35mm Film · Cinema Fiasco · Cult Films

What Makes a Good Bad Movie?


Watching a bad movie can be an incredibly depressing experience. You’re watching paper-thin characters spout inane dialogue while perusing some ill-defined McGuffin when a horrible realisation dawns on you: you have paid for this feeling. If not with money, then at the very least with your time. At the end of a ninety-minute bad movie it is possible to feel your life is three hours shorter.

But there is a peculiar alchemy that takes place when a movie is spectacularly bad. Impressively bad. So bad you cannot understand how it even came into being. Good bad movie directors possess the very unique skill to make the exact wrong decision. Ed Wood’s bizarre editing choices in Plan 9 From Outer Space, for example, that turned the day to night and back to day within the same scene. Woo-sang Park’s complete lack of narrative focus in Miami Connection is another, a movie about a Tae Kwon Do gang/rock band/family of orphans taking on cocaine dealing ninjas in the streets of 80’s Miami that for some reason also features a subplot about one of the orphan’s reconnecting with his father. Some films are so perfectly ill considered from the outset that their name alone is a small work of art (looking at you, Death Bed: The Bed That Eats).

Pretty much every decision made by Tommy Wisseau in the making of The Room is impressively terrible, including but far from limited to:

  • Casting himself in the lead as ultimate “nice guy” Johnny, despite his bizarre, possibly European accent and complete lack of acting ability.
  • Introducing and abandoning narrative strands about cancerous mothers, gun wielding drug dealers and a tuxedoed game of catch with little to no explanation.
  • Reusing footage, most unfortunately a shot of his naked thrusting butt in one of the two interminably long sex scenes.

Led by the example of Mystery Science Theatre 3000, a whole cottage industry has grown around people’s obsession with bad films. Multiple podcasts like The Flop House and How Did This Get Made are dedicated to picking apart the countless terrible decisions that lead to the creation of anti-masterpieces like A Talking Cat!?! or the Vanilla Ice vehicle Cool as Ice. At their best, the tone of these shows is not so much condescension or disdain but the kind of wonder one reserves for viewing inexplicable animals in the wild.

The best kind of bad movie shares the mesmerizing strangeness of an intense dream. When most of us dream, we dream complex interweaving stories where people morph and plots form and drop away, but in the moment it all feels seamless and emotionally true. It’s not until we wake that we realise how ridiculous the dream was and how embarrassing it would be to share. But the Wisseau’s of the world have a distinct lack of self-consciousness that allows them to lay bare their psyche in a manner that is simultaneously convoluted and exploding with raw feeling. They are the dreams of peculiar people, brought screaming into reality. Because as Orson Welles told the eponymous Ed Wood in the 1994 film, “Why spend your life making someone else’s dreams?”

The real Edward R. Wood, the patron saint of terrible directors, believed in his peculiar brand of genius till the very end, saying “One is always considered mad when one perfects something that others cannot grasp.”

Cinema Fiasco will be screening Santa Claus Conquers the Martians at The Astor Theatre. Expect 1960’s sci-fi madness and cutting commentary from Geoff Wallis and Janet A. McLeod

When: Friday the 4th of December, 8:00pm

Tickets: $20

Plan 9 From Outer Space and Robot Monster will be screening on 35mm 

When: Monday the 7th December at 7:30pm

Tickets: $12


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