Digital Polyphony

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So Bad It's Good

Posted on March 26, 2014 at 2:55 AM

So Bad It’s Good


Yes that’s a picture of Flash Gordon. That movie is so bad…yet so good…

A long time ago, in a galaxy that’s ours and it was actually 2010, I did a blog post on “Guilty Pleasure” movies. I thought: you know, I’ve seen a lot more movies since then, it’s been almost 5 years since I wrote that, why not write more on it? Sure.


There’s a subset of movies out there that people love. Yet, at the same time, they freely admit they aren’t that great of movies. For example, I was watching Howard the Duck when I started to name other movies that felt like Howard the Duck in some way: bad movie, but entertaining movie. It got me thinking of other movies I also put in that relm. By no coincidence I watched a double feature of Krull and The Ice Pirates (same writer, so that's why in case you were wondering) shortly afterwards.

Ron Pearlman will never meet this quality of "So bad it's good" again, though it wasn't for lack of trying.


There’s a lot of terms for these kind of movies. I can’t really know what the correct one is because it seems to mean different things to different people. Some call them “So bad they’re good,” others might call them “guilty pleasures.”


I just know them when I see them. In other words, if you can see a movie and know that it really is bad in a lot of areas, like acting or effects or even editing and music…yet still have a fun and entertaiing time with it, then that’s the kind of movie we’re talking about here.

 Is it a “guilty pleasure?” if I have no guilt in watching Masters of the Universe? No, I fully know it’s bad, but so good. Guilt implies shame...and I have no sha...ok maybe I do.

It’s equal parts awful and entertaining. Bad acting? Bad script? Bad everything? Sure. But if it manages to still be entertaining, sometimes just with its own sense of “fun” or “not caring” or “stupid concept that’s ridiculous to watch." There's a lot to be said about movies that aren't all that great, yet we are compelled to watch them. Maybe it's because they're bad and laughable, maybe it's just because they're immensely entertaining either way.

Let’s look at Point Break for a moment. Point Break fails on a lot of levels, but some of its failures are its best qualities. The acting? The dialogue? The entire plot? Gary Busey? They’re all pretty bad, but center it all on a very well-done mass of action sequences and energy and it all becomes absolutely amazing. There’s a reason why “so bad it’s good” movies are often action films. Action, if done well, is incredibly entertaining and fun to watch. Everything else can be forgiven.

Let’s look at another one: Commando. Good God…Commando. It’s bad…but it’s so good. Why? Because the action and editing and pace is so spot-on, that the bad lines and bad story and bad acting don’t matter or simply aren’t as noticeable. In fact, they become its most iconic elements alongside watching Arnold kill mercilessly. The better the film is made (yes, I said that) the less likely you’re going to hold the bad things against it and, instead, have it all turn around into something you legitimately enjoy.

Hell, in some cases, you not only enjoy it, you can’t think of the movie without it. Can you imagine Point Break without Keanu or Commando without those bad one-liners?

You say you can?


No, you can’t. They’re a part of the form, a cog in the machine, one element of the whole that you can't live without - and thanks to the well done action and pace, they become synergetic with the whole thing. Let’s take a look at another: Road House. Road House, on paper, should suck. Its story is generic tripe, characters bland, action is actually a bit of a mess in terms of directing, but then…then you cast Patrick Swayze as a philosophy-spouting, kinda-buddhist who can rip out your neck and kill you.

Wait. What? There’s absolutely no story in Road House. It’s more a series of scenes. It’s badly paced on top of that. But there’s an arc (kind of). It all centers on Swayze. You hear about him and his infamous neck-rip…then by the end you find out it’s true. Oh, and he gets a girl, I think. It’s bad, but great.

Lets step away from the movies with big famous people and look at a common trend in a lot of “guilty pleasures” or “So bad they’re good” flicks: the lovable B-movie. These are movies that do the best they can with what they’re given. There’s a lot of good B-moies out there, John Carpenter made a career out of them, but there’s also the so-bad they’re good ones like, Oh…Hell Comes to Frogtown.


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Here we have Roddy Piper as the last man on earth and he has to save the female humans from the mutant frogs who want to breed with them. It’s ridiculous, and from that ridiculousness comes great entertainment. Of course, whereas Frogtown is arguably a bit of a mess of a movie, and you love it because of that, some movies are really well made yet so cheesy and absurd they fall in to that "so bad its good" category. For example...

The Warriors. Good God. The Warriors - like Road House it's utterly dumb on paper yet brilliant in execution. Now here's a movie that is atrocious on paper, but there's something about its capture of everything late 70s/early 80s, and the cheesiness behind it all, and the atmosphere, that makes it ludacriousness work. You take notice of its costumes, its lighting, its bad acting...but there's something about it that compells you to watch. This isn't as good a movie as, say, Escape From New York, because that's a great genre picture. It's just a dumb movie about people fighting in the city and it being so early 80s you'll be wearing leather and hot pants (also see Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo).

Another is a personal favorite of mine that’s damn ridiculous: Maximum Overdrive. Here is a movie where some thing happens, it’s never really described as what, and all electronic devices and vehicles become “alive” and start killing people. Now machines coming alive and killing people isn’t anything new. Some outright bad movies (Chopping Mall) have used it alongside some great movies (2001: A Space Odyssey). But this is 1986 calling, and was made my a cocaine-fueled Stephen King and has this scene:



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Now if that’s not entertainment, I don’t know what is.


Let’s not mistake something here. These are movies that are bad, and you know they’re bad, and they turn around and become guilty pleasures, or just pleasures, as a result. The flip side are movies that are bad, you know they’re bad, and you watch them because it’s like watching a train wreck. The Room or Birdimic, the notoriously awful movies best left to Rifftrax, are just simply bad. You laugh at them because of the awfulness, not because their badness is particularly entertaining. Whereas, say, Snakes on the Plane is so bad it’s good.

This goes to show that just because something has a lot of money behind it, it doesn’t mean it’ll entertain you. Imagination and a will can go a long way. You look at something like RIPD and say “there’s a big budget movie with big stars and…shit it’s awful.” On paper, a movie like that should have been awesome. But was it more entertaining, or even better, than Hell Comes to Frogtown, The Running Man or Buckaroo Bonzai Across the 8th Dimension, three beautifully dumb, cheesy, fun movies? Nope.

It’s all subjective, of course. Some can watch Nic Cage’s The Wicker Man and consider it a “So bad it’s good," but I see that as more unintentionally entertaining than anything. There’s a difference between a movie like that and a movie like The Toxic Avenger that knows EXACTLY what it is.



Want to know movies that I think are absolutely in this realm? Blacksploitation. If you haven’t seen The Human Tornado, Boss N****** or Willie Dynamite, then you need a lesson in the awesomeness of this genre that knows exactly what it’s doing. Not good movies, but great entertainment.


The 1980s seem to be the center of all this oddity (that and the late 70s, have seen Star Crash? Go see Star Crash). You can still come across some recent ones. Con-Air comes to mind. But most come from the 1980s. Think about it, the 80s were all about excess. It was the perfect storm of filmmaking technology, imagination, drugs, fashion, desperate actors who didn’t want to do porn, music and the willingness of an audience to actually sit and enjoy it. Let's face it, we love the 80s because of its absolute absuridty that permeated through the entire decade.


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It’s what allowed something like this to exist.

To wrap this up,  I have to give a shoutout to one movie in particular. No, not Over the Top. Not Mortal Kombat. Not Return of the Living Dead, Maniac Cop, The Stuff, Street Trash or any number of shlock 80s horror movies. Not Battle Beyond the Stars or Star Crash. Not Lifeforce, Krull, Tremors, Crank, Zoolander, Bloodsport or Joe Versus the Volcano. Not even Dolemite or any number of other Nic Cage movies I couldn't list in one go. In the end, there’s really just one movie that makes me think of “So bad it’s good…”

That movie is Zardoz. It's so bad, it's so weird, it's so...unique...that it's absolutely wonderful. It's about, well that's the thing. What' it's "about" is actually pretty straightforward. Earth in the future has two classes and the lower class revolts. The end. But here, it's all about the execution and how bizaare and strange it makes all that happen. It's like a fever dream where you recall some things, yet you aren't exaclty sure how all the pieces fit together. You just know the "sensation" that is Zardoz. This is mid-80s sci-fi/fantasy here at its finest. It also has Sean Connery wearing his greatest costume.

Like, say, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Zardoz is less something you "watch" and more something you "experience."


I don’t know how the hell i can describe Zardoz. There’s a curiosity factor here. It’s actually pretty well directed for what it is, but boy…it’s a trip. I came across it years ago, I think that image of Sean Connery was going around in the early-oughts and I said to myself “I’m a pretty big Connery fan, but I have no idea what movie that is.”

Eventually I hunted it down on a Reddit forum and voila, discovered Zardoz: one of the worst yet one of the best movies I have ever seen in my life. It’s not intentionally or unintentionally anything…it just kind of exists in its own realm, probably joined by the likes of David Lynch's Dune or, back to the very first movie here, the campy Flash Gordon. Sure, you can critique those to all hell, or you can just sit and let it wash over you.

That's the thing about these types of movies. They are review-proof. There's a cult around them, some more than others, but that appreciation is one of love and admiration. At the end of the day, it's all about how entertaining you found it and how much enjoyment you had while watching. Good. Bad. Who cares on movies like these? They aren't trying to make the next Citizen Kane or Casablanca, they're just trying to make the best movie they can hope to set out to make. And they succeed even if the movie itself is rubbish...because I wouldn't have made an entire blog post about them if they failed.



Side note. Point Break has such a wonderful cult following, you have to attend one of these shows if you're in the CAL or NY areas.


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