Reading about how the Razzies (the “Oscars” for bad films) added a new category this year, The Razzie Nominee So Rotten You Loved It, I thought I’d discuss the different types of bad films. Not all films that are bad are bad in the same way. Some bad films are actually quite enjoyable. Some are bad because they are unsettlingly awful in a way that you can’t take your eyes off of—but definitely not enjoyable. And some are just bad—bad, bad, bad, boring, bad.
To me, a truly Bad film is one you just can’t sit through. It can’t even be enjoyed in a So-Bad-It’s-Good way. These types of films often make the cardinal sin of being dreadfully boring and generic. They could also be somewhat offensive and unfunny, but the key factor here is being dull. If you have made a movie that can’t even be sit through, you have officially failed. Movies have to be watched, after all.
Another quality that makes a movie unenjoyable to me is the cynicism of the producers. Is this film just a cheap cash-grab on an existing concept? Are the well-known actors hired to make this film just sleep-walking for a paycheck? As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found myself being less and less able to sit through these types of films; they’re not even “good-bad.”
I’d categorize 2005’s Son Of The Mask—ill-advised sequel to The Mask—as a bad bad Bad movie. Cynical and poorly-executed cash-grab, not funny, often grotesque to look at. Many of these CGI’d adaptations of cartoon characters—Garfield, Alvin and the Chipmunks, Yogi Bear, etc.—are, in my opinion Bad movies. They are boring and grotesque, but not even grotesque enough to be in our last category, The Trainwreck. They are just, in the parlance of The Emoji Movie (which I think straddles the line between Bad and Trainwreck), “meh.”
Lastly, there are some mainstream films that aren’t popularly considered “bombs”—often getting simply mediocre reviews—that I consider Bad. I turned off Daddy’s Home after about 15 minutes. Fist Fight was not only mostly unfunny with unlikeable characters, it was downright unsettlingly nasty—but not unsettling or nasty enough to merit another view as a Trainwreck. And Zoolander 2 was so appallingly cynical and without soul, in addition to being mostly unfunny, that it too almost made the Trainwreck category…but left me feeling too “meh” to even do that.
A So-Bad-It’s-Good flick contains flaws that provoke continuing and active interest on the part of the viewer through most of the running time. This might be because it features appalling acting, horrible special effects, truly cartoonish dialogue, a mind-bogglingly inept plot, amateur execution…and usually all of the above.
Despite all the Badness, however, So-Bad-It’s-Good movies have one thing that the Bad and Trainwreck films do not—a bizarre type of charm and even “heart.” They will often key into some very iconic, archetypal, meme-like qualities that turn them into “cult” films.
Take 2006’s The Wicker Man, the remake of the 1973 horror film of the same name. This would have almost just been another soulless remake EXCEPT that its star, the incomparable Nic Cage, gave it everything he had. Cage brought a “soul” to The Wicker Man with his patented overacting style. When he holds a doll up to one character and demands, “HOW’D IT GET BURNED? HOW’D IT GET BURNNNNNEEDDD???!!!”—that is 100% Cage. When at the end of the movie he’s screaming for his life—”THE BEES!!!! MY EYES!!!!”—you know, it’s ludicrous but there’s also a “life” to it. I admit it—I enjoy it. It’s pure joy to watch.
I’d re-watch The Wicker Man. I’d re-watch it sooner than the original.
Or take one of the most famous “bad” movies of all time, The Room. Like Nic Cage, Tommy Wiseau brings a soul to his acting—he’s nowhere near the ballpark in terms of talent to Cage, but he’s “genuine” even when his line reads don’t feel genuine at all. Like when he interrupts an unconvincing dramatic monologue to go: “oh, HI, Mark!” You can’t make shit like that up, the preposterous way he read that line. You can’t purposely make an actor read a line that way. That’s…that’s lightning in a bottle, is what it is.
And there is often an “underdog” element to the love of So-Bad-It’s-Good movies. The story of how the real-life Wiseau made his film is so compelling because it’s the ultimate underdog narrative. All the odds were against Wiseau—everyone told him he was a failure and untalented, and would never make it in movies. He pushed ahead anyhow; granted, in a famously awkward fashion. But he did it. And he was sincere, in his way.
One of the big differences between Bad films and So-Bad-It’s-Good films: cynicism vs. sincerity.
This is also why an obscure director of “Z” films from the 50s and 60s, Edward D. Wood Jr., because so famous—even the subject of a Tim Burton film.
Yes, his films were terrible. But he was extremely sincere.
Loving a film that is a Trainwreck is a perverse type of love indeed.
Enjoying a So-Bad-It’s-Good film can be a group activity; think the peeps from Mystery Science 3000 sitting in their film seats, throwing popcorn. But Trainwreck films are often…grotesque. Unsettlingly so. The type of film you watch and continually ask yourself: “wasn’t there anybody on set to tell them how awful and creepy this all is?”
And yet you watch. You can’t stop. And when it shows up again on cable or your streaming service or as a $2.00 DVD at your local garage sale…you watch it all over again!!!
Why??? Why do you this???
A common factor in the Trainwreck film is woeful miscasting, and/or an acting performance that is so WTF and off-putting that you can’t stop staring at it.
Example 1: Mike Myers in 2003’s The Cat In The Hat. He looks hideous in that makeup!!! And his performance is the very definition of WTF…it’s off-putting, unpleasant, and often inappropriate for what is supposed to be a kid’s movie.
And yet I can’t merely categorize The Cat In The Hat as a bad movie, because…every time I have a “passive” chance to watch it (streaming, one of those film critic walkthroughs on YouTube), I do. I have to take full responsibility for putting myself directly in the path of The Cat In The Hat. And I do it for perverse reasons. I do it because…it’s grotesque. It’s not joyful. It’s just grotesque.
Example 2: Jim Carrey in 1995’s Batman Forever. Director Joel Schumacher should win an award for helping a Jim Carrey *in his prime* be unfunny. I would have to write an entire thesis on why Carrey’s over-the-top performance as the Riddler wasn’t funny. But damned if I don’t watch it over and over and over and over and over again.
Why do I do it??? MASOCHISM!!! Not “good” masochism, like MST3K. But, rather, dark, sad, and mostly unsaid cinematic masochism. The type of thing you don’t readily admit to. Same thing with 1983’s Superman III. Easily seen this flick like 25+ times by now. Every viewing is like a grim religious ritual. It’s a compulsion. I have to do it!
There’s never any laughter, like for a solid Wiseau flick. There’s just sweatiness and self-loathing for having seen it. I had to walk my DVD copy of the Schumacher/Carrey film The Number 23 to the local “free” donation library for exactly this reason. I couldn’t spiritually keep this Trainwreck in my house anymore. I couldn’t watch it again. Watching it…was bad. Not So-Bad-It’s-Good. Not merely Bad. But it was a Trainwreck of almost eldritch grotesquerie.
Here are just some “hot takes” on various films deemed “bad,” and how I categorize them:
The Happening: It’s somewhere between Bad and legitimate movie for me. I think it was better than the critics consensus, but Mark Wahlberg’s too-earnest performance was in Nic Cage territory; I think he tried his best for a role he was extremely miscast in.
The Master Of Disguise: This Dana Carvey film used to be a fun go-to So-Bad-It’s-Good film for me…but over time, it’s become simply Bad.
Super Mario Bros.: And in the opposite direction, I used to just write this off as simply a Bad film…but I’ve enjoyed it more over time, and would almost place it in a Too-Ahead-Of-Its-Time category.
Foodfight!: This legendary film is a Trainwreck, based on a) how egregiously terrible the digital animation is b) the fact that a post Two And A Half Men Charlie Sheen voices the protagonist and c) how craven and inept the product placement is.
Batman And Robin: I’m so tempted to give this a So-Bad-It’s-Good nod, but…it’s just Bad. As cynical as hell.
The Garbage Pail Kids Movie: Bad. Too grotesque even for the Trainwreck category. Literally makes me want to puke.
Godzilla (1998): (falls into a puddle of self-loathing) OH GOD I DON’T KNOW WHY I KEEP COMPULSIVELY WATCHING IT, PLEASE DON’T JUDGE ME!!! (postscript: after hunting down a clip for this movie & watching it, I became misty-eyed—which means that I am too far gone. I’m sorry. I really am.) (post-postscript: so fucking Matthew Broderick takes a photo of FUCKING GODZILLA!!! up-close with a fucking cheap-ass disposable Kodak camera…and Godzilla flinches from the flash, looks Broderick directly in the face…and leaves. He’s like: “nah, you’re too nebbishy, it’s OK.” Fuck that. Godzilla 1998 goes in my So-Bad-It’s-Good column. Fuck it. I could watch this clip a hundred times. Say what you want about Broderick, he nailed that nebbishy shit.)
And there you have it. May this post be a valuable bit of useless information that might help you in your Bad Movie pursuits!