The art of a “Bad Movie”

18_Year_Old_VirginBY ALEX RUSSELL

My Netflix has absolutely no idea who I am anymore. We used to be tight.

Patton Oswalt has a classic, perfect bit about his TiVo losing the ability to recommend shows to him after he liked a western, because it drew the conclusion that he only liked “horsey shows” with horses in them.

My Netflix has a similar problem, but I did it to myself. I’ve had the same account for as long as Netflix has been around and I really liked the way they suggested options at first. I’ve rated 600 movies. I watched everything Woody Allen ever made over a summer. It’s how I watched all of The Wire and Breaking Bad and Six Feet Under.

I say all that to hopefully cushion the respect you’ll lose when I continue here. Let’s remember this good time when we were friends.

I’ve got the same fascination everyone has with the terrible. You can’t deny it in your heart: you love a car-crash bad movie almost as much as a good one. The thing is, there’s an art to it. Anyone can just go to the “Raunchy Sex Comedy” category or just the latest American Pie spinoff and click the “More Like This.” Anyone can go to The Asylum’s wiki and see how Nazis at the Center of the Earth and Titanic II are doing. Easy. No glory to it.

If you want to see the truly horrible, the absolute worst of the worst, you’re going to watch some joke movie about a giant animal fighting another giant animal. You’re going to find something on a list of the “movies generally considered to be the worst.” You’re going to think “Whoa, this is really bad!”

But you’ll miss it, if you do that. You want to find something that is made poorly, but not so bad there’s any hint they were aware of it. You want to find something you can drink in like lemonade. You want a “bad movie,” not a bad movie. Visible boom mic. Shadows from the crew. Clear bad takes used because they ran out of money. Looking at the camera. Comic Sans for the credits. Find that low ground, but not intentionally low. The view is best when you’re falling.

Where we’re going, though, there are rules. A “bad movie” has to be more than critically hated and a box office failure. It has to be even more than just being “bad.” Structure is important in all things. Otherwise, you’ll just watch The Hottie and the Nottie, and then you’ll have an aneurysm and ten strokes and then where will you be? Rules:

  1. No one in it you’ve ever heard of. Cameos are okay, Gary Busey’s gotta eat, too. But the main cast should be all red links on Wikipedia and have IMDB pages that were clearly made by the person they’re about. This disqualifies the otherwise perfect Sex and the Teenage Mind, which has Donkeylips (Michael Ray Bower), Winnie Cooper (Danica McKellar), and Al (Richard Karn) from Home Improvement.
  2. Universally panned. Helps if it has a shockingly low IMDB or Netflix score, but that’s not really a must.
  3. No “winking at the camera.” It’s imperative that you can tell the people behind this had no idea they were making a joke. There’s a place for making comedy out of the absurd and the terrible, but that’s bad, not “bad.” It has to be so bad that people won’t even like it as a joke. This leaves out most movies that were made to be bad “on purpose.” You can watch The Room, but don’t pretend you’ve struck gold. That’s not the droids we’re looking for.
  4. It must be a comedy. You can laugh at a badly made drama or dramedy, sure, but then you’re laughing at real effort gone awry. You want to find the perfect Stockholm syndrome moment where you’re laughing WITH the bad, not AT it.
  5. Most importantly: you can’t hate it. If you find yourself hating it, switch to another one. The fun of a “bad movie” isn’t booing it, it’s in learning to love how completely a movie has failed. You have to look back on it not in anger, but in awe of just how far below zero the numbers really go. If it’s truly a “bad movie” then you won’t want to turn it off. You won’t even be able to.

Take, for example, the greatest example of them all: 18-Year-Old Virgin. It’s made by The Asylum, which should be a strike against it, but let me make my case. It follows the most popular trope of these movies in that everything happens at one party. Think Can’t Hardly Wait but even less important. The main character, it’s not important who (see rule #1), wants to sleep with the cute guy at the party. She can’t, for the supposedly logical reason that he “doesn’t sleep with virgins.” Since the shortest path between two points is a line, our heroine comes to the very logical conclusion that she has to sleep with someone else to no longer be a virgin. She’s caught cute party guy in his own logical trap!

What follows is what you’d expect, to a point. The best friend character is a cartoon of a woman. The supporting characters make Seth Green’s Can’t Hardly Wait character look grounded in reality to a Shakespearean level. It, like all great “bad movies,” defies my description. I could tell you how bad this movie disproves “show don’t tell” but I’d be robbing you of an important life discovery. Everyone has to cut themselves when they learn to shave, and so must you see 18-Year-Old-Virgin.

Not every terrible “raunchy” movie with one star or so on Netflix is a keeper. There’s a lot of weed movies and road trip movies that flame out after one terrible opening joke. That’s exactly my point: you need to cultivate a love and respect for “bad movies” the same way you do things you traditionally enjoy. It’s not easy to ruin something so totally that it becomes art.

Tragically, 18-Year-Old-Virgin isn’t currently streaming. Netflix rotates in the lowest tier of entertainment frequently, though, so be mentally and physically prepared. In the meantime, go find a movie about how a magic shirt can get you all the women in the world or how a track team needs to build a new tree fort to stop world hunger and just dig all the way in.

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One thought on “The art of a “Bad Movie”

  1. I am definitely checking this out when it is back and availible for me to stream. I know this movie doesn’t quite fit into your criteria as to what you are going for but I highly and I mean HIGHLY recommend watching Iron Sky on Netflix…it is currently streaming.

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