In 1998, filmmaker Brian Helgeland accomplished a rare and notable feat. In the same week that he was being rightfully honored with an Academy Award for his work adapting L.A. Confidential to the silver screen, he was also bestowed a Golden Raspberry for his screenwriting work on the The Postman. Story has it, that Helgeland keeps both awards displayed on the same mantel to remind him of “the Quixotic nature of Hollywood.” The truth of the matter is that often the same amount of effort that goes into making a bad movie also goes into making a good movie. For every Get Out, Moonlight, and Birdman there’s a Movie 43, Norbit and Cats. Effort and vision don’t always guarantee execution and entertainment.
With this in mind, I’d like to recommend 1980’s The Apple. A film soooo bad, it has to be seen to be believed... or disbelieved. I admit, this one even flew under my radar, never garnering the attention/ironic affection of such notable train wrecks like Plan 9 From Outer Space, Manos: The Hands of Fate or Caligula. But after a viewing on Netflix a few years ago, it’s certainly worthy of inclusion in any list of the most gawdy, overblown, and dreadful pieces of cinema ever produced.
So, where to start? This Sci-Fi musical (what a combo) is set in the “futuristic” world of 1994. In a world that can best be described as The Warriors meets Xanadu meets Flash Gordon, we learn that music is equal part currency and political clout. Once a year, new stars/leaders are chosen via the Worldvision Song Festival (think Eurovision meets the RNC). Everything seems in the bag for Mega-Music Mogul Mr. Boogalow’s latest hand-chosen puppets until a showstopping performance by the saccharine, new age duo of Alphie and Bibi threatens the balance of talent and power.
Despite losing, Alphie and Bibi captivate the world with their wholesome brand of... I don’t know, think Donny and Marie to the tenth power. Mr. Boogalow, fearing the couple’s popularity, plots to separate the lovebirds. After offering the duo a prized contract, we watch as Bibi descends into the worst parts of fame and power while Alphie tries to remain pure and break free of the perceived enslavement. And as if the religious parallels weren’t enough, the film concludes with a God-like figure named Mr. Topps, who appears to save the righteous from the ensuing Rapture. Hooked yet?
If The Apple was just bad or an overly simplistic morality tale that would be one thing. But the film is also the backdrop for music that is as bland as it is forgettable and choreography that is as uninspired as it is disconnected. The costumes are certainly indicative of what someone in 1980 might think 1994 looks like, think Back to the Future Part II meets Logan’s Run. And as if that weren’t troubling enough, Catherine Mary Stewart, as Bibi, is put on display to merely and unconvincingly lip sync. I take solace in the fact the Ms. Stewart would escape this dreck and find gainful employment in cult hits like Night of the Comet and Weekend at Bernie’s.
All of this is brought to you under the “watchful” eye of Menahem Golan. The Israeli filmmaker would go on to a successful career directing such B-classics as Enter the Ninja and The Delta Force. But he is more renowned for his work as a tireless film producer, putting The Cannon Group on the map with the Breakin’ series and the early film career of Jean Claude Van Damme. What he may have lacked in subtlety, he made for in style and shameless mass-production.
I know its easy to decry this film, or any film, for being awful and yet I have to respect its conviction. Here’s a film that has a vision, a misguided one at that, and stays focused and resolute. Does the film make sense? No, but maybe that’s the point. Either a film speaks to you or it doesn’t. In the case of The Apple, it screams “run away, run far away.”