The majority of mainstream films are so assembly-line bland that it’s hard to feel anything about them except numb resignation.
But “Grindhouse,” which opened Friday, celebrates the love-it-or-hate-it aesthetic that gives bad movies a good name.
Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez
Rose McGowan, Freddy Rodriguez, Josh Brolin, John Jaratt, Marley Shelton
(Dimension Films (The Weinstein Company); US theatrical: 6 Apr 2007 (General release); 2007)
There are few more aggressive bad-movie proponents than former video store clerk Quentin Tarantino, who turned his love of blaxploitation, kung fu and all things drive-in into a career creating similar films for a new generation. “Grindhouse,” made with partner in crime Robert Rodriguez, is a conjoined “double feature” of B-movie fare—Tarantino directed “Death Proof,” Rodriguez directed “Planet Terror”—complete with scratchy prints, fake trailers and snack advertisements designed to simulate the drive-in movie experience.
In a glossy book promoting the film, Tarantino compares the “grindhouse” experience with the raw power of “punk rock.”
“These films existed outside the mainstream of Hollywood. You almost can’t believe some of the sexuality and gore and brutality” in them, Tarantino says in an interview in the book. And like a culturally transmitted disease, Tarantino finds their sensibility contagious.
“I’ve spoken a bit to Quentin about it,” said B-movie mogul Lloyd Kaufman, founder of Troma Pictures, home to cult classics like “The Toxic Avenger” and “Class of Nuke `Em High. “And he admires the spirit of individuality in (such) films. (And he admires) that these people, for better or worse, put their heart in a film, and that there is an energy there that stands the test of time.”
Kaufman, who co-founded Troma in 1972, is an auteur of what some might call bad movies.
“In Europe, (Troma films) are called trash. But it doesn’t mean the same thing.
“The first time they said that I got (angry). And they said, `No, no, no. It’s a genre. It’s a mentality. It’s not like garbage,’ ” Kaufman said. “In this country, there are a lot of people who enjoy Troma movies because they’re so bad, they’re good. But that’s because they don’t get them. All they see is the sex and violence. But, what the hell, that’s OK, too.”
Just as a bad movie is in the eye of the beholder, so are the reasons that we love them.
One reason is “that there’s something in the movie that resonates for the individual,” said Steve Swasey, director of corporate communications for Netflix.
Which means that there are no bad movies—just guilty pleasures. Taste is subjective. One person’s trash is another person’s funny bone tickled, heartstring plucked or gray matter stimulated.
The thin line between love and hate straddles another possibility—that, like an ugly pet, an irksome child or a rocky marriage, a bad movie can be loved despite its flaws or even because of them. To paraphrase the early-‘60s pop hit “Leader of the Pack”: It’s bad, but it’s not evil.
“Bad movies we love” could almost be a genre. If it were a grocery item, it would be cheese. The premise is absurd, the dialogue is flat, and the acting defies description.
And our relationship with it transcends logic. It is like an inside joke or a secret handshake recognized by a society of fellow travelers. We know something that you don’t know, because we love something that you don’t (although our obsession probably says more about us than it does about the film).
“It’s easy to enjoy a good movie,” said Al Walker, editor of the bad-movie Web site Agony Booth (www.agonybooth.com), named after a particularly bad “Star Trek” episode. “But finding the unintentional humor in a bad movie feels differently than laughing at something that’s supposed to be funny.”
That most movies are merely mediocre rather than horrible, Walker said, is because “you don’t have the situation today where one guy can run off with the studio’s money and make the insane film he wants to make.”
Since most films are made by committee, he said, “it’s kind of hard to make something that’s laugh-out-loud bad.”
But rest assured, they will keep trying. And as long as they do, we’ll keep loving them.
Here are a few of those that have stood the test of time.
THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE (1972)
What is it? Star-studded, waterlogged disaster film
Why it’s bad: Aaron Spelling meets Jules Verne
Who loves it? Seniors, sailors, scuba-divers
You might also like: “The Day After Tomorrow,” “Bloody Mama”
THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (1975)
What is it? Musical about transvestite mad scientist who corrupts young couple
Why it’s bad: It’s made that way
Who loves it? Kimberly-Clark, John Waters, Marilyn Manson
You might also like: “The Sound of Music,” “Hedwig and the Angry Inch”
What is it? Scrappy stripper climbs to top of Vegas heap
Why it’s bad: CSI will never solve this crime against humanity
Who loves it? Teenage boys, their fathers, Pac-Man Jones
You might also like: “Fellini Satyricon,” “Shortbus”
THE FOUNTAIN (2006)
What is it? Surreal love story with fortune-cookie moral philosophy
Why it’s bad: If love is a drug, then this is your brain on drugs
Who loves it? Director Darren Aronofsky and his true love (and star), Rachel Weisz
You might also like: “Altered States,” “Primer,” “Barbarella”
STAR TREK: INSURRECTION (1998)
What is it? TV space crew protects a planet from hostile aliens. Yes, again.
Why it’s bad: Forced camaraderie, corny villain, TV-caliber production values
Who loves it? The kid at the video store who rented it to you
You might also like: “Spaceballs,” “Earth Girls Are Easy”
BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES (1970)
What is it? Mutant humans want to bomb ape civilization back to Stone Age
Why it’s bad: Brought human-ape diplomacy to a standstill
Who loves it? Organ grinders, Kim Jong-il
You might also like: “Every Which Way But Loose,” “Bedtime for Bonzo”
THE NOTEBOOK (2004)
What is it? Parallel tales of star-crossed lovers
Why it’s bad: Love means never having to watch it
Who loves it? Teenage girls and their grandmothers
You might also like: “Old Yeller,” “Wild At Heart”
BATTLEFIELD EARTH (2000)
What is it? Apes control the planet and humans are their slaves. Oops, wrong movie. Based on the sci-fi novel by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard.
Why it’s bad: John Travolta as a 9-foot-tall alien in dreadlocks
Who loves it? Tom Cruise, Kirstie Alley
You might also like: “Waterworld,” “The Man Who Fell to Earth”
What is it? A barbarian who worships a floating stone head corrupts a civilized society
Why it’s bad: Sean Connery in a wedding dress
Who loves it? Your husband’s old college roommate. Oh, who am I kidding: your husband.
You might also like: “Soylent Green,” “Sleeper”
ROCKY IV (1985)
What is it? Punch-drunk boxer saves Reagan-era America
Why it’s bad: See Rocky Balboa jump the shark
Who loves it? The Fighting Irish, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Stone Phillips
You might also like: “Boxing Helena,” “Seabiscuit”
(Sources: Internet Movie Database ( www.imdb.com), “Videohound’s Cult Flicks & Trash Pics” by Jim Olenski and Carol A. Schwartz)
YOU KNOW IT’S A BAD MOVIE IF ...
It stars Patrick Swayze.
You leave the room and don’t put it on pause.
It has “Chainsaw” in the title.
It comes from Netflix in a brown paper wrapper.
Richard Roeper and a guest critic gave it “Two Thumbs Up!”
The title is followed by a Roman numeral.
Your kids liked it.
An animal talks.
There is a flashback within a flashback.
You wish the people sitting behind you were talking louder.
It shares its title with a pop song.