For Hicksflicks.com, Oct. 24, 2014

EDITOR'S NOTE: With the inexplicable success of ‘Sharknado' and the continued success of the "Mystery Science Theater 3000" guys with "Rifftrax," I'm sometimes asked about movies that are so bad they're good. Here's a column that ran on Oct. 11, 1987, addressing this topic.

It was a small group, nine of us altogether. Some others had promised to show up, but somewhere along the way got waylaid. They were the smart ones.

Actually, we consider ourselves fairly normal, sane people, whose tastes in movies – for the most part – veers away from teen flicks and slasher horror and toward more adult-oriented pictures. We're all in the yuppie category, more or less – ranging in age from early 30s to early 40s.

And before we left for the theater, two members of the group were raving about "A Room With a View," which they had each separately rented on video this past week and watched for the first time.

Yet, here we were on Wednesday at 10:30 p.m., a time when we'd normally be in our respective beds settling in with Johnny's monologue before nodding off. Here we were, standing in line in the basement lobby of the Blue Mouse Theater, surrounded by the regulars.

No, not people going into the "Rocky Horror Picture Show." That might have been more reasonable, if only to watch the audience, which is always more entertaining than the movie.

This was "Surf Nazis Must Die."

And the regulars were pretty reverent. Much more reverent than we were.

"Surf Nazis Must Die" has the distinction of being one of those rare movies that Roger Ebert walked out of. He wrote a column about some of the weirder films playing at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year, and "Surf Nazis" was one he went to. But he only made it through the first 30 minutes or so.

Remember this is the same Roger Ebert who loved "Invasion of the Bee Girls," and who wrote the screenplay for "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls."

When Ebert doesn't last out a picture, you know you have a turkey.

So why did we go?

Well, I could use the excuse "professional obligation," I suppose. Randy Lucky, the fellow who runs the Blue Mouse, has been trying to get me to see this movie ever since it opened Aug. 26. His push for publicity has waned somewhat recently, since he's noticed the film inexplicably draws a crowd each week anyway (it shows every Wednesday at 10:30 p.m.)

But that doesn't explain my friends' interest – and to be honest, mine either.

This was a case of wanting to enjoy a bad movie with a group of film-loving colleagues, just to sit around and hoot at how awful it is.


Before you wonder what kind of weirdo party that might be, let me mention that it's not without precedent. Video is the usual mode for this, and my personal copies of "Plan 9 From Outer Space" and "Trapped By the Mormons" are rather worn from their repeated home-video party success, providing hours of laughter to various groups. It's a lot of fun to sit with a group and laugh at the wobbling spaceships on visible wires in "Plan 9" or Mormon missionary Isoldi Keene hypnotizing and kidnapping an innocent British girl to force her into his harem in "Trapped."

So we wanted to see if "Surf Nazis" might offer the same kind of fun.

But there's something less humorous about a movie made bad on purpose. "Attack of the Killer Tomatoes" suffers from the same problem. Movies that are purposely bad usually aren't campy or crazy or funny – they're just bad.

And such is the case with "Surf Nazis Must Die."

Now, mind you, we had some fun with it. We laughed and hooted and made jokes. I'm just not sure 10 minutes of fun is worth 90 minutes of watching. I'm also not sure the fairly staid audience at the movie appreciated the nine of us carrying on.

For the uninitiated – which I assume is everyone – "Surf Nazis" is sort of "Mad Max Meets Beach Blanket Bingo." A giant earthquake – referred to throughout the film simply as "The quake" — has devastated Los Angeles, and the beaches are now run by youth gangs.


The gangs are quite small, however – three to five members each. I assume that was because the budget on this picture was $1.98.

The plot has the main gang – the Surf Nazis, led by Adolph and Eva – trying to take over the beach from the other gangs. But they go too far when they kill Leroy, an innocent young man who just wants to go swimming. His mother – a beefy woman staying in a nursing home – vows revenge.

Unfortunately, Gain Neely, who plays Mama, isn't in much of the movie. When she's onscreen the picture almost threatens to come to life. (I also liked Bobbie Briese as a dolt mother of one of the Nazis.)

But mostly we have boring, very lengthy scenes of debauchery on the beach and lots – and I mean lots – of surfing scenes, which are so grainy they look like they were shot in 16mm and inserted into this 35mm film.

This prompted one of our group to get off the best line of the night: "This picture contains gratuitous surfing!"

Oh, well the company was nice.

But next time let's do "Plan 9" or "Trapped By the Mormons."