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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