Bad movies transcend traditional preconceptions of badness

Jack Speer

In an era of commercial cinema dominated by prequels, sequels and reboots, we are buffeted with a slew of simply mediocre bad movies. We are force-fed uninspired and formulaic rehashing, recycled tropes, and other elements culled from the debris of countless predecessors only to seduce their consumers’ wallets through the one way they know how — predictability.

To demonstrate, the Fast & Furious franchise’s seventh installment just became the fourth highest-grossing film of all time. This from the crew that thought 2 Fast 2 Furious was a witty title for its second installment.

It goes without saying that these films will never be remembered as good movies, but they won’t be remembered as bad ones either. A bad film to be remembered transcends simply being bad and becomes an experience all its own.

While the notion of a movie being “so bad it’s good” seems relatively new, this idea was already prevalent in the 1950s when the French word nanar took on that meaning. However, nanars weren’t nearly as popular then as they are now. Today’s cult film audience has extended far beyond the boundaries any true cult could contain them in. But it may not be wrong to say that they are led by blind faith just as well. So long as they are not led by their own blind faith, but rather the blind faith and commendable ineptitude of a proper bad filmmaker.

Take for instance Tommy Wiseau — the ambiguously-accented writer, director, producer and lead actor of The Room. His continuity-defying and culturally misinformed drama about American relationships and romance-turned-brilliant-comedy has been more than critically panned. It has a measly 3.5/10 average rating on IMDB, and during its initial screenings, audience members exited midway through the film’s runtime in droves. It has since become considered by many to be the “worst film of all time” and inspired an award-winning book that documents its seemingly impossible formation. Heck, even the book itself is being adapted into a biopic by James Franco in homage to its wonderful awfulness. With all of this weighing against a filmmaker, you think he’d realize that perhaps his film was not the greatest film ever made. And yet Wiseau still believes his work should be viewed by “80 percent” of the American population. Even Claudio Fragasso, the director of Troll 2, believes his film is an American great. Mind you, this is a film in which the word “troll” is never uttered, but the word “goblin” is said nearly every 30 seconds and bumbling burlap sacks (goblins) feed humans green food items to turn them into “half-human/half-plants” so they can be eaten, because said goblins are vegetarians. It is with the same drive and ambition that any good filmmaker fosters a masterwork. But it is the difference in the way this adamant energy is channeled that makes films like The Room the landmarks in bad film history that they are.

A true bad film represents a singular, definitive vision — a vision that’s miscommunication to a wide audience provokes its success. So perhaps it is not that these films are simply accidental, it’s just that we’ll never really understand what they meant to convey. It’s this enigmatic allure that makes them all the more enthralling.
And enthralling they can be. Before I had seen a true bad movie, I never knew of of the euphoria one feels when shouting criticisms at a work of art so perfectly flawed in a room full of people present for the same. I never knew what it was like to see one character’s actor completely and very conspicuously replaced halfway through a film. I never knew what it was like to see a film’s antagonists foiled by a double-decker bologna sandwich. I never knew what it was like to witness the least-convincing CGI birds of the last decade lay waste to humanity. And I never knew just how fulfilling viewing something so objectively amateurish and frankly alien could be. Maybe it’s because underneath all of those compelling mistakes lies the heart of a passionate if misguided filmmaker. A heart that we all tempt to break, but secretly admire. For even if it is a strange, backhanded idea of success, that which is received by a truly bad film is without a doubt success. A success that only keeps giving.