Does anybody remember the films that were really stupid looking, had a really stupid feel, really sucked badly…
… and yet we can’t help but really want to watch them?
They usually more or less have a cult status despite their quality.
Army of Darkness
Plan 9 from Outer Space
Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!
Big Trouble in Little China
Manos: The Hands of Fate
There is just so much more I can name, but it would take a lifetime, because the perception of how much melodrama, how much ‘cheese’ is in a motion picture can really range over just about every damn movie. So, where does that come from, the feeling that makes you and your friends together go ‘Damn, that film was cheesy as cheddar’? What compels you to just go back to said movie, beyond entertainment value? – because you can find entertainment in anything if you push yourself enough. Where does a community of film goers with such a reception come to a point where they can give a certain film that stamp of universal approval?
That point where a picture that would’ve been predicted as forgettable in the days to come becomes a revered cult classic?
|Get dat cheese, son!!!!|
I had been discussing this with a friend when he was giving Any Which Way but Loose a hearty bashing. He notes that the movie’s cheese is what makes it sink as a quality picture, while movies like the twenty-million Roger Corman Syfy television films and the Ed Wood pictures or The Room and such that get that ‘it’s so bad, it’s funny’ reaction from the audience.
Already we have one possibility for the following that pictures like these get. Nobody will claim they’re good movies above the age of 12. They go back to them because they need something to laugh at. They need something familiar, they cannot take seriously at times when they would want to be just comforted by whatever’s happening outside the celluloid world by an absolutely facetious piece of motion picture defecation.
If I do say so myself, I thought that last line was pretty eloquent. I might just stop cursing out movies, cause fuck it, man.
Anyway, back to the topic at hand, we then see pieces of cheese everywhere in a way, like I mentioned before. Said friend insisted that he perceived John Carpenter’s Halloween as cheese, like any slasher film could reasonably be perceived as, with their formulaic, exploitative and certainly over exaggerated presentation, despite Halloween being one of the more original pieces of this genre and the movie that started such a trend that would quickly be regarded as shlock. He himself cited particularly the usage of the serial killer’s viewpoint the straw that breaks the cheese camel’s back.
But if that’s the case, would one easily perceive Spielberg’s horror/adventure classic Jaws as cheesy for the same usage of murderer’s point of view, when it was so highly regarded at the time, the essential piece to the chilling effect of those frightening and sensational scenes? Is Jaws‘ largest advantage also it’s subtle disadvantage? Could Jaws as a picture be put in the same realm as the Halloween knock-offs as shlock, as cheese?
The answer is yes again, if only solely from perception. What may have worked for one audience, may just make another audiences eyes roll, the percentages and statistics on what makes how many people tick does not entirely matter in the end.
But then those still are regarded as anomalies if not a unanimous reception. There has to be an exact science to this, an exact factor that allows certain pictures to be certified cult classics, to be completely easily esteemed. And the cheese does not only affect the cult films.
Anybody can find melodrama or cheese in modern films like Star Wars, Carrie, Phantom of the Paradise, The Untouchables, the Indiana Jones series, Jurassic Park, Blade Runner, Super 8, Sin City, Hot Fuzz, Stephen Sommers’ The Mummy, any Tarantino, Raimi, Hitchcock or Coen Brothers flick, the French New Wave, even and especially the legendary David Lynch TV series Twin Peaks – alongside much of his work like Blue Velvet, The Elephant Man or Mulholland Dr.
And the reason is that those melodramatic factors, those elements that impose upon you to recognize and feel nostalgia or humor from the presentation, those are put in deliberately. Some in homage, some in parody, some because the movie wants to appeal to children (‘course sometimes a great big mess-up… I’m talkin’ to you, Jar-Jar Binks!), some to jolt you, to shock – whatever intention the creator feels makes the melodrama necessary to be turned up to 10, it’s there and it’s done on purpose.
The fact that the element is deliberate and controlled in these works suggest that something has to be tapped in emotion of performance and script that elicits these demonstrations of over exaggeration. And the challenge is especially in keeping these movies tasteful.
So where is it? Why do these movies have a popular reception beyond a cult following…
Well, my friend insisted that one element is the production value of these movies, but even then movies put their all into production value, so that’s a variable that can go both ways, it simply cannot be a constant until the final product is made. Look at Apocalypse Now and again Jaws, these films were just going with the flow for the most part, plagued with production issues, and came out as very well-received classics of motion picture auteurship.
It means they can never receive that cheap feel of Corman or Russ Meyer, who made due with what they had, who legitimately and frequently did their best to make their films presentable by working their best with the limited means they had…
‘As a producer, I’m probably a little stronger than most, since I was a director originally.‘ -Roger Corman
The Spielbergs and Coppolas and De Palmas of our times cannot reach that feel because they have too much money, too much pride. They can’t make a movie bad on purpose, lest it get really bad…
Corman doesn’t even do it on purpose, nor Russ Meyer. They work with what little they’re given and they build something out of it. Roger Corman and Russ Meyer are, for better or worse, among the ultimate independent filmmakers
So, what is it indeed that gives the status of cheesy? I, myself, in my extremely limited yet modestly expanding knowledge of cinema and humble opinion, think part of the effect of cult and melodrama and cheese, comes from the test of time and how it treats a motion picture.
Let’s take thought to that for a moment. The true legacy of a film cannot be determined immediately after a release. We have no idea how The Dark Knight will be perceived 30 years from 2008 yet, we have to wait until we’re steadily approaching that date. Because, despite the reception of a movie at the time of its release, the legacy of a picture can be affected by the next audience to come around, by the youth and how they are affected by the content on the screen.
Halloween‘s legacy is easily tarnished by copy cat slasher films like Friday the 13th and Prom Night and all; not only that, but the re-hashing and remakes of these films by Rob Zombie (albeit earnestly and well-intentioned in some cases) and Michael Bay and Platinum Dunes.
The same can be said for Forbidden Planet which loses its originality and power as each Flash Gordon and Star Trek gets more and more into the light.
It’s like how people perceive the original version of The Kinks’ ‘You Really Got Me’ as inferior to Van Halen’s cover these days… ugh, people…
It also is probably one of the factors in Sam Raimi’s newfound reception after a rebooting of Spider-Man, but I’ll get into that in a later article, because I have A LOT to say about that matter. (EDIT: I never wrote that article… but you can expect it now that the memory has returned on this new WordPress page)
I’d shown the film Re-Animator to a group of friends one night and they seemed largely disinterested in it, despite its camp, making me feel sad that nobody shared my feelings of excitement and glee towards the overcamping of a work by one of my favorite authors, H.P. Lovecraft and Jeffrey Combs’ reservedly manic performance as Herbert West, a performance that deserves to be as legendary as Bruce Campbell’s Ash from the Evil Dead trilogy.
Of course, their attention was particularly anchored once a certain kidnapping took place (I won’t spoil it for anyone who hasn’t seen it – I want you people to watch and be repulsed, because that’s the effect Stuart Gordon was going for – it is extremely distasteful).
At the same time, one of those friends, Dreylon (of the second Django article – jokingly to be referred to as ‘Dreylon Unchained’) had to see the initial episodes of Twin Peaks for a college assignment and regarded the reactions of Laura Palmer’s murder as hokey and reacted with ‘Do I really have to watch this?’
Anyway, this does not affect movies that are perceived undeniable classics… We can’t publicly call out Star Wars or Jaws or The Maltese Falcon or Metropolis or The Matrix as 100% Grade-A movie cheese despite their hokeyness, both due to and in spite of how much they took and how much is owed to them – the way they have reached that classic status. Despite their extreme and obvious camp, The Bride of Frankenstein, A Nightmare on Elm Street and Carrie are forgiven – even though they influenced all these easily obnoxious horror tropes and stereotypes, they get away with it…
And another thing, I’ve never seen a movie with an initially positive reception ever go entirely downhill in audience appreciation. It’s always the other way around a movie has to be outright hated for the most part and then others later on see it for what it’s worth… it happened to Fight Club, it happened to Blade Runner, it’s currently happening for Heaven’s Gate and so many of Buster Keaton or Orson Welles’ works and so on and so on…
Course there is that area of films that get a cult following without a raise in their IMDb rating – people who fuel the following that The Room or Battlefield Earth or Manos: The Hands of Fate or Plan 9 orReefer Madness or Boxcar Bertha have will never admit to those movies being good, they know better… they just like watching them.
No, it takes just a small group of people to give a film a legacy…
I’ll kill somebody if that happens for The Master of Disguise.
|Don’t laugh at me, you bald fuck! You killed Garth’s career!!!|
|‘This is the third time I saw that decapitation! Every fucking time!’|
- John Carpenter
- Sam Raimi
- Roger Corman
- Brian De Palma
- Stuart Gordon
- George Romero
- Ed Wood
- David Lynch
- Russ Meyer