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Why enjoying awful movies has gotten so complicated.

Why enjoying awful movies has gotten so complicated. (photo)

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The internet’s been abuzz about “Birdemic: Shock and Terror,” which stands a fair chance of becoming to this decade what “The Room” was to the last — a film so cluelessly, inexplicably terrible that it attains cult status. In this way, James Nguyen’s movie seems destined to go down in history alongside “Troll 2,” “The Room” and the selected works of Edward D. Wood Jr. The difference this time around is the amount of self-flagellation involved.

Ed Wood — the patron saint of bad filmmakers — actually managed to complete 14 films and one TV pilot in his lifetime. These days, he’s primarily remembered for “Glen or Glenda” and “Plan 9 From Outer Space” — not successful in their time, and not even during Wood’s lifetime, but resurrected two years after his death with the publication of “The Golden Turkey Awards,” a book written by Michael Medved (before his conservative-loon days) with his brother, which deemed “Plan 9” the worst film of all time. With Wood safely dead, cult worship could proceed without guilt. Wood’s final years — mired in alcoholism, depression and financial trouble, culminating in a premature heart attack — could be safely set aside, along with his many other films not sufficiently terrible enough to be of interest.

As Jonathan Rosenbaum wrote, Tim Burton’s delightful celebration of Ed Wood is scrupulously accurate about recreating the films themselves and willfully ignorant about many of the realities of his life — the alternative would be too depressing. This is no longer an option — when the objects of your cult celebration/derision are around to do the Q&A’s, the response can get a lot more conflicted.

Hence the admission by The A.V. Club‘s Steve Heisler, in the middle of a long essay about the evening he spent hosting “The Room” auteur Tommy Wiseau, that realizing Wiseau made the film in earnest and now has reconciled himself to its camp value “was more than a little tragic to see.”

04082010_plannine.jpgNguyen promoted his film at Sundance last year and is now blowing up midnight screenings, and so responses to him are more than a little ambivalent. Over at Slate, Jonah Weiner posits that the great bad films constitute inexplicable “formal assaults,” and so audiences laugh at them because they’re able to feel “superior to the rube who made it,” but also as “a defense mechanism, a means to fend off the film’s uncanny, invasive effects.”

Over at The Awl, Melissa Lasky goes further, suggesting that it’s ultimately “hard not to admire someone who can exist so entirely in his own universe, free from the persecution and perceived criticism of others.” (At least, in relation to the internet.)

I’m not averse to the pleasures of the inexplicably terrible — I’ve seen Cam’Ron’s “Killa Season” five times — but it’s never quite a clean feeling. To celebrate Ed Wood’s work is to ignore his minor real-life tragedy; today, since the relationship of cult filmmaker to adoring audience has been collapsed in time, inevitably it’s a lot more ironic, weird, and more than a little guilt-ridden. These over-rationalizations of enjoyment show how complicated it’s getting to fetishize the awful in the face of its creator.

[Photos: “Birdemic: Shock and Terror,” Severin Films, 2008; “Plan 9 From Outer Space,” Legend Films, 1959]


Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.


Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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GIFs via Giphy

Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:


The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.


They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!


Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.


Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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GIFs via Giphy

Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”


IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?

Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!

Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.

Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 


IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.