04 June, 2019

I Love Bad Movies

What's the worst movie you can remember seeing? It's not that easy to answer. There are far more terrible movies than good ones.

Probably the worst movie I ever saw was called Plan 9 from Outer Space, directed by the legendary filmmaker Ed Wood in 1959. Calling this movie bad is no stretch. It's about alien vampires, which might've worked out fine, except that Wood was known for making schlock. He was careless, keeping shots in which set pieces fell down, actors bungled their lines, and you could clearly see daylight through windows in scenes set at night. All this, and he considered himself an artist. A lot of critics call Plan 9 from Outer Space the worst movie of all time. It's great. I've seen it in theaters twice.

I'm hardly alone in my love of bad movies. Fans have made The Rocky Horror Picture Show, released in 1975, the longest consistently running film ever, in theaters for about forty years longer than the one a lot of people guess, Gone with the Wind. It's about a couple whose car breaks down in the rain on their honeymoon and forces them to venture out for a phone. They end up at a castle that's home to a cross-dressing mad scientist and his servants, who are brother and sister lovers. Spoiler alert: the three of them turn out to be aliens.

Rocky Horror is a tribute to the black-and-white science fiction and horror movies of Ed Wood's era — movies with names like It Came from Outer Space and I Was a Teenage Zombie. There are hundreds of independent theaters around this country screening it this and every weekend, in midnight showings that fans come out for in packs. The die-hards even wear costumes.

More recently we can see the same idea at work in Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez's Grindhouse movies, Death Proof and Planet Terror. Perhaps you've seen one or both of these. Their directors used the same idea. They wanted to make homages to the cheap, action-packed movies they loved as teenagers. They didn't set out to make good movies, they wanted to make bad ones.

The Internet knows quite well that there was a series on Comedy Central in the early '90s called Mystery Science Theater 3000. If you could say it was about anything, the show was about a guy and two smart-aleck robots who were launched into space on a satellite by their evil bosses and forced to watch movies like Son of Godzilla and Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.

The reason to watch MST3K wasn't to find out if the guy escaped from the satellite, it was to watch those awful movies right along with him. Your TV screen showed the movie, and at the bottom were the black silhouettes of the guy and his robots in a row of theater seats, making jokes about every ridiculous line and rubber monster suit. Mystery Science Theater 3000 ran for twelve seasons.

Let me shift gears for a minute here and say that few agree about what makes a good or a bad movie. I happen to really like Groundhog Day. A lot. There are plenty of people who think it's a fly-infested pile of garbage. By comparison, one movie I hate and wish I could erase from cinematic history is a lot of people's favorite, Forrest Gump. What both of these movies have in common is that they're Hollywood products with big budgets and big names attached to them. One of my favorite movies is a sci-fi production made by two amateurs, seventeen years ago, for about $5,000. Primer is well-written and wickedly smart, with a fascinating time travel story line. It grossed well over a hundred million dollars after being shown exclusively in independent movie theaters. My point is, budget alone can't make a movie good or bad.

There are bad bad movies and there are good bad movies. Think of a movie that bored you to tears. That's not the kind of movie I'm talking about. A bad bad movie just makes you angry for wasting your time, not make you laugh at how stupid it is. A good bad movie, on the other hand, brings on the sad special effects, the unnatural dialog, the insane or incomprehensible plot, then doubles down by being completely serious. I love ridiculous movies that the cast and crew believed would be works of cinematic art. Their straight-faced absurdity is icing on the bad-movie cake.

I once went with a few friends to see this sci-fi movie called Species 2. None of us had seen the first one. When we took our seats, it just so happened that some people we knew were in the row right in front of us. We must've all been in good moods, because the second the alien-human lady-thing mated with and killed her first victim, then left his body in a barn, the jokes started flying. We were too immature, and it was too racy for us to watch with straight faces. By the time the top-secret government project killed their runaway creation, we had the whole theater lobbing smart remarks at the screen.

Species 2 was so bad it was good. My friends and I, plus about forty strangers in a dark movie theater, shared a fun experience for an hour and a half. That's why I love bad movies.

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