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The Art of the Bad Movie, or Why Ed Wood is Funnier Than Sharknado Could Ever Be

I know a thing or two about bad movies. If you follow me on twitter (@sbliss89), on any given night I’m probably livetweeting a complete stinker of a b-movie. Along with others, we riff on the movies, make jokes and and have a good time. This is not a strange thing. There is fun to be had in watching a “so bad it’s good movie”– that’s what Mystery Science Theater 3000 and it’s later incarnations are based on. It’s something that I genuinely love.

And yet, when everyone was watching Sharknado 2 last night, I took no interest in it. I didn’t watch it and probably never will. Why? Shouldn’t that be right in my wheelhouse? Not at all. To understand why, you need to know what I look for in a bad film. To get that information, you need to look no further than Edward D. Wood Jr.

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Very few directors have biopics made about them. Ed Wood is one of them. He has been crowned the proverbial king of bad movies, and he’s deserving of that title. His movies were genuinely horrible. All of the sets looks terrible. There was no decent line of dialogue to be found, and the lines were delivered by people incapable of showing emotion. The movies lack any structure, pacing or continuity. From a pure objective standpoint, Wood was an awful filmmaker who had no business ever being behind a camera. But he tried his best anyway, and that’s precisely why he’s so appealing.

When you watch an Ed Wood movie, you are watching someone who loved what he was doing, and tried to make the best movie possible. The same goes for most bad movies of yesteryear. You are watching what someone thought was good. Along with that comes all of their bizarre eccentricities and ideas. In the case of Ed Wood, that meant shoehorning people like Criswell and Tor Johnson into his movies. That meant needing to have Bela Lugosi in Plan 9 from Outer Space even after he was dead, to the extent that a stand-in who looked nothing like him was needed. That meant only from his mind could a movie like Glen or Glenda, with all it’s love of cross-dressing and angora, be made.

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Tom Mason, a chiropractor, pretends he’s Bela Lugosi while Tor Johnson, a Swedish wrestler, pretends he knows how to speak English properly.

Manos: The Hands of Fate is another legendary bad film, and why is clear– it’s the product of a fertilizer salesman with no directing or acting experience who thought he could star in a film of his own making. Because he had no money, the camera used could only film a minute at a time with no sound, leading to bad dubbing and jump cuts galore. A long, wordless opening driving sequence exists because he neglected to put in the planned opening credits. On top of that, it’s filled with nonsensical things like a villain with bulbous knees.
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These were people with no talent and no money. All they had was passion and an imagination. That’s what makes them so funny and charming.

Sharknado has none of that. It’s completely self-aware, a bad movie made to be a bad movie. The movie could not be any more self-aware. When I went to a Subway last week, every table had an ad featuring Jared from Subway eating a shark:

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Once you’re that self-aware, the charm and fun is gone. Jared is there because they thought it was funny. Criswell was there because Ed Wood thought a phony mentalist with no skills at reading copy would make a great narrator. Which one sounds more intriguing?

Someone sitting down to write the dumbest plot twist or most inane piece of dialogue isn’t interesting to me. On the other hand, someone who thought they were creating a great plot only to fail miserably is very interesting. A monster created to look stupid isn’t funny, but a horribly done serious monster (like The Creeping Terror) is very funny.

When I’m laughing at a bad movie, I’m laughing because of that lack of self-awareness. It’s funny that the monster is supposed to scary but looks ridiculous, that the dialogue is supposed to be serious but isn’t, that the special effects are supposed to look good but don’t. I’m laughing because this was the best they had to offer, and they had no idea it was terrible.

If you enjoyed Sharknado, more power to you. I’ll stick with my trusted source for bad movies– people who had no idea what they were doing.

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14 responses to “The Art of the Bad Movie, or Why Ed Wood is Funnier Than Sharknado Could Ever Be

  1. liature

    Nicely written, quite ironic! Well done

  2. I had no idea “Manos” was filmed under those circumstances, how intriguing. It’s in my MST top five, so I review it to feel better about myself on an annual basis. What do you know about “Pod People”?

    I agree wholeheartedly on the Old Honestly Bad Movies versus the New Intentionally Bad Movies point. The word you’re looking for, I believe, is disingenuous. It’s why I can’t stomach belabored slapstick: I feel like I’m being ordered to laugh at gunpoint.

    It’s like when a comedian announces, “Okay, you’re gonna love this one….” rather than hitting you with a clever joke you weren’t expecting. I think the element of surprise is crucial to a good belly laugh, it’s the irony that really gets ya.

    Sitting down for two hours of horror or sci fi and discovering it’s funny as hell is the kind of delightful irony that makes MST3K possible–and Ed Wood famous.

  3. Truly enjoyed this article.

  4. godtisx

    Wow. Um, I dunno how I feel about this. Lol. But it was an intriguing read. Actually you have a great point, movies trying to be bad then marketing it as, ‘come see how bad we are,’ is a little annoying. Still, I’m not sure I’d want someone laughing at my ‘great.’

    Guess I should say, viewing is attention. Anyway, you should make film. Strong understanding of it.

  5. Plan 9 is huge!! And Asylum is quite a funny studio. They make terrible films, btw πŸ™‚

  6. Well said. I couldn’t agree more.

  7. Totally agree. Right on!

  8. dpallee

    Great piece. True good trashy movies are becoming scarce but not extinct (I hope). They have to be sought through more conventional (meaning unconventional) means now…we can only hope that somewhere, somehow, John Waters had a bastard child who will rise to the call and bring us trash entertainment in the 21st century.

  9. Great read. You’ve got to love Ed Wood – legendary for all the wrong reasons. A great biopic too, I recommend it.

  10. Great post! I think you’ve hit the nail right on the head here. And now I’m strangely curious about Manos: The Hands of Fate…. Off to see of I can track down a copy πŸ™‚

  11. charho ⋅

    That was a very good article.

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