The Future Is Here
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When does a bad movie become a must-watch spectacle?

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I hated Season of the Witch when I first saw the trailer. Now I want to watch it. What's the tipping point between bad and so-bad-I-must-see-it?

I remember seeing the Season of the Witch trailer a few months ago. When I saw its ten thousand smash-cuts, its base-heavy musical stings, and its reveal of Nicholas Cage as the most American crusader ever, I thought it looked bad. Oh, boy was I right. And yet, when I saw the two lastest reviews, proclaiming, "Season of the Witch is a new low for Nicholas Cage," and "plot is so preposterous that it boggles the mind," I found I wanted to see it.


There's a special chemistry that goes into the making of a deliciously bad film. Some of it comes down to individual tastes. Some people adore any film in which a flying saucer appears. Some like family sagas, or gothic detective films, or noir. I have a weakness for the supernatural genre, with its high drama and flowing cloaks. Still, I wouldn't be interested in Season of the Witch if I thought it was mediocre, or even good.

I suppose one thing all so-bad-they're-good films have in common is unbridled enthusiasm. No matter what genre they're acting in, it doesn't occur to an actor in a camp film to tone it down a bit. No director of such films resists a close-up, or a splatter of gore, or a musical sting. It's like watching five-year-olds play soccer. They're no good, but just seeing them go nuts is a joy.


And, as with five-year-olds playing soccer, no one cares who wins. A good film can put its watchers through the ringer. I came out of Signs sweating bullets and shaking, and I'd already read the spoilers for the movie. I've come out of other films heartbroken. In the right kind of bad movie, it doesn't matter who dies, who suffers, or who strides triumphantly off into the sunset. I think that fresh-faced, boyish young monk is dead as a frog on a highway, and I'm guessing Ron Perlman dies a heroic death near the end, and I don't care a bit. That's the luxury a bad film gives you. You don't care if Hellboy dies.

Mostly, though, I think a so-bad-it's-good film is guaranteed to give its viewers at least a little of what they need. A really good genre film is disciplined in a way bad films aren't. A good sci-fi film generally won't give people a nude scene of the comely young researcher. A bad film definitely will. A good fantasy film will resist bombastic speeches, letting the epic moments grow organically. A bad one will find the most bombastic character it can and give that character free reign and a megaphone. When you go to see a good-bad film, you're gonna get special effects, you're gonna get blood splatters, you're gonna get a tacked-on romantic subplot, you're going to get fights, and you're gonna get big overdone emotional scenes. Not all of those things are what you want to see, but at least one of them will be what you paid for. You're not guaranteed the same thing in a thoughtful, artistic film.