Everybody loves a good bad movie. Plan 9 From Outer Space, Night of the Lepus, The Room, Death Bed: The Bed That Eats; these are the stuff dreams are made of. But what about those movies (and we all have them, you know we do) that are not quite so bad that they’re good? What about the ones that we love despite ourselves, that we know have no redeemable qualities and that turn our brains to mush? My fellow contributor Joanna calls them Guilty Pleasures (and does a good run-down on her favorites here). Because they are not so bad they’re good. They’re just … bad. But we love them anyways.
I have a few movies that I feel that way about. Casino Royale – the mess from 1967, not the equally dumb but wholly unenjoyable movie from 2006 – is one such. Never has so much talent been thrown so wildly, so inexpertly, and with such shattering terribleness at a single film. And no wonder, given the sheer number of directors and writers with their names attached to it. For some reason that I have never been able to completely define, I love that movie. I love the shoddiness of the writing, the confusing cameos (Orson Welles! Woody Allen! Peter O’Toole! Ursula Andress! William Holden! George effing Raft!), the random dream sequences, the explosion at the end. I love that someone thought to cast Peter Sellers as James Bond … and David Niven as James Bond. And a few more actors as James Bond. I love that almost everyone seems to be in a different movie. There is nothing good about Casino Royale. It is unidentifiable, but it never rises to the level of the so wonderfully bad that you have to embrace the crazy (like The Room). And yet I will watch it every time it comes on. Part of it must be the sheer talent that is squandered in such a risible excuse for a motion picture. There’s not a bad actor in the bunch, but no one seems to know what they’re doing or why. The script was written by a lot of people, including Woody Allen. John Huston directed some part of it. There’s something anarchically enjoyable in the whole exercise.
Another film I have an inexplicable love for is the more recent (but equally ridiculous) Van Helsing. This is all the more shocking because it pretty much decimates three (four if you count Dr. Jekyll) great Universal Horror classics in one fell, schlocky swoop. But hear me out. Yes, Van Helsing is dreadful. Yes, it is embarassing. Yes, it can even be remarkably boring in places. But it is so wonderfully imbalanced! Richard Roxburgh’s performance as Dracula is truly shocking (truly – he’s actually quite a good actor and only agreed to take the part after a drunken evening in Prague) for its extremity. Schuler Hensley’s Frankenstein Monster is a bad Halloween costume, but he tosses himself into it with gusto. The brides (a blonde, a brunette and a redhead) speak in exaggerated Transylvanian accents and weep, gnash and pose like supermodels. The monsters are having the time of their lives; they exist in a camp classic.
Then there’s Hugh Jackman, who obviously believes he’s in an action movie and equally obviously has no concept that everything about the picture is ridiculous. He speaks his lines with such earnestness, such clarity, such belief in the words! Juxtapose that with Dracula’s posturing and you’ve got yourself a picture! I’m not even going to mention Kate Beckinsale, her wandering accent and inexplicable costume.
I have no excuse for these films. They’re ridiculous. But it gives me a pain whenever someone tries to claim that they should never have been made. Anyone who loves film knows that there is as much to be said for the mistakes (the catastrophic mistakes) as for the successes. The truly terrible remind us of how good filmmaking can be by being so very bad. It is something of a pleasure to watch good actors in bad films, to see how they can hold their own in the midst of chaos. That is as far as I can go in justifying my love of these films. Perhaps it serves to remind me that cinema is expansive, that it encompasses all kinds (Ed Wood as well as Orson Welles). The true pleasure of movies can be found in its worst as well as its best installments.
I am entirely aware that both Van Helsing and Casino Royale should be confined to the bargain bins. But I still love them. I love the combination of earnestness and ridicule; the bizarre performances by great actors; the confusing plot twists and forced dialogue. Neither film is quite as bad as Plan 9 or even Hell Comes to Frogtown, and as such cannot go down in history as something so bad it was good. But they make me feel warm and fuzzy and I enjoy them fully as much as I ever enjoyed an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. As much as I love the great films of today and yesterday, I have to admit: I love the failures almost as much.