The Campiest Movies In The Public Domain
Campy movies return us to a time of wild excess, favoring a cartoonish, overblown acting style; sub-par FX; cheap sets and costume design. From b-movies about voodoo curses; to radioactive, space-dwelling gorillas; to freaky, druggy exploitation films – campy movies are not without their merits.
Check out some of the campiest films of the public domain, to appreciate the overblown performances and general weird wonderfulness!
Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959)
Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the verb form of “camp” as “deliberately exaggerated and theatrical behavior or style,” and also “to behave in an ostentatiously effeminate way,” – both of which could summarize Ed Wood’s entire career. Plan 9 From Outer Space might not be as “effeminate” as some of Ed Wood’s other films, most notably Glen Or Glenda?, but it is overblown and exaggerated, with radioactive, body-stealing aliens; clapboard sets; and a posthumous Bela Lugosi, in his final role. .
The Killer Shrews (1959)
1959’s The Killer Shrews is an exercise in terror… very small terror! Ray Kellogg’s Mad Scientist drama is The Island Of Dr. Moreau meets Gulliver’s Travels, when a deranged genius creates a race of half-sized humans. Unfortunately, the experiment unleashes a plague of man-eating shrews on the island. For anyone who ever thought possums are kind of terrifying, check out The Killer Shrews for one of the weirdest, campiest films of the public domain.
Santa Claus Conquers The Martians (1964)
You might wonder how the spirit of the most capitalist holiday on Earth could conquer the Red Planet. In Nicholas Webster’s Santa Claus Conquers The Martians, Martian children get obsessed with Earth’s TV, causing the adults to kidnap Santa Claus, bringing the immortal elf to Mars. Like any good capitalist, Santa Claus immediately takes over the Red Planet with a message of peace, love, and goodwill. If only all of our capitalist systems could be so humanitarian!
A Bucket Of Blood (1959)
1959 was a good year for some of the campiest films in the public domain. At the tail end of the 1950s, adults were worried about those crazy beatniks and their undermining effect on American youth. All of these fears align in A Bucket Of Blood, a Roger Corman exploitation flick featuring a busboy at a bohemian cafe, Walter Paisley – played by Dick Miller – who accidentally creates an Accidental Masterpiece, putting him in the artistic spotlight. Paisley’s unwilling to go back to being a nobody, and will kill to keep the center stage! An early horror comedy, A Bucket Of Blood is a sick joy for lovers of cheap b-movie horror!
Reefer Madness (1936)
Camp can be fun, but it can also be dangerous. 1936’s Reefer Madness is more anti-drug propaganda film than exploitation romp, in these enlightened times. Most likely the source of all manner of pothead stereotypes and urban legends, like the couple who’s too stoned, accidentally cooking a baby instead of the Thanksgiving turkey. Have have been repeating these tropes for almost 80 years.
The Brain That Wouldn’t Die (1962)
The Brain That Wouldn’t Die is definitely overblown, exaggerated, and theatrical, if not particularly “effeminate”, with its slightly problematic feminist overtones. Dr. Bill Cortner, played by Jason Evers, is yet another mad scientist – a popular theme in the campiest films of the public domain – and his young lover Jan Compton, portrayed by the luminous Virginia Leith, who is decapitated in a car accident. It’s no worries, though! Cortner will just find a new body for his would-be bride! Might be the height of a “damsel in distress” flick, but it’s hard to say who, exactly, is the hero.
Bride of the Monster (1955)
Bela Legosi is always a popular denizen of the campiest films of the public domain. Not as famous as Dracula, or as infamous as Plan 9 From Outer Space, Bride Of The Monster is another Ed Wood schlock-fest featuring a fixation with atomic energy, and the evils it would unleash. Ed Wood’s movies are the height of camp, a progenitor for modern trash architects like John Waters, who play up the theatricality and cheapness of their films, rather than trying to hide the seams.
“Eegah!” might be the noise you make when watching this strange caveman-sploitation film starring Richard Kiel as the titular giant. The caveman takes a fancy to a young teenage girl, in yet another “damsel in distress” film – another of the most popular tropes in the campiest films of the public domain! B-movie filmmakers might have made the most of their resources, as far as special effects, sets, and costumes, but apparently the innovation stops short of the screenwriting.
Robot Monster (1953)
Robots! Monsters! What more do you need? It’s all in the title, with 1953’s Robot Monster, starring an alien robot named Ro-Man, who looks suspiciously like a gorilla in a diving helmet. It just gets better from there as Ro-Man fights against his killer nature after falling in love with an Earth woman. Kong isn’t the only gorilla capable of showing a little tenderness.
Invasion of the Bee Girls (1973)
It’s about time we get some sexploitation in this list! Invasion Of The Bee Girls is an etymological nightmare, or maybe wet dream, when federal agent Neil Agar is sent to explore a rash of deaths due to heart failure. It turns out these research scientists are dying due to sexual exhaustion! Who wouldn’t welcome death’s sting if it’s at the hands of the luscious Bee Girls?
Cocaine Fiends (1935)
Cocaine Fiends’ alternate title The Pace That Kills could be a fitting subtitle for life in 2017. See how it all got started with 1935’s Cocaine Fiends, as thousands followed in Sigmund Freud’s footsteps in the ‘30s.
Wild Women of Wongo (1958)
The “battle of the sexes” heats up in The Wild Women Of Wongo, when a race of primitive beautiful women inhabiting a desolate island discover there’s a group of good looking guys on the other side of the rock. There’s also a tribe of evil “ape men”, making raids on the women in search of mates.
Curse of the Doll People (1961)
Wait, which was the Fifth Dimension again? Wasn’t that the band that did “The Age Of Aquarius”? 1961’s Curse Of The Doll People definitely mixes its metaphors, when a Voodoo priest hexes a group of men for stealing a voodoo idol. There’s zombies, astral dimensions, and, naturally, the doll people!
Cat Women of the Moon (1953)
We’ve all heard of the “Man On The Moon”. Turns out that cold, dead rock is actually inhabited by a group of attractive women in black tights! Man, people in the ‘50s were obsessed with finding beautiful women on other planets! Maybe they didn’t want to accept that you’re more likely to discover a sentient puddle of ooze on Alpha Centauri than a blonde bombshell, but it’s good to have goals and dreams. A must-see entry into the campiest films of the public domain!