Arguably, the internet is responsible for cultivating a new age of subcultures and interests, none of which are as enjoyable to me as the pursuit of finding and mocking terrible movies. Although most of these meme-worthy films circulating the interwebs can be dated back to the 80’s and 90’s, many terrible filmmakers are still generating unwatchable “art” to this very day. There are even filmmakers who claim to be doing this on purpose, resulting in laughs centered around trying to decipher what was intentional and what wasn’t.
The internet’s hive mind has many commentators who have cataloged the greatest hits of bad films. You can easily find dozens of commentary tracks for any number of films that have been touched by the likes of Neil Breen, Tommy Wiseau, or Nick Cage. I am of the belief that finding a film that fits into this category need not be restricted to any sort of specific formula, however, there are some non-specific tells that generally add up to an enjoyably terrible movie, which are as follows:
- Over the top acting from unmarketable performers with the occasional inclusion of an A-lister desperate for extra cash
- Painfully obvious budget limitations
- Attempts to use ADR, CGI, or additional sound effects without the knowledge necessary to do so well
- A vanity project from someone with too much money, normally with tenuous ties to the industry
- Mute or otherwise completely tone-deaf attempts at humor, often poorly cut, becoming both humorless and incoherent
- Transparent copies or reiterations of films that received cultural approval or box-office success
- Having porn stars in the film to garner attention from key demographics
- The inclusion of ham-fisted themes or social commentary, either being poorly communicated or disconnected from the plot and characters
There are dozens of other tells, but these ones are generally pretty obvious. With all this in mind, consider two of my personal favorites, which are ones that are a bit of fun for everyone.
Teeth – Directed by Mitchell Lichtenstein (2007)
Everything about this movie is wrong. Everything that should be serious is funny and everything that is supposed to be funny is cringe-inducing. I can’t even put it all into words, but a special and very obvious shootout goes to a disproportionately intense and puerile performance from the lead actor, Jess Weixler. This is one of my personal favorites, and if you take the time to check it out on Netflix, it will become immediately obvious why. This film starts out bad and just ramps up into pure cringe-porn.
The film’s director claims the project is intentionally a “dark comedy” (What? Burn After Reading and World’s Greatest Dad are dark comedies; nice try bro), but the humor mainly comes from a few cringe-worthy performances and is almost entirely lacking in any actual jokes, gags, or irony that would typically be attributed to a dark comedy. It is often the case that these directors claim their films to be satirical after it becomes apparent they are hilariously bad, so this could either be a trick of the trade or a genuine characterization. Point being, intentional or not, all of your laughs will be at the movie, not with it.
The premise is really quite simple; an uptight Christian girl discovers her sexuality in a pseudo-realist society, not unlike our own, except where every male in existence is a secret sex-depraved rape monster. Oh, and obviously, her vagina has teeth. Over the course of the film, she becomes empowered by her weaponized vagina and essentially uses it against those who have wronged her. This transformation of the protagonist results in some of the funniest and most unbearably goofy sex scenes to have ever been filmed in the history of always. The actual commentary on the power of sexuality is quite clever, but it remains obtuse even when it’s not slowing all the way down for needlessly stupid exposition. Everything that is here is great and significantly enhanced by terrible sound effects, performances, and obvious ADR.
The Happening – Directed by M. Night Shyamalan (2008)
There is so much wrong with this movie; I’m not even sure where to begin. As far as filmmaking goes, M. Night is a bit of a kook and is notorious for his mixed bag of good and bad movies. The popular theory/consensus is that critical success and bloated budgets got to his head, and his ability to work with and guide actors was almost non-existent. With terrible acting, terrible direction, and a god-awful script, what should have been a tense horror-thriller turned out to be one of the best comedies of the year (even against the likes of Pineapple Express and Step Brothers).
In true M. Night fashion, the movie struggles through an incoherently absentee plot, only to reveal what’s “happening” (zinger) in a twist ending. That’s right folks, the plants are causing people to kill themselves because we treat the planet like shit. This is the sort of poorly executed social commentary that can make even a tree-hugging hipster like myself roll their eyes. Obviously, having a powerful theme can amplify the enjoyment of almost anything, but Marky-Mark as a science teacher wasn’t doing it for anyone.
What really makes this film enjoyable is the terrible performances and dialogue dripping off of Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel. I am of the opinion that neither of these performers are particularly talented, but watching behind the scenes footage of them trying to figure out what’s going on in M. Nights head is the most hilarious pairing for the movie that could possibly exist. Zooey appears to be strung out through the whole thing, and Mark looks visibly distressed over the stupidity of his own character.