Every genre has turkeys. Thereís no getting around it. Churn out enough films, and a few of them are going to be unspeakably bad. But there seems to be a special, comically-awful brand of hideousness that is the special reserve of bad fantasy films. This article will ask why that might be, as well as giving a few examples of fantasy films that are so bad they are worth a watch.
Special effects might have something to do with it. While fantasy cinema has been around for many decades, it is only relatively recently that special effects technology has let film-makers get anywhere near able to decently visualise some of the much-used tropes of the genre. Things like soaring dragons, sweeping armies thousands-strong, magical duels - while it has been possible to portray these in film for many years, it could be argued that it has only really been in the last decade or so that they could be done really, breathtakingly well.
But itís not just the ability - or lack thereof - to conjure up a realistic fantasy universe on the silver screen by which an awful fantasy film is made. There are many other factors to consider - for instance, bad acting, excruciating dialogue, hideously tongue-scrunching made-up names, and plots that look like theyíve been dreamt up in a coffee break and scribbled on the back of a postcard.
Itís also probably worth noting that there are plenty of just plain bad science fiction and fantasy movies - Lost in Space, Dungeons and Dragons, and the last three Pirates of the Caribbean films all spring instantly to mind. And we all know there are tonnes of good and great movies. But being awful, and yet strangely, hypnotically watchable? Thatís an art.
Top of the list is the 1980ís fantasy adventure Hawk The Slayer. Featuring a magic sword that looks like itís made out of polystyrene, an elf that can rapid-fire arrows with the magic of simple film-cutting technology, and a hilariously misjudged psych-synth soundtrack, this movie will entertain as much as it horrifies, and could easily form the basis of a makeshift drinking game.
Another options that takes itself slightly less seriously is the 1989 feature Wizards of the Lost Kingdom II. In this case, the heroes are a teenage boy and a older wizard. This sounds like a recipe for extreme annoyance, but the film somehow manages to avoid this, perhaps by making it abundantly clear that the whole thing is a bit of a joke, anyway. Half the cast go through the film looking faintly baffled at how it got financed in the first place; and it doesnít matter if you talk over the plot as there isnít really much of one, anyway.
If you have watched the double mill mentioned above, and are still hungry for more, then you should probably check out Red Sonja. Capitalising on the success of Arnie playing Conan the Barbarian, this film seemed to want to try and balance the gender scales somewhat. Featuring a sword-wielding redheaded Amazonian-style warrior-woman in the title role, Arnie actually has to play second fiddle (not necessarily a bad thing). Conan might be the better film, but Sonja is unarguably an example of enjoyably naff fantasy cinema at its most exultantly uncaring.
To round things off, the 1996 film Dragonheart deserves an honourable mention. Strangely compelling despite the patched-together plot, clunky dialogue, wildly incongruous accents, and mid-Ď90s computer animation that looked comically bad almost before the film was released, this is a bad fantasy movie that is not only watchable, but re-watchable - quite a feat, considering the two sequels are just plain unwatchable. If nothing else, it is worth seeing purely so you can see what a badly animated dragon voiced by Sean Connery looks like.
Have you got a favourite awful fantasy movie? Is there an absolute must-see missing from the examples given above? Why not pop over to the forums and let your thoughts known?