I did not, alas, watch Sharknado Thursday night. I could have. It was on SyFy. I have cable. And apparently watching it became a very big deal on Twitter. I have, as it happens, a Twitter account, but I don’t use it. I’m afraid of it. I think it’s the kind of technology I’m too old for. I’ve tried to Tweet, but I always feel intimidated by it. I think it might bite me. Like a shark caught up in a tornado.
Plus: Tweet? I’m supposed to Tweet? I’m not a tiny yellow bird.
Ahem. The premise of Sharknado, apparently, is that if a tornado scooped a bunch of sharks up out of the ocean, wouldn’t they still want to bite people? My wife’s response was, sensibly enough, that sharks, if left out of the water, die. So if a tornado did scoop up a bunch of sharks, so what? They’d land on ground, flop around for awhile, and that’d be the end of them. Pretty boring fodder for a movie. But I saw the Jaws movies. (All of them, actually). I saw the one where a shark ate a helicopter. So sharks can do that, at least, in movies. So could a flying shark, in a tornado, snatch a woman out of a helicopter? Or gobble her up midair? I can’t see why not.
But I didn’t see it. On Facebook, many many of my friends did see it, and had one of two responses. One response is to say ‘that was horrible, what an awful, putrid movie.’ The other response is ‘what a horrible movie. So awesome! Love terrible movies like this one!’ As one friend put it:
I can’t believe you missed it! It was truly amazing. All the bad acting. The terrible CGI sharks (and maybe some mechanical ones? It was hard to tell. They were all gloriously fake) and explosions. Sharks flopping around on dry land and people still getting eaten because…SHARKNADO! omg. omg. omg. It was perfect.
So, come on. Right? After that, I have to see it!
I have seen this. If you didn’t bother clicking on the link, it’s a scene in Sharknado where a guy with a chainsaw cuts himself out of a shark. This is a very gross, moderately exciting, and completely preposterous scene, and it makes me want to have seen the movie all the more.
What is it about crappy movies? I grew up in Indiana, and with my friends, loved to go to drive-in movies. There was a big drive-in theater just outside of town, where we went to see really terrible movies. American International specialized in these things, awful crime movies, rotten sci-fi movies (with the cheesiest of special effects), ghastly and unscary horror films. We had a great time.
I remember this one: it was a Western, but as Our Hero galloped along on his horse, you could clearly see telephone lines in the background. That was the one where he fell into a river, swam to shore, and when he stood up, his clothes were completely dry. The one where he was chased by three, then four, then six, then back to three Indians. The one where you could see the wagon train cross a two lane highway. It was the Continuity Error King. We loved it.
When I was in college, my friend and I went to movies all the time. We saw a lot of terrific movies, but we also saw our share of terrible ones, and in some respects, they were more fun. I remember we went to drive-ins then, too, and I vividly remember a double-feature I saw on a double-date. Highway to Hell, and Kidnapped Coed. Years later, my friend found them on DVD, and bought them for me for Christmas, and I watched them with my son. We sat in a kind of stupefied astonishment at how bad they were. Idiotic plots, horrible acting, bad camera work and lighting. Just awful, ka-ka poo-poo movies. And thoroughly enjoyable.
Of course, the whole B-movie world owes a debt to the great Roger Corman. And the list of filmmakers who got their start in Corman produced films begins with names like Scorcese and Coppola and Sayles and James Cameron and Jonathan Demme and Ron Howard and includes actors like Jack Nicholson and Robert DeNiro. Corman worked for American International off and on, and also started Filmgroup, again making cheapo movies for drive-ins and grindhouse theaters. Those venues are gone now, and the only real equivalent are movies that go straight to DVD; movies that can’t find theatrical distribution, but that maybe Netflix might pick up.
Only now, SyFy network has started producing them. Here are some SyFy original movies: Arachnoquake: about ginormous spiders released from the underground by an earthquake. Pegasus vs. Chimera: legendary horse against legendary something. Sharktopus: a half-shark, half-octopus predator. Megapython vs. Gatoroid: ’nuff said. Jersey Shore Shark Attack: ’nuff said. Flying Monkees, and I quote: “a teenage girl’s pet monkee turns out to be an evil shape shifter. Oh snap!” Seriously, the promo copy finishes with ‘oh snap.’ SyFy is craptacular, guys: check out their website. Battledogs. Ghost Storm. Bigfoot (of course). Independence Daysaster. Haunted High. Piranhaconda. Aladdin and the Deadly Lamp. In that lineup, Sharknado seems positively restrained.
So why are terrible movies fun to watch? It’s sort of interesting; I have seen hundreds of plays in live production in my life, and most of them were good, and some were life-changingly wonderful, and only a few have been terrible. But the bad ones linger in the memory. A really horrible play is pretty well unwatchable. Those are real people up there, speaking bad dialogue and trying to pretend that the story is worth telling. It’s just excruciating. I try never to leave plays early, but sometimes you just can’t wait for the interval; you’re so desperate to get out of that theater.
But bad movies are kinda fun.
This never happens; you’re sitting with your theatre friends, and an actor you know comes up in conversation and someone mentions ‘she’s in *************. I’ve heard it’s a real train wreck.’ Talking about a play. And someone in the group says ‘hey, let’s go see it! Could be fun!’
No. What you do is you say, ‘poor (insert actor’s name). That’s so tough. I heard that was bad.’ And someone else says, “I saw it. Excruciating.” And there’s this long silence, no one even making eye contact with anyone else, just suffering vicariously for a second. A sort of group sigh. And then someone kindly, compassionately changes the subject. It’s like how you respond when someone dies. Being in a terrible play is like that. Dying. Which, if you’re in the show, is what you long for. The sweet, merciful release of death.
But I have a niece, an actress, and I adore her, and she was in a zombie movie which has yet to get theatrical release, and she says it was rubbish, awful script, inept director, only she got to die spectacularly, so there’s that. And she laughs about it, and how much fun it was. And the second it comes out, I’m seeing it. The second. Bad movies are fun. And actors love to talk about them. “I was in this movie once, I got killed by a ninja. So much fun!”
So I’m grateful to SyFy for keeping this long tradition alive. Movies don’t have to be good to become immortal. I am proud that my personal DVD collection includes, not just great movies, classic movies, brilliant movies by wonderful directors, but movies like The Terror of Tiny Town. The world’s only all-midget Western musical. And Reefer Madness. And Robot Monster. Troll 2. And Hitchhike to Hell, and Kidnapped Coed.
The MST3K guys made history by showing dreadful movies with appended snarky commentary. I love all their releases. And they’re great because they approximate the social aspect of bad movies. We don’t just like bad movies, we like seeing them with friends. We like making fun of them. We like sitting in a car in a drive-in theater together, pointing out continuity errors and giggling over some of the acting.
Now there’s Sharknado. Surely SyFy will re-broadcast at some point, and I’ll try to get my daughter to come over and watch it with me. She’s a bad movie fan too, and bad movies have to be seen in groups.