Austin Wolf-Sothern is a projectionist and stand-up comedian who really likes movies. He likes them likes them. He is upset that 35mm film is being replaced by digital because 35mm is tactile, and digital is way harder to have sex with. He reviews movies at wolfsothern.blogspot.com, and infrequently posts jokes on Twitter at twitter.com/wolfsothern, where he also retweets and responds to celebrities who mention the city of Austin, as if they are talking about him. It’s the dumbest thing in the world.
My personal gauge for how good or bad a movie is is directly proportional to how much I enjoy watching it. So by these standards, if I love a movie, it’s a great movie. A bad movie is one I don’t get anything out of. But I apparently love quite a few “bad” movies. You can’t really tell, but those are italicized quotation marks to emphasize how subjective it all is. There are plenty of movies I can acknowledge have technical flaws, are plot-structurally-challenged, have less-than-convincing acting or special effects, or are just plain incompetent behind the camera. I get why someone would call those “bad”. But oftentimes, people have broader definitions, and I’m actually shocked by their definition of “bad”. For the puposes of example, I’m going to single out comedian Doug Benson. Doug Benson is one of my favorite comedians of all time, and I’ve been a huge fan of his podcast, Doug Loves Movies, for years. I love him. But he infuriates me. His taste in film is traditional, and very much in line with the average film critic. And he will occasionally mention a film, and refer to it as bad, and frame it as if it’s an obvious statement that even fans of the said film would agree with, and it will be a film that literally would never have occurred to me as something that could be regarded that way. The best examples of this I can think of are Fright Night and Total Recall. Total Recall is a perfect film. It’s a smart, complex plot, flawlessly executed, with brilliant special effects that still hold up. Is it not popularly accepted as the greatest sci-fi thriller of all time? Seriously. I had always just assumed that it was. I’m using Doug Benson here because he is not a film critic, but he is also not a casual filmgoer. He’s more a “casual film fanatic” if that’s not too contradictory, and I think that’s an interesting starting point for what could be a general defintion of what good and bad is. And by “interesting”, I mean depressing. The reason Doug Benson doesn’t like Fright Night is because he’s not a fan of horror films. Horror is a very distinct genre, that people tend to either love or hate. No self-professed horror fan in the world would ever say Fright Night is a bad film. It’s a bonafide classic. The casual film fanatic, though, has more in common with film critics and the Academy. Which means if we’re using their opinion as our “general” gauge, no horror or action or even comedy film can ever truly be great cinema (with a handful of exceptions). Even the greatest sci-fi thriller of all time is still a “bad” movie because it’s not a fucking drama. We’re still at a point where dramatic storytelling is the only thing that gets any real respect. Which is extremely unfortunate. And it’s all Doug Benson’s fault.
On the bright side, I actually think things are changing for the better. It all depends on where you’re looking, I suppose, but in the last couple of days, I’ve been looking at a website called Rupert Pupkin Speaks. And it’s been extremely refreshing to see the sheer number of guest writers who have insightful, fresh things to say about the absurdity of “so bad, it’s good”, and embracing a more open-minded way to view cinema. I want to single some people out again, but this time for the good that they’re doing. Jesse Hawthorne Ficks in San Francisco, and Zack Carlson and Lars Nilsen in Texas, have been showcasing underappreciated films for quite some time now, and introducing them with a sincere respect that audiences weren’t necessarily prepared for. They’re doing their part to redefine “bad” and eliminate cynical, ironic attitudes toward films that may affect you in unexpected ways. There’s still a ways to go certainly, but I think their efforts are truly making a difference.
What I’m establishing here is that taste is subjective. Jesse Ficks (whose events I have the most familiarity with, being from SF) would sometimes appreciate movies so hard that I would find myself wondering, “Are any films bad?” So this is what I grappled with in coming up with this list. What set of standards am I using to categorize “bad” movies I love? For the most part, I went with the movies I feel are the most underappreciated. The ones I rarely see anyone else praising. So Showgirls may be my favorite movie of all time, but it's not on the list because lots of other people appreciate it at this point. Likewise, Troll 2 or The Room, even though I think I still view those in a different way than most of their fans. The only way I’m willing to watch The Room is alone and sober, and it still blows me away. The other restriction is that I need to have heard or read at least one person shitting on it. My second favorite movie of all time is Dream to Believe, but the only people I know of who have actually seen it are those I’ve personally shown it to, and they all loved it. So it’s hardly a “bad” movie. In essence, I’m not sure any of this preamble has anything to do with my list. My apologies to Doug Benson, who I really do love, and is not actually at fault for the world’s dismissal of genre films. And my apologies for writing way more about the negative side of the “good or bad” argument than I did about the positive side. I hate doing that. I much prefer to celebrate things. Like the following ten films.
Aerobicide, a.k.a. Killer Workout (1987) Members of a gym are being killed off by someone with a giant safety pin, and it may have something to do with a girl who was burned up in a tanning bed incident. Normally, I don’t like it when movies are repetitive, and throwing things in excessively just to pad out the running time, but when the thing that the movie goes to every other scene is girls in spandex aerobicizing and humping the ground to 80s-tastic jams (I’d say there’s at least 40 minutes of this), I can’t help but be charmed and entertained. Then there’s blood, and nudity, and amazing acting and macho posturing, and burn victim nudity, and an attempt at mystery, and seriously incredible music. Every moment of this movie is perfection.
The Amazing Transplant (1970) An impotent man gets a penis transplant from a recently deceased friend of his, and starts to develop his friend’s sexual habits, which mainly consists of raping any women who wear gold earrings. It's a little slow at times, and the sex scenes go on way too long, but every single thing about how this movie is put together works for me. The bright cinematography (specifically the inappropriately luminous rape scenes), the stilted acting, the dialogue, the many shots of people awkwardly reacting to whatever is being said to them, the frequent shots of inanimate objects and feet, the cheesy music, the bizarre sequence of events, the explanation of the plot in the last few minutes, the sleaziness, and of course, the phenomenal final shot of the newspaper where we (don't) find out the fate of the film's killer. My favorite Doris Wishman movie. Every second of it validates my love of cinema.
Deadly Friend (1986) A brilliant teen, with an understanding of neuro-science and robotics, has built an adorable robot named BB who rambles nonsense in an adorably demonic voice. But the robot is destroyed by a vicious neighbor (Anne Ramsey), and shortly after that, the girl he has fallen for (Kristy Swanson, also quite adorable) dies. Sad and desperate, he does the only practical thing. Brings both of them back at the same time by putting the brain of BB into the body of Swanson. Things don’t work out exactly as planned, though, as his new Friend... turns out to be... The plot may have some absurd elements, but if you can embrace it, this is one of the saddest, most touching movies you will ever see. I was genuinely distraught by the end of it. Basically, it’s a horror movie that manages to combine a plethora of cuteness with heart-breaking tragedy, centered around a robot and a pretty girl, with moments of disturbing cruelty, some gory effects, and one of the best kill scenes of all time (it involves a basketball). In other words, this movie was made for me personally! The film’s been criticized and largely dismissed because it jumps genres a bit, and sometimes seems like it was made for kids, but other times is clearly intended as adult horror, leaving people wondering what audience it’s meant for. Well, it’s me. I AM THE AUDIENCE. It really delivers on so many levels of what I desire out of a film, and it’s unbearably appealing. It is literally the opposite of what I would personally consider a bad movie, and I loathe that it’s a "bad” one (in emphasized quotes), but I had to include it because it’s so widely misunderstood.
Elves (1989) Elves is about an elaborate plot cooked up by the Nazis to breed a superhuman by having a teenage virgin who is the product of incest mate with a weird-looking, killer elf (which there is only one of). It’s kind of a bad plan on the Nazis part, and takes forever. One of the soldiers has to have a daughter, wait until she’s breeding age, rape her and get her pregnant, to produce the child of incest. Which, they’re trying to create superhumans, and last I checked, incestuous reproduction is not the secret to stronger, more evolutionarily developed stock. Right? So then the Nazi has to wait for the incest baby to be born, wait for her to become a teenager, and then just hope that she and her friends accidentally summon the elf during a witchy anti-Christmas forest ritual. Which they do, but regardless, it’s already 1989. The war is long over, and this killer elf is no match for an aspiring department store Santa (he can’t seem to actually get the job) played by Dan Haggerty, who helps the teenage incest daughter fight the elf and her Nazi grandfather/father. I don’t want to offend anyone, but those Nazi folk had some terrible ideas. And I am absolutely blaming the fictional Nazis in the movie for such bad plotting, and not the filmmakers, who made an amazingly entertaining film.
Fear (1996) Nicole (Reese Witherspoon), a sweet high school girl, starts dating the slightly older, handsome, and seemingly kind Mark Wahlberg. They grow close quickly, but Nicole’s father (William Petersen) has reservations about Walhberg, who seems too good to be true. Turns out he’s onto something. No matter how romantically Wahlberg fingers Reese on a rollercoaster, it can’t make up for his psychotic jealousy (he brutally attacks Reese’s gay friend for putting his arm around her) and insane possessiveness (he carves “NICOLE 4 EVA” into his chest). When Reese tries to break away from him, things go off the rails as Wahlberg and his friends invade her family’s home. It’s campy at times, but it’s also legitimately suspenseful and upsetting. Wahlberg and Petersen are both amazing in their vigorous battle of macho intensity. An extremely underrated, sexy rollercoaster ride of a thriller. FEAR 4 EVA.
Gang Boys (1994) Linda Blair's gay son gets raped by Nazi skinheads, so she tracks down the father, played by Wings Hauser (who also directs), and helps him deal with his alcoholism, and eventually they kind of fight back. It’s a gritty, harsh film about a family coming together over their hatred of hatred, and I love to love it. Some weird family dynamics behind the scenes, too. Wings’ son Cole Hauser stars as the skinhead gang leader, and there’s a scene where his character beats up then pees on Wings’ character. Not sure if the Hausers were trying to work through their own familial issues there, but it’s a bit off-putting to watch. In a charming way! An uneasily cathartic family film onscreen and off.
The Final Destination (2009) A guy has a vision about himself and his friends getting killed at a racetrack, so he drags them out of there, along with a few other people. But Death is still after them, and it’s going to get them in the most absurd ways imaginable, usually through something flying at them or by something long and pointy, using the film’s 3D to it’s full potential. I adore the entire Final Destination series, and this entry stands tall as my favorite because it’s the breeziest and the trashiest. The plot rushes along, reaching the incredibly satisfying climax in a mere 80 minutes, not wasting time with things like character development. The film is strictly concerned with just one thing, creative and knowingly hilarious death scenes. Like a pebble shooting through a woman’s face, a man being sliced up through a fence, or a pool drain sucking out someone’s insides through their asshole. More than any other film in the series, this one joyously celebrates it’s absurd deaths. I saw this in the theater when it came out, and there is a sequence that takes place in a movie theater showing a 3D movie, where a character exclaims “This is where I’m supposed to be. I was meant to see this movie.” mimicking my exact feelings in that moment. This movie seemed to have been made just for me, and I was meant to fucking see it. It does lose something on video without the 3D (and I swear the effects looked better in the theater), but it still can’t be beat for its sense of brilliantly lighthearted, gory fun.
Killer Condom (1996) This film is notable, firstly, because it takes place in New York City, but is spoken entirely in German, and the lead character is supposed to be Italian. But perhaps more importantly, this film is notable because as far as I know, it is the very first overtly gay horror movie. Many people may be thrown off by the cheesy title, and although it is quite literally about condoms with teeth that bite off men’s dicks, usually causing them to bleed to death, it actually plays out fairly straight-laced (for lack of a better term), with minimal campiness. There’s no hammy overacting or bad slapstick here. It’s a regular detective story, clearly rooted in film-noir, with a sharp comic sensibility, and a lead character (a tough, chubbier Dirty Harry type) who happens to be gay. The killer condoms seem to strike exclusively at a seedy hotel frequented by various sexual deviants, and the detective takes a special interest in the case when he has a personal encounter with one, while in a room with a male hustler. It all ends with a heartfelt speech about being yourself, and a happy ending for the lovestruck detective and the hustler. Go ahead and watch this one barebacked, because all it tested positive for is Extremely Underrated.
Mac and Me (1988) A young, grotesquely adorable alien is vaccuumed off his home planet, separated from his family, and planted on Earth, where he befriends a boy in a wheelchair, who helps him hide from NASA by dressing him up as a teddy bear and taking him to a McDonald’s dance party. There are a lot of other crazy and bizarre things that happen, but I feel it may be best to go in unprepared, and let it’s many delights unfold upon you naturally. Part of the reason I defend seemingly-misguided movies like this, is because I admire any movie where you have no fucking clue what’s going to happen next. Even being a rip-off of another film (the inferior E.T., which I also really love, but not as much), there is literally no way to predict what you’re about to see on a scene-to-scene basis in Mac and Me. But trust me, every moment is compelling, and for me, that makes it a brilliant and unique film. And also, I don’t care what anyone says, Mac is adorable. The adult aliens (his family) not so much, and the scene where his naked alien dad is waving a gun around in a supermarket is a little creepy, but overall it’s a cute movie. And one of the best I’ve ever seen.
Nail Gun Massacre (1985) After a woman is gang-raped, someone goes “plum loco with a hammer and a box of nails,” donning black jeans, a black motorcycle jacket, and a black helmet, and quips indecipherable one-liners through a voice distortion box after pumping them full of nails (which is actually done with the titular nail gun, as opposed to killing someone by individually hammering each nail into people’s bodies as the sheriff theorizes in the quote above). Do the people being murdered have anything to do with the rape scene the movie starts us off with? Probably. I guess. She was raped by construction workers, and it seems to be mostly construction workers who the killer is targeting, but it’s also anyone who just happens to be near a construction site, or pretty much anyone who lives in that town. The kills are pretty amazing, and basically every single thing that happens in this movie is hilarious, especially the one-liners, on the rare occasion they can actually be understood through all that distortion. Simply superb.