This week’s film, Zardoz, has the dubious distinction of being the most commonly nominated movie in the Hunt so far. Yikes. Sucks to be you, Zardoz. It’s also the oldest film we’ve talked about, made in 1974. That’s why they refer to the years between Zardoz and Baby Geniuses as “the Golden Age of cinema” (no they don’t.) Now, usually I suffer alone, in silence, as I was taught to do, but this week my friend Scott was in town visiting and I forced him to share my pain, and let me just say that he couldn’t have picked a better weekend. The idea of sitting through this by myself, without anyone there to make jokes with or clean out the barf bucket is untenable. You know how Ian Curtis supposedly watched Werner Herzog’s Strozek the day he killed himself? I’m just saying Strozek isn’t the only movie that has a loosely drawn casual connection to suicide. Not anymore. Because I’m drawing it for Zardoz. With a knife. In my wrist skin.


Zardoz is the name of a God in a magical floating stone head full of sand who pukes guns onto a tribe of “brutals,” all of whom look like Burt Reynolds in red speedos, thigh high boots, and silk bandoliers, and then Zardoz instructs them to shoot anyone running on the beach wearing a blazer. One of the brutals, Sean Connery, hides in a pile of sand in the stone head and shoots a jester who falls out of the head’s mouth and the head is also full of people wrapped in saran wrap. When the head lands next to a lake, Sean Connery gets out and runs around a house that’s decorated like a hippie’s dorm room, and he finds a Google ring that answers all of his questions. The house is part of a castle where the “eternals” live. There are two factions of eternals. One who wants to kill Sean Connery, and one who wants to study him because he gets boners and they’re like “check out his boners.” When “eternals” commit crimes, their punishment is to age, and when they get very old they are banished to a carnival where all the old people dance and get angry. Eventually, it turns out that Sean Connery is actually really smart because one time in a library he realized that Zardoz is really a play on the Wizard of Oz, and that’s why Sean Connery has come to destroy the Vortex (which is the name of the castle where the eternals live), and the eternals are actually kind of happy because they all just want to die, and then Sean Connery and this lady go live in a cave and have a baby and turn into skeletons.

Sure.

Zardoz is not entirely unique. It fits into a common trend of late ’60s and ’70s filmmaking, which was to somehow capture the experience of all the great drugs everyone was doing and to further explore the cocktail party philosophy of campy alternative religions. But even that can’t be a satisfactory explanation of why this movie exists. Because drugs only last for a few hours, while movies take months to make, and hundreds of people. Surely someone must have stopped at some point, looked around them, and said “no, David Blaine.” Because this shit is unacceptable.

While you’re watching it, at first you can’t help but wonder what Sean Connery was thinking, but as the movie goes on, you start to realize that probably he just wasn’t. He’s the purest form of “actor,” in the sense that every facial expression he makes and line reading he delivers is so clearly guided by the director’s demands. “Look surprised, Sean Connery. Look confused, Sean Connery. Put on this underwear, Sean Connery. No nothing else, just this underwear.” I haven’t had a chance to revisit any of his other movies yet, but I’m pretty sure I’ve cracked the Connery Code (one of the most ancient and mysterious of codes). He’s a cipher. Make of him what you will, a cool spy, a master-criminal, or, in this case, an incredible buffoon. He will hit his mark.

Look, I’m all for trying to do something big and bold. And I respect writer/director John Boorman’s unrelenting attempt to bring his vision to life. He was trying to tell a story about class (the whole thing takes place in the future after a cataclysmic world event, the eternals are the wealthy, who have shut themselves off in a false paradise, while the poor are left to kill each other under the guidance of the rich), and that’s fair enough. But what part of your instructional parable about class explains the floating stone Zardoz head? What does the empty dream of eternal life have to do with a subpar junior high health ed class?

All in all, as painful and incomprehensible as it is, and as misguided and foolhearty in its ambitions as it was, Zardoz may have escaped the title of TWMOAT simply by being old. It stands now as some kind of cultural artifact. It’s like an old ad telling you that four out of five doctors prefer Pall Mall cigarettes. Sure, an ad like that is ridiculous, and was probably harmful in the time it was published, but now it’s just a funny little artifact reminding us how we used to be cavemen, and how our children will think the same kinds of things when they see our art. That we’re insane. And retarded.

Next week: Crash (2004). As always make your suggestions for TWMOAT in the comments or in an email. If you have not before, please consult the Official Rules.

Comments (30)
  1. Are you kidding me? That has to be one of the absolute worst. Just that scene was the most worthless five minutes of my life. I can’t imagine what watching the rest of that movie is like.

  2. Killer-Manjaro  |   Posted on Aug 4th, 2008 0

    Gabe, I’m pretty sure I was forced to watch this movie when I was younger by my father who thought it was legitimately great (yes, he should probably be killed for that, but I can’t do it because he’s my father, and I’m not into that).

    But more to the point, I don’t think that you should be allowed to disqualify a movie from being TWMOAT just because it is old. Either that, or you should rename this the Hunt for the Worst Movie of, Oh, I Don’t Know, Recent Times (TWMOOIDKRT). Just saying. I guess you can make up whatever arbitrary guidelines you want. I’m just going to then tell you that your feature has a misnomer. So take that…

  3. Adam  |   Posted on Aug 4th, 2008 +3

    Thank you for risking your life by taking on Zardoz. I personally recommended this one at least four or five times, and I’m glad you were up for the challenge. However, I’m unsure why this is suddenly out of the running for the WMOAT just because it’s old… Isn’t the idea to find the Worst Movie of ALL TIME? That time does include the 60s and 70s, right? Just think, out of all the movies you’ve watched so far, did any of them cause you as much downright pain as Zardoz? I’m guessing the answer to that is no. Because that’s what Zardoz does – it makes everyone who watches it want to kill themselves! What other, better qualification could there be for the WMOAT?

    • It’s not out of the running because it’s old, it’s out of the running because it’s so particular to a time period that it becomes an artifact. There are plenty of horrible movies from the ’70s that would be equally painful but without any of the curiosity or idiosyncratic novelty. It was painful to watch, yes, but not without its enjoyments (as long as there is like-minded, willing company.) Unlike, for example, Alexander, which is just endless suffering.

      Also, please revisit rule 6.

      • I agree. If you didn’t have a cut-off date the worst movie released to the masses is definitely something to do with racism..and the south..and blacks who rape because they’re free..and the Birth of a Nation.

  4. kg  |   Posted on Aug 5th, 2008 0

    the absolute worst thing about the piece of my life lost during that clip was the entirely disappointing death of the pink-robed man who wouldn’t go to the goddamn second psychic level or whatever, after maybe two minutes of painful finger-wiggling buildup. I only finished the full 6:00 of it in hopes of some mad eye-popping, brain-splattering action. instead he drooled. not satisfied.

  5. dafs  |   Posted on Aug 5th, 2008 -1

    I still can’t believe Crash is being seriously considered for the Worst Movie of All Time. I think you’ll be disappointed. Its a lot of things, primarily overrated and heavy-handed with its shocking “racism = bad” message, but the people who think its terrible are just upset that they got swept into the “you have to see this movie” hype. Its a melodrama tailor-made for the Oscars, and it certainly doesn’t hold a candle to The Wicker Man.

  6. holy spirit fingers.

  7. A Sound of Thunder.
    Ed Burns and Ben Kingsley and terrible CGI.

    DO IT GABE!!!!!!

  8. randi  |   Posted on Aug 5th, 2008 +2

    this is one of the best movies ever. it’s fantastic in it’s horribleness. i love when they fight in the giant flowing head, and all the boner sequences. and the random fetuses stuck in goo on walls. and the growing pods. the whole thing is phenomenal lol

  9. yeah it’s amazing, but it’s only amazing if you are pot stoned.

  10. MANOS: Hands of Fate.

    Worst. Movie. EVER.

  11. caringiscool  |   Posted on Aug 5th, 2008 0

    it’s weird how just being from a different time makes movies harder to appreciate.

    my husband bought the ‘billy jack’ box set, and we watched the first billy jack movie and it was fucking WRETCHED. a total WMOAT, except for the fact that it’s a really good snapshot of the time and it actually has some admirable goals, which it hella fails at, but still. it’s going for it, despite that fact that it’s in a way that is deeply painful to modern eyes. also it has no stars in it, so duh, but still. there’s a song called ‘a rainbow made of children.’ so so much the worst. and yet billy jack is a total bad-ass and i could see why my husband would have thought he was the best when he was little.

    also, ‘billy jack’ was an indie that made a jillion dollars, at a time when no one was releasing indies successfully, which is interesting and admirable…

    and yet the film is absolutely ROFLMAOLOLOLZ bad.

    i still would like to renominate ‘miami vice.’ i still get smad when i think about how fucking bad it was. and justin theroux is in it! WTF?! HTH, right?

  12. Jameson Bosco  |   Posted on Aug 7th, 2008 0

    I have to second “Manos” (notice the quotation marks)-Hands of fate. Even Mystery Science Theater 3000 couldn’t make it semi-watchable

  13. Col  |   Posted on Aug 9th, 2008 0

    can someone explain that floating weiner?

  14. From Justin to Kelly is AWFUL. Totally WMOAT material.

  15. I’m surprised that no one’s nominated Ultraviolet yet. It fits the criteria: It stars a “well known” actress (Mila Jovovovovich) and received theatrical release. And it isn’t a superhero movie (unless you really stretch the definition of super hero). Within those parameters, it’s probably the worst movie I’ve ever seen in my entire life.

  16. Stuart  |   Posted on Sep 7th, 2008 -2

    I’m appalled that you are even considering this as a possible worst movie ever made. 90% of Hollywood movies of the 90s and 2000s are worse than this. It was ambitious, impressively filmed and had Charlotte Rampling in it, and was hugely exciting when I watched it as a kid. It also pushed the boundaries out in terms of bringing far-out fantasy worlds to the screen – I can’t think of any pre-star wars film that did it so imaginatively.

  17. I love this movie and its awfulness only makes it more endearing.

  18. mike  |   Posted on Jan 8th, 2009 -1

    People who don’t see why and how Zardoz is a great film shouldn’t be making “Worst Films of All-Time” lists

  19. Adam Bruneau  |   Posted on Jan 22nd, 2009 +1

    You are way to hard on Zardoz! I think it’s one of the coolest movies ever, mainly for the following reasons:

  20. that psychological mindfuck when you find out what Zardoz means
  21. i have a soft spot for New Age craziness
  22. the several sequences where Sean Connery is having a bad trip in that crystal room or whatever are classic
  23. that giant stone head, which makes me movie start off like it was an 80s arcade game or something
  24. cool futuristic invisible forcefield. one of those ball things from The Prisoner could’ve shown up at that point
  25. the ending where they turn to skeletons is one of the coolest endings ever. EVER
  26. Max Thrax  |   Posted on Jan 24th, 2009 +1

    This movie is too interesting to be WMOAT, and you’re forgetting one of the best lines: ‘the gun is good, the penis is evil’. Also, I didn’t see this as a metaphor for class, I saw it as the kind of movie Rush Limbaugh would make. You can just hear Rush screaming…”see! see! This is what liberalism does! Your dick doesn’t get hard!” I don’t know what side of the political spectrum Boorman falls into, but I definitely read it as a right wingers vision of what liberalism leads to.

  27. This film makes a great double-feature from Hell with Robert Altman’s Quintet. Apparently, Connery would only agree to Diamonds Are Forever if they let him make this film. I think they would have been better off sparing us both.

  28. Carlos  |   Posted on Feb 20th, 2009 0

    I’m sorry, but I love “Zardoz.” I have to agree with Pauline Kael that Zardoz is a bad movie made with enough imagination to have produced ten good movies.

  29. How about “The General’s Daughter”? A “movie” that stars the oft-sited Travolta, in these here parts.

    Look it up. Horrible!

  30. Dr. Chubbs  |   Posted on Mar 3rd, 2009 0

    I watched this movie every night for 100 days in a row. I needed something that would make me sleep, and listening to the dialogue was just what i needed, because i could trick myself into feeling like i was trying to pay attention, but it was so incomprehensible that i could zone out.

    also, it makes a lot more sense as a movie after the first 20 watches.

  31. krayola  |   Posted on Mar 21st, 2009 0

    By far, Zardoz is one of the most imaginative innovative films of all times. It’s core story is one of class struggle, of arrogance and genetic inheritance. The world fell into chaos, and out of the ashes rose homo-superior. The story tells of the middle class intellectuals that walled themselves off from the apocalypse believing that there convenience could elevate them to a god like status through biological alterations and mechanical superiority to only be overrun by those they left behind. I figured all that out at the age of 11. It’s a rad movie and a good piece of story telling. The only people I’ve found that have a problem with it, just happen to be very much like the characters in the Zone, that think they are above it.

  32. bluesphee  |   Posted on Mar 28th, 2009 0

    I highly recommend watching this movie and having a party with the “Zardoz drinking game experience”. You can find the rules for it here: http://splunge.net.au/events/zardoz/ It makes this awful movie much more fun to watch. You will be absolutely blown away (and drunk) at how many times you have to drink because “A disembodied head appears on screen” and “Naked bodies appear wrapped in plastic”.

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