A short history of bad movies

Posted at 7:39 AM, Jul 10, 2013
and last updated 2013-07-10 09:39:44-04
By Todd Leopold


Editor’s note: Do big-budget flops deserve to be thought of as failures? Read and decide if it’s time for reconsideration.

(CNN) — As long as there have been movies, there have been bad movies. For a long time, they were forgotten — or wished to be.

But there were those who remembered.

One of them was Harry Medved. In the 1970s and ’80s, he wrote four books on bad movies. Along with Danny Peary’s 1981 book “Cult Movies,” Medved’s works helped blaze a trail.

The films selected by Medved included the high and low. Alain Resnais’ inscrutable “Last Year at Marienbad” was in there; so were “Robot Monster,” “The Horror of Party Beach” and the films of Ed “Plan 9 from Outer Space” Wood.

The choices got attention. Medved was written up in People magazine and guested on talk-show panels.

“We were thrilled at becoming part of the national discourse on movies that are so bad they’re good,” says Medved, who now writes for the film and ticketing site Fandango.

Some of his targets weren’t so thrilled. Medved remembers sharing a couch on the old “Merv Griffin Show” with Burt Reynolds.

“He accused me of making money off of bad movies,” Medved recalls. “I told him he had made millions off of his own bad movies, so I didn’t see the problem.”

Other actors can only smile and shrug. Carrie Fisher, no stranger to bad films, told CNN that she made one film because it earned her a trip to Israel. Michael Caine, who starred in “Jaws: The Revenge,” once wrote, “I have never seen it, but by all accounts, it is terrible. However, I have seen the house that it built, and it is terrific.”

Gradually, Hollywood detritus got more attention from the mainstream. Joel Hodgson and his colleagues created “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” which featured the cast watching bad movies and yelling jokes at the screen. The show ran from 1988 to 1999.

Hodgson, who confesses that “when I was a kid, I thought God made the movies,” says that he could always find something good in what he was joking about.

“When you write (the riffs), you spend a lot of time with the film,” says the comedian. “There are certain things that you can’t get over, like certain performances that are great, but they’re within the body of this (bad) movie.”

These days there’s an afterlife well beyond “MST3K.”

Medved mentions there’s a book in the works about the production of “Robot Monster.” The making of “The Creeping Terror,” a 1964 film about a man-eating alien, has inspired the more dramatic “Creep!”, about the con-man director behind the film. “Manos: The Hands of Fate” is being restored, thanks to a Kickstarter campaign.

“The Room,” which Entertainment Weekly called “the ‘Citizen Kane’ of bad movies,” has led to “Rocky Horror”-like midnight-movie participation, a video game, a live reading and a book coming in October.

If you want the original bad stuff more or less straight, there are also live events to harness your happiness. Hodgson occasionally tours with his “Cinematic Titanic” show; former “MST3K” writer and host Michael J. Nelson has a show called “RiffTrax.” (If you want to play at home, Shout! Factory has been issuing DVDs of “MST3K” episodes; Volume XXVII is due July 23.)

It all goes to show that there are many paths to immortality.

The “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” creators used Medved’s inclusion to create a franchise, for example. And Ed Wood? The man became the subject of an Oscar-winning film.

“Ed Wood’s widow was not exactly thrilled when we lauded him with the Golden Turkey Award as ‘the worst director of all time,’ ” says Medved. “(But) we helped bring an underground cult for ‘Plan 9’ above ground. I think Wood would have enjoyed the resulting attention.”

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