Craptastic Cinema: A Primer

Good day, I’m Julian André, and welcome to Craptastic Cinema.

After my debut blog review of one of my all-time favorite craptacular movies Tuff Turf I received many comments from readers and colleagues alike. One in particular had me rankled. A confrere of mine off-handedly referred to Tuff Turf as a crappy movie. Which it is. But that word alone, “crappy,” does not denote the pleasure attained by watching it. It is dismissive. That’s where the term craptastic—and its variations—comes into play. By their very nature craperior movies should not be dismissed. On the contrary, they should be embraced!

I asked myself, “Julian, what makes a bad movie so good?” Certainly not all bad movies have redeeming qualities. Some are just dire, full stop. Others manage to entertain, even thrill filmgoers—deficiencies and all. I’ll have a go at defining the beguiling je ne sais quoi that separates the craptastic from the crap, listing the finer points below.

But first a word about the filmmakers and their devotees.

Among these lovely people will be the thin-skinned who take offence at having their film classified as craptastic. They would do well to remember that we LOVE these movies. They have loads to offer! Just not in a way the filmmaker had originally intended. Simply put, there is a paradox at work: they all have a multitude of flaws, yet on another level those same flaws are immensely enjoyable.

So, onto the major aspects that contribute to a cineaste’s bloody awful good time.

ACTING
Whether the acting is stiff, disinterested, histrionic or vacuous there is much amusement to be had watching an embarrassing performance. Most times it is D-list talent struggling with poor material, but sometimes prominent thespians find themselves circling the drain of a disaster-in-the-making. Hayden Christensen’s acting in Star Wars Episode III: Revenge Of The Sith was more wooden than Endor. Pia Zadora is so vacant in The Lonely Lady she’s practically translucent. And who doesn’t love the over-emoting Nicolas Cage maniacally trying to save whatever stench-fest he’s involved with this month?

 

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Wow, that really sucked. Bravo!

PLOT
Horrible premises, incomprehensible goings-on, leaps of logic, dangling narrative threads, and baffling character decision-making are sure signs of a good bad movie. To say nothing of deus ex machina: Hackneyed, lucky I overheard/stumbled-upon/found-you scenarios that strain, if not shred, credibility. In the best of the worst logic goes out the window. In Over The Top a man gains custody of his estranged son by winning an arm wrestling competition. A character announces she has breast cancer in The Room and the subject is not brought up again. And in Jaws: The Revenge the shark roars (?) and inexplicably explodes when impaled. Such impertinence hardly offends; it brings great joy!

DIALOGUE
This is the meat & potatoes of loving terrible movies. Why, you ask? Because ham-fisted writing is so delectable! Non sequiturs, clunky phraseology, incongruous conversation, and cliché are only a few examples of crummy scriptwriting. How many times a day do you quote lines from movies with your mates? When you overhear strangers citing such rancid lines such as “Visits? That would indicate visitors” and “Nobody puts Baby in a corner” and “They’re eating her. And then they’re going to eat me. Oh my God!!!” you know that they are kindred souls. Craptastic movies jolly-well beg to be seen & quoted in the company of others.

BUDGET
The cost of the film does not enter the equation, really. Crapperific movies run the budgetary gamut. But in other ways cost does factor in. For example…
In movie biz parlance you have A-list pictures. This presumes a big budget with ace talent. It is especially satisfying to watch the mighty fall! We film fans are tickled when John Travolta’s Battlefield Earth crashes and burns. We snigger at Paul Verhoeven and Joe Eszterhas’ $45 million bomb Showgirls. And how can you not gape with amazement at the wonder which is Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band?
Moving down the monetary scale are B-movies, where a large portion of craptacular movies are mined. Stringent financing produces a mother lode of cheap sets, not-very special effects, hack writers, and incompetent direction. Vanilla Ice demonstrates all in just 1:30…


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Oft-times tight budgets also means lesser grade talent, such as Steven Seagal, Jessica Alba or Tara Reid, but that is not always the case (see: Sylvester Stallone; Arnold Schwarzenegger; Sharon Stone).
And then there’s the Z-grade schlock made on a shoestring. The weirdest of these fall under the domain of Dr. Strangefilm. The Twonky, Blood Freak, They Saved Hitler’s Brain, and most of the Troma oeuvre are all first-rate examples of such bargain-basement howlers that the good doctor dissects. However, there are shoddy films that do venture into craptastic territory, most infamously Plan 9 From Outer Space, mainly because of writer/director Ed Wood’s dogged belief & determination to make truly worthwhile films. Which brings us to our last, but by no mean least, point for determining which films to consider craptastic.

INTENT
The film itself can’t be camp, parody, or winking because that is the antithesis of what defines a craptastic movie. Filmmakers’ intent is paramount. That is to say, it is almost essential that the moviemaker is honestly, earnestly, sometimes desperately, trying to make something meaningful. (Otherwise, as my aforementioned esteemed colleague averred, the movie is simply crappy.) They’re making a film that has a lesson to be learned or has something otherwise important to say. At least to them. These filmmakers do the best they can. And they fail spectacularly.

Summing up, the movies we all love to hate and hate to love are generally a confluence of budgetary concerns, quotable dialogue, murky plot, and questionable acting that somehow transforms a dodgy film into one that is positively cracking! In essence those combined elements add the “tastic” to mere crap. And thank Vishnu for that!

I shall soon return with another craptastic movie review. In the meantime I’d love to know which movie you find yourself happily wasting time watching (when you could be viewing a film with real merit).

I’m Julian André, humble scrivener, blogging exclusively for MovieFanFare. Until next time, I bid you a fond adieu!

Julian André

  • Tim Moran

    For whatever it’s worth, I REALLY LIKED Mommie Dearest!

  • William Sommerwerck

    Oddly, the directing is a major factor. A bad movie that plods along is often unwatchable, whatever its (de)merits. This is the reason I don’t care much for many Troma films.

    You missed “He’s dead… murdered! And somebody’s responsible!”

  • William Sommerwerck

    I’ve heard of jumping the shark — but jumping the fence?

  • Hyman Rolov

    What makes a bad movie good is that its funny. Really bad movies are unwatchable and dull. This can include important movies (like Deer Hunter or Judgment At Nuremberg). Some directors only made bad movies (Stanley Kramer), but Bless the Beasts and Children is worse (better) than most of his more significant ones. Sometimes a bad movie becomes a cherished institution and people are no longer watching the movie but worshipping and studying it. (To Kill A Mockingbird). Camp movies really shouldn’t be included unless they are unintentional camp (Eyes of Laura Mars). Of course, some peoples’ bad movies are other peoples good ones (Gone With the Wind). Its unfair to evaluate high budget turkeys with low budget ones. Ed Wood is always better than Stanley Kramer or DeMille. Waterworld is merely an embarassment, not much fun. Blair Witch Project is an inverse success. The Emperor’s new movie, if you will. And Heaven’s Gate reveals just how bad Deer Hunter really was to those who whiffed on it and gave it Best Picture, though a lot of Best Pictures are also worsts (Ordinary People), or any Redford opus (Going My Way) (Titanic)… sometimes the unexpected occurs, Casablanca should have been a bad movie but accidentally wasn’t.

  • Gary Vidmar

    New millenium remakes are among the worse crap out there:
    THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL and THE KARATE KID with Will Smith’s brat instantly come to mind.
    How about tacking on happy endings for THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR and THE VANISHING – even the rehash of THE MECHANIC?

    • hypatiab7

      I hope you mean the remake of “The Day the Earth Stood Still” or I’ll have to sic Gort on you.

  • Dana Cavanaugh

    Let us not forget, craptacular movies aren’t always on the big screen. Who can forget the “terror” of seeing Sharktopus on SyFy. All I can tell you is, if you have a weak bladder either a) sit near the bathroom, b) wear an adult diaper, c) don’t drink anything because the level of mirth this stinker produces may just make you soil yourself.

    Another personal favorite of mine is The Giant Gila Monster from the late 50′s. It doesn’t get much more craptacular than that!

  • victor

    any picture that has a woman with top billing is usually gonna be horrible,,ceptin for “mildred pierce”.

  • jefferson_thomas

    Any bad movie that somehow makes you care what is happening to the characters is so bad it’s good. Examples:
    “Angel” — how much more idiotic could the premise and events get, but I couldn’t stop myself from caring about her!
    “Red Dawn” and “Chrome and Hot Leather” — same comment!
    I liked this junk so much I own copies of all three!

  • Dennis

    I liked “Mommie Dearest” too. Faye Dunaway was great!

  • sean

    Scenes that are so creepy, unsettling, make you want to be de-loused, but you can’t take your eyes off the screen. Admitting that I not only have seen it, but several times & look forward to seeing it again make me not want to associate with myself. Queen Joan in ” Straight Jacket ” comes to mind. Few scenes in a movie have made my skin crawl as Joan makes a play for her daughters
    boyfriend on the couch. Delicious agony. Sean

    • hypatiab7

      Sounds like my favorite so bad it’s good movie “Teenagers from Outer Space”. The teenagers were all in
      their thirties and the ray-gunned skeletons were held together with wires. The acting went from bland to
      bombastic with only one actual character actor (the grandfather) in the entire motley cast. Best of all, the
      monsters were the shadows of crabs blown up to look larger than they actually are. If I remember right,
      the star, writer and producer were the same person. A friend and I used to rush home from school on the days this tur …. uh …. movie was scheduled (quite often) to scarf up my grandmother’s chocolate cake and laugh ourselves sick. “I shall make the Earth my home and I will never leave.” Deathless prose from the traitorous alien ‘teenager’ who does die saving the Earth from his dictator father after falling in love with an Earthgirl in a few hours. Knowing this will not ruin anyone’s enjoyment of this wonderfully awful movie. Oh, happy days of youth! Of course, I now have the DVD, but both my grandmother and her sink a battleship cake are gone.

  • Gord

    One of the most glorious turkeys ever foisted upon mankind is “The Oscar”, the story of Frankie Fane (Stephen Boyd), who has trampled everyone near and dear to him, fought and clawed his way to the top of the Hollywood pigpile and an Oscar nomination.
    The story is told through best friend Hymie Kelly (Tony Bennett–yes, THAT Tony Bennett). The dialogue is so gloriously, atrociously bad that just when you think it can’t get any worse–it gets even worse!
    Apparently Bennett refuses to watch it and considers his one and only feature film role the nadir of his career. Lucky for him that it has never been released on DVD, to the great misfortune of cinematic turkey afficianados everywhere.
    I bought a VHS copy on eBay a few years back and copied it to DVD. Believe you me, it’s well worth seeking out.

  • Linda Schiffer

    Watching certain films makes you often say, “Who got PAID for this crap?” Sad, but all too true .. People get paid for writing this junk.
    I would have to say, all in all, that it is a major combination of the following that makes films bad: 1) Script, 2)Directors who seemingly don’t care about their films or their careers either, 3)Little or next to nothing budgets making it necessary to hire the worst actors and the worst crews possible – and that includes cameramen who couldn’t frame Roger Rabbit.
    Good actors who sometimes get pigeon holed into one type of role, often end up with some of the most horrid films in cratacular history (Embryo, The Ambassador for Rock Hudson; almost all of Errol Flynn’s later films; a few John Wayne epics that should have been shelved; some Robert Redford yawns; and so on).
    Many of the top rated actors have had their share of crap films. If you are a good actor, you rise above the crap, as those mentioned above. Those who are selected from Central Casting for their looks only, and will probably never appear in another film – ever – need to carry Febreeze with them to clear the air of their truly stinky/foul performances.

  • Ken A

    Gonna keep an eye out for ole Hyman Rolov with whom I disagreed on almost every film he named. Deer Hunter, Judgment at Nuremburg, Ordinary People, and To Kill a Mockingbird as worst films? Makes me wonder what one thinks is a good film, e.g., Bruno or Hangover? BTW, I also think Mommie Dearest got a bad rap.

  • Evie

    All the “Beach” movies are craptastic. If there’s one on TV, I can’t stop watching it.
    “Chrome and Hot Leather”?! Who would even watch a movie with that title? You’re really askin’ for it!

  • Bookworm

    I rather suspect that a “craptastic” movie is to cinema what a Big Mac and Fries are to haute cuisine. But I think most everyone would agree that at times (hopefully limited times), nothing is quite as good a Big Mack and Fries despite such fare having the nutritional value of a salt-shaker and the visual appeal of a fat woman in a bikini.

    Having said that, I should like to offer up two candidates for consideration. “Robot Monster,” a so-cheap sci-fi flick of the 1950′s that even the monster was clothed in at least 4th-generation hand-me-downs; a gorilla suit and a space helmet apparently acquired from the R&D division of a Woolworth’s Five-&-Dime.

    The second nomination is called “Sebastiani.” This was a nominally serious film (you could tell from the movie poster which proclaimed “In Latin with subtitles”) that purported to retell the story and martyrdom of St. Sebastion. Other than learning some really neat swear-words in classical Latin, this film is not just bad, it’s awful! It’s excrutiatingly painful–when it’s not accidentally hilarously funny. Told with “homo-erotic overtones” (I didn’t make that up; it’s actually in the blurbs and on the posters), this is the sort of movie that makes you want to Clorox your eyeballs after seeing it–and yet, somehow you sort of want to see it again, though for the life you, you can’t say why!

    But as “craptastic” movies, as I understand the definition, these two deserve at least (dis)honorable mention.

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