So Bad It's Good: The Film Aesthetic That Keeps On Giving

“They’re eating her...and then they’re going to eat me!” A bespectacled teenager yelled at 12-year-old me from the TV in my living room. At this point in my life I had seen 'good movies' and I had begun to realize that there were 'bad movies' ( I'd had a particularly traumatic experience with X-men 3 ), but this was the first time in my life that I had experienced something that was so bad that it became something better than itself.

Troll 2 is a great stepping-stone for the “So Bad it's Good” film aesthetic, the story of an all-American family who stumble into a town called Nilbog (Goblin spelled backward) and is attacked by vegetarian Goblins. This movie fails on every level of artistic merit: The acting is terrible, the costumes are terrible, the music is terrible, the plot makes absolutely no sense. Despite that, I can wholeheartedly recommend this movie to every single person on this planet.

The charm of this aesthetic is not that it will make you think or reflect, but that it’ll make you laugh. In a world of mediocre and lifeless movies, at least these films have the balls to plunge into the deeps of cinematic insanity and entertain us.

As someone who has now seen a ton of “So Bad it’s Good” movies, I have spent way too much time trying to identify what exactly makes these movies special. The story behind the making of Troll 2 seems to get at one of the most important points of the genre: It was made on a shoestring budget by a bunch of Italian exploitation filmmakers who spoke no English and were working with American amateur actors who spoke no Italian.

At the end of the day, the people making it believed that they were making something that was genuinely good by Hollywood standards.

There is always an element of ego behind these films, the director, or the cast believing that the movie they're making is a masterpiece and, in that sincerity lies a strange comedy. Even in what is the first “So Bad it’s Good” masterpiece Reefer Madness, a church-funded morality film on the dangers of the reefer, this misplaced sincerity is the driving force behind the films comedy showing the audience how marijuana will cause you to fly into murderous rages.

The more interesting “So Bad it’s Good” movies tend to have stories of narcissistic directors who eschew following any advice. 

The German director Uwe Boll, whose whole directorial career revolves around terrible but hilarious movies like Alone in the Dark, Postal, and, my personal favorite the In The Name of the King series, does not seem to realize that his movies are terrible. In fact, he's famous for literally violently fighting his critics challenging and knocking out some of his “haters” in the boxing ring. While most of these directors are never that violent, most of them (for example, James Nguyen, the director of Birdemic) aren't able to see how bizarre and hilarious their artistic creations have become.

In the last couple of years, these movies  have gained something larger than a cult following. There are documentaries and sequels made around films of the genre, there are podcasts that explore the many different films that make up the genre (like How Did This Get Made?), and it even has its own sort of film canon and classics. You would be remiss in exploring the genre if you didn’t for instance watch The Room or Battlefield Earth. The genre that was a sort of cult, novelty fad in the 90s with shows like Mystery Science Theater 3000 has become a new norm in the 21st century, and I for one accept this wholeheartedly.

Lauren’s “So Bad it’s Good” picks include: Santa Claus versus The Martians, Teen Witch, Showgirls, Ghost Rider, and literally every movie Nicholas Cage has ever been in.