The Importance of Being Earnestly Awful

There are a great many wonderful movies out there, the soaring classics that have withstood the test of time and the Remake Curse: The Empire Strikes Back, The Godfather, Blazing Saddles, The Wrath of Khan, E.T, The Lion King, etc. etc. etc.
And then there are the disappointing movies that either fail miserably at the box office or just make everyone mad: Waterworld, The Phantom Menace, The Godfather Part III, Oz: The Great and Powerful, etc. etc. etc.
But there exists a third class of movies that takes one look at the box office, laughs hysterically, and then does its own thing. This can have two outcomes; either the movie will gain an underground cult following (Mommie Dearest, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Showgirls, etc. etc. etc.) or it will exist in a weird space of other-ness, floating about movie rental stores and used movie places, waiting to be loved.
I am speaking, of course, of the movie that is so bad it’s good. Movies that know that they’re terrible and embrace it. Now, this isn’t a new thing. There are such movies that everyone knows about, like Plan 9 from Outer Space, but I am here to tell you about some more that you either have already heard of and dismissed, or haven’t heard of. Or they may be movies you saw once and hated, but should DEFINITELY WATCH AGAIN under the right conditions.
A number of years ago, I came home from work to find my then roommate and some of his friends sitting on the couch looking uncomfortable. They turned around and looked at me like they had just heard terrible news or had witnessed a murder or something. I asked them what had happened and they said, “So, we were looking for a movie to watch and we were going through your shelf and decided to pick something we hadn’t seen before…” I glanced at the TV and saw the case for the movie in question and everything clicked in my head. They had chosen a So-Bad-It’s-Good movie expecting it to be a good movie. Big mistake.
I explained to them what I will explain to you know. Such movies should never be watched out of curiosity or a desire to see if they weren’t really as bad as you remember. They will always be as bad as you remember and/or will completely disappoint you and potentially ruin your whole evening. You must go into said movie expecting it to be terrible. In fact, turn it into a drinking game based on all the awkward/ridiculous stuff that happens. Or better yet, start the movie already drunk. If you don’t drink, stay up super late and get slap happy or something. The main point is that you should not be in your right mind when enjoying said movies. The people that made such movies clearly weren’t.
I have four examples for you, covering a wide range of genres and styles. Knowing what you know now, run (don’t walk) to your nearest movie rental place (or find them on Netflix if they’re there) and plan a night of delight with friends.
1. Cutthroat Island (currently has a 5.6 rating on IMDB)
Remember my story of the roommate who accidentally watched a bad/good movie without prior understanding? It was this movie.
Cutthroat Islandis the best/worst pirate movie of all time. Compared to classics like Treasure Island or the more recent Pirates of the Caribbean series, it doesn’t really look that much better/worse or feature anything all that different. Pirate movies have a built in level of cheese anyway. What makes this movie so terrible is that it can’t decide if it’s a parody/comedy, an 80’s action flick in which everything explodes, or a thrilling pirate caper. It’s kind of all of these things. Every single pirate cliché ever can be found here. All of them. Treasure maps, burning lines of gunpowder, sword fights, you name it. The production values are relatively high, too. It’s not a massive big-budget film, but it doesn’t ever look silly, really (except that everything explodes—even Geena Davis’ bust seems to be on the point of exploding out of her corseted figure for a good portion of the movie). The script is just ridiculous and the acting isn’t great.
But you should watch it because it’s so much fun to make fun of. There are terrible one-liners drenched in awful puns, ridiculous chase scenes, more explosions than would be physically possible in the time period, and a LOT of 80’s hair (and it wasn’t even released in the 80’s). It’s SO BAD, but it makes it SO GOOD. Do not watch it alone. Watch with friends. Have everyone dress up in pirate getup. Serve copious amounts of rum to everyone. Do it.
2. Starcrash (currently has a 3.9 rating on IMDB)
I was recently introduced to this gem by a friend (thank you, darling! You know who you are!). Apparently it is already something of a cult favorite because bits and pieces of it show up on Tumblr, but more people need to know about this movie.
The special effects in this movie make the original Star Trek series look like James Cameron’s work and one character is basically a generic-brand Jedi. He even has a lightsaber (pictured). You’ve got a Bond girl (kinda—Caroline Munro played Naomi in The Spy Who Loved Me, the grinning henchwoman of Stromberg’s who attacks Bond in a helicopter and gets blown up by a missile launched from his underwater car) as Stella Star who spends a great deal of the movie in interesting skimpy attire (basically pleather bikinis of various types). As my friend pointed out, she has almost 3 times as many costume changes as everyone else, none of which are practical in any way.
Also, you’ve got the phenomenal Christopher Plummer looking SO UNCOMFORTABLE in this role. The discomfort is blatantly obvious on his face the whole time and you can tell the crew had to keep the exits barred or he would have just dashed off the set the first chance he got. But anyway, there’s goofy spaceships, goofier aliens, inconsistent makeup (except for Stella’s, of course, because hers is always flawless), and one of the most hysterical and unresolved side adventures I have ever seen. It is NEVER EXPLAINED. It makes the alien scene in The Life of Brianseem completely coherent by comparison.
Alcohol isn’t necessary to watch this because it’s pretty mind-altering as it is, but do watch this in groups so that you can all dramatically recite Christopher Plummer’s most dramatic line all together: “Imperial Battleship………HALT…THE FLOW OF TIME!”
3. The Shadow (currently has a 5.9 rating on IMDB)
I actually love this movie. It took me a number of years to realize that it was actually considered a “bad” movie. But I’ll add it to the list because it has fared well at movie nights with friends.
Based on the much older pulp stories and audio dramas, the Shadow is a Batman-esque crime fighter who can control people’s thoughts so as to appear invisible. He’s got a fabulous cape and a great big wide-brimmed hat. Also, he played by a very young Alec Baldwin in this version so he’s all charming and stuff when in human form. Also, keep an eye out for Ian McKellan as the bumbling father character. His American accent is pretty good…in most parts, but you can tell he really didn’t care much if his accent was perfect because…well…it’s a bad/good movie.
Plus you’ve got Genghis Khan’s descendant, a giant bomb, a claymation knife that bites people, and way more homoerotic subtext than I ever thought possible. Every time I watch it, I keep finding MORE homoerotic subtext.
This is a movie that goes well with wine, preferably in box form.
4. Grease 2 (currently has a 4.1 rating on IMDB)
This is a movie that I watched not aware that it was a bad/good movie even though my friend promised me that it was. I didn’t believe her and so I was not in the right frame of mind. As a result, I felt like I had been scammed by the end of it. It’s pretty bad. But with the right mindset, this movie could be amazing.
Like its prequel, it’s a musical, so it has a built in appeal for groups – sing along night! And seeing as how there’s a song about human reproduction (it’s called “Reproduction”), why WOULDN’T you sing this as a group?? There’s a line that says “Make my stamen go berserk!” I mean that’s poetry right there.
Plus the fact that Michelle Pfeiffer managed to make an amazing movie career DESPITE starring in this in her first five years of acting is pretty impressive.
There’s not much more I can say about this movie. It’s glorious. And awful. And amazing.
So, book yourselves a movie night!
‘Till next week!
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