Why would anyone in their right mind ever seek out the worst of the worst? Why would anyone subject themselves to the horrors of cinema, the exploitative, the ludicrous, the rip-offs and mockbusters, trash turned out to make a quick buck? What is the value in bothering to watch any of this?
I ask myself questions like this a lot. I mean, anyone who interacts with a form of media should every now and again take a step back and mentally assess their interaction. It seems only natural that I should do so too, especially considering that much of what I watch is low brow, sordid, or sleazy. Frankly, a lot of it is gross. So the “Why” of it all is a key question. And it’s one that presents a myriad of responses from me.
Yeah, let’s start this off with the cop out answer. Cinema is an art form, so even at its most tasteless, crass, and commercial, we’re still viewing art. Not high art, mind you, but art nonetheless. This may be disputed, but art at its most basic is the creation of some kind of object that expresses an idea or hold some kind of emotional weight. Yes, this includes repulsion and abhorrence in the beholder, and even the most hated pieces of art still manage to create an emotional response. That’s the weirdly twisted beauty of the B- through Z-grade film, that even if we find their subject matter repulsive, it elicits a response that we feel.
What I find so fascinating about this experience is that we can then take this feeling and explore it. Art may cause a response, but its not really effective unless we interact with that response. When I find myself responding, I try to then examine how I have responded. Why is this film causing laughter or making me cringe? What does it say to me about how I feel on its subject, be it violence, sexuality, politics, human nature, or so on? Film offers a means for me to try and understand myself through experiencing someone else’s vision, whether it be tortured, disturbing, or hackneyed. I appreciate what discoveries I can make about myself in the process, and if I find myself responding in a way that is unexpected, I can take a moment to self-reflect.
Since film is also an act of creation, it’s worth it to consider what the intent of the creator was. What was the vision behind the project, and what hoops did people go through to manifest that vision? I like to think of Ed Wood, sometimes labeled the worst director of all time, yet someone who did literally whatever he could to make a motion picture. The vision and drive behind the movie becomes far more fascinating, and I find I respect the creator, those who took part, and the film despite the problems. A movie like Jesus Christ, Vampire Hunter had all of its music done by the actor/writer/director’s dentist. Knowing that impresses me, because the folks who made it faced a challenge and found a weird way to overcome it simply so they could create.
It’s (Mostly) Safe.
This might be a surprising thing to say, but the nice thing about movies like this is that the subject matter they show isn’t remotely realistic. Zombies don’t exist, demons aren’t jumping out of my walls, and women don’t suddenly want to engage in sexual activity at the drop of a hat just because I brought cheap beer to a party. Yet these things exist within our imaginations, and it can be fun to explore them through the films that people create. I’m a guy who can sit in my living room completely unharmed as I watch some other guy in a costume destroy a miniature major city on a flat screen TV.
Now some people subscribe to the idea that there is a danger in repeatedly witnessing acts of sex and/or violence in media because it may normalize it, and yes, I admit that I understand the concern. Yet as I take a critical eye to these things, I often find myself paying attention to how these films are treating minorities, women, sexualities different from my own, and various subsets of the population, and I find I am more disturbed by the exploitation and humiliation that I see. If anything, films like these appear to be having the opposite effect, where I more easily empathize with people who are different because of how often I see them suffering. And it’s a lot. Jokes about black people dying first and casual, “normalized” rape in these movies have a basis in reality, and the more I see it, the more I find it disturbing just how widespread the ideas are. It makes me rethink how I view such subjects and want to improve myself.
Of course, I must admit that these films aren’t always safe for the actors or production crew. When something terrible happens to someone on set, that’s a tragedy. Unfortunately, terrible things happen regardless of the quality, size of the production budget, or studio backing the picture. As for snuff films, or films of actual illegal acts such as murder, I don’t see in the same manner. That’s documenting as opposed to filmmaking, so I’m not talking about it on this blog. The closest we tend to see in Z-grade cinema is animal cruelty such as in Cannibal Holocaust, which is still abhorrent but sadly has also happened in major motion pictures, so I lump it into the idea of an on-set tragedy.
I have also known some folks who suffer from PTSD, and certain kinds of films can lead to symptoms. Yet even here, a film provides a controlled environment that can be paused or turned off if necessary. Going in blindly to see bad movies might be a terrible choice for some folks, but it could also be cathartic or as a means to share experiences with others.
It’s a Window in Time.
One of the most exciting aspects of cinema is how it has changed to reflect the technical, psycho-social, and artistic views of the various periods and areas where it has been created. For example, silent film lasted much longer in Japan than it did in the United States, so how did this influence styles of film production? Akira Kurosawa would have spent more time studying silents than Orson Welles despite both becoming active as feature film directors around the same time. Many of Kurosawa’s shots feature nature in motion, while Welles’ focused on the mood of the speaker/subject.
This is doubly true when it comes to fringe film: what does society find permissible, and what does it rail against at any point in time? The Video Nasties in the UK is an excellent way to see how society has reshaped what it deems acceptable. Most of the films that Britain was banning 40 years ago have since been released uncut for mass consumption. What happened? Well, tastes changed, society evolved, and we moved on with other forms of art and means to express ourselves. The technology improved, so the old gore looks fake, or we just found something new that we think is even worse. Hey, Peeping Tom and Eyes Without a Face were hated films at one point; now we celebrate them as landmark cinema.
Now much of what I watch is also nostalgic, because it calls back to a time when production was a means for the unscrupulous and exploitative could put out a product for home video that would appear on store shelves in mom and pop video rental shops. This was the environment that I grew up in, wandering the aisles of a shop called Family Video under the watchful posters of films like Gremlins and Friday the 13th. To go back now and explore is to finally watch the dozens of titles I could never experience then. It’s not only a look back in time at film, it’s a look back at my childhood.
And if you have a mind to focus on the careers of individuals, odds are that many started out with schlock or went to it because they had to at some point. Bad films influence and employ, and if you want to see how many famous actors, directors, cinematographers, writers, producers, and so on developed, you’re gonna need to watch some crap.
It Teaches Us What Not to Do.
You ever see someone do something wrong in a restaurant and refrain from engaging in their behavior? Well, if you have an eye for film production, seeing the mistakes of others can actually be a benefit when you make your own. I admit, I have an interest in such areas, so when I watch what people are doing, I’m also trying to learn from where things go wrong learning where things go right, so keep that in mind. Ask yourself during a film questions like, “Do I like this shot?” How is the lighting, the acting, the dialogue? Learn from it. Some unsuccessful films have some marvelous ideas that unfortunately don’t nail the execution, but it’s vital to see the errors so we can improve.
Yep, I gotta admit, watching these bad movies makes me chuckle. Sometimes they’re so awful, I find myself laughing out loud or grinning ear to ear and thinking up jokes on the spot to amuse myself. Even better, I find it fun to share these movies, to champion something that a lot of folks don’t know about or aren’t interested in. It’s fun to witness the bizarre, and it’s fun to scream from the mountain, “This is a thing, and it’s cool!” I have said before that cinema is a communal experience, and this is also true of the dissemination and discussion. I watch and write about these films because I want other people to know they exist, and because I hope to be able to point other people to films they might end up loving or laughing at. I feel joy, and I want to share it. I hope you feel the same.
I realize that all of this may come across as me tooting my own horn about things, but I feel passionate about the bottom of the barrel. Whatever your tastes, I believe cinema offers us a wide enough world that we can all find something to entertain, to enlighten, or to make us think and explore ourselves. Or maybe it’s just something to laugh at with friends over a beer.
Either way, I hope I can share the magic of the movies.
Plus there are some serious bragging rights to having seen the worst film you can find.