In Praise of. . .So-Called “Bad” Movies

by Jeff Abbott on October 3, 2008

I have been very deep in the rewrite of the next book, so my apologies for not blogging much.
My fellow authors Meg Gardiner and Laurie King are blogging about their favorite “bad” movies, and it seemed like a good place to unveil a new feature of this blog, In Praise Of, where I give a creative shout-out to Something I Like. Which could be anything weird, funky, or esoteric, or just a good book or a piece of art or, hmmm, a piece of pie. Please: no psychoanalysis.
First of all, Meg (obviously heavily medicated while posting) calls There’s Something About Mary a “bad” movie. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed harder in a movie than I did at “Mary”. The film completely captures the idea that “comedy is pain” as the characters go through escalating levels of agony in the pursuit of the perfectly played Mary (Cameron Diaz). And despite all the pain–”Mary” is at heart a film where love truly does conquer all. Meg is probably calling it “bad” (even though she says it’s an endearing movie) due to its crudity. Yes, it’s crude, but a current of charm and hope runs through it.
My definition of “bad” may be slightly different–I’m thinking of movies that critics haven’t necessarily been kind to, and have obvious faults, but ones I still like.
Okay, some of my favorite so-called “bad” movies;
The Poseidon Adventure–one of the first “grown-up” movies I remember seeing. Often derided as cheesy, heavy on the melodrama and over-acted by some of its key players, it’s still a very entertaining movie, although it seems to have fallen into the camp classic category. You have to love Shelley Winters as the world’s coolest grandmom (at least I do), and as a kid I actually worried whether my fellow know-it-all child, Eric Shea, would survive. I never saw either of the remakes–I never felt the need. And the novel by Paul Gallico is actually better than the movie, with a much larger cast of survivors battling their way through the capsized ocean liner and while still over-the-top melodramatic, makes some interesting points about faith, loyalty, and courage. The novel was also one of the first adult thrillers I read.
Of course, it looks like a masterpiece compared to its unfortunate sequel: Beyond the Poseidon Adventure, one of the worst sequels of all time. Yes, I watched it, and I want those two hours of my life back.
Boondock Saints–I belong to a movie club with my fellow neighborhood dads–think of it as a book club for guys, with beer and a predilection for action films. This was our first choice: a Tarantino-esque revenge story about a pair of Irish Catholic brothers who go on a vigilante rampage against the scum of Boston, pursued by a gay FBI agent played in completely over-the-top fashion by Willem Dafoe. The body count is explosive, the mixing of murder and prayer disturbing, the plot holes indefensible. But–it entertains, when you really think it shouldn’t. I should note most reviewers (pro or amateur) seem to either love or utterly hate the movie.
Silent Movie–Mel Brooks is a genius, but this one is widely considered to be a second-tier effort, not nearly as good as his classics Blazing Saddles or Young Frankenstein. But I love this movie. The concept is simple: Mel Brooks plans to save his studio from ruin by filming a silent movie, assisted by Dom DeLuise and Marty Feldman. Wackiness and many cameos from big stars of the 1970s ensue, including an unexpected one who gives the film’s only line of dialogue. Many of my friends have never heard of Silent Movie, but it was one of my favorite comedies as a kid (and the first movie I was allowed to go see by myself, since I could ride my bike to the theater–those were the days.)
Any suggestions for good “bad” movies?

    { 6 comments… read them below or add one }

    Kirk October 3, 2008 at 12:15 pm

    The Towering Inferno. It was a really bad movie, but, for me, it was the first movie whose source novel(s) I read. It was based on two novels, and I remember my father telling me that, and getting both of the books from the library. (If I’m not mistaken, they were called The Tower and The Glass Inferno.) It was also around the time that I was able to go to the movies on my own.
    And what about the classic faux-SF movie Fantastic Voyage. It’s so camp that it’s actually a great flick. I just love those white blood cells floating around and killing Donald Pleasance.
    I’d add to the list any of a number of Hammer horror movies I saw in the early 70s. Again, I was able to go to the movies alone, when I was around 12, and I recall Saturday afternoons seeing Vincent Price movies.
    Finally, anything with Abbott and Costello is great bad movies!

    Meg Gardiner October 4, 2008 at 6:40 am

    Jeff, homes, maybe there in Austin you call espresso and french fries “medication.” I just call them breakfast. But that’s beside the point.
    There’s Something About Mary makes me laugh so hard I get a hernia, but it’s still bad. Two words: hair gel. Or let me put it another way. Would the movie get a snickering, thigh-slapping response from the former governor of your great state, now occupying the White House? Uh-huh. Thought so. ‘Nuff said.
    All right, that was unfair. I’m just being mean because you have slammed one of my own favorite movies. Dude: The Boondock Saints is not bad, it’s fabulous. Give me the McManus brothers and Agent Smecker over The Departed any day.
    We agree on The Poseidon Adventure, however. Truce?

    Jeff Abbott October 4, 2008 at 2:23 pm

    Kirk: Very much true on The Towering Inferno. I also read both books–the Glass Inferno was the better of the two. I still don’t much like to get in glass elevators since seeing those movies. Weirdly, what I remember most about Fantastic Voyage is Raquel Welch in her white scuba outfit.

    Jeff Abbott October 4, 2008 at 2:42 pm

    Meg: yes, the hair gel is hilarious. I still think the funniest scene is the beginning, with Ben Stiller picking her up for the prom; and Stiller’s battle with Fluffy. But I contend the movie’s good intentions–that true love wins out–trumps the crudity. That’s just me. Damn, now I really want to see it again.
    Boondock Saints is a great movie to watch with loads of beer and logic checked at the door. You know they’re making a sequel? Despite the abysmal 18% rating at RottenTomatoes.com–it’s a weirdly entertaining movie. It did try to make its point about vigilantism at the end, but I thought it was too little too late. But it has to be seen, just for Dafoe utterly unique FBI agent.
    Yes, truce, I suspect we agree more than we don’t.

    JT Ellison October 7, 2008 at 4:27 pm

    GI JANE. So bad, but I’ll rewatch it a million times. And A KNIGHT’S TALE. It’s always on cable in the middle of the night and I get sucked in every time. I think it’s a Heath Ledger thing.
    I loved SOMETHING ABOUT MARY. Laughed till I cried. It is a bit crude… but no one will ever look at hair gel the same way. That’s cultural impact.

    Steve B. October 28, 2008 at 12:40 pm

    Boondock Saints is a minor masterpiece. Sure it’s got plot holes, but I couldn’t wait to buy it when it came out on DVD, and spring it on unsuspecting friends all the time.
    My guilty pleasure: Point Break, an FBI procedural action hero undercover drug bust surfer dude Keanu Reeves vehicle. What’s not to like?

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