Have you ever watched a movie so bad that it became good? This is a type of cinema called “Trash Films” or “Camp”. Some campy films would be Who Killed Captain Alex?, The Room and Birdemic. There are also bad films which aren’t redeemable like Transformers, After Last Season and Cool as Ice. If some movies are so bad that they’re good and there is also awful cinema, why do we like campy movies? Films that are campy make themselves enjoyable because people instinctively like to watch bad things. They also deviate from mainstream movies.
We like awful movies because sometimes it’s hard to look away from bad things. As a species, we are wired to look at morbid things. It’s exciting when we see gory sights (Media Violence) because our bodies think that they’re in danger and gives us a boost adrenaline to run away from that danger. It’s the same excitement we get from looking up gruesome pictures on the internet. The threat might be gone, but the thrill still is there. This is also why we stare at roadkill, it gives us a natural boost in energy. Bad movies gives us the same thrill. As humans, our bodies give us a boost in energy during campy movies just like when we look at roadkill. As much as people like to look at bad things, why are these movies so campy that we can’t look away?
Trash films become funnier the more these movies deviate from the normal film structure. Most of these flicks have terrible acting. On the Troll 2 (a movie about murderous goblins) IMDB reviewer said “The acting -- my God, where do I start? Suffice it to say that, if you set any cast member on fire, I would lay down even money that he or she would have a hard time convincing onlookers that it hurt.” (sec) (Troll 2 - IMDB) As funny as this is, most movie reviewers write about how bad this acting is in campy movies. When the acting is over the top we as the audience focuses on the mistakes of the performers instead of the plot. Acting isn’t the only thing that can break our emersion, bad effects can be just as disrupting.
Bad effects can make or break campy cinema, Sean Axmaker wrote the cult classic Birdemic (a movie about killer mutant birds) that “The CGI effects make the SyFy Channel original monsters look like state of the art masterpieces” (Axmaker). The worse the cgi gets, the more cynical we become as viewers. And just like bad acting, it breaks our immersion and we become more interested in the ridiculousness of movie. This makes us have a good time because it feels like a breath of fresh air because effects are supposed to be top notch and realistic.
These trash films become watchable when the movies are hard to understand and aren’t coherent, this gives us a greater sense of disbelief. When we discuss bad movies we say that most often we had no idea what we were watching. Matthew Turner, a film critic for Vodzilla wrote on Troll 2 “There’s so much that’s terrible about Troll 2 that it’s difficult to know where to begin.” (Turner) Bad cinema is already bad because of the previous mentioned ways, but the chaotic nature of these movies exacerbates the already terrible film. It’s like pouring salt on a wound. When the movie doesn’t make sense, everything becomes out of context and a lot funnier because we’re unsure of what’s going on and what characters’ motivations are. Nothing makes us more unsure of what’s going on than being over the top.
The last way a campy cinema separates itself from bad movies is when the flick becomes unreasonable. We want to see what will happen next. Movies like Who killed Captain Alex? an extra will get shot in one scene will die over and over in the following scenes. Or in The Room (the Citizen Kane of bad movies): we want to see how Tommy Wiseau (the star) will butcher up the next scene. We also want to see how bad the effects will be and how poorly spoken the dialogue is. This is what separates this type of cinema from a movie like Transformers. Transformers might have Shia’s bad acting, bad CGI and no story whatsoever. But, it isn’t outrageous, it tries to take itself seriously and doesn’t become parody itself like trash films do. This makes it a less enjoyable film to watch because the viewer can’t have fun with the flick.
Movies become so bad that they’re good because we as humans have trouble looking away from some bad things and because these flicks deviate from the mainstream films, making them more refreshing for reviewers stuck with the same routine films.
“PSYCH 424 Blog.” Applied Social Psychology ASP RSS.
“Troll 2 (1990).” IMDb, IMDb.
Axmaker, Sean. “'Birdemic' – When Birds Attack Good Taste on Amazon Prime.” Stream On Demand, 25 June 2017.
Turner, Matthew. “Netflix UK Film Review: Troll 2.” VODzilla.