Beneath the boring blockbusters and outdated multiplex programming lie the independent film exhibition channels, a kind of underworld Thunderstorm: The Return of Thor is more popular than Thor: Love and Thunder.
Yes, bad movies are big business too. From presentations on pub projectors to 50-foot screens, the Underworld is filled with independent exhibitors who find budget genre fare infinitely more interesting than the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
‘Bad’, ‘cult’, ‘trash’, whatever you call it, it’s all out there: 1950s slapdash sci-fi, 1960s and 1970s trashy exploitation, 1980s cop-schlock, 1990s direct-to- Video martial arts movies. You just have to know where to find it. Welcome to the abysses of cinema, where good taste dies.
“If you like these kinds of films, you’re at the bottom end of the cinephile gene pool,” says Richard Clark, a filmmaker token homo and host Bar Trash at London’s Genesis Cinema. This is where fans come together to devour such insane delicacies as it was in 1955 Creature with the atomic brain and 1973 is hilarious Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood. Tickets are £1, there are competitions and prizes, and themed cocktails during breaks.
Sure, sometimes they’re one-star movies—but they’re always five-star experiences
Each Bar Trash screening is a celebration of an extinct kind of cinema. Many of these films were put together by inexperienced, underfunded idealists whose, shall we say, “unique” approach to problem-solving resulted in strange, otherworldly imagery.
“These people had a story to tell, but no resources, no filmmaking experience, and no time to come up with anything other than the solutions they found,” says Clark. “That creativity shows in her films. You have to accept it.’
It’s the same story across the pond in Portland, Oregon, only with more ponytails and karate. What started here with a bunch of friends chewing through VHS tapes of Chuck Norris movies has grown into one of the longest-running signature series in history Hollywood Theater. at B Movie Bingo, rowdy crowds munch on low-calorie genre films while searching for goofy action tropes. pen ready? Mark your card when someone: climbs; sneaks; being blown away by an explosion or kicked in the balls; says: ‘We had a deal’; uses a flamethrower; defuses a bomb with one second remaining; fights the hero hands and hands… You have the idea.
If the feature presentations are those from 1985 Gymkata1988 Night of the Kickfightersand timeless tosh from 1991 samurai cop – usually on VHS and sometimes with the filmmakers present – filling out your card is easy. Fun comes even easier.
“It was already a homegrown, collaborative, interactive viewing experience,” says host and co-founder Robbie Augspurger. “We just managed to enlarge it. We came to our house from 20 people to show it to 240 people.’
As Head of Programming at London’s Prince Charles Cinema, Paul Vickery understands the value of ‘bad’ films, both culturally and financially. The cinema has featured oddities from the likes of Herschell Gordon Lewis, Neil Breen and Andy Sidaris and his Badass B movie Season presents a wide range of “bad” in many exciting flavors. Recently the crowd was smitten with Andrei Tarkovskys stalker on screen one while viewers watch Hard ticket to Hawaii cackled upstairs as a guy on a motorcycle crashed through a wall and fired a rocket launcher at a snake coming out of the loo.
“We recently showed a film by Béla Tarr that sold out,” says Vickery. “That’s 300 people in a room who have pretty wacky tastes in movies in terms of popular culture. So does someone who comes to visit Tammy and the T-Rex: Gore Cut. They’re all playing on the same screen, in the same room – we give them the same respect.”
We can’t put too much stock in what these films are meant to be
Not everyone does. Sam Katzman was a prolific producer who made millions from quickie films from the 1930s to the 1970s. He called them “idiot pictures”. Like many fans of bad movies, Clark wears that label with pride.
“Bar trash is just that,” he says. “It’s about the people who gather to watch these movies and what other people might think of us.” The presenter likens the movie season to a Nickelodeon in your neighborhood in the 1920s. “They were more social spaces. The film wasn’t the most important thing, it was the company. That’s why I have breaks. We can’t put too much stock in what these films are meant to be. The experience should be fun.”
In Portland, Augspurger says the films themselves have little to do with it. “I don’t think people pay to see movies,” he says. “You pay for the interactive experience. If only we would show hologram man or Magic Cop, we could get 30 or 40 people. But we’ve been seeing each other with the same people every month for ten years – that’s more than I see from my family!’
However, there are tensions at the heart of the bad movie scene. Perhaps the most significant is the crucial difference between laughter at film and laugh With movies.
“I’m not a fan of sitting back and cackling [at a film]’ says Clark. “I don’t think you can enjoy something like that – it’s about putting yourself in front of what’s in front of you. What I love is allowing myself to go with him.’
Portland’s B-Movie Bingo isn’t a roast either. “We don’t want to make fun of the films,” says Augspurger. “It’s hard to make a film. Even making a bad film is a small miracle. We name what’s on the cards and we try to make that comedic intersection.’
Of course there is an elephant The room here. Tommy Wiseau’s chef d’oeuvre has left bad cinema behind and become an industry in its own right. “You have to pull The room out [the conversation], because it has its own ecosystem,” says Vickery. “We don’t do any marketing for it. We simply have it in the program and it takes care of itself.”
These films had billion dollar ideas and hundreds of pound budgets
Vickery laments the way Wiseau’s Midnight film created mocking conditions in which the performative audience wisely tears and competes to be the loudest. ‘The room created an environment where it’s okay to watch a movie and be in it Mystery Science Theater,’ the US TV show of the ’90s where hosts riffed on a movie loudly while it was playing. “I like to laugh at the corniness of something like that trolls 2 in an environment where it’s welcome rather than trying to say the funniest thing in the room. It’s all about partying and enjoying.”
In other words, you have to want to engage with “bad” movies. The sets may be shabby, the explosions inexplicable, and the acting shakier than the boom operator’s arms, but it’s all part of her cheeky underdog charm. “They had billion-dollar ideas but only £100 to execute them,” says Vickery, “and the results are serious and heartfelt.”
And that’s the appeal of these flops and misfires. In the filmmakers’ mistakes we find success. And we find it together, at Bar Trash, at crap movie club and Mondo nightsat the PCC and the RioIn the Amity Bad Film Club, Bristol Bad Film Club and Bad Film Society of the University of EdinburghIn the balboain Hollywood, in nighthawkand at poplars anywhere in the US. They all share a sense of discovery and community that you just don’t get at your regular multiplex.
Sure, sometimes they’re one-star movies—but they’re always five-star experiences.
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