One man's trash: The perks of 'so bad they're good' horror movies

by Jason Madanjian / Beacon Staff • October 23, 2014

From a technical and artistic perspective, Troll 2 is an awful movie. There’s a scene in the film where the main protagonist, a young boy named Joshua, unleashes a fury of urine all over his family’s dinner, right in front of their eyes. Unbeknown to his family, the food is tainted and would very likely turn them into goblins if consumed. Joshua knows this because the ghost of his dead Grandpa Seth told him so. And yet that very same scene, like many others, was shot and acted with the utmost sincerity, which is what makes Troll 2 an awesome movie. 

With All Hallows’ Eve fast approaching, students at the college are no doubt wondering which horror movies to watch. It appears, for film-savvy Emerson students, that the most desired kind of horror movie is a scary, well-made one. 

And I’m more than happy to recommend John Carpenter’s chilling and trailblazing 1978 slasher film Halloween or Ti West’s 2009 satanic panic flick The House of the Devil. But there’s a decidedly less spooky type of horror movie that holds a special place in my heart this time of year. And that is the crappy, incomprehensibly idiotic film that is so bad it’s actually really good. 

Now, a lot of students at this college claim to ironically watch these films. But somehow, I doubt their interpretation of “so bad it’s good” goes beyond the lame 1993 Disney flick Hocus Pocus. 

I’m talking specifically about the decades old films so bafflingly bad, so horribly dated, so artistically inept, you’ll wonder how they were ever allowed to be consumed by the public.  

Troll 2 has become the poster child for this type of film. In fact, a 2009 documentary chronicling its legacy is entitled Best Worst Movie. And that notion may very well be true. 

For starters, Troll 2 infamously features no actual trolls. Instead, the villains are goblins. It’s the first of many outrageous qualities that have rescued the 24-year-old film from the bargain bin and into the pantheon of cult viewing and worshiping.

And Troll 2 isn’t the only film that earns this distinction. 1982’s Halloween III: Season of the Witch completely abandons the franchise-famous template of Michael Myers killing teenagers for a consumerist satire involving witchcraft, haunted masks, and Stonehenge. The film was a critical and financial disaster, and Myers was immediately revived for the fourth entry in the series. But in the years since its release, Halloween III has developed a loyal following for its loony departure from the typical Halloween formula.

To casual viewers, this type of movie may not seem worth the two-hour investment. After all, there’s so much “art” out there, it almost seems silly to spend your time watching something you’ve already been told is terrible, particularly if it doesn’t satiate your hunger for childhood nostalgia. 

But these “so bad they’re good” movies are absolutely worth the plunge, not just to witness how badly they are made, but also how earnestly they are made. In both Troll 2 and Halloween III, along with the likes of The Burning, Sleepaway Camp, and Motel Hell, there is such a delightfully handcrafted aesthetic to the production that you can’t help but become enraptured in what looks and sounds like some truly wacky home movies made by a bunch of your goofy friends. 

These movies aren’t well-acted and the special effects are horribly dated. But there’s something addictively fun about them. They have more soul and personality than today’s mainstream fright flicks, like this year’s horrendously dull Annabelle and the obnoxiously serious 2002 film The Ring.

Surprisingly, 1981’s The Burning, which finds a disfigured caretaker named Cropsy killing horny teenage campers, wears its heart on its sleeve. In between moments of supposed terror, the film tries desperately to make you relate to this somewhat attractive, mostly gawky group of young adults who are just as awkward as typical high school students. The film is cheesy and funny and sexy and scary and stupid. Just like life. 

“So bad they’re good” horror movies are universal because they unintentionally embody the viewer. They’re unpolished and imperfect. And I think that’s why, even decades after their release, seemingly unremarkable films have stuck around in cinephiles’ minds. 

Sometimes, filmgoers take themselves too seriously. And every once and awhile, you just need a movie to piss all over your conceptions of good and bad.