There are some films that are so bad, they’re good. With the newfound popularity of B film cult classics akin to Tommy Wiseau’s The Room, in this article, Catherine Mullner explores our fascination with seemingly terrible cinema as well as its dynamics with traditional Hollywood.
There are two types of bad movies.
There’s the first type you’re more used to, the ones that have you walking out of the theatre the second the credits roll. After these films, you look up how much money someone put into making the torture you just sat through, and you and your friends begin immediately rattling off what you could’ve bought with that money:
“I could’ve bought 50 million sausage rolls from Greggs.”
“I could’ve bought an hour with Meryl Streep and two jet skis so we could ride them together off the Amalfi Coast.”
“ I could’ve bought a Greggs store and taken Meryl Streep to it!”
I would say these are the massive Hollywood backed films that have more support than you do at St Andrews right now, akin to Cats (2019) or Fast and Furious 8: The Fate of the Furious.
Then, there’s the second type of movie: not just a head-scratcher, but the trigger for your existential crisis twenty years early. They have little to no budget, which you could use to forgive the film, but you just can’t forget. Like Tommy Wiseau whipping his long black hair around on the screen, you’re forever scarred.
You are haunted by bad films like these ones. “Who decided this was okay?” You ask, but you don’t know if you will ever get the answers you’re looking for. The Room, Birdemic: Shock and Terror, and Killer Sofa; they’re merciless, babe.
So Bad, They Make You Feel Good
This category of the film has often been described as “so bad, they’re good”. However, I think a more apt description would be films that are “so bad they make you feel good”. There’s something so fascinating about watching a film made by someone with an insane idea, only $35,000, and a huge god complex. These movies, to me, are the court jesters or clowns of 21st-century cinema: you’re not really laughing with them, you’re laughing at them.
The thing is, everybody needs a good laugh from time to time -- and if they get it from a sofa possessed by a demon, well then that’s none of my business.
Let’s get into specifics then: what gets a film on the “so bad, they make you feel good” list? I’ll give you some examples. If I was teaching BF1001: B Films that Made the Grade, this would be my mandatory “reading list”:
Jesus Christ: Vampire Hunter (2001) Lee Dembarbre
The Room (2003) Tommy Wiseau
Birdemic: Shock and Terror (2010) James Nguyen
Fateful Findings (2012) Neil Breen
Velocipastor (2017) Brendan Steere
Killer Sofa (2019) Bernie Rao
Something immediately notable in identifying a film like this is B-film Rule of Three, or what I call, “The Rule of Trash”. Often, most films that make the cut for this category have a concept creator who takes on three or more huge roles within the film. Tommy Wiseau and Neil Breen actually had four roles on set: executive producer, writer, director, and leading actor. Perhaps not completely true for everything, but I think B-films prove the concept that great ideas come from real collaboration...
Two Sides of the Same Coin
So what is the relationship between Hollywood blockbusters and B-films like these? Just like people, traditional movies and B film cult classics have more similarities than differences.
For one, minorities are often used as a crutch for the plot, often in roles that playoff racist stereotypes. In Velocipastor, the entire plot is based on the fact that the protagonist Doug (Gregory James Cohan) travels to China and is cut by a dinosaur tooth that was given to him by a ninja. This then transforms him into VelociPastor -- a pastor who can transform into a velociraptor at will. Although it is humorous to see someone go from a priest to a man in a poorly constructed rubber velociraptor suit, it doesn’t erase the fact that Steere made a movie with minority characters that only fit a two-dimensional racist stereotype. But, how is this example any different from Tilda Swinton playing “The Ancient One”, an Asian character, in Doctor Strange?
Films like these and Hollywood blockbusters also often subvert the agency of female characters. In The Room, Lisa (Juliette Danielle) is often depicted as a “sex goddess” whose only desire is money, undercutting any character development for her. We could take a look at almost any James Bond film in the last 50 years, however, I’d like to look at the more recent character of Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) in Suicide Squad (2016). In trailers, Robbie’s character was branded as the new age feminist supervillain. Yet, within the film, she only follows the command of the Joker (Jared Leto) and often has to do scenes where she is posing as a “body” rather than a character with agency. There is also often no LGBTQIA+ representation to speak of in both traditional Hollywood blockbusters or these B films unless you count the lesbians within Jesus Christ: Vampire Hunter. In this film, Jesus Christ has risen again, but before he can help mankind, he must stop the legion of vampires terrorising lesbians in Ottawa.
It is easier to hide the ugliness of racism under millions of pounds of great lighting and CGI than it is while filming with two handheld cameras in a park. More so, an audience is more willing to forgive racism because of how “beautifully done” a film is. This does not excuse the prejudice within mainstream media, however, it does show that blockbusters and B films have a lot more in common than they’d like to think.
I Did Not Hit Her, I Did Not!
Theories of existentialism and nihilism have grown more popular and widely accepted in mainstream media. TV shows like Black Mirror, Rick and Morty, and BoJack Horseman appeal to more and more people because now more than ever we can appreciate that nothing will ever make perfect sense.
More than anything, cult classics like the films I’ve discussed make me want to try new things, and not be afraid. Why can’t I live my life with the mentality of a white, straight man? I want to try new hobbies I might be bad at, and not be told that I have to be completely perfect. Despite the graphics of these movies at a first glance, I think there is something completely beautiful in the fact that they had an idea they were passionate about, and they pursued it.
I can only hope to eventually live in a world where everyone is afforded the opportunity to create a movie about a tornado full of killer sharks (Sharknado) or an evil turkey monster that seeks revenge on white people for the first Thanksgiving (Thankskilling). But alas, society is not there yet. Until then, enjoy the next 48 hours deep diving on Youtube for these movies.