We all have them: films that we know are basically nonsense but we love them all the same. It might be because they have certain memories associated with them that instantly bring about a sense of comfort and happiness inextricably linked with another period in your life. It might be because they touch upon a particular interest of yours that very few other films do. It might even be precisely because they are rubbish that you enjoy them. Whatever the reason, the guilty pleasure is the film that you always have in a well worn dvd case on the shelf, nestled between other films that are probably more artistically worthy, but which see the light of day far less frequently. Were you forced to argue their case as a genuine celluloid classic, you would surely fret; but they are always there when you need them, as comforting as a hot cup of tea, a biscuit and a fluffy pair of slippers on a cold winter’s day.
Here then are my top five guilty pleasures, films which I know are easily ridiculed, but nonetheless are essentials in my collection.
1. Flash Gordon (1980)
I know this has a strong following in a few quarters, but it would take a pretty deluded person to argue that the film is not a teensy bit silly. That’s not to say I think it’s rubbish, because it’s assuredly not. Camp, yes; cheesy, yes; fun? Hell, yes. This is a hugely enjoyable slice of early 80s fantasy science fiction. Colourful, imaginative, sexy, quotable, exciting – this one has it all. A great cast too – Topol! Max von Sydow! Peter Wyngarde! Timothy Dalton! Richard O’Brien! Peter Duncan! Robbie Coltrane (for a split second)! Plus the delicious Ornella Muti and of course the now-legendary Brian “Gordon’s alive!” Blessed. Even Sam J. Jones, dubbed though he was, looks the part. The definitive Flash Gordon it isn’t, but a classic it is. Well… nearly.
2. The Running Man (1987)
Well, there had to be one Schwarzenegger movie somewhere on this list. For a while I considered Predator, but in the end there is too much good stuff in Predator for it to be classified as a guilty pleasure. The Running Man on the other hand, released in the same year, is 80s fun at warp factor ten. A blunt social satire grafted on to the side of a standard Arnie action flick, The Running Man is of course hugely silly, but also rather endearing. The swipes at reality TV have actually become sharper and more amusing with time. But you should still switch your brain off and instead enjoy the silly costumes and ridiculous one-liners.
3. Species (1995)
For a movie whose script could so easily have been flung on to the ‘Straight to video’ pile, Species is much better than it should have been. Two reasons for this: the involvement of H.R. Giger and his alien design (no surprise there, coming from this avowed Alien fan), and the glossy direction of Roger Donaldson, who makes the whole package of recycled genre clichés so easy to swallow. The above average cast (Ben Kingsley, Michael Madsen, Forest Whitaker) and easy-on-the-eyes Natasha Henstridge are big pluses too. It was followed by three sequels, each increasingly awful, though Species II has some unintentional comedy value.
4. The Mummy (1999)
This is one of those movies whose pleasures have only slowly become apparent since it was released at the cinema. I was initially indifferent to it, especially after the rather nifty posters had promised something a bit more serious and a bit less goofy. But for some reason I was compelled to try it again. It was the first dvd I ever bought (in a 2 for £30 sale! Bargain!) and I enjoyed it much more at home, where its beguiling lead couple, Rachel Weisz and Brendan Fraser, have won me over time and time again. Before the sequels drowned in their own noise and special effects, this film quietly resurrected the spirit of the old Saturday morning serials, and threw in a bit of 80s schlock for good measure. An honourable mention here must go to The Scorpion King, a spin-off from The Mummy Returns, which did for Conan the Barbarian what The Mummy did for Indiana Jones, and is a guilty pleasure in its own right.
5. The Fast and the Furious (2001)
The ultimate Beer ‘n’ Pizza film. This is a tricky one; I have no interest in cars whatsoever, and yet this film almost makes me like them. It’s also one of the films I have repeatedly watched with my brother, whose off-kilter sense of humour matches my own. There is a good deal of entertainment to be had here – some unintentional, to be sure. Vin Diesel cemented his star status after the previous year’s Pitch Black, and growls away in a very likeable manner. Paul Walker cemented his wooden acting status here with a turn as a blonde, blue-eyed cop who apparently has the hots for Diesel’s sister, but he’s not fooling me. Rob Cohen does all manner of over-the-top trick shots to make the cars seem unbelievably cool, but in the end its so silly you can’t help but enjoy it. Followed by three sequels and counting, the first of which (2 Fast 2 Furious) is good for a few laughs but not much else. Sadly my brother moves abroad this week, which regrettably means I am unlikely to enjoy this film’s tangible, if dubious, pleasures for some time.
If anyone has their own guilty pleasures to add, please do so – I’m sure there are others I have missed…