Apologies for this one being a bit late, as I have had yet another busy week dashing around the country and had no time to write & polish this before Monday evening.
There’s been a lot of negativity in the air around this blog the last few weeks, so I thought I’d redress the balance and talk about something I genuinely like this week: Terrible Movies. No, really, there’s something incredibly entertaining to me to sit down and watch a film try it’s hardest and yet fail so hilariously completely. It’s something that’s becoming increasingly common across the media consuming public, especially with the rise of the internet as a corner stone of modern culture. But, still there are some in my experience who don’t fully get why we do, so here I am, explaining my reasonings to you in blog form. You lucky, lucky people.
This sort of thing has been common for ages, and the best example of it that would have been in the public eye is the cult classic TV show Mystery Science Theatre 3000, one which I heartily recommend finding episodes of. The premise is simple, a group of people watch a movie of at least B-level quality (though occasionally a few classics) and take the piss. Ok, there’s more to it than that but that’s the basic premise, and essentially outlines why I like watching cheesy films. If you can laugh at a film, no matter what it’s original intent, some entertainment can be gleaned from it. In a number of cases this can even be the saving grace of a film that would, otherwise, be terrible. I direct the audience to the case of The Happening, a film which when taken seriously as a thriller is abysmal, yet approached as a comedy is pretty watchable.
The things that, for me at least, can elevate a movie from whatever it is trying to be to hilarity are fairly simple and the best bad films usually are afflicted with similar “issues.” Poor production values is usually a prime suspect, we’ve all seen films that have effects that look shabby even by the standards of when it was made, has unconvincing actors, leaves in obvious continuity flubs and so on, usually due to lack of care and attention by the crew. The lack of care and consistency certainly breaks immersion, but how spectacularly it fails is often hilarious. Attempting to do too much also invites hilarious failure, just look at the Syfy Original movies that often have about twelve plots going on at once and aren’t doing particularly well at any. And then there’s a tenuous grasp of the subject matter. Most bad movies I enjoy have veered towards the science fiction genre, yet the writers involved seem to not really have a solid grasp of science or even plausibility. While the genre is on shaky ground here as it is, some bad movies often throw out names of ideas and processes as if they know what they are and then gets the concept drastically, demonstrably wrong. Great examples are films where the planet is stopped spinning with no consequence after it’s “fixed,” anywhere that radiation is brought up, and somewhat frequently how weather works.
Perhaps my most important thing to look for in a good bad movie is inflated self importance. Nothing makes the flubs and fuckups more hilariously sweeter than the film being totally straight faced when it makes them totally straight faced. This is one of the reasons why deliberate bad film parodies, like the admittedly wonderfully titled Sharknado, don’t really appeal to me in this regard, as the tongue in cheek attitude often comes across more forced in many cases. That being said, some parodies of bad film making do work, like the brilliant TV series Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace. However, there is just a certain charm when a film lacks any self awareness of how bad it’s coming across, forcing actors to be in ridiculously bad situations. This is made even better when the actors themselves are just as invested in something ridiculous as the overall production, either not realising how bad the thing they’ve agreed in is, or simply out of professionalism.
This is not to say that some films are genuinely just bad. Quite a few are, as it happens, and there are things that separate these from the hilarious ones, although the line between is very thin. There is a phenomenon I refer to as the “Oh Fuck Off Moment” where something happens in some aspect of a film that totally ruins your enjoyment of it. These can be very small things, or they can be very large, and often involve the same factors that can elevate a film to hilariously bad status, just in a way that rubs you the wrong way. Then there are the films that you go in to wanting to be good yet end up being awful, see the Stallone Judge Dredd, anything Michael Bay has done in the last few years and so on. Disappointing is whole other ball park from bad, as our expectations can colour a film in advance and make the impact of it sucking incredibly different.
So, what of the terribly funny bad films in my experiences? Well, currently as I type this there is a DVD shelving unit behind me where the entire top shelf (for no real reason other than that was the last to be stocked, mind out of gutters folks) is a set of terrible movies of various calibers. Most of which I’ve procured from local second hand media stores which are a veritable gold mine for such things, and often for under a fiver. Another good source, albeit a less permanent one, is the aforementioned Syfy (which I will insist on pronouncing Siffy) original movies and their other made-for-TV ilk. If you receive a channel that shows them regularly you are in terrible movie heaven, as the big TV companies of America do seem to churn these out with alarming frequency. I believe a lot of online streaming services also do this now too, although can’t vouch for that personally as I don’t subscribe to any due to money issues. No, really.
I’ll end this piece with a few recommendations of my own. First, and perhaps most well known, would be Kurt Wimmer’s magnum opus Equilibrium, that infamous and surprisingly high profile casted scifi romp that earned Christian Bale perhaps one of the highest on-screen bodycounts in Hollywood History. This one is brilliant thanks to absurd action set pieces, some genuinely bad special effects in some scenes and a concept so high it couldn’t possibly pull it off seriously. The plot is essentially a cheap hollywood retelling of dystopian literary classics Brave New World and Nineteen Eighty Four, with a script that lacks quite a bit of internal consistency. On the plus, non-absurd side, it does have a couple of good action pieces and some cool visuals of the dystopian future city where emotions are banned.
Second up is Kindergarten Ninja, a 1994 film that really needs to be seen to be believed. Basically it’s a straight to video vanity piece for San Francisco 49ers star Dwight Clark that somehow got a DVD release in Europe, where few would have heard of him (I know I hadn’t). The plot is simple, the absurdly named Blade Steel, who is of course a playboy footballer, gets done for drink driving and ends up working at a kindergarten school as community service. A kindergarten where a local gangster is pushing drugs. Cue ghost of Bruce Lee (No, really) coming to help Blade to clean house and learn to love the kindergarten. Whoa boy, this film is absolutely hilarious. The acting is terrible, the script absurd and includes a good few minutes of pointless training montage, but what makes it really special is two moments. In one, we get our first look at the villain, who is being played so over the top it’s fairly obvious what he is, yet the film thinks so little of it’s audience a little VFX “Villain” sign flickers over him. Later on Blade Steel takes his date to a restaurant. One owned by Dwight Clark in real life, so the ostensibly kung-fu flick suddenly turns into an advert for the restaurant, complete with address and phone number scrolling across bottom of the screen. As I said, this film is hilarious and needs to be seen to be believed.
Finally there’s Space Marines, A 1996 scifi flick that almost has a good thing going but ends up here due to sheer over the topidness. In Future, Space, a bunch of space pirates led by a wonderfully over the top headman has taken a bunch of space nukes so the colonial marines are sent in to fix the situation. Hilarity ensues. No, really. The acting is wonderfully over the top, which makes the cheap, early ‘90s effects a potent combo. Again, the sheer seriousness it treats the action also works in it’s favour, as does a plucky sergeant who looks like a cross between Solid Snake and Theodore Logan and a villainous head pirate who is a combination of Jack Sparrow and Gaius Baltar. As I said, it almost has enough to be taken seriously, but falls so wonderfully flat.
Hopefully this has given a glimpse into the wonderful world of terrible movies, and maybe some of you, my hypothetical audience, will actually seek some out. Just remember, you’re going to be in for one hell of a ride in bad home video.
Until next time, folks!
—Living at Next Sunday AD
—Also: Bah Humbug Day minus 16