I have a confession to make – I like bad movies.
Not the excruciating ones, the ones that are a train wreck with severed limbs and decapitations, hard to watch, and you have to look away – like Plan 9 from Outer Space; that one’s just bad – I like the ones that are still enjoyable. In the early years of cable, I got to see such classics as Attack of the Killer Tomatoes and The Toxic Avenger. Granted, those were supposed to be funny, but that doesn’t make them any less awful. Then there is my personal favorite, Flash Gordon. The movie itself is questionable – poor direction, stilted dialog, campy effects – and yet…it all comes together in a glorious romp through space with one of the best soundtracks ever! I have it playing in another tab right now. Granted, the style was intentional, trying to attract the crowd that enjoyed campy comic book movies, but it was intended – by the writer, anyway – to be serious. I bought it on DVD within a month of its release. Sadly, some kids broke into my home and stole all my DVDs, and I hadn’t been able to replace it. Actually, I didn’t realize until just now that I hadn’t replaced it. I think I need to address that.
I’m not really sure when my appreciation for bad or campy movies really started. In the days before we had cable – yes, young ones, there really was such a time – there were three independent channels that I could get on the TV, on a clear day, two in town, one out of Dayton.
The three independent channels would play movies all day Saturdays and Sundays, up to three a day, staggered so they didn’t all start at the same time. One channel would begin at noon, another at one. Because they were independent, they couldn’t afford the blockbusters unless they were a good twenty years old. What that meant was there were classic movies, some in color, some in black & white, playing all day long. I didn’t watch all the time, of course; in those days we did this thing called “playing outside,” an unstructured period of time that might include balls or tag or bicycles or wandering around the neighborhood. If the weather wasn’t cooperating, or you didn’t feel well, or your mom was out of the house and you weren’t allowed to leave until she came back, though, it gave you something to do.
They played the classics, of course, but they also played the movies that no one really wanted to admit they were involved with. Honestly, it was so long ago, I couldn’t tell you what I saw, but I know there were classics and camp. There was nothing like a rainy Saturday afternoon watching the early, matinee, and late shows. Once cable came along, I thought those days were over. Not so! Those independent channels continued to play movies all day, even after they became network affiliates. One became Fox, another UPN, another the WB. That was a little sad. They saw 20th Century Fox (see why they just go by Fox now?) having success with their network, and they wanted in on the action. Fox was new and interesting, while the WB and UPN had shows with limited audiences, rather than the mainstream. That’s a discussion for another post, though.
Still, bad movies were on the air, and now they were on 24 hours a day. That, I believe, is when I finally saw Flash Gordon. At least, I don’t remember seeing it in the theater. Couldn’t have been more than ten minutes in before I was hooked. It wasn’t my first bad or campy movie, not by a long shot. I’d already seen Killer Tomatoes and Toxic Avenger by this point, not to mention reruns of Batman. This one, however, was something unexpected. I watched it several times, but never had it on video tape (those big black plastic rectangles that you stick in a VCR). I realized then that it would be my life’s mission to seek out the bad movies and decide for myself if they were entertaining or just painful.
There was a recreation center we went to after school. It was cheaper than a babysitter, and there were classes and things to do, so we weren’t just sitting around. I learned how to cook and even make candy there, took ballet, gymnastics, did all sorts of crafts, made a few movies, and took photography, complete with darkroom experience. That one stuck with me for a bit. There was also a movie time that took place in the old gymatorium.* That didn’t last very long. I remember the person running it. His name was Corky. I have no idea how old he was. When you’re 11 and small, everyone’s a grownup. He would find old movies to play for us on a film projector – VCRs were new and expensive – and kids of course would go home and tell their parents what they saw. I don’t know what it was that we saw that my mother didn’t like; I just remember her getting upset and saying that wasn’t appropriate to show to young children. The movies ended not long after that.
Maybe that’s where it began, in that dark room with 100 of my peers, watching old horror movies.
The great Roger Corman (Death Race 2000-producer; Sharktopus-producer) always seems to be involved in some way in the low-budget or movie arena, usually as a producer if anything. He’s not, although he does have quite a few to his name. He’s introduced the world to such insignificant directors as James Cameron (The Terminator, Avatar), Martin Scorsese (Taxi Driver, The Wolf of Wall Street), and Ron Howard (Cocoon, Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind), and actors Jack Nicholson, Robert De Niro, and Sandra Bullock. If you read the article, you’ll see that he thinks he’ll be nothing more than a footnote – there’s just no way; his influence is too strong.
Now, of course, there’s the movie Sharknado, and the first sequel, Sharknado 2: The Second One.† I didn’t watch Sharknado when it first aired. I’d been avoiding SyFy’s bad movies, mostly because I didn’t remember they were on. I had heard at one point that some of the bigger starts wanted a SyFy movie on their resumes now, because of how popular they were. I still hadn’t watched many, in spite of the glowing reviews from my bad cinemaphile friends. Sharknado was different. I’m sure everyone remembers all the buzz and excitement about this one. I watched the re-broadcast. Once again, I was in love.
I like bad movies. I’m okay with that.
*The rec center was added on to my school as part of the new building, and included a gymnasium. The old one just stayed a lunchroom and auditorium.
†See? The title makes sense now, doesn’t it?