What if I were to tell you that a young nobody who was a relatively inexperienced actor until he got his big break with a major role in a movie so unbelievably awful that it would only take a little over six years for it go from release into the cinemas to being mercilessly riffed on “Mystery Science Theater 3000” would go on from that point to become one of the most successful movie producers of the 21st century? How successful? The movies that this MST3K alumnus has produced have a combined gross as of the date of this writing that is just slightly below that of Ang Lee and Jack Black and actually above that of Julia Roberts and Robert Zemeckis? Surely I am insane, right? Either that or the sources where I am getting my figures is roughly on the same level of regular factual accuracy as Fox News, right? Well, the figures come from BoxOfficeMojo.com which has a fairly decent reputation for getting their numbers right.
The movie was “Zombie Nightmare.” You MST3K fans probably remember it well: it was the extremely low budget movie featuring Adam West in the middle of his career slump and Tia Carrere just before her fifteen minutes of fame. “Zombie Nightmare” was a perfect choice for MST3K as it was not just a low budget movie (which is not an inherent excuse for low quality despite what Hollywood studios would have you believe just as a big budget is far from a guarantee of high quality), but a genuinely bizarre low budget movie. Can anyone who has seen it ever forget that guy with the crazy voice from a 1950s low budget crime melodrama? For that matter, can anyone forget the kid with the hair band hair who nobody is unhappy to see die…even his on-screen parents?
The hair is really quite amazing. Nobody looking at the hair sported by Shawn Levy in “Zombie Nightmare” could ever have assumed that one day the movies he produced, directed or acted in would gross in excess of two billion dollars. And not just because of the hair. To put it bluntly, Shawn Levy’s excess of hair–imagine any actress in any Whitesnake or Ratt video from the 1980s or, for that matter, any of the band members themselves and you’ve got it nailed-is only slightly less embarrassing than his performance. And Shawn Levy’s performance as the kind of teenage dork most us all knew in high school–the kind of guy who in real life drove a Trans-Am, but I guessing that kind of vehicle was out of the range of the budget of this zombie movie–is not even the most embarrassing thing about the movie. Not even close.
When you consider the highlights of the lowlights of the acting to be found on movies that appeared on MST3K, Shawn Levy’s performance does not quite rise to the level of badness of that of John Humphries as the hysterical Mikey in “Teenager Strangler” or the immortal creation of Torgo by John Reynolds in “Manos: Hands of Fate.” Still, one cannot deny that Levy’s bad acting makes for one of the highlights of the otherwise relatively interminable “Zombie Nightmare.”
The point being that John Humphries, John Reynolds and even John Agar all failed to rise to the heights of success experienced by Shawn Levy. One look at Levy’s hair and performance in “Zombie Nightmare” and you have to imagine that nobody-at any stage of the process-ever expected that the overbearing guy playing Jimbo Batten would go on to become one of the most commercially successful alumni from a movie featured on MST3K ever.
From the lowly origin of “Zombie Nightmare” Shawn Levy managed to outgrow his big 80s hair to produce “Jett Jackson: The Movie,” direct “Just Married” and produce and direct the “Night at the Museum” franchise. Anyone giving a really bad performance in a low budget movie that just might one day find itself being ripped to shreds by a rebooted version of “Mystery Science Theater 300” (God forbid!) should look to “Zombie Nightmare” and Shawn Levy as The Great White Hope of possibility.