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For the Love of (Bad) Movies

Criticwire By Matt Singer | Criticwire July 13, 2012 at 3:49PM

On why we can't stop watching the worst movies.
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Plan 9 From Outer Space
"Plan 9 From Outer Space"

At his blog Rupert Pupkin Speaks, Brian Saur has spent the last few weeks curating a series of posts entitled "Bad Movies We Love," in which critics, industry pros, and film lovers celebrate their favorite crummy cinema. So far, "Bad Movies We Love" has produced over 20 entries championing dozens of deliciously terrible titles, from the roller skating musical "Xanadu" to the Italian John Carpenter knockoff "2019: After the Fall of New York" to the Nicolas Cage freakout "Vampire's Kiss." My Netflix queue is already groaning under the weight of all the new discoveries (the 1983 movie "Mausoleum," about a woman with "man-eating breasts" sounds particularly, uh, promising).

Brian invited me to participate as well, but before we get to the what, it seemed important to first dwell on the why. Through the eras of the "Million Dollar Movie" and midnight madness, from video nasties to direct-to-DVD, there has always existed a small but devoted audience for schlock cinema. Even today, bad movie love endures. I own hundreds of movies, and have access to thousands more at my fingertips on Netflix and Hulu. So why did I rewatch the Sandahl Bergman fantasy-film-on-acid-and-craft-glue travesty "She" last night instead?

The so-bad-it's-good movie has taken on an interesting place in our culture of instant gratification. With pop culture geekery moving ever further into the mainstream, with the sort of trivial minutia that used to mark hardcore cinemania available to everyone with access to IMDb, the face of movie obsession is shifting like the Blob as it digests a particularly squirmy victim. More and more, the film fringes belong to the masses, which means bad moviedom is one of the last outposts of genuine film cultism left. When you love a movie like "The Avenging Disco Godfather," it feels like it belongs to you and only you. For those who treat movie love as their own personal field of archaeological study, the world of bad movies is a land of endless discovery. 

There's something satisfyingly oppositional about bad movies too; not quite contrarian, but certainly defiant. Loving bad movies means rejecting the stuff you're "supposed" to watch and embracing true subjectivity. As the saying goes, one man's garbage is another man's treasure -- or, in this case, one man's "Garbage Pail Kids" is another man's "Treasure of Sierra Madre." Whether you're truly an iconoclast or you just want to look like an iconoclast to your friends, bad movies are the way to go.

Of course, Hollywood cranks out tons of turgid flops every single year, but those are a different kind of badness, as carefully processed and homogenized for mass consumption as individually wrapped cheese slices. In contrast, the Bad Movies We Love are like the stinkiest, ripest artisanal fromage -- pungent and sour, but bursting with unique favor. You may not like the taste, but you will taste something. No amount of market testing or studio notes could produce "They Saved Hitler's Brain" -- unless you market tested it with sociopaths who've been doused with bath salts. Good movies are the results of artistic calculations. Bad Movies We Love are the results of mysterious, alchemical accidents. In a world of YouTube, film school, and basic common sense, it shouldn't be possible to produce a movie as brilliantly awful as "Birdemic: Shock and Terror" -- which is precisely what makes it so special.

Some will tell you that the love of bad movies lies in our collective desire to feel superior to our entertainment -- to give us a target to mock and, in doing so, to feel better about ourselves. I see it a little differently. Even if their characters are as cardboard thin as their poorly designed sets, a bad movie is infinitely more relatable than a good movie. I can't relate to the sort of talent that produces "The Godfather" or "Citizen Kane" -- that level of creativity is well beyond the scope of my puny human brain. The men and women who make the Bad Movies We Love let their passion for film get ahead of their talent -- and that is something I definitely understand.

I still love good movies -- my personal DVD and Blu-ray collection is certainly weighted more towards the classics than the crassics (new film term alert!) -- but variety is the spice of life. Who'd want to live in a world with only good movies? Not me. It'd be more profound, but a lot less fun.

This article is related to: bad movies


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