The Ninjabot

Guilt Tripping The Light Fantastic

Posted on August 9, 2013 at 9:00 am by Jason Byard

I suppose it’s an interesting philosophical question to sit and ponder if something that gives one pleasure is really something a person should be forced to feel guilty about at all. To a large extent, I’d like to think of myself as one of those free-spirited types who embraces that whole, “If it makes you feel good do it,” mantra. But, of course, I’m not. I figure, if I’m fated to end up looking down my nose at myself, it may as well be over the truly terrible movies that, like a moth to flame, I find myself pulled to. Let the ego bruising commence!

Congo (1995)

congo posterFirst, the film’s faults: It is arguably the worst adaptation of a Michael Crichton novel ever to make it to the screen (and that is a list that includes Disclosure and The Thirteenth Warrior). I would also go so far as to posit that in the long and storied history of terrible films to which Bruce Campbell and Tim Curry have lent their imprimaturs, Congo is in a class by itself. Mainly because it was expensive to make and a hit at the box office, but I digress. The film also heedlessly inflicts a series of frightful indignities on its audience, ranging from Curry’s dreadful accent (think Bela Lugosi after consuming an entire bottle of Robitussin) and a talking gorilla apparently voiced by Stephen Hawking.

That said, it still is a kick to watch, for my money. The cast is solid, besides the aforementioned Bruce Campbell and Tim Curry, there’s a young Laura Linney (handsome as ever) and B-movie legend Joe Don Baker. The angle is just the right amount of old-fashioned too. I mean, how often do we see jungle adventures with vicious apes leaping to and fro, thwarting our heroes’ quest for a lost city of gold? Not since backyard fallout shelters went out of style. And what comes next? Well, the apes get blown apart by a laser gun that you didn’t even know existed up until that specific point in the movie! How’s that for a climax? It’s like someone wrote a big-budget movie using those little word magnet things that college girls used to keep on their refrigerators.

Jaws 3-D (1983)

Jaws 3 posterIt’s an iron-clad rule of nature that dolphins and sharks are mortal enemies. Everybody knows it. All our lives it’s just been sorta assumed that they are the Supermen and Lex Luthor’s of the deep. There’s something reassuring about that simplistic yin and yang type duality. But even as an enthusiastic watcher of Shark Week, I can’t think of any authentic documented account of these two species ever actually doing battle with each other.

Therein lies the great payoff ensconced within the much libeled third installment of the Jaws franchise. At last, for one night only, dolphin and shark will square-off for your entertainment, Mr. and Mrs. America! And in polarized 3-D! That should be enough to draw you back to rewatching Richard Matheson-scripted (!) trip to the most needlessly and hilariously unsafe marine park in the civilized world (it’s in Florida, naturally). If you can just manage to abandon all any preexisting notions you may have had about what is plausible and accept the idea of Dennis Quaid as some kind of highly-regarded super scientist, you should be fine. There are some really killer underwater scenes that still hold up 30 years on. Of course, the always majestically cantankerous Louis Gossett, Jr. is on hand to get all Officer and a Gentlemen when necessary. Just forgive the inadvertent hilarity that arises during the inane slow-motion shot of the shark crashing through the window during the climax.

Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight (1995)

demon knight posterThere’s a point in this movie where the head demon, played by the erstwhile tool-portrayer Billy Zane, assures the guy who was Lowell on Wings that he’s willing to let him escape the bloody mess in which he and the rest of the cast find themselves, in exchange for the sacred MacGuffin thing (it’s called The Key, but really who cares?) which Lowell just swiped from the hero moments before. Then, after making the trade, Zaney simply informs Lowell that he lied and has him promptly cannibalized by a pack of handy hell beasts. That’s this movie distilled.

Demon Knight is an unrepentant exercise in the “Ah, screw it! Let’s just kill this guy, blow this thing up, make a cheap sexual innuendo, show a bunch of naked ladies, etc.” type of mentality. In terms of narrative structure, Demon Knight is nothing new. It’s your basic siege movie, a la Night of the Living Dead and Assault on Precinct 13, just with demons and some convoluted back story that involves a weirdly arbitrary cameo appearance by Jesus of Nazareth. But it’s the film’s essential lack of pretense and sophistication that demands repeated viewings in spite of all its flaws. The picture succeeds as a brazen, violent, eye-grabbing funhouse ride, and without all the heavy handed Sucker Punch-style melodrama too. Any movie where Dick Miller shares a scene with veteran pornstar Chasey Lain is deserving of your unqualified attention.

Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy (1996)

brain candy posterIt’s never a pretty thing when a beloved comedy troupe gets roped into making some limited-release, straight to video quickie. Usually it’s because their TV run is up and the members are looking for a quick payday in between gigs. They slap on some recognizable costumes, toss in a few recurring characters and rehash some old bits. Nothing innovative or daring, just the sort of recognizable shtick that their established fan base will pick-up so they can smirk knowingly at the more recognizable aspects of the production. It’s always a pitiable affair. Like watching a family pet take it’s first halting steps on the path toward that imaginary farm your parents will eventually send him to.

Anyone who’s subjected themselves to Run, Ronnie, Run (or the Kid’s own 2010 effort Death Comes to Town, for that matter) knows what I’m talking about. Brain Candy is all these things too, but it has certain qualities that set it apart from the rest. Namely, the still compelling frenetic energy of the Kids in the Hall themselves. The old jokes you know from the TV series retain all their offbeat potency, and the troupe’s avant garde sensibility is firmly present and unbowed. Sure, some gags don’t work, but the ones that do carry a distinctly droll wit that shows you they’re at least trying. Case in point: Bruce McCullcoh’s riotously macabre turn as “Cancer Boy.”

The Love Guru (2008)

love guru posterBecause, really, what guiltier pleasure is there than hate-watching? It was abundantly clear by that third Austin Powers movie that Mike Myers’ idea sack was basically empty and that he was engaged in recycling old SNL bits from 1992, hoping we wouldn’t notice because he was doing it in that stupid accent. But, my God, I don’t think anyone could have anticipated the hellish tidal wave of awfulness that was his (hopefully) career-killing outing as Guru Pitka. Phrases like “toilet humor” and “juvenile” were among the most commonly deployed by the film’s legion of detractors following it’s release and subsequent implosion at the box office.

However, none of those phrases ever seemed to quite capture the sheer dreadfulness of what is, when all is said and done, just a hideously unfunny movie. Put plainly, The Love Guru is a “comedy” in much the same way that Charles Manson was a “religious leader.” It’s an abomination, but dammit if I don’t DVR it every time it crops up on cable. For some reason, there is a sick catharsis inherent in watching joke after lame, interchangeable fart/booger/penis joke fall flat over and over again and silently raging against them in my mind. The bent appeal of a nice hate-watching fix is like a cigarette, really. It’s probably not the best thing for you, but it’s always just too damn enticing to pass up.

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