Bad movies vs. So-bad-they’re-good movies

There’s this post over at the AV Club that offers an introduction to the wonderful world of MST3K.

A good overview of the show, though I disagree with its dismissal of “Monster A-Go-Go.”

The piece mentions “Manos: The Hands of Fate,” which has been labeled the worst movie of all time. There are many chestnuts that get placed on this list. Here’s a typical example.  This list is a great example of the type of thing that really gets my blood boiling when people start talking about bad movies. “Manos,” “Monster A-Go-Go” and the Ed Wood classic “Plan 9” are all included on this list. But one of these things is not like the other.

I would argue that whereas cases could be made for “Manos” and “Monster” as all-time putrid worsts, “Plan 9” does not deserve a spot here. “Plan 9” is the ultimate example of a movie that is so bad it is good. In fact, it may be so unintentionally bad that it is a work of genius.

A so-bad-its-good movie has, at a minimum, two things that bad movies lack:

  1. It is enjoyable.
  2. It could not be reproduced and be as enjoyable. That is, it is a singular, magnificent achievement in awfulness.
No one could ever create a movie as perfectly jumbled in every way as Ed Wood did with “Plan 9.” It took the uniquely awful genius of Wood to bear forth this movie. Who could ever intentionally write lines as perfectly putrid as these:
Now, don’t you worry. The saucers are up there. The graveyard is out there. But I’ll be locked up safely in there.
Visits? That would indicate visitors.
This is the most fantastic story I’ve ever heard.
And every word of it’s true, too.
That’s the fantastic part of it.
Let us punish the guilty. Let us reward the innocent. My friend, can your heart stand the shocking facts of grave robbers from outer space?
All of us on this earth know that there is a time to live, and that there is a time to die. Yet death is always a shock to those left behind. It is even more of a shock when Death, the Proud Brother, comes suddenly without warning. Just at sundown, a small group gathered in silent prayer, around the newly-opened grave of the beloved wife of an elderly man. Sundown of the day; yet also the sundown of the old man’s heart, for the shadows of grief clouded his very reason… The funeral over, the saddened group left the graveside. It was when the gravediggers started their task that strange things began to take place.

Nothing in “Manos” or “Monster” comes close to this magnificent butchery. “Death, the Proud Brother” is horrible in a Shakespearean or Tennyson way.

This is why calling “Plan 9” bad is like calling Beethoven’s Ninth “loud.” Ed Wood truly laps bad, creating something of pure joy. The world would be poorer without “Plan 9.” It would be none the poorer without “Manos.”