubious research mistakes that would be unforgivable in a film-review book with grander credibility.  Several times throughout he relies on IMDb and film blogs under the guise of research (although he utilizes real critics later on the in the book).  He also makes stupid mistakes such as calling Brian Grazier, Brian Glazer not once but twice!  During his Plan 9 review he claims that Plan 9 from Outer Space isn’t a bad movie because the gang at Mystery Science Theater 3000 didn’t roast it.  Sorry, Phil but the MST3K guys didn’t roast it because its runtime was too long, and they eventually did a Rifftrax roast of it.  He also makes fun of Turkish Wizard of Oz for not giving Dorothy ruby slippers, but makes no mention of the fact that the original L. Frank Baum story gave Dorothy silver slippers.  I hate to nitpick, but if you’re going to write an entire book pissing on other movies, you better get your facts straight or else people will piss on your work.  And of course, he throws in a discussion about A Streetcar Named Desire; not the famous Marlon Brando movie, nor any of the other adaptations.  No, he devotes page space to a student production of the movie.  Yes, a production that’s on YouTube, again making you wonder how much thought went into these reviews.

The Greatest Bad Movies of All Time is a fun read, but I wouldn’t consider it a worthy collection of reviews.  Each review runs from between two to four pages and several of the reviews feel like summary of production woes or trivia that you can read on IMDb.  Several times I got angry because I wanted to hear what he thought of the movie, not why it was doomed to failure.  I honestly questioned whether he watched certain films because there’s not an actual review of it (Adventures of Pluto Nash felt the most like this).  I wouldn’t say this is the worst book of film criticism but Hall’s mistakes are sloppy, and I hope that all future works have him taking additional time to fact-check and give a personal approach to the film instead of a compendium of IMDb trivia; also, be sure to clearly define what your title means because the flip-flopping got old, fast.

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