Finding New Life As a Cult Classic

‘Worst Israeli Movie Ever’ Includes Naked Hippies and Machine-Gun-Toting Mimes

So Bad It’s Good: Scenes from ‘An American Hippie in Israel,’ a film that is among several ‘cult classics’ experiencing unexpected revivals.
Courtesy of Grindhouse Releasing
So Bad It’s Good: Scenes from ‘An American Hippie in Israel,’ a film that is among several ‘cult classics’ experiencing unexpected revivals.

By Gil Shefler

Published January 26, 2011, issue of February 04, 2011.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Take a barefoot American hippie clad in a rabbit-skin jacket and a bowler hat, trying to run away from the traumatic memories of the Vietnam War by traveling to Israel, of all places; a sexy redheaded vixen who can’t seem to keep her shirt on for longer than a few minutes, and a naive flower power couple happy to go along for the ride. Put them on a desert island surrounded by crude plastic prop sharks and murderous mimes, and what do you get? Probably the worst Israeli movie ever made, and a serious candidate for the worst movie of all time, which, surprisingly, is enjoying an unexpected revival 38 years after it was made.

When Israeli director and producer Amos Sefer completed his English-speaking flick “An American Hippie in Israel” (known in some circles as “The Hitch Hiker”) in 1972, the distributors who viewed it thought the acting so outlandish, the copious amounts of sex and violence so gratuitous, and the plot so far-fetched that they wanted nothing to do with it.

For decades it lay in wait, until somehow, a few years ago, under circumstances that its current distributor, Grindhouse Releasing, is unwilling to divulge, it was rediscovered and shown in public for the first time at a few select theaters in the United States that specialize in cult classics.

Since then, the movie’s trailer, which has been uploaded to YouTube, has slowly become an Internet sensation. In addition, hundreds of cinemagoers have attended midnight screenings held once a month at the Cinematheque in Tel Aviv, and a DVD and Blu-ray release is expected later this year.

“I hope you brought a flask with you,” Yaniv Edelstein said at the film’s screening at the Cinematheque on January 7. Not encouraging words, coming from the man more responsible than anyone else for the film’s small but growing popularity in Israel. “This movie is bad,” he said. “You’re going to need to fortify yourself with something to get through it.”

Edelstein’s interest in the long-lost “masterpiece” was piqued when he happened to watch its rereleased trailer on the Web.

“I found the movie on YouTube in 2007, and wondered why there was no available information on it anywhere,” recalled Edelstein, 32, an avowed cinephile. “So I tracked down one of the actors, and it turned out he had a copy. We’ve been showing it here once every month at midnight on Fridays, and it’s drawn an unusually large crowd for the time of night.”

A few moments later, the lights in the cinema dimmed, and the first scene of the movie — an image of a tractor running over a flower bed, with the sound of machine-gun fire in the background — appeared, prompting the audience to erupt in applause and laughter.

“Are you a hippie?” the love interest of “American Hippie” Mike, the protagonist played by Israeli actor Asher Tzarfati, asks him in one of the first scenes.

“Well, you might say so,” Mike replies, with several members of the audience who have clearly seen the movie more than once joining in aloud: “Right on!”

Mike soon meets several other likeminded free spirits, and together they skip giddily through the streets of early ’70s Tel Aviv with a Muzak-like sound track playing ceaselessly in the background. The plot takes one of its more bizarre twists when two gun-toting mimes show up in the middle of a hippie hoedown and mow down the defenseless revelers. Miraculously, Mike and friends survive the massacre and head for the desert with the intent of leading “an absolutely free life, in an absolutely isolated place far away from this civilization and culture of violence.” There they become stranded on an island surrounded by crude plastic prop sharks. As it nears its end, the movie becomes increasingly allegorical and hysterical, leading to a finale that, without giving it away, would not be out of place in a Monty Python comedy.

“We laughed, we had a good time, we cried and we died a little bit inside,” one moviegoer said after the screening. “Nothing can prepare you for a movie like this.”

In fact, everything about “An American Hippie in Israel” is so perfectly awful — including the bad acting, the poor camera work and storyline non sequiturs — that it’s hard to believe the movie was made in earnest.

But the film actually fits perfectly within the growing canon of infamously bad movies including “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” director Ed Wood’s exploitation flicks “Glen or Glenda?” and “Bride of the Monster,” and the nonsensical melodrama “The Room,” which have found a following years after their original releases not despite, but because they were done in such astoundingly bad taste. These cinematic endeavors are giving new meaning to the saying “so bad it’s good,”

“We didn’t think we were making a bad movie,” Shmuel Wolf, who plays the part of Komo, a supporting character in the film, told a local media outlet during a recent interview. “I remember thinking at the time how carefree and wild we were.”

Gil Shefler is a journalist living in Israel.

Watch the trailer for “An American Hippie in Israel” below (contains some brief nudity, viewer discretion advised):

Favorite quotes:

“Shut your a—!”

— Mike’s strange order to a female friend

“World, you’re so full of s—. You’re so badly contaminated, it’s impossible to find a corner free of smell.”

— Mike on the world’s problems

“They turned me into a murdering machine.”

— Mike on the Vietnam War


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • Employees complained that the food they received to end the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan was not enough (no non-kosher food is allowed in the plant). The next day, they were dismissed.
  • Why are peace activists getting beat up in Tel Aviv? http://jd.fo/s4YsG
  • Backstreet's...not back.
  • Before there was 'Homeland,' there was 'Prisoners of War.' And before there was Claire Danes, there was Adi Ezroni. Share this with 'Homeland' fans!
  • BREAKING: Was an Israeli soldier just kidnapped in Gaza? Hamas' military wing says yes.
  • What's a "telegenically dead" Palestinian?
  • 13 Israeli soldiers die in Gaza — the deadliest day for the IDF in decades. So much for 'precision' strikes and easy exit strategies.
  • What do a Southern staple like okra and an Israeli favorite like tahini have in common? New Orleans chef Alon Shaya brings sabra tastes to the Big Easy.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.