Top 5 Cheesy Frock Flicks I Have Secretly Loved

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We were all young, once? Those of you who are old enough to remember having your viewing options limited to what was on cable and what you had on VHS, raise your hand. If you ever wandered a video store in search of a movie, raise your hand. Kids, we didn’t have so many options back then! So when you got your paws on a possibly-shitty costume movie, you still found a way to love it and watch it over and over and over.

Then, you’ve got the slightly embarrassing to admit, “yes I have a world of options and yet I still somehow manage to watch this repeatedly” things. Hey, there’s no accounting for taste!

 

Anastasia: the Mystery of Anna (1986)

Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna (1986)

I talked about my childhood obsession with Anna Anderson and Anastasia Romanov in my review of the film. Mystery princesses, possibly murdered but even more excitingly possibly survived! Rewatching this sucker recently actually sent a few shivers down my spine, like when Anna is in the hospital and has to have her photo taken — the flash freaks her out, and she yells “THEY EVEN SHOT THE DOG!!” Which, ouch!

dog

This looks shockingly like my dog Olive.

Then post-freak-out, she’s huddled in a corner, and the doctor asks if she’s remembered who she is (she’s been suffering from amnesia). She slowly lifts her head and says, “I am Her Imperial Highness, the Grand Duchess Anastasia.” GURL.

out of my way peasants

 

Original Sin (2001)

For one thing, stunning bustle gowns. For another, hot sex and a sizzling connection between leads Antonio Banderas and Angelina Jolie. I mean, HOT.

kiss

I would not lie to you about something this important.

But then, at the end, one of the couple (trying not to be too spoilery here) thinks the other one is dying. And their freakout is emotional and passionate and seriously gets me every time.

Crying

Me.

And now we proceed to previously unconfessed faves…

 

Bad Girls (1994)

Does it help if I admit that I ALWAYS knew it was cheesy? Four gun-totin’, corset-wearin’, stickin’-it-to-the-man prostitutes in the late 19th century Old West! When prostitute Anita (Mary Stuart Masterson) is nearly raped by a customer, another (played by Madeleine Stowe) shoots the bastard (because, of course, we mustn’t actually show prostitutes prostituting). She’s sentenced to hang, and so Anita and two other prostitutes rescue her, and then the four become outlaws.

There’s so many tropes in this movie it’s hard to know where to start:

Madeleine Stowe as the ass-kicking former outlaw who rocks the pants and has a love/hate relationship with her super asshole/outlaw ex:

Bad Girls (1994)

Mary Stuart Masterson is the good woman who was forced into prostitution by her husband’s death, and who, when push comes to shove, can’t actually go through with sleeping with a scuzzy guy:

Bad Girls (1994)

Andie MacDowell is the Southern belle who is all flirting and jasmine:

And Drew Barrymore is the butt-kickin’, badass younger girl who nonetheless is Super Sexy and has Implausibly Perfect Hair:

Bad Girls (1994)

Did they have platinum blonde hair in the 18-whatevers?

 

Far and Away (1992)

Okay, this one I blame on limited options. Back in college, someone in my dorm had a VHS copy of this clunker starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman as Irish immigrants, and since it was ye oldey timey, we watched it A LOT.

It’s ridiculous! Tom is the poor peasant with a TERRIBLE accent:

1992 Far and Away

None of this is believable.

Nicole is the posh lady who doesn’t want to marry the shmuck her parents have picked out for her, and of course she’s too plucky for that and runs away.

1992 Far and Away

Actually the 1890s costumes are quite good!

The two struggle in America, pretend they’re not in love (which you only know because of the script, not through any acting prowess), and in the end use the whole trope of “we can be anyone in the New World!” Plus, Tom gets an “I’m upset so I’m showing this by running” scene, as he does in most of his films.

bad acting

The quality of Tom Cruise’s acting in this sucker.

 

Annie (1982)

THE GREAT DEPRESSION. ORPHANS. ADULTS ARE BIG MEANIES. EXCELLENT MUSICAL NUMBERS. THE FANTASY OF BEING RESCUED BY FUN, FABULOUS, RICH ADOPTIVE PARENTS. Oh, and Carol Burnett, Tim Curry, and Bernadette Peters.

Annie (1982) Annie (1982)

I present to you my childhood:

First day of school, probably 2nd or 3rd grade. Apparently I didn’t want my picture taken. That is probably an Annie lunchbox. For some reason I thought saddle shoes went best with my Annie dress.

Some sort of terrifying Sears portrait studio extravaganza, with my older sister. There is a more horrifying one where I am holding a stuffed bear, but even I have my standards.

 

Spill the skeletons in your closet — what are/were your cheesy historical faves?

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About the author

Kendra

Website

Kendra has been a fixture in the online costuming world since the late 1990s. Her website, Démodé Couture, is one of the most well-known online resources for historical costumers. In the summer of 2014, she published a book on 18th-century wig and hair styling. Kendra is a librarian at a university, specializing in history and fashion. She’s also an academic, with several articles on fashion history published in research journals.

28 Responses

  1. Susan Pola Staples

    What about Start the Revolution Without Me? Donald Sutherland stating ‘And I shall be Queen’.

    Reply
  2. Stephani

    Original Sin, adding to list
    Bad Girls, check
    Far and Away, ugh

    Um, I had the same Annie dress… and proudly wore it in … 1st/2nd grade? Can’t remember precisely. And OMG YES! Annie is still awesome. I start tearing up when she’s singing that Baby song in the orphanage or Tomorrow. The cast is incredible!

    Ever After, another cheesy though well costumed (if you can ignore the mixing of countries and decades) movie that I love because Dougray Scott! And also Drew Barrymore can generate awesome chemistry with literally a sack of mulch and make a good movie. And the script and other actors are pretty darn good, despite the cheese.

    Reply
  3. Elizabeth Merritt

    I was totally gonna say Far and Away! I think I taped it off cable because I remember watching it dozens of times. Yeah, it’s the cheesiest of cheese, but it did push me into wanting to do historic sewing!

    Reply
  4. Melinda

    I tried to watch Far and away twice, but never made it further and away from the middle…ugghhh :( Annie was recently in the TV, but couldn’t interest me more to watch 10-15 mins. Al the others are big black holes, but would love to watch Original sin, beacause of the costumes, not Antonio, no, not me :D

    Reply
  5. broughps

    lol I’ve seen all of those. And a thumbs up on Ever After. I was a teen in the 70s when there were lots of made for tv movies, quite a few historical and all cheesy. Pretty sure i liked most of them.

    Reply
  6. Sarah F

    Ever After came out when I was 12, and it was like The Godfather for young girls. No one would take you seriously if you hadn’t seen it, and everyone would ostracize you if you didn’t like it.
    Because Ever After is some quality shit. In conclusion, Angelica Huston.

    Reply
  7. Laina

    Oh god. Ever After. I still love it. Elizabeth (1995-ish?) – my first 16th century exposure. I even know better now and I still love it. And Titanic. Love those evening gowns.

    Reply
  8. Nellie

    My guilty pleasures are tv shows. First up is Hawkeye,(1994-5) a French and Indian War era adventure series starring Linda Carter, Rodney Grant, and Lee Horsley. The costuming was typical tv quality. It captured the feel of the era but would not win any awards for historical accuracy. Aside from some cheesy comic relief and a villain you want to hiss at, the show was surprisingly intelligent and thoughtful. What had me hooked was how sensitively it explored American Indian and white settler relations, the character development of Linda Carter’s character, and the great chemistry between her and Horsley. It’s well worth catching on dvd.

    The other is When Calls the Heart. I’ve been told that it is basically the Canadian equivalent of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman (which I’ve never seen), but with a teacher and a Mountie instead of a doctor and mountain man. The costuming ranges from not horrible at the beginning of the series, to “OMG, I’ve seen better costumes in high school productions” a few years into it. The poor costumers must be working with hardly any budget. Seriously, the “turn of the century” costumes in some scenes with the main character’s wealthy family in particular are utterly cringe worthy The day wear looks like evening gowns cast off by Dynasty or thrift shop finds. :( Still, I keep watching for the strong women characters and overall good-natured tone of it.

    Reply
    • OcarinaSapph1r3 -24

      Oh God, ‘Dr Quinn’… I was so in love with Joe Lando, I can’t even tell you. (The last time I saw him was in JAG- still HAWT, even as a bad guy)
      ‘Bad Girls’- yep- mindless fun, but my all-time favourite western, regardless of historical or costume merit has to be ‘Tombstone’.
      As far as classics go; Ancient World: ’10 Commandments’ & ‘Quo Vadis’- I adored Leo Genn, I wasn’t a fan of Robert Taylor but thought Deborah Kerr lovely & Ustinov was a scene stealer (in this & ‘Spartacus’) – I know real 16th c bodices were supposed to be flat as a board, & the stories scarcely hit historical reality, but ‘Young Bess’ & especially ‘Diane’ are where my love was- the Gene Kelly/ Lana Turner/ Vincent Price ‘3 Musketeers’ & (don’t judge, please) ‘Lady & the Highwayman’ (oh, dear God, Hugh Grant’s mullet…) for 17th c- at least the Lana Turner one had a genuine piece of Nightmare Fuel that was intended as such; that scene with her eyes made her look absolutely demonic… And, 18th c, what else but ‘Scaramouche’? Stewart Granger was the classic crush for me- & him & Mel Ferrer fighting over Janet Leigh…

      In Australia, the ’80’s/ ’90’s were questionably ‘good’ for a breadth of costume dramas, that I has a history-loving child was happy to soak up anything I could get my hands on [it might have had something to do with the fact that I practically live ‘out the back of Burke’ {actually, it was central western Queensland} & other than a little music, I had little exposure to modern pop culture ’til we moved back into town]; ‘ANZACs’, ‘The Man From Snowy River’, its’ sequel (even I, ignorant child that I was, recognised Sigrid Thornton & other women were wearing pure ’80’s perms) & the semi-sequel series that went 4 seasons, ‘Far & Away’ because, I loved Nicole Kidman- the costumes were pretty good to my eye, & ‘Tales of The South Seas’ (which had a Toby Stevens/ Ian Glenn lookalike, I was convinced of it).
      Oh, I dare you to look at ‘ROAR’ starring a pre-Hollywood Heath Ledger- it’s supposed to be set in pre-Roman Britain (allegedly) – not giving anything else away….

      I have a love for 1870’s bustle-gowns that I can’t begin to explain, so I LOVED ‘Original Sin’ & the likely dodgy ‘Scarlett’ before it – ‘Cutthroat Island”s a guilty pleasure, but I happily listened to CinematicExcrement take a giant dump on it, ’cause… man, Geena Davis’ accent really was all over the place, wasn’t it?
      ’99’s ‘Cleopatra’, because I love Timothy Dalton’s Caesar, & I still have a special place in my heart for Billy Zane (the one & probably only ever ‘Phantom’), though the guy ‘Ahenobarbus’ was closer to the historical Antony, than either he or Purefoy.
      On ‘The Phantom’, I also have ‘The Shadow’ with Alec Baldwin- I don’t know how accurate the costumes were to the ’20’s/ ’30’s (?) & some of the dialogue is a bit naff, but I saw a replica of that Purba Dagger at our local gun shop, & the guy was nice enough to let me hold it. Am I tragic enough?

      Reply
  9. Johnny H!

    For all those films I can only say God bless Theoni V. Aldredge, Jane Anderson, Donna Zakowska, Joanna Johnston and Susie DeSanto.

    Reply
    • Janette

      I loved the 1990s The Secret Garden. I not sure it qualifies as a “guilty pleasure” however. I just looked it up and discovered that there is a U.S. made recent version which might well qualify however.

      Reply
      • Saraquill

        Now that I’m older and more aware of how disability representation gets screwed over in movies, I can’t enjoy it as much. Hence guilty pleasure.

        Reply
  10. Janette

    I don’t really think of it as a costume movie because “ye vaguely olde timely frilly dress look” does not equate to historical costume, but we used to watch chitty chitty Bang Bang a lot when the kids were young, and just thinking of it is enough to trigger those ear worms.

    Most of my teenage guilty pleasures, (with the embarrassing exception of Gone with the Wind but Scarlett O’Hara was a compelling character) were television. Our choices were limited, living in a rural area with only ABC, (Australian Broadcasting Corp’) and the local commercial so not too much harm could be done and it was just before the wonderous invention of the VHS, but top of my list is “Little House in the Prairie”. the only other series I really enjoyed while knowing it was a bit cheesy was an Australian production, Against the Wind about first (European) settlement.

    Season’s Greetings All

    Reply
  11. Mina

    Ever after – I love it. Another secret favorite is Bandidas with Penelope Cruz and Salma Hayek!

    Reply
  12. Kiki

    Far And Away is actually a well done,charismatic, engaging movie. Here in Italy, we get a dubbed version, so there’s no problem with Cruise’s accent or acting. Also, the story is a strong point, I guess they adapted much of the script here in Italy, so the whole plot seems cohesive and the way characters interact believable.

    That being said, My fave Cheesy costume movie is Heath Ledger’s Casanova, because I just love the rare period movies actually filmed in Venice ( rather than the fake soundstage most use).

    Reply
  13. Terry

    Man, I’m old. BR (before recording), I used to watch all the Nelson Eddy and Jeanette Macdonald films when they showed up on afternoon TV. (after school). Can’t find them any more– no Turner Classic Movie access. Naughty Marietta comes to mind. Another of my faves is Calamity Jane with Doris Day. All cheesy, all delightful.

    Reply
    • Marthaeliza

      I used to cut high school in the ‘70s to stay home and watch old movies, especially during “Jeanette MacDonald Week” on our local UHF station. Indian Love Song (bonus hot baby Jimmy Stewart as a desperado in his first movie role) was a fave.

      Reply
  14. SarahV

    I have such amazingly wondercful memories about Annie. There was some extremely unlikely confluence of events on the scale of a once a millenium planetary alignment when my grandmother and my sister, and our female cousins all happened to be in New York when my grandmother’s sister and her granddaughters all went to see the movie in Radio City Music Hall. Then we sang annoyingly the whole day while the old ladies quietly drank their scotches and soda.

    Reply
  15. Jay

    Kendra, I’ll see your 1st-day-of-school Annie dress and raise you my best Gunne Sax imitation of a Little House on the Prairie dress, complete with bonnet made for me by my mother and a little shawl, all worn for my 3rd grade school picture… also in 1983 ;)

    …and Little House on the Prairie is still my guilty pleasure, soapy and cheesy all in one

    Reply
  16. Jay

    Oh, and Summer Magic with Haley Mills… actually says at the beginning of the movie “Time: Rag” beautiful costumes and hair that I knew even at the time were not entirely accurate

    Reply
  17. minette

    A russian fairytale On-drakon (He’s A Dragon) is my pure, unadultered guilty pleasure. Plus Angelica movies. Everyone here in Slovakia loves Angelica movies, even though they are cheesy and bad and latter instalments suffer from severe sequelitis (There were 5 of those! 5! Many series don’t even survive the third one!), so they are even cheesier and worse.

    Reply
  18. Nora

    Scarlett! I remember waiting for those episodes on TV. It was on the same evenings as my piano lessons and both me and my Russian piano teacher would rush home after the class to see the new Scarlett episode on the telly… Also Finnish “historical” romantic films (such as Kaivopuiston Kaunis Regina, Rosvo-Roope, Kulkurin Valssi) from the 30s and 40s. I loooved those when I was in primary school and they’re still kind of nostalgic and charmingly twee :)

    Reply

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