From Nazi zombies to mutant ants, we count down the six worst movies ever made in Palm Beach County
Palm Beach County likes to promote itself as a place hospitable to Hollywood filmmakers. And good movies have been made here — the neo-noir “Body Heat” in Lake Worth, the comedy classic “Caddyshack” in Boca Raton, the recent Jason Statham and J.Lo thriller “Parker” in Palm Beach.
But if government officials were being honest, they’d put up a sign: “Welcome to Palm Beach County — Where B Movies Are Born.”
That’s B for Bad.
For every movie featuring Paul Newman (“Harry & Son”) or Shirley MacLaine (“In Her Shoes”) or Sigourney Weaver (“Heartbreakers”) or Robert Redford (“Up Close and Personal”) or Dyan Cannon (“The Boynton Beach Club”) — and nobody would rate those as classics — there are absolute howlers you won’t find mentioned in any Chamber of Commerce brochure.
The Nazi zombie movie. The Jerry Lewis clown movie.
The mutant ant movie. The Michael Bay movie (“Bad Boys II”).
And some other bad sequels that only Bill and Chelsea Clinton could love (“Police Academy 5”.)
So, grab the popcorn — for throwing at the screen— as we count down the six worst movies ever made in Palm Beach County.
(P.S.: This list will undoubtedly expand to seven when the new“Baywatch” movie filmed in Boca with Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron is released next year. You know that’s going to be awful.)
#6. "Smokey and the Bandit II"
Starring: Burt Reynolds, Jackie Gleason, Sally Field, Jerry Reed, Dom DeLuise.
Why it stinks: The original good-‘ol-boy chase comedy is a Southern-fried classic. It was also a ginormous hit. So, of course, there had to be a sequel reuniting the cast and director Hal Needham. Much of it was filmed in northern Palm Beach County, especially at Reynolds’ former ranch-movie studio in Jupiter and in locations from Riviera Beach to the old Indiantown Road bridge. Too bad nobody thought that going from a zippy drive-in flick about transporting Coors across state lines to transporting a pregnant elephant from Miami to Texas was not a great idea for a sequel. For students of the Burt Reynolds-Sally Field breakup, though, the dialogue between their estranged characters of Bandit and Frog has more than a ring of tabloid truth to it.
Rotten Tomatoes critics score: 20 percent (out of 100)
Critical consensus: “…the movie as a whole is a mess. There’s not even a clear reason why the elephant has to be taken to Texas.” — Roger Ebert, RogerEbert.com
In its defense: According to web sites, it was the ninth most popular movie of 1980. And it’s not “Smokey and the Bandit III.” Actually, it’s not even the worst Burt Reynolds movie filmed in Jupiter — that would have to be “The Maddening.” We’ll spare you that one.
#5. "Traces of Red"
Starring: James Belushi, Lorraine Bracco, Tony Goldwyn
Why it stinks: This tries to be “Body Heat” meets “Miami Vice” — and fails on both counts. Belushi and a pre-“Scandal” Goldwyn play Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office detectives being taunted by a kinky murderer who leaves a trail of dead women with lipstick smeared all over their faces. The plot goes to ludicrous lengths to keep you guessing who done it. The erotic undertones are perverse when they’re not laughable (especially Bracco’s heavy-breathing femme fatale). Belushi must be the lamest detective ever — he keeps picking up letters from the anonymous killer and ripping them open without ever calling for the fingerprint team first. On the plus side: A fair amount of love scenes with gratuitous nudity. The bad news: Most of the love scenes involve Belushi.
Rotten Tomatoes critics score: 29 percent
Critical consensus: “My problem with “Traces of Red” is that I didn’t really care who did it.” — Roger Ebert, RogerEbert.com
In its defense: The cinematography showcases a ’90s postcard version of Palm Beach County. The PBSO must have gotten a lot of overtime — those green uniforms and cars are everywhere, including a cameo by the department’s former press officer, Bob Ferrell. The Post even gets a one-line shout-out. A scene with Bracco traipsing through The Breakers’ inner courtyard in a slinky gold dress designed by Yves Saint Laurent is a hint of what “Traces Of Red” should have been — tropically decadent and sexy.
#4. "Empire of the Ants"
Starring: Joan Collins, Robert Lansing
Why it stinks: Based lightly on an H.G. Wells story, this campy drive-in filler was shot mostly around Lake O and a sugar refinery in Belle Glade. After seeing it, you may never want to drive west of Lion Country Safari again. Collins has famously said it was the worst on-set experience of her career — Alexis Carrington did not appreciate wading through Glades swamps and it’s not easy wading through this movie, either. The plot, such as it is: A barrel of radioactive waste has washed up on a mysterious island, the ants have taken a nibble and now they’re monster size and ready to party. Collins plays a haughty Realtor leading a boatload of stock characters to buy dubious swampland when the ants start feeding. That’s where the movie falls apart: Magnified shots of swarming ants are crudely grafted onto live action scenes, provoking laughs instead of scares. In an interview with the Post before filming began, director Bert Gordon compared his movie to “Jaws.” Maybe “Jaws II.”
Rotten Tomatoes critics score: 0 percent
Critical consensus: “You’ll be rooting for the ants.” — Matt Brunson, Creative Loafing
In its defense: The movie did give us plenty to write about. The Post dutifully attended its exclusive Belle Glade premiere — at the former Lake Drive-In, where cars lined up for nearly a mile along U.S. 441 to see it. If you look really fast, you may spot former Post columnist Ron Wiggins playing an ant slave: “I am visible for a full half-second,” he wrote.
Starring: Tom Selleck, Don Ameche, Christine Ebersole, Anne Jackson
Why it stinks: Selleck stars as a Chicago stockbroker who travels to South Florida to take care of his aging parents, especially father Ameche, who suffers from Alzheimer’s. Who thought it was a great idea to make a gag-heavy movie about dementia and assisted suicide? “Folks!” (the exclamation point doesn’t help) is not only deeply insulting to seniors and those suffering from age-related ailments, it’s deeply insulting to Briny Breezes, where it was partly filmed. First, they rename it “Balmy Breezes.” Everybody is clothed in the usual cliches: garishly colored leisure wear and porkpie hats. They all drive backwards, yammer loudly and make obvious jokes while playing shuffleboard: “Do you mind? We’re trying to finish the game while we’re still alive.” Good luck finishing this movie.
Rotten Tomatoes critics score: 0 percent
Critical consensus: “If gays and lesbians think they’re getting a bad rap in the movies, consider the filmic lot of the elderly…Where are the Gray Panthers when you need them?” — Chris Willman, Los Angeles Times
In its defense: There is one good piece of product promotion. The Boca Raton Resort & Spa doubles as a hospital. When Selleck arrives, he says, “Looks like a world-class hotel.”
#2. "Hardly Working"
Starring: Jerry Lewis, Susan Oliver, Deanna Lund
Why it stinks: Lewis plays an aging clown who loses his job in a circus, moves in with his sister’s South Florida family and then proceeds to bungle every kind of job in typical Jerry Lewis fashion — a fashion which only the French can truly fathom. The silly shtick ranges from merely dated (a lame “Saturday Night Fever” disco parody) to racially offensive (Lewis as a Hibachi cook in an Asian restaurant with stereotypical buck teeth). Lewis should have made a movie about what happened offscreen — he hadn’t starred in a movie for nearly 10 years, since his infamous Holocaust movie “The Day The Clown Died” was shelved because it was so bad. So, he starts this clown movie, but the production ran out of money, Lewis declared bankruptcy, and filming stopped for six months, according to reports. And the town of Palm Beach, in what may be its wisest governing decision ever, wouldn’t cooperate on filming. So Lewis had to move the whole show to Broward County, except for some exterior scenes shot at the West Palm Beach post office annex.
Rotten Tomatoes critics score: 10 percent
Critical consensus: “I was absolutely stunned by the vast stupidity of this film…It is not just a bad film, it is incompetent filmmaking.” — Roger Ebert, rogerebert.com
In its defense: Some critics/Jerry fans have made claims for the movie as a veiled autobiography of maverick Lewis’ struggles with mainstream Hollywood, or a statement about the middle-class squeeze in Reagan’s America. Hardly.
#1. "Shock Waves"
Starring: Peter Cushing, Brooke Adams, John Carradine
Why it stinks: Where do we start? Another boatload of yahoo tourists stumble onto a mysterious island. For reasons left unexplained, they are stalked by the Toten (or Death) Corps, Nazi SS soldiers who escaped after the war and now live on a ghost ship. For reasons left unexplained, these Nazis have transformed into goggle-wearing blonde zombies with wrinkly faces, exposed sores and really wet uniforms from decades of being dead underwater. For reasons left unexplained, they are bent on killing everybody, especially their Nazi commander (Cushing), who lives in exile on the island with a big scar on his face. This dull, low-budget dope-fest was filmed partly at the then-abandoned Biltmore Hotel in Palm Beach, which doubled as Cushing’s rotting island headquarters, complete with Nazi flag flying. (That should thrill its current upscale occupants.) It did attract some stars and soon-to-be stars, including Adams in her first feature movie role. Cushing must have really needed the paycheck. In the same year of “Shock Waves,” he played another commander, Grand Moff Tarkin, in a little movie called “Star Wars.” So, in the course of one year, he got offed by Nazi zombies andLuke Skywalker. That piece of trivia is much more “impressive,” as Darth Vader would say, than this entire movie.
Rotten Tomatoes critics score: None. No major critics have reviewed it.
In its defense: The movie has a baffling cult status online, and there are claims that it is the first Nazi zombie movie ever made, which is something the county Film Commission should be playing up, right? It got a recent DVD release and was even shown at midnight, a la “Rocky Horror,” in a St. Louis movie theater. One website called it “the best Nazi zombie movie ever,” which is not exactly setting the bar high. The movie does provide one handy tip: How do you kill waterlogged Nazi zombies on a deserted island? (Answer: Always rip off their goggles. Like vampires, they can’t take the sunlight.)
Best facts about worst movies
• It’s an honor being nominated: Tom Selleck was nominated for a Golden Raspberry Award, or the Razzie, for worst actor in “Folks!” (He lost to Sylvester Stallone for “Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot.”) Lorraine Bracco was also Razzie nominated for her role in “Traces of Red.” (She lost to Melanie Griffith, for her double bad acting in “Shining Through” and “A Stranger Among Us.”
• Leg protectors: According to the website Joan Collins Archives, the actress’s legs got badly infected wading through the Belle Glade swamps for “Empire of the Ants.” She was forced to wear plastic bags on her legs in the water scenes to keep them from being damaged.
• Acting is hard work: Another actress in “Empire of the Ants,” Pamela Susan Shoop, described the Glades location on her website as “a very unpleasant swamp area … We spent weeks in this tiny rowboat … and the honey wagons were a half hour away by speed boat.”
• A brutal self-assessment: Jerry Lewis admitted that “Hardly Working” hardly worked in a memoir, according to Wikipedia: “The movie didn’t really hang together, and not so surprisingly, I looked terrible in it.”
• Speaking of terrible: Lewis banned critics from the South Florida premiere of “Hardly Working,” saying it was for audiences only.__
• Nice guys: Even if “Traces of Red” didn’t turn out so good, it was a moneymaker for the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office. Stars James Belushi and Tony Goldwyn donated a $4,500 check to the Sheriff’s Drug Farm before filming began, and stopped by its Gun Club Road headquarters to soak up the atmosphere and sign autographs.
• From Oscar to zombies: Ken Wiederhorn won a student Academy Award and used that prestige to make his first full-length feature, “Shock Waves.” He later directed “Eyes of a Stranger,” “Night of the Living Dead II” and “Meatballs Part II.”
— Larry Aydlette