Wednesday, June 12, 2024

An Ode to Bad Movies

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I love movies, even bad ones. To be clear, I’m not trying to be ironic or facetious, either. On the contrary, I find bad movies genuinely entertaining.

Now some people don’t like bad movies. They’ll look down their nose and proudly proclaim they don’t like wasting their time. But I think they are missing the value of a good, bad movie.

Understand that the difference between a bad movie and a “bad” movie is all the difference. For example, Ruben Fleischer’s Venom is a bad movie. But it’s also unique and fascinating in all the ways it doesn’t and does work. It doesn’t succeed in what it’s trying to do, but it does succeed in other ways.

Good movies are great and should be watched. But if you don’t watch bad movies, then your understanding of what makes “good” movies good can become skewed. Bad films remind us that we are not gods but mere mortals. Every failed movie inevitably comes from a failed attempt, a squashed dream, or some entity, external or internal, that shows us that by the grace of God go good movies.

Understand me when I say I love bad movies. I don’t mean I love to mock them. To some extent, I do; I grew up on and still love “Mystery Science Theater 3000” after all. But no, I often find the things other people mock them for – charming. 

Take Octaman, for example, a 1971 Mexican-American creature feature about a half-man half-octopus ala Creature From the Black Lagoon. The effects aren’t half bad, due to the legendary Rick Baker. It’s possibly one of the few films ever made in which the billionaire funding the mission is the lone voice of reason and suggests they call off the expedition and get out while they still can. However, Octaman is a scrappy little monster movie that feels shorter at 76 minutes than some ninety-minute films do.

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The creature from Octaman

Another example is the Tiger Claws trilogy starring Cynthia Rothrock, Jalal Merhi, and Bolo Yeung. The first Tiger Claws deals with Rothrock and Merhi as cops chase Yeung, a serial killing martial artist. The second one sees them once again chasing down Yeung, who has been sprung from police custody only to be dragged into a Mortal Kombat style fighting tournament replete with an underground labyrinth and a portal to the past. Finally, Tiger Claws III drops Yeung and brings in a cigar-chomping sleazebag who casts a spell to bring the spirits of three legendary fighters to life and do his bidding.

If you’re following along, yes, the first movie was a straight-up wonky action suspense movie followed by two other movies that, without any explanation, decided that both time travel and magic existed in this universe. Far from being scandalized, I admire them for this audacious throw logic to the winds style of storytelling. 

Perhaps it’s why I’m not as bothered by the lack of realism as others are. Bad movies are many things but rarely are they logical or believable. It’s strange, but seeing a generation of movie fans who were raised on the MCU snicker at how a movie “isn’t realistic” makes me wonder if it’s because I grew up with Dolph Lundgren in Masters of the Universe.

“He-Man and the Masters of the Universe” was a cartoon created to sell toys and adapted into a movie that was hardly recognizable to anybody who had religiously watched the show. Fun fact: I didn’t give a shit. I was perfectly aware that as an adaptation, it was not good. But had the movie been “good,” I’m not so sure it would have been as memorable as that buck-wild bastardized gem of my childhood?

Yes, much of what went wrong with Masters of the Universe came from the studio, The Cannon Group, Inc. Cannon Films was a studio legendary for its manufacturing of cheese, low-budget action films, soft-core erotica, and other forms of cinematic bat-shittery. But if you ask anyone who ever owned a copy of Masters of the Universe, they likely never claimed it was good, simply that it was fun.

Some of my readers get angry when I don’t love the latest big-budget comic-book movie. I don’t love them because I’m an elitist. I don’t love them because they are ugly to look at AND dull. I recently watched China O’Brien the other night for the first time, a brazenly silly Cynthia Rothrock martial arts movie, and was struck by how colors existed. This is partially due to how the film is lit but even the outfits seemed to pop-80s or no 80s.

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Keith Cooke and Cynthia Rothrock in China O’Brien

Granted, this is more to do with how modern films of all stripes look, but it’s telling how colorful a 1988 martial arts film made to try and raise Rothrock’s profile in the states compared to modern films with better technology and bigger budgets. Bad movies are often left out of the discussion but are no less important and influential in affecting trends and styles.

Bad movies also are the first to disappear into the abyss as new formats emerge and old ones fade away. For example, it’s impossible to find most Rothrock movies on DVD or Blu-Ray in the states, while only a smattering of her films exists on streaming. Odd, considering she came up with Michelle Yeoh and the two ushered in an entire era of women-centric Hong Kong action movies with 1985’s Yes, Madam! Michelle Yeoh movies are difficult to find as well, for that matter.

It’s more than just action movies. The 1980 musical The Apple is a musical about the far-flung future of 1999 where society is obsessed with a reality television show and whose entire premise, an allegory for The Book of Genesis, has to be seen to be believed. It’s bad, and by bad, I mean glorious. 

Mariah Carey’s cinematic 2001 opus Glitter has to be seen to be believed. It’s a movie so chaotic that it somehow feels fated that it would star Mariah Carey. This movie has one of my favorite smash-cuts in modern cinema that never fails to send me soaring over the moon. Yes, it’s terrible, but there is a sort of freedom from having to seem cool or hip in its badness.

You like bad movies too. Oh yes. The Greatest Showman is a bad movie, but its heart and earnest desire to entertain overcome its visual deficiencies. Not to mention the vocal talents of the cast and Hugh Jackman’s seemingly supernova charisma help make what could have been just an absolute dud into a minor sensation at the box office.

Far from looking down at bad movies, I am often in awe of them. I clap at the end of every movie simply because I know what a miracle it is for a film to be made at all. Bad movies often have more heart, more creativity, and or at the very least, more honest about what they are, than their often critically-lauded glossy siblings. 

Images courtesy of Heritage Enterprises Inc., Golden Harvest, and The Cannon Group, Inc.

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