There’s a special type of quality in making something so bad that it actually turns out good. Movies that are intentionally dumb (parody movies), or over the top movies (see Nicolas Cage’s action movie, Filmography), and unapologetically pretentious movies (Art House films).
However, there is a superior form of bad movie, the sincere ones that attempt to be serious, but end up failing on that attempt and becoming hilarious. The appeal is the equivalent of seeing a train wreck.
What compels people to go and see a bad film rather than an award-winning movie that you’re supposed to see? The elements of a really bad movie usually contains bad editing, terrible production sounds, recycled footage, unconvincing acting, inconsistent plot, shoddy cinematography and bad directing. These films showcase a beautiful disaster that attracts people in a condescending way. These factors make up the “Paracinema,” a word coined by film scholar Jeffrey Sconce. Paracinema represents movies that fall into the dynamic of the deliberate or incidental “so bad that it’s good” although dubbed as cinematic trash. Sconce states, “Explicit manifesto of paracinematic culture is to valorize all forms of cinematic trash.”
Usually, people think bad films are low budget B-movies, but bad films can originate from any production background. Many films which perform badly at the box office, or go straight to video or TV, but later become a cult classic can be classified as a “Badfilm.” This applies to every genre of film outside the mainstream: art films, horror, Elvis flicks, government hygiene films, sci-fi, pornography, and beach party musicals.
To understand why bad movies have a cult following, look at the ’40s and ’50s. In that era of cinema you had movies like Citizen Kane, Casablanca, It’s a Wonderful Life, and Rebel Without a Cause; these movies represent a golden era of cinema. Then . . . you have movies like Plan 9 from Outer Space, a legendary bad film on and off screen, which contributed to its legend.
When you’re on such a limited budget that your tombstones are about as flimsy as tissues, characters are living on a patio, characters somewhere else are indoors in a scene supposedly outside, and dialogue contradicts itself, it’s nonsensical and cringe-worthy and you have a bad movie. When you have a story that has more plot holes than swiss cheese, with a director so eccentric as Ed Wood that Tim Burton made a movie about him on how legendarily bad he was, then you just created an infamous legacy. The only credible thing Plan 9 had going for it was casting Bela Lugosi, who played Dracula in the 30’s, but died before filming started, allegedly suffering a heart attack while reading the script for another Ed Wood movie “The Final Curtain.”
This whole convoluted story on and off screen gave Plan 9 more recognition than it had any right to, but that’s the trend with these movies: absurdity and risks that most decorated films seem to lack.
No film emphasized that more than The Room, directed, written, and produced by potential real life alien Tommy Wiseau. The Room is deemed the Citizen Kane of bad movies. To give you an idea of how bad it is, Tom Bissell, co-author of the book The Disaster Artist, described the movie and process: “It is like a movie made by an alien, who has never seen a movie but has movies thoroughly explained to him.” What makes this movie an amazing bad film is the nonsensical dialogue and story, its transgressive nature, subversion of mainstream standards, poor production with bad audio of lip synching, all leading to audience members having an ironic viewing stance, aka “Camp.” Which in turn makes for a big cult following, where fans gather to dress up in costume from the movie, remembering the lines, and knowing all the inside jokes, with memorabilia at screenings. This is reflected in Tom Bissell’s review: “Startling cruelty, shocking misogyny, unbelievable inventiveness and real joy.”
Movies can live on into immortality. When it comes to bad films, they’re a beautiful disaster that many are attracted to with uncanny devotion. Fans carry the legacy into infamy, starting a dumpster fire that becomes white hot on film.