From Sharknado to Lavalantula, some might claim that we’re living in a golden age of direct-to-video B-movie franchises. With cheesy digital effects and (usually) inconsequential plots, these films have become the proverbial bread and butter of channels like SyFy and production companies like The Asylum.
As these movies grow in popularity, so does a certain backlash against the “So Bad It’s Good” sub-genre. This is understandable, as it does feel rather questionable to try and profit off of purposefully awful features when there are so many great independent filmmakers who could create something wonderful with that kind of funding. However, This does bring up an important point. As these peculiar films sometimes overshadow productions that are genuinely trying to make good movies, should these modern B-grade pictures even be made at all?
Of course, the phenomena of extremely cheap genre films achieving financial success isn’t anything new. Legendary filmmakers like Roger Corman have built long-lasting careers out of schlocky B-Movies, and I’d even argue that some of these silly productions are necessary to keep the film world alive. The real issue here seems to be artistic intent, as most of the watchable bad movies out there were actually trying their best to offer an entertaining experience.
The effort behind some of these productions is admirable, and a ridiculously small budget is oftentimes the real culprit behind a film’s perceived lack of quality. Movies like Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space are downright charming in their earnest attempt at emulating Hollywood’s biggest successes on a tight budget, with little-to-no technical know-how. Watching these clunky films is a rewarding experience in spite of their amateurish origins, not necessarily because of them.
The same can’t be said of more recent films like the aforementioned Sharknado series, that seem to relish their inferior production values and make no real attempt at compensating for their inherent crudeness. While I don’t judge people who are fans of numerous (and usually shark-related) franchises like Ghost Shark and Sharktopus, it’s apparent that these films are using our love of cheesy B-movies as an excuse to make a quick buck. I mean, regardless of what you thought of the film, you can’t really claim that Dinocroc was anyone’s passion project.
Nevertheless, that’s not to say that these films shouldn’t exist, as despite my criticism I’ve enjoyed my fair share of trashy monster movies. Even seemingly irredeemable train-wrecks like Birdemic can be enjoyable under the right circumstances. As the various incarnations of Mystery Science Theater have shown, sometimes you need a bad movie to have a good time, and that’s awesome!
Even so, we’ll probably never see this modern trend of intentionally awful movies be celebrated the way we celebrate famously bad movies from the past. The honesty behind a full-fledged attempt at making a great film results in a certain kind of charm that you can’t simply replicate on demand. In order to be fun, these movies shouldn’t be produced on an assembly line as if they’re coming from some strange shark-related factory.
To be clear, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with making movies intentionally cheesy, but there’s a right way of going about it. As with Rodriguez and Tarantino’s love letter to the best (and worst) that the horror genre has to offer, Grindhouse, a little bit of effort can go a long way. In fact, there’s a long list of great movies with downright ridiculous subject matter that manages to be entertaining despite their budgets.
There’s also a huge difference between filmmakers trying to make bad movies on purpose and filmmakers attempting to emulate a different kind of cinema experience that some people consider “bad”. Loving homages to the corny monster movies of old can actually be pretty fun, even if they’re made with the same level of limited production value as most SyFy films. The sad thing is, many of these dedicated productions will be inevitably compared to those arguably lazier movies. Looking at it like this, there’s really no excuse for setting out to make a crappy horror movie, no matter how stupid the premise may sound.
Ultimately, What really bothers me is how the thought process behind these newer “So Bad It’s Good” movies is almost predatory in its intention of profiting off of moviegoers who just want to have a good time with no serious artistic pretenses. This cynical corporate instinct is also the source of several knock-off movies made by many of the same production companies, hoping that grandmas everywhere might somehow confuse Transformers with Transmorphers as a viable gift during the next holiday season.
This is why, in an ideal world, enjoyable “bad” movies should be a happy accident and not a sub-genre in and of themselves. However, overall, these movies aren’t actually causing the horror genre that much harm. No one can really force you to exclusively watch the countless Sharknado sequels instead of original horror movies that put more effort into their productions. And, while it’s unfortunate that some better monster movies will be compared to these trashy films, there’s still nothing wrong with zoning out and enjoying the show as the titular Ghost Shark devours innocent people on a Slip ‘N Slide.
As long as viewers make an effort to value decent horror movies as well as these silly ones, there’s no reason for them to stop existing entirely. After all, in time, most of the unenjoyable crappy movies will be forgotten, and we’ll be left with only the most entertaining and memorable gems that the trashy side of our favorite genre has to offer.