Sharknado 2, and the scourge of intentionally bad movies

The inevitable has finally happened. Just one year after the TV movie Sharknado kicked off an inexplicable social media frenzy, the sequel is set to debut on SyFy on July 30th. And before I go any further, I’d really like everyone to take a couple of minutes to watch the trailer for Sharknado 2: The Second One. Check it out below, and then we’ll continue. Don’t worry, I’ll wait.

Okay, so did you watch it? And more importantly, did you laugh at it? Did you so much as crack a smile at any point during the trailer for Sharknado 2: The Second One? I’m fairly confident you didn’t, and I’m pretty sure I know why. It’s because Sharknado 2, for all its Twitter “buzz”, is really just another entry in that most dreaded movie subgenre: the intentionally bad movie. Or rather, it’s yet another film that deliberately tries to be “so bad it’s good” but only ends up being “so bad it’s a war crime”.

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Intentionally bad movies have been around for decades. They can most likely be traced back to American International Pictures, who capitalized on the lucrative 1950s drive-in market by thinking up awful movie titles (like I Was a Teenage Frankenstein or The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini), and only coming up with half-assed scripts to match the titles once they secured funding. Troma Studios picked up the torch of deliberately making terrible movies in the 1980s (like The Toxic Avenger and Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D.) and has run with it ever since. And the Asylum, the studio responsible for both films in the Sharknado franchise, has been beating this dead horse for its entire 15-year existence.

But the current notoriety of “intentionally bad” movies seems to have started with two high-profile releases: 2006’s Snakes on a Plane, and 2007’s Grindhouse. Ever since those two movies came out, we’ve had to endure a never-ending stream of terrible movies full of unfunny winks and nudges to let us know that they know they’re crap: Machete, Rubber, Hobo with a Shotgun, Piranha 3DD, Iron Sky, The Expendables, and Casa de Mi Padre are all recent efforts that, to one degree or another, maintain that hip sense of ironic detachment. “We’re making a terrible film, and isn’t that hilarious?” these films seem to say, when at the end of the day, they’re still terrible films.

Sharknado 2, and the scourge of intentionally bad movies

Because the fact of the matter is you can’t deliberately set out to make a “so bad it’s good” movie. You can’t deliberately make a Plan 9 from Outer Space. You can’t deliberately make a “Manos” The Hands of Fate. You can’t deliberately make a Troll 2. Part of the charm of these films is they were all made by filmmakers who were clearly in way over their heads and yet were still utterly convinced of their own god-given talents. You might laugh at the finished product, but you can’t help but be in awe of the clueless auteur who, despite a complete lack of filmmaking skills, actually made a movie and achieved something that a lot of people can only dream of.

Sharknado 2, and the scourge of intentionally bad movies

These days, it’s pretty rare for these kind of hilariously awful films to get made. Sure, we still get stuff like The Room and Birdemic from time to time, but for the most part, the kind of laughably terrible movies we used to see on Mystery Science Theater don’t get made anymore. There are a several reasons for this, but it mainly comes down to the fact that if you want to be a filmmaker, the barrier for entry is the lowest it’s ever been.

Once upon a time, if you were a crazy incompetent director with a singular vision, you had to mortgage your house to get your horrible movie made; Nowadays, you can get all the equipment necessary to make a decent-looking film without even maxing out your credit cards. This has resulted in an explosion of low budget films currently clogging up Netflix Streaming and your local Redbox. With supply far outpacing demand, there’s no need for studios to waste their time and money investing in the creative “vision” of directors who clearly don’t know what they’re doing. Or maybe the next non-ironic “worst movie ever made” actually is out there, but it’s been lost in a torrent of DIY films and consigned to an obscure corner of YouTube, never to be seen by human eyes.

Therein lies the rub: thanks to snarky websites, there’s now a huge market for making fun of terrible movies. But there are very few genuinely terrible movies being made anymore. So in the absence of bad filmmakers making authentically bad movies, people who really should know better are now intentionally setting out to make bad movies and faux-grindhouse flicks.

Sharknado 2, and the scourge of intentionally bad movies

But these movies are never, ever funny. They’re not clever, or watchable. Because now, you’re not just watching an awful movie, you’re watching an awful movie with an added veneer of unfunny self-referential humor to compound your misery. And the worst part is that these movies are then able to position themselves as being above criticism. They aimed low, so how can you even make fun of them? They weren’t even really trying, so you can’t mock them, which is ostensibly the whole point of watching a bad movie in the first place.

Sharknado 2, and the scourge of intentionally bad movies

The sad part is they could be trying. Yes, the typical budget for an Asylum film is well under a million dollars, but plenty of entertaining films have been made for less. I’m not trying to claim the Asylum could be making the next Fruitvale Station, but they could be putting out semi-decent sci-fi/action fare that’s at least watchable in a fun and (more importantly) straight-faced way. But they choose not to, because they can devote minimal effort to Airplane vs. Volcano (which is a real Asylum movie, because of course it is) and still turn a profit, despite the fact no one actually enjoys their movies, ironically or otherwise.

You know what Sharknado 2 should have been? The whole thing should have been played completely straight. No silly cameos. No Billy Ray Cyrus or Andy Dick or Perez Hilton. No Al Roker or Matt Lauer. No badly aging Mark McGrath. Just Ian Ziering and Tara Reid emoting their faces off as they try to convince us of the serious fucking gravity of shark-infested tornadoes. Can you imagine a completely sincere, pokerfaced Sharknado 2 shot and acted as if it were The Perfect Storm? With no cutesy winks or nudges anywhere in sight? How hilarious would that have been?

Instead, we get this crap, which supposedly knows it’s crap, which means we’ve now achieved Crap Inception, but at the end of the day, we’re still watching crap. And I say this as someone who actually spent time recapping the first movie. But I can assure you, I felt a good chunk of my soul dying while I did it.

In summary, fuck Sharknado. Fuck the Asylum. Fuck SyFy. Fuck everybody who thinks they can get by simply by saying their shitty movies were meant to be shitty. Here’s some advice for aspiring low budget filmmakers: Try. Just try to make a good movie. You might end up making a decent little B-movie that becomes an underground hit. And yes, there’s an equal chance you’ll screw up horribly and everyone’s going to laugh at you the way they laugh at Tommy Wiseau. But either way, you’re going down in history. So stop half-assing it and make a real movie, already.

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  • Ok… saw the trailer. Still scratching my head trying to figure out why *that* has any reason beyond money to exist.

  • Immortan Scott

    I absolutely loath these kinds of movie. They’re lazy and, worst of all, boring and unfunny. Your recap of the first Sharknado convinced me to avoid it and I’m sure as Hell avoiding The Second One.

  • mamba

    Yeah, you put it best. I used to watch the bad movies saying “how can anyone involved think that was what they envisioned? THIS is what they thought was good?”, and there was the humour. You knew that deep down, the director was thinking “YES! Appreciate my genius, I can’t wait until the reviews come in praising my vision!” (why does Uwe ‘toilet Bowl’ come to mind? )

    But when they openly say right up front “yeah this sucks, thanks for the money”, that’s not humour, that’s a scam for some quick cash, and scams are rarely funny.

    Thanks for pointing out the difference to those who might not get it.

    • CaptainCalvinCat

      Sorry, I have no problem with the makers of the movie being in on the joke, that this movie, they’re producing is crap.
      Actually, I prefer those, that are done with winks and nudges over those, who take themselves so utter serious. As I pointed out, whenever it comes to the topic of “Batman” – I have no problem with Batman Forever and Batman & Robin – those two were at least fun.

      But then, they made “Batman begins” and… all the joy was gone.
      The first flick took itself so super-seriously, while at least “The Dark Knight” had some humour in it and “The Dark Knight Rises” had more humour in it. And guess, what is seen as the worst of the trilogy. Right, the one with fun in it.

  • Michael Maris

    First of all, I think the first Machette perfectly nailed so-bad-it’s good, and from what i’ve heard Iron Sky isn’t even a bad movie; it just has a ludicrous premise that’s played tongue-in-cheek.

    I think the real problem is that most people trying to make intentionally bad anything don’t know how to purposely invoke so-bad-its-good-ness. The trick is to create the conditions where only incompetence can thrive.

    Let me explain; a while back I worked on a project called “Prospit Nights”, a community-driven effort to make a so-bad-its-good Homestuck fanfic. ( http://archiveofourown.org/works/1183038/chapters/2413394 ) Drawing inspiration from Atlanta Nights, I came up with a rediculous, self-contradictory outline, and then handed out individual chapters to volenteers to right, without ever letting people look at the rest of the story. While some of these people had written fanficion before, most of these people were inexperianced writers who were encouraged to write as fast and as possible. As a result, it was a hilarous, jumbled mess of ideas and stuff.

    Here’s another example. Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is, by all means, a great game. But one thing I found interesting was the costume design. Despite being in a digital medium, the art director put a limit on his team, that anything that NPCs wore in the game has to be able to be made in real life for under 80 bucks. As a result, enemies strut around in armor made of painted kitchenware.

  • Gallen Dugall

    Sharknado would have made a great short film with a small cast crew, but in feature length it’s slow, lurching, padded, and awkwardly self-consciously embarrassed. It has moments that look like effort went into them surrounded by more moments where it was beyond lazy – where they were actively trying to show how little they cared.
    That said the second one is an interesting bit of marketing tie in with Shark Week that was underwritten in the name of synergy. Interesting because it’s about on par with the Megalodon “documentary spoof” aired last year intentionally made as a cheese-ball entry for the event and it highlights how Lowest Common Denominator the channels Oprah bought out have become.

  • Cameron Vale

    It’s annoying when people fail at snark-bait because they tried to force it, but it can be equally annoying when people fail at snark because they tried to force it, and it seems to me that the two are connected since they tend to rise and fall together.

  • JD

    the line between “so bad its good” and “pure crap” is very narrow.
    you cant try to hard, for me it seems the better SBIG movies have to try to be serious for it to work at all.

    • Immortan Scott

      I agree. The thing that makes movies like Birdemic, Manos, Plan 9, The Room, and Troll 2 so entertaining is that effort was put into it. It’s why they’re better than competently made, but soulless movies like the Transformers movies or the Marc Webb Spider-Man movies.

      • It’s not just the effort but also that they are not boring.

        • CaptainCalvinCat

          Well, the Transformers-Movies (and the first Spider-Man movie Marc Webb made) were not boring, too. And I’d say, they put effort in it.

          • Bay puts no real effort into the newer Transformers films. It’s clear he’s just repeating the exact same thing over and over because it’s profitable at this point.

          • E.Buzz Miller

            Red Letter pointed out just how paint by numbers they were.
            The problem with them is that they’re an exercise in excessive overstimulation that ends up feeling empty.

  • Sergeant343

    At least with Machete and Grindhouse, they are paying homage to the old low budget exploitation films, which they did well, sure the 2nd Machete is horrible, but the first one had its own charm. I also thought Expendables saw itself as a good movie, but failed horribly.

    • JD

      So they made 2 more.

      • Sergeant343

        They made some sort of money and the 2nd succeeded more than the first where it was aiming for, but it did get a bit too winky at times.

        • JD

          Didn’t see the 2nd one yet.

          probably wont see the 3rd.

          • Sergeant343

            I still am due to the novelty of seeing all of them together in a movie.

          • JD

            that’s really the only reason i saw the 1st one.
            Was nice to see Dolph lundgren finally get some work

  • It would be one thing if there was some genuine affection for th craft of film, or some passion for genres that are plagued by low budgets and just make do (Sam Ramie has built his life around this). But most are just hacked out.

    At the very least they are effective parody of old genres, as opposed to stuff like “Date Movie” or “Meet the Spartans”. So if you can appreciate that “Sharknado” is making fun of the creature features of Sy-fy then it shouldn’t be all bad.

  • Joel Kazoo

    Why can people only derive joy from mocking others, but when those being mocked become self-aware, suddenly it’s all “oh, you’re a sellout and it’s not cool to laugh at you anymore”? If Tommy Wiseau can make a few bucks selling his image as the large ham who can’t act, or James Nguyen can keep making movies despite his reputation as technically incompetent, I say more power to them. At least they know they’re not Brando or Hitchcock, have found their niche, and are living their own version of the American dream. Do you really think either of them care if you don’t like what they’re doing, Winston?

    • m

      Did you even read the article?

      • CaptainCalvinCat

        Did you even read the comment of Joel? Or tried to understand it?

        • m

          “You might laugh at the finished product, but you can’t help but be in
          awe of the clueless auteur who, despite a complete lack of filmmaking
          skills, actually made a movie and achieved something that a lot of
          people can only dream of.”

          Yep Winston is totally ripping on Nguyen/Wisseau. Not.

          • CaptainCalvinCat

            Yeah, he is not ripping on them – by calling them “clueless” and saying, that there is a “complete lack of filmmaking skills”.

            Plus – the first question in Joels post is worth answering:
            Why can people only derive joy from mocking others, but when those being mocked become self-aware, suddenly it’s all “oh, you’re a sellout and it’s not cool to laugh at you anymore”?

    • CaptainCalvinCat

      Excellent question, Joel – and I agree with you.

      • Sean Tadsen

        Okay, here’s the problem with these kinds of movies – there’s no real way to enjoy them. You can’t watch it as a “good” film, because it is objectively bad. But you can’t watch it as a “bad” film that you can make fun of because the film’s already doing that. So ultimately the joke is on you, the viewer, because you’re the idiot who decided to waste two hours of their life watching something with literally no entertainment value whatsoever.

        • CaptainCalvinCat

          Of course I can watch those films as “good” films, without any irony and just enjoy them. Take Catwoman for example.
          I really like that movie and not just in an ironic way.
          Yes, I’m aware, that this movie is not really good, but I can enjoy it as a “good” movie.

          Take other movies, that are viewed as “bad”… Jurassic Park II (which I like more than part III), Star Trek: Insurrection, Star Trek: Nemesis, Star Trek (2009), Star Trek: Into Darkness, Godzilla, The Spirit, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, the Avengers (based on the british TV show), The world is not enough, Die another day – I really and wholeheartedly enjoy them, without any “ironic detachment”.

          They are not even “guilty pleasures” – I nix the “guilty”… they are just “pleasures”…

          By the way: it the joke’s on me, because the film is making fun of itself already, shouldn’t watching MST3K qualify as equally “not-entertaining”? Because all the jokes, people CAN make of a movie, are made by Tom Servo, Crow and Mike?

          • Sean Tadsen

            I have no problem with you enjoying those movies for what they are – everyone’s tastes are different (and I don’t quite get the point of liking something “ironically” in the first place).

            But there’s a critical difference between the movies you mention and movies like Sharknado – they weren’t made with the intent of being bad in the first place. And even some of the movies mentioned in the article (Iron Sky and Grindhouse, for example) at least have heart – the creators were in on the joke, but they did try to make a good movie anyway. Sharknado and its ilk are just bald-faced cash grabs.

            And as for MST3K, you’re laughing at Mike, Tom, and Crow making fun of the movie, not the movie making fun of itself. Mike and the bots are just as much part of the audience as you are.

  • Jasper Jones

    I don’t entirely agree with the idea that you can’t intentionally make a bad movie. Take for instance “The man with the screaming brain”. That is an intentionally bad movie. It’s cheaply made, it doesn’t entirely make a whole lot of sense, but (if you like it or movies like it) it’s enjoyable because you can tell that when making it, Bruce Campbell and everyone doing it was having a good time and they were doing something they wanted to be involved in. You can tell they were trying to make something fun that was also intentionally ridiculous and terrible. The problem with Asylum, aside from everything else already said, is that is not at all what they’re doing.

    • Cristiona

      Well, it was certainly bad…

    • Xander

      If you watch the bonus features on Man With the Screaming Brain,” they really tried to make a good movie, but they were stuck with the locations and budget SciFi (or was it already SyFy by that time?) gave them. I saw Bruce Campbell live introducing the movie, and he knew what the final project was, but he also knew what he wanted to make.

  • Nessus

    I guess I don’t see the point in the rage/disappointment/what have you. If the indie market is glutted, then it’s a buyers market, and you can be a choosy as you want without worrying in the slightest about what you’re missing. If it’s not your thing, you don’t have to spend any longer on it than it takes to glance at the poster/box and think the word “nope”.

    And a glut actually raises the statistical probability of SOMETHING that’s being released hitting your sweet spot anyway, so the only thing to complain about would be the (relatively modest, lets be honest) spike in time/effort to sort through the candidates for what to watch tonight. I mean, it’s not like there are fewer serious would-be filmmakers out there just because there’s more badly done irony and cash grabs. Maybe fewer percentage-wise, but the same advantages in cost in technology that serve the talentless also serve the talented, so there’ll still be more overall today then there were before.

    I guess I don’t see why any of this is a threat to those who don’t like it. I mean, I don’t like it either, but I don’t feel it’s reduced my options for stuff I do like, so why should I get bent out of shape about it? Why should I care at all?

  • mofs

    I think there have been some interesting silly films that have straddled the line between bad and good successfully, but actually did it properly – Crank and Shaolin Soccer spring to mind. However I actually blame Snakes on a Plane (and anyone who goes to watch a film based on it’s title), as that film showed there is interest on people watching rubbish just because the plot of the film can be distilled into a single picture of a meme which is what Sharknado/ MegaOctupus etc seem to rely on.