Tumblr user yessuonce saidthere’s bad movies that you just turn off ten minutes in but then there’s bad movies that are an adventure. This post is dedicated to the adventures.
IRONYCHAN’S TOP TEN FAVOURITE MOVIES THAT AREN’T ACTUALLY ANY GOOD
BLACK SHEEP - This is a movie about zombie sheep, and if it’s possible to conceive of a perfect zombie sheep movie, Black Sheep is it. It’s never actually scary but it’s funny as hell, and easily the best-written and biggest-budgeted movie on this list.
YOR: THE HUNTER FROM THE FUTURE - A big dumb blond caveman runs around a post-apocalyptic wasteland beating up purple Neanderthals, torch-wielding mummies, paper-mache dinosaurs, and an evil overlord with an army of cyborgs.
STARCRASH - this movie has everything: space battles with space amazons. Kung-fu cavemen. Ice planets. Dudes who shoot lasers out of their eyes. A tentacled head in a jar. David Hasselhoff fighting robots with a lightsaber. I’m not making this up.
TROLL 2 - Troll 2 is kind of a legend. It’s about goblin creatures who turn people in green goo and then eat them. The impression you get is that the entire concept of a movie was somehow badly translated into another language, and you’re watching the result.
KUNG-FU ZOMBIE - the ostensible plot is that a warrior defeats his family’s ancient enemy, who then returns as the walking dead to take revenge. In between that happening, a whole lot of other indescribably crazy shit goes on and a lot of vases get broken.
HOWARD THE DUCK - still George Lucas’ worst movie, despite the Star Wars prequels. Howard the Duck has nothing in common with the comic it takes its title from, but I forgive it, because where else will you find a movie in which a duck saves Cleveland from Lovecraftian horrors?
TEENAGERS FROM OUTER SPACE - I assume this movie happened when a bunch of friends cleaned out a garage and discovered they had a movie camera, a skeleton, a toy ray gun, and a lobster, so they decided to see what they could make out of that.
MONSTER ON THE CAMPUS - a college professor is bitten by a dead radioactive coelacanth and becomes a were-caveman. Also notable for some very strange background props, including an inexplicable bust of Genghis Khan.
THE GIANT CLAW - the Earth comes under attack by an antimatter bird ‘as big as a battleship’, as the narrator frequently reminds us. The monster can only be described as a muppet, and watching it wreak havoc is some of the funniest shit you will ever see.
HERCULES/THE LEGEND OF HERCULES - I cannot describe the depths of insanity on display here. Men in bear suits. Hermaphrodite gods who live on the moon. A cartoon dinosaur for no goddamn reason. None of it bearing much resemblance to Greek Mythology.
Some people with specific careers will have some sort of experience like this. A friend of mine who is a bus driver, for example, will constantly be asked by random people about her thoughts on the movie Speed. A doctor friend often gets questions about television shows like House and Grey’s Anatomy. Me? I get people suggesting I watch Grandma’s Boy.
The appeal of bad movies has been, I’d say, a fairly consistent part of moviegoing culture. While the “midnight movie” in the Seventies made it more well-known, schadenfreude in the cinema has been around probably since the medium’s inception. Luis Buñuel’s 1933 documentary Land Without Bread presented openly false or exaggerated information in a Fishing With John-esque dissonance between footage and narrator. (it’s debatably the first “mockumentary”), implying a deliberately contentious relationship between filmmaker and audience. The latter have since taken up arms of their own, from the Razzies to Michael Medved’s “Golden Turkey Awards” to Mystery Science Theatre 3000 and its successors.
Watching a film with the deliberate aims of seeing something bad, whether out of genuine curiosity or mockery, is inherently a subversive act. It takes the expectations of what we want from the medium and reverses them. By extension, it’s an approach that discourages any kind of formalism beyond drinking games or common games in midnight screenings.
I don’t want to sound like the frumpy dad forcing everyone to stop playing, but I do think it’s valuable to address some specific elements of bad movies - or at least the best and most interesting. Deliberate shlock producers have steadily been trying to use the concept as something of a shield, justifying bad productions for a misunderstood conception of “irony.” I have no problem with camp or goofiness, but films that try to climb on it rarely are as fun to watch as they are to make.
One of their biggest problems, and the focus of tonight, is a lack of perspective. Too many movies really suffer from a lack of focus, intent, and position, which results in more acceptable but less exciting or specific movies. Many, if not all, of the best films all have a clear focus that galvanizes them, and without it a film often has a much harder time bridging its themes, visual style, and ethos. And while many of them lack much else, many of the best and most beloved bad movies also have a specific focus.
I once theorized that the chief appeal of the Room was less from its badness than its weirdness, although the two certainly mix extensively. It’s impossible to separate the bad technical and narrative and thematic decisions from the vision of Tommy Wiseau, which resulted in a film that looks and sounds unlike any other film in history.
It’s important to consider how singular Wiseau’s vision was, from the narrative dead-ends to the confusing references to the man’s own life clearly meant for himself alone, though he also clearly thinks they will enthrall everyone else. In other words, it’s this attitude and point of view around which the entire film rotates. The Room orbits around Wiseau, and his specific logic makes its universe work.
Of course, the man’s a huge cult icon, so let’s go with something less eternally-discussed. Troll 2 may not necessarily seem like a particularly auteurist work, but it’s power comes less from its bad troll goblin costumes than its odd ideas and themes. The movie is, improbably, a deliberate anti-vegetarian screed, presenting a meatless diet as conspiratorial and deadly. Having the climax of the film be a child eating a “double-decker bologna sandwich” to destroy Stonehenge really only exists in the mind of an auteur with no ability to translate confusing high concept ideas into anything remotely sensical.
It’s also filled with primo bad movie problems, like the lack of communication between its American cast and Italian crew that led to some truly inspired line readings. Things like specific lines seem to skirt the two, like the father’s comments about how “you don’t piss on hospitality,” or the odd interpretation of rural American life. But again, it’s a movie that can’t plausibly be faked, because it’s just so specific in its eccentricities.
Birdemic is also a movie that can’t be faked, and one that is a legitimate contender, but it’s a fundamentally weaker contender. Part of that is due to its atrocious cinematography and pacing, the kind more acceptable in amateur home movies than in anything that would reasonably be sold to the public. But despite being clearly from the mind of James Nguyen, it has little focus in its aims or ideas.
From the film, we know Nguyen is concerned about the environment, as well as other liberal or progressive causes (the man in the forest, the free promotion for Yoko Ono’s Imagine Peace website, the distraught veteran). And as Wiseau loves Tennessee Williams, he adores Hitchcock. But partially due to the bird attack at the halfway point, and partially due to a total lack of coherence to any of the dialogue and audio, it’s not as endlessly fascinating. Alan Bagh as idiot protagonist Rod is strikingly incompetent, but his total lack of affect isn’t as exciting as the more hammy performances, which are only found in minor characters.
After the novelty of the animation wears off, the film just crawls to a slog. Outside of some truly brilliant moments, the bird fights are less engaging than, say, just hanging out with the family or random million dollar sales. In Nguyen’s attempt to ape mainstream films, he takes their most banal elements and makes the even less interesting - specifically, action scenes that wear out their welcome after the first scene and keep going. It’s almost the exact same runtime as the Room, but it’s not as consistent, which makes it less satisfying. But it’s still a strong example of a complete lack of self-awareness, which makes the idea of a self-aware comedy sequel less appetizing.
And it’s that idea of aping mainstream films that’s really central to not only these three, but really all bad movies: a failed ambition to be something they never could. It makes sense for filmmakers to focus on successes to follow, but in a way their failures are illuminating about the successes, not just in what they do right but what they do wrong. When Delgo or Foodfight! tried to copy the successes of contemporary animated films, the stunt-castings and puns of Dreamworks productions had aged atrociously, and their own attempts at the same were markedly worse. And of course, it’s not as though there aren’t giant, faux-blockbuster bombs that captured the imagination, like Battlefield Earth or Heaven’s Gate, but those are usually just as focused in their ideas.
Ultimately, the importance of a great bad movie, more than anything else, is a lack of realization into its badness, and an attempt at reaching for a peak that’s always out of reach. It’s why Troll 2 is more beloved than Saturday the 14th, and why Tommy Wiseau’s stint of cameos and follow-ups is more pathetic and dispiriting than fun. And a lot of that lack of self-awareness comes into play with a specific perspective, one that otherwise would never believe in the wonderful curiosities it created.
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Ah, “I Accuse My Parents.” Sometimes I’ll go a long time without watching this one, and then when I finally see it again, I remember how funny it is. (This was part of last year’s Turkey Day marathon too, but I just never got around to watching it back in November.)
I always feel bad for Jimmy at the beginning of this movie, and a little embarrassed when his mom shows up to the school meeting drunk, but he keeps making everything worse for himself by lying, and–as Joel and the bots point out–being at times alarmingly stupid. Really, Jimmy? You had no idea that the guy who was paying you tons of money to deliver “packages” might be involved in crime? Really? I love Joel and the bots’ explanation for Jimmy’s oblivious state of mind, as depicted in a very nice mobile. Also, Truck Farming!
Tom: “As long as I talk really fast and do what he says I’ll be okay!”
Crow: “Now he’s selling his essays on the street.”
Jimmy: “Mom? Dad?”
Joel: “I won the "I got the crap kicked out of me” contest!“
Crow (as Jimmy): "I’m just gonna run away! I got peanut butter and underwear–that’s all I need!”
(The judge warns parents to pay attention to their kids.) Joel: “Though they probably aren’t as stupid as Jimmy.”
“So Hollywood is dead because you’re just too cheap to pay for it? Hardly. If the popularity of Netflix is anything to judge by, users are happy to pay for content they deem to be fairly priced and worthwhile. … In regards to Hollywood’s current summer slate, customers voted with their wallets.”