Best Movies of All Time + [Surf Nazis Must Die]

Finding the Beauty in Bad Movies

Because I'm such a renowned film critic (read: sarcasm), I am often asked my thoughts on individual films. Most of the time, my opinion is received graciously, and although I do tend to butt heads with conventional conclusions (i.e., my thoughts on The Exorcist), the majority of my friends respect my final analysis. However, I did get into a little bit of a tiff with a friend last night over the 2009 film Jennifer's Body, starring Megan Fox and Amanda Seyfried. Here's a copy of the conversation (via Facebook comments, for your reading pleasure). Please excuse my terrible blurring skills:

Yes, I admittedly acted in a slightly "holier than thou" fashion, but I think that I presented my case pretty well. (To be honest, I did leave out the last two comments of the short squabble - my friend said, "You know you love me" and I replied with my disdain for people picking fights.) What my friend failed to understand was that even bad movies can be extremely enjoyable. There's a reason for the phrase "so bad, it's good," and this definitely applies to some movies. And those movies are some of my favorite films to watch!

That being said, I would like to start with a disclaimer: not all bad movies are entertaining. I know that the title of this post is "The Beauty of a Bad Movie," but some films just aren't redeemable, no matter how hard you try. For a recent example of such a movie, you might want to try the 2010 faux documentary I'm Still Here. In my opinion, there's a range of bad movies. The upper end of films in the "bad" range are the ones you want to avoid. They might start out well but ultimately offer little. The "bad" movies that you want to see are the worst of the worst. I've found that these movies are often the ones that provide the most enjoyment.

Now onto why these bad movies are actually so good. Let's start with Jennifer's Body since that was the movie that ultimately stemmed this blog. In case you haven't seen it, the basic storyline

involves a high school girl (Fox, pictured at right) who becomes possessed by a demon and needs to feed on the bodies of young men in the community. Her friend (Seyfried) starts to wonder what's wrong with her friend and starts to question why so many people have been killed. As I told my friend last night, it's not really that great of a movie, but it's not all that bad, either. I actually gave the film a "C" grade, citing the better-than-average acting for a horror film. It's not quite a train wreck, as my friend believed. There's actually quite a bit redeeming about it if you know what to look for. One of the best parts of Jennifer's Body is the terribly cheesy song performed by the faux band, Low Shoulder. The song quickly becomes an anthem for the small town after the tragedies take place, so the audience gets to hear it over and over and over again. Here's the song, in case you're interested:

It's classically bad but fits the tone of the movie so well that I gave it a nomination for Best Original Song in my personal awards in 2009.

There are two types of "bad" movies that can fall into the "so bad, it's good" range. The first is the movie that you know is going to be terrible from the start. Examples of such are films like 2002's Halloween: Resurrection (#8 on my all-time "worst" list) and any of SyFy's original movies (i.e., Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus or Mega Piranha). I mean, look at those titles? You know you're in for some garbage, so if you're actually taking the time to watch the movie, you might as well find the comedy in it, right?

The second type of movie that can earn the illustrious title of "so bad, it's good" happens to be the movie you actually think might be good. You go into the theater expecting a quality piece of cinema, and you're ultimately disappointed when it turns out to be crap. On initial viewing, you may hate the film, but if you take the time to watch it again, you just might find yourself absolutely loving it for all the wrong reasons. Films that fall under this category include 2008's The Happening or 2010's Skyline.

So, what I'd like to do with the rest of this post is break down a couple of films that I found to be brutally bad but also entirely entertaining. If you've made it this far, perhaps you'd like to join me?

I want to start with that second type of bad movie, and I'd like to call The Happening to the stand. When trailers started airing for M. Night Shyamalan's 2008 venture, it actually looked like it had the possibility to be his return to glory. Boy, was everybody wrong. The movie follows a young, angst-filled couple (Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel) as a sweeping epidemic hits the Eastern states. What appears to be a terrorist chemical attack is causing people to take their own lives within moments of being afflicted. To be honest, I was completely captivated with the film for the first half hour or so. Shyamalan presented a rather harrowing idea, and the tone conveyed a very sinister nature. I was hooked immediately.

Let me set the stage for its ultimate downfall, at least in my circumstance. I saw The Happening on a Saturday night on its opening weekend with my buddy Chris. We saw a late show that happened to be sold out, so we got stuck sitting in the third row or thereabouts. As I said, I was hooked immediately, but one scene sent it spirally out of control. Essentially, the film shows massive numbers of people offing themselves in a wide range of methods. After a while, you the methods get more and more ridiculous until we're finally shown this one (warning - this video contains slightly graphic material):

Up until this scene, I had been quiet and thoughtfully intrigued, but after seeing the lions maul the zookeeper, I couldn't keep myself from laughing. Chris wasn't happy, but I could not help myself. As the film progressed, more and more of the theater began to join my chorus of giddiness. When you throw in the fact that the surviving cast members essentially run from the wind for the majority of the film, you can start to see the comic genius that Shyamalan must have intended (again, read: sarcasm). However, The Happening also offers a little bit of icing on this cake. The performances by Wahlberg and Deschanel are absolutely dreadful, and that only heightens the viewing pleasure for the audience. You couldn't say much against Deschanel at that point, but Wahlberg was already a huge name in the Hollywood scene after crafting himself as a tough badass. Apparently he didn't like the type-casting, so he traded his bravado for a wimpy, soft-spoken school teacher in this one, and it's so vastly different not only from his other roles but also his real-life persona that's it's entirely laughable. So thank you, Mr. Wahlberg, for delivering my sundae with a cherry on top.

The next movie I'd like to talk about is one that you'd probably dismiss by simply reading the title, and for most of the film, I'd wholly agree with your dismissal. It's 1987's Surf Nazis Must Die, which tells the story of a post-apocalyptic Los Angeles where rival surf gangs have commandeered territory along the county's beaches. The most powerful group, the Surf Nazis, are bred of pure evil like their World War II predecessors. They have to fight Irish and Japanese gangs for beach supremacy, but they also find the time to murder an African-American man

jogging along the Strand. When this man's mother learns of her son's death, she vows revenge on the Surf Nazis. Now, this movie is absolutely dreadful for the first hour. It's slow, it's boring, and you have very little clue as to what's actually happening. However, the last fifteen to twenty minutes are some of the most brilliantly bad minutes of filmmaking that I've ever seen, and it makes the entire experience worthwhile. We finally get to see the man's mother take his revenge on the Nazis as a prolonged chase sequence (via truck, motorcycle, JetSki and speedboat) ensue. It's ridiculously over-the-top but ends with one of the most perfectly-placed (albeit slightly racially insensitive) lines I've ever heard. I won't give that little gem away at this point, but I was rolling with laughter as soon as I heard it. Surf Nazis Must Die now holds a very special place in my heart.

No conversation about bad movies could ever be complete without mentioning 1958's Plan 9 from Outer Space.

Perennially considered one of the worst films ever made, I felt compelled to add it to this list. It currently holds a 65% approval rating on RottenTomatoes.com, but here's snippets from a couple of the "Fresh" reviews:
  • "Some things are best watched at 3am, wrapped in the warm glow of drunkenness. Plan 9 From Outer Space is one of them." (Ian Berriman, SFX Magazine)
  • "It's mind-numbingly brilliant in its overwhelming, soul-destroying badness." (Widgett Walls, Needcoffee.com)
  • "Only because it's so awful, it's good." (Randy Shulman, Metro Weekly)
The basic plot involves a group of aliens who are trying to take over the world. Their first eight plans have failed, but they're sure that "Plan 9," which involves using re-animated corpses to bring down world governments, will work... If you're not laughing already, you're not human.

This cinematic gem was brought to the world by none other than Ed Wood, commonly referred to as one of the worst directors of all time. Although I've only seen a couple of his flicks, this remains my favorite in that it's the worst one of the lot. In fact, it ranks as the worst movie I've ever seen. And I could watch it over and over again, and I would enjoy it every single time. There's absolutely nothing clicking in Plan 9, but that's what makes it so "good." The story, the dialogue, the music, the acting, the everything... it's all equally terrible. I laughed so hard the first time I watched it that I cried. Despite being constantly called the worst movie of all time (and I'm sure many people would debate that standing), Plan 9 from Outer Space has developed quite a cult following for the basic reason that it's so bad that it's good.

There's such a "respect" for movies that fall under the category of "so bad, it's good" that some filmmakers have started to make movies intentionally bad for the sole purpose of generating laughter. The most recognizable such film for me is Larry Blamire's parody of 1950's B-movies,

The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra. Blamire and his friends at Bantam Street Productions crafted a screenplay that was as bad as they could muster then performed some pitch-perfect "acting" to give the movie the feel of those bad B-movies from the '50s. I don't want to to go too far into the actual storyline, but it mostly centers around the search for a meteor containing the fictional element "Atmospherium" and a curse around the lost skeleton of Cadavra. It's one of the funniest movies that I've ever seen, and it's because the cast and crew successfully simulated the feel of a movie that's so bad, it's good. If you go in understanding that, I can guarantee you'll be rolling with laughter during The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra.

Although there's dozens of movies I could probably reference in this post that haven't already been mentioned, I think I'll cut right here. We don't need too much overkill on this. However, I would like to point out the common thread from the breakdowns of the movies I did mention: laughter. Even when a movie gave me every reason to hate it, I was able to find ways to laugh at it. Sure, it may not have been the reaction intended, but you're still being entertained if you're laughing (unless, for some reason, you hate laughing; if that's true, you're definitely not human). In a day and age where it costs twelve dollars to see a movie - and even more if you're dabbling in the third dimension - it's no longer wise to walk out of a theater. Back when tickets were two bucks, I could understand leaving when a movie sucked, but when you're dropping as much dough as we are today, it's almost financially irresponsible to leave the theater. So if you're stuck with a bad movie, sit it out and look for ways to laugh at it. Any movie can be made absolutely hilarious - trust me, I've tried with quite a few. But there's no point in stewing over a bad flick when there's perfectly good and acceptable chuckles to be found.