Gummo (1997) from Johnny Web

The Robbins Recipe: "Deliverance" meets Todd Browning's "Freak's", as interviewed by Jerry Springer
There's no easy way to describe what goes on in "Gummo". Here's the general flavor of it.

Xenia, Ohio is a town that was destroyed by a tornado. The only people still there are the lost of the earth, living in makeshift and ramshackle quarters.


Carisa Glucksman and Chloe Sevigny are topless as they paste tape to their nipples. Then they boiunce around their bed while their breasts are covered only with the black tape.
Most people in town seem to have some deformities. There's a guy who pimps out his sister, who has Downe's Syndrome. There's a bald black midget. There are two kids who look like the back-up banjoists from Deliverance. There are some obese women who may also be retarded.

Where did they find all those ugly and deformed looking people?

The people who aren't deformed are living some kind of white-trash nightmare, amid squalor, dirt, dirty bath water, child molesting, incest, and killing cats for profit. Cat-killing, in fact, is the running theme through the movie. In another scene, uncouth drunks arm-wrestle each other interminably.

There is an optimistic monologue delivered by an albino woman to the camera. This speech reeks of sadness because of its optimism is obviously baseless. There is also a stand-up comedy monologue delivered by one of the retarded cat-killing boys, who dreams of being a comedian. The emotional impact again hinges on our awareness of his self-delusion.

There is also a boy wearing a pink bunny hat. He creeps through most scenes, and his great joy is to hang out on a pedestrian bridge over the freeway, where he can piss and spit on the passing cars.

Now if those things were the backdrop for the movie, I guess there could still be hope to salvage it with some trenchant insight, with a satirical eye, or with a plot of devastating impact. Unfortunately, those things are not the backdrop for the movie. They ARE the movie. The movie simply consists of a series of vignettes, and jumps from family to family. The filming is mostly with hand-held cameras, and to make it worse, some of the scenes are shot from moving bicycles and such, making it impossible to get clear focus, or even a stationary subject.

The one thing that saves the movie from complete mindlessness is that some of the individual scenes have a unmistakable power.

  • The obese, retarded, but somewhat pretty prostitute is about to have sex with an ugly, deformed-looking, possibly retarded cat killer who is smothered by his momma. The scene between them achieves a certain tenderness that I can't find the words for. And when it does, it goes beyond simple gross-out behavior and reaches for something deep inside.
  • There is another scene of the same boy being bathed by his mother in filthy water while he eats a plate of spaghetti and drinks a milkshake. It is so nauseating and so exaggerated that it achieves an elemental level of grotesquerie, like one of those Grand Guignol plays.

Apart from the visceral impact of those scenes, and others, I frankly have no clue what the point was, or why they made this movie. I described it accurately and fairly, you determine if you want to see it.

As for me, I now add this to my list of the five most unwatchable films ever made, but in the bottom slot, replacing "High Strung". These are not necessarily the worst movies, just the most unwatchable. Plan 9 may be a bad movie, but it can be a hoot if you are in the tight mood, and doesn't come close to this list. As I see it, these five movies are nothing but complete wastes of your time in every way, unless you like dead cats.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen anamorphic, 1.85:1

  • there is a stills gallery with director commentary, and some cast profiles

  The most unwatchable films ever made
5. Gummo - silly pretentious crap designed to shock, but with no apparent thought process behind it. Made by an adolescent mind. (5.4 at IMDb, but picked by many critics as the worst film of the 1990's)
4 Going Overboard - the worst comedy I've ever seen. A movie so bad that both Adam Sandler and his fans are ashamed to admit he made it. (Rated 2.0 at IMDb)
3 The Loss of Sexual Innocence - artsy-fartsy in the extreme, with no point, no coherence. (4.1 at IMDb). Pseudo-arty crap usually scores absurdly high at IMDb (see #2 below), so this must be truly dreadful to score so low.
2 Mother and Son - the single most pretentious movie ever made, from a Russian expressionist. A son watches his dying mother for an hour. About four camera set-ups, fish-eye lenses, faded colors. (Rated 8.3 at IMDb, but much harder to watch than the lowbrow "Going Overboard")
1 Glam - complete non-stop gibberish and repetition, apparently the work of a deranged mind, apparently improvised. Directed by Ali McGraw's son. (3.0 at IMDb)

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: no stars. Maltin 0/4, This is London 0/3, NY Times - "worst film of the year", - "if not the worst single film of the decade, al least the worst of the year", 1/5 (lowest rating), Apollo 65/100. Heaven knows what Apollo was thinking of.

  • Rotten Tomatoes summary. 0% positive.

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 4.1, Apollo users 73/100 (????)
  • With their dollars ... it wasn't a smash hit, to say the least. IMDB only shows the stats from the opening weekend - $19,000 on three screens.
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is an E. It could be argued that it is an F, but the technical incompetence is actually deliberate artistic technique, so it made itself exempt from that rating.

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