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]


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.


Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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GIFs via Giffy

In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.


Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.


Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!



Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.


Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.


If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.