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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

question of the day: Why do we like bad movies?

It seems like it’s been bad-movies news all week, what with Syfy’s two big announcements: DIY bad Saturday Night Syfy Original and Tiffany vs. Debbie Gibson. And then I came across an article by Leor Galil at New City Film about the apparent “sudden resurgence” of bad movies, particularly as a midnight-movie phenomenon:

Alongside “The Room” and “Troll 2,” “Birdemic” is a part of the new holy trinity of trashy film that’s brought patrons to movie theaters by the bucketful. Yes, these flicks have made a reputation for being terrible. But, that’s the charm of the best bad movies.

And Birdemic — full name: Birdemic: Shock and Terror — does indeed look awful:

Galil attempts to delve into why we like bad movies:

“The boredom of the Midwest really helps build up the ability to sit down and be able to watch a crappy movie,” Dowell says. “There’s not really that much to do in the suburbs, or farmland U.S.A. When video stores started to get big, I feel like the bad-movie culture grew a lot in the Midwest.”

Well, okay, but couldn’t the same thing be said about good movies? And we don’t like all bad movies: Nobody likes Jonah Hex, except Armond White. In fact, when Galil reveals that

there’s a potential $20 million deal with Paramount for a 3D “Birdemic” sequel

it seems that the instant reaction to such news is an “oh god, no!” and the sure and certain knowledge that such a film would be simply bad-bad, and not enjoyable at all. So perhaps inherent in the enjoyment of good-bad movies is the charm that comes from their lack of corporate polish.

There are probably lots of reasons. Why do we like bad movies?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)



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  • Orangutan

    There’s a line, a very fine line, between ‘oh man this is bad’ and ‘oh wow this so bad it’s great’. Birdemic, in my opinion, is firmly on the ‘oh man this is bad’ side. It’s like they were trying way too hard to make an awesomely bad movie.

    The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra walked that line perfectly. It was so bad that it was great, but it wasn’t so bad that it was awful.

    I hope that makes as much sense as it does in my head.

    Also, I think great-bad movies are best enjoyed with a group. It’s the MST3K effect. Using Cadavra again, I love that movie, but I’ll rarely watch it alone. Get a bunch of friends together, though, and it’s usually one of the first requests. Heck, I’m organizing a Lost Skeleton Party in August for all my friends because the sequel is FINALLY being released.

  • DaveTM

    I agree with the group enjoyment aspect, and also in the necessary inadvertant quality of the most enjoyable “bad” movies. As a teenager my friends and I would rent two or three bad movies on a Saturday night because we didn’t want to get drunk or go bowling and there wasn’t much else to do alot of the time. We’d get good movies too sometimes as well but sometimes you just wanted to watch a terrible movie.

    It is a truly undefinable quality to what is enjoyable but if anyone wants to experience it I recommend Troll 2 as it checks off all the horrible checkmarks. It’s a sequel that has nothing whatsoever to do with the original and in fact they never even say the word Troll once in the entire movie if I remember correctly. (The evil town is called Nilbog leading me to think it was orginally supposed to be called Goblin but for some reason they thought it would do better being tied to the first Troll which was really bad itself) My friends and I still quote a line of that movie to each other to this day over 15 years later.

  • t6

    I’d have to say….I’m one of those people who doesn’t like bad movies. I also don’t like things ironically.

    You will never here me say, “I love that, that is so bad!” or “I love that, but only ironically.”

    This is not to say that I don’t like things *other* people consider bad. But if I like it, I find something good in it.

    I tend to find “I love that, that is so bad!” is often rooted in one of two places: meanness/elitism or shame.

    I was teased in school so I don’t particularly enjoy laughing at other people…I steer away for things like that. It’s like people who bought William Hung’s album just to laugh at him…that’s not nice.

    Then the second is when someone really does like something, but is afraid they will be judged for what they like…so out of shame they distance themselves from that thing. I was in a car with a friend when Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart” came on. She exclaimed, “I love this song, it is so bad!” Which I took to mean, “I love this song, but I’m afraid of actually admitting that in case you’ll think I have no taste, so I distance myself from it.” My response? “I love this song. It isn’t bad. It is epic and wonderful, and Bonnie Tyler has a great voice!”

    Now I also grew up watching lots of B movies…and I love many of them. And the ones I do, I don’t think are bad.

    So…coming back to your question. Why do we like bad movies? I suspect either, we have a lot of mean people who like to put other people down (which would explain high school)–or a lot of people genuinely enjoy movies that aren’t of the A variety but are too embarrassed to actually admit liking things so must frame it in this sort of perversion of camp.

    Okay, short answer to sum up everything I said: Hipsters.

  • Ed Duffy

    Yes, I think it’s infinitely preferable for a film to be off-the-scale bad than just downright dull and mediocre. Real stinkers, as well as providing unintended comedy, make you appreciate just how much work goes into even a routine film to make it professional and believable.

    I was just out of a bad breakup a few years back and feeling very sorry for myself when my sister-in-law and I happened to catch a TV showing of Schwarzenegger’s “End of Days”. And I well remember the fun we had ripping the piss out of this illogical, idiotic mess, complete with memorable moments such as Arnie battling The Dark Lord himself … with a machine gun. It helped me raise a therapeutic laugh just when I needed one.

  • misterb

    James Nguyen, the “auteur” of Birdemic is a friend of mine, and I can say that he understands the appeal of his movie, and yet believes in what he was attempting to do. If he gets the money (and last I talked to him, it seemed possible) he will stay true to his concept of the “romantic thriller” and his devotion to Hitchcock. That could take bad to another level or could move from bad to mediocre. Let’s root for the former.

  • RogerBW

    Comedy is essentially about getting things wrong. (This is why a failed comedy goes nowhere.) A bad film can be comedy. A deliberately-made bad film (e.g. The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra) isn’t as welcome, because part of the point of the comedy is that it’s unintentional.

    Bad film-making teaches one about film-making: one can say “why doesn’t this scene work” and pick things apart much more easily than one can say “why does this scene work” in something that does hold together. (And one can sometimes work out “well, clearly the director wanted it to go like this, but the actors weren’t up to it, so he did his best”…)

    Bad film appreciation is the opposite end of the scale from literary-style film criticism. It’s open mocking season and anything goes. Having a friend and a decent supply of booze just makes it all better.

    Give me bad over blah, any day. All too much of Hollywood output is blah, with all the rough edges sanded off.

  • I only like bad movies if I don’t have to watch the whole thing. For example, every few years I try to watch How to Stuff a Wild Bikini. (Bikinis. Awful music. Mickey Rooney. A very sad cameo from Buster Keaton. Opening credits in animated plasticine. Gawd…) The only reason I do it is to see if I can last longer than fifteen minutes. So it’s kinda like a dare. Or something.

    Bad music videos. Now that’s entertainment. They’re ghastly. They’re short. This is my favourite. Less than four minutes and it’s over.

  • DaveTM

    t6 – just because something is bad doesn’t mean it’s not enjoyable. The reverse is also true. I’ve seen a few great movies that really weren’t enjoyable. Good/Bad and Enjoyable/Not Enjoyable have no bearing on each other.

    The “I love this it’s so bad” comes from yes I enjoy a really crappy movie but it’s no Citizen Kane and that’s ok. While some people may look down at these movies I don’t think most do. It’s the people who can’t admit to enjoying something at all but still watch or listen to it that are the insecure ones.

    Just because you like something doesn’t mean you can’t admit it’s not that great. I love Madmen and Wipeout and boy those two things couldn’t be further apart on the Good-Bad spectrum.

  • There are also a lot of people out there with no taste. One of my best friends is someone who genuinely loves some of what I’d consider the worst movies of the last 30 years. His top ten films includes Adventures of Pluto Nash, Leonard Part 6 and Dungeons and Dragons (seriously!).

    I’d never take his advice as to what constitutes “good” (He thought Pushing Daisies was terrible) on either TV or movies, but he’s still my friend. I think his mind just appreciates being entertained in the same way that someone who eats at McDonald’s appreciates being fed.

    And I occasionally watch movies that other people think are terrible and wonder why they thought that it was so bad. While I don’t always agree on what is works or fails in a film I do consider myself reasonably intelligent and articulate and can point to what worked or didn’t in a movie for me. And when I find myself saying things like “I found that actor’s performance to be wooden” or “the story was weak” or “the dialog was laughable” to someone who genuinely loves a film I thought stank I just have to realize that my standards for entertainment aren’t theirs.

    Now, having said that, when I sit in a movie like The Fountain and at the end of it hear three people say things like “That was the worst remake I’ve ever seen!” or when a group of teens leaving The War of the Worlds says “That ending was stupid!” then I have to question whether the movie-going public is really as intelligent as we give them credit for.

    I wonder if they watch films in an engaged manner…viewing nuances of language, plot, photography, color, composition and character. Or if they just consume entertainment for the spectacle of sound and motion like babies watching a mobile above a crib. Transformers 1 and 2 and Indiana Jones 4 would seem to argue for the latter.

    I find myself more and more being drawn to movies that are crafted not “made”; movies that struggle to get discovered not movies that are released like wild animals upon the public; movies with heart not budgets. I spend my entertainment dollars deliberately not wantonly, bestowing them like precious gifts upon those filmmakers that have earned them. The last few times I’ve gone in for the “blockbuster” films it has been with careful consideration.

    And once I’ve seen it, if it meets my standards, I’ll bestow another few dollars to buy my own copy to see again.

    It pains me to have people react to films they’ve seen with a shrug and say “It was okay,” without following it up with either an analysis or a list of what was deficient. That is how I respond to films I’ve seen on airplanes that I watch only because I have no other alternatives.

    If that’s why you are watching an “enh” movies (or worse yet, a bad one) … because you have nothing better to do… then you have too much money and free time, my friend.

  • t6

    DaveTM. I don’t think you are getting my point. I don’t enjoy making fun of people. I don’t enjoy putting people down to make myself feel better. You might–clearly lots of people do. I, personally, get no enjoyment from mocking things.

    I don’t enjoy things I find bad. If I am enjoying it, I’m not finding it bad. I am also not ashamed of the things I like and so I’ll freely admit what I like.

    Now, let’s bring up two different TV shows. The original V and Mad Men. They are two very different types of shows. I enjoy them both. I don’t think Mad Men is good and V is bad. I think they are both good (though Mad Men is also excellent, in my opinion). But they are both attempting to do different sorts of things, and they are both good at what they are trying to do.

    Bad and good are relative terms. I think Two and a Half Men is offensive and terrible. I don’t enjoy it. Does that mean that Two and a Half Men is actually offensive and terrible? It is to me. Yet lots of other people think the show is great.

    Now let’s get the flip side. Things that are great that one doesn’t enjoy. What do we mean by “enjoy” — I don’t actually mean “fills me with joy.” For example, Requiem for a Dream is a film I find great…it leaves me gutted and feeling terrible. Which in that context I enjoy. There are other films that people think are “great” which I don’t enjoy…because the films don’t work for me. So, for me, they aren’t good or successful.

  • Orangutan

    I’m going to use Lost Skeleton of Cadavra again as an example. It was created as an homage to all the 50s Sci-Fi B-movies. The acting is terrible, the plot is ridiculous and the special effects are awful. But it’s a great movie, because of the obvious affection that everyone working on the movie has for the source material. When my friends and I watch this movie, we’re not mocking it. We are laughing right along with the cast and crew.

    This is sort of like how I enjoy Ed Wood’s movies. They’re bad, there is no question about that. But he LOVED what he was doing, and I think that shows in the movies he made. The audience picks up on the emotion of the cast and crew. If they don’t believe in and enjoy what they’re doing up there on the screen, we’re not going to believe it or enjoy it either.

  • DaveTM

    t6 – And I don’t think you are getting my point. Esentially that what you think of as “bad” and what other people think of as “bad” are not the same thing. I’m do not (as I said in my original post) degrade the things that I call bad nor do I make fun of them. To higly simplify good / bad is an artistic rating and bad art can be highly enjoyable. Simply admitting that there isn’t alot of artistic merit or even other flaws in something you enjoy doesn’t mean you don’t really like it. In this case “bad” isn’t the derogitory term that you are thinking it is.

    For good art that I don’t enjoy I go back to The Seventh Seal. As art it’s a masterpeice that is undenyable but it’s wasn’t easy (at least for me) to get through it and isn’t something I’d choose to do again.

    It’s almost like a new phrase needs to be coined but bad is the term that stuck.

  • allochthon

    The line for me between “awful” and “so bad it’s great” often lies in humiliation.

    “There’s something about Mary” and similar movies are awful, because the enjoyment is derived from humiliating people.

    “The A-Team” is so bad it’s great because it’s clearly about having fun, and no one is humiliated.

    One of the reason I dislike so much of current TV and movies is that “Humor by humiliation” is such a strong theme. I hate it. Every time.

    (Except the one “Frasier” that opens with Niles getting ready for a date in Fraiser’s apartment.)

  • Nadia

    I use to rent movies once in a while with my friends, some of them were ok, some of them were actually pretty good, but I don’t remember 99% of them(if a movie looked good enough we would see in the theater, not wait until it was in the videoclub).
    The only movies we actually still remember from those times were the really really bad ones, because they were so incredibly bad it was just hilarious and we actually had more fun with those than with the decent ones, so I guess that’s part of the appeal for that kind of films. I wouldn’t watch them alone in my house though, it wouldn’t be the same experience.

  • Arnold’s “End Times” was a series of Arnold jokes I enjoyed tied together by plot holes.

    From time to time I have the strange experience of seeing what the director was trying to do and wishing they’d pulled it off. It’s a sad, sympathetic feeling.

    Appreciating “Two and a Half Men” requires the understanding that the writers apparently know the main characters are jerks. From time to time I’ve run into shows or movies where the writers apparently think the jerk is actually cool. The descent from Lethal Weapon 1 to LW 4 is a good example of that. I thought it was ironic that the happier Riggs became, the worse he treated other people verbally.

  • David Conner

    I’ve thought about this a bit, and I think my love of bad movies comes from the same place as my love of good movies. It’s all about the sense of wonder, of seeing something you’ve never seen before, and amazement at seeing it. With, say, a Pixar movie, it’s wonder at the originality and surprise and heart they bring to what could have been just a rote sequel-to-a-sequel that everyone knew would make zillions of dollars regardless of its quality.

    With an Ed Wood movie, it’s wonder at, for instance, seeing an experienced police inspector casually waving around a loaded gun to the point of scratching his nose with the barrel.

    There’s great potential joy in seeing things I’ve never seen before, good or bad.

  • Bill

    i was nodding my head in agreement as i read “So perhaps inherent in the enjoyment of good-bad movies is the charm that comes from their lack of corporate polish.” but after a little thought, i gotta say that the bad movies that i like are all corporate polish. they are the Big Macs of film world. Soldier, Jason X, Resident Evil, etc. i would never waste much breath defending these movies; if there are objectively good movies, these aint them is all i’m sayin’. and i am not really in the “so bad they’re good” camp with these stinkers, either. it’s that they’re good enough for me in some small way. the special sauce is different in each case.

  • Boingo

    For me,it’s fascination with the “back burners” of
    my brain while watching. I’m thinking: Gasp! The
    director doesn’t give a damn that was a “hokey scene!”
    He’s saying “Cut!Print! Next scene!” I imagine the
    actors(friends, usually) chuckling over the last
    scene at lunch, munching on a burger while reading
    over the next lines.

    I remember Charlie Watts of the Rolling Stones saying:
    ” Yea, we’re crappy musicians, but we’re “good” crappy
    musicians (or something like that).”

    I admire some who have a built-in mechanism of
    anti-OCD. Maybe they’ll live a longer life with less
    high blood pressure?

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