Editor’s Note: This is the culmination of several excitable dialogues on Twitter about the gloriousness of bad movies. She’s a solid writer, suitably geeky for me to consider a person I want to spend time knowing, and she loves bad movies. So, read and enjoy.
Or the Reason I Like Bad Movies, Summed up in One Particular Film
By J.B. Rockwell
I have a confession to make: I like bad movies.
There. I’ve said it.
To be clear, I don’t mean any old bad movie—if you ask me, just about every RomCom is a bad movie—I’m talking about that special class of speculative fiction gem, be it sci-fi, fantasy, horror, or any combination thereof, that is so bad, it’s actually good. Well, entertaining, at least.
Confused? Good! I mean, bad. I mean…let me explain.
‘Bad’ movies—as I view them—generally fall into one of three broad categories, which I’ve presented below.
Category the First: Cheap & Cheesy:
These are those low budget, Grade D stinkers that have the trifecta of badness: bad script, bad acting, and bad special effects. Think most of the movies featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000, and you’re pretty much on track. You might find a long lost character actor from the 70s and 80s in the cast of these movies, like Joe Don Baker or Brian Keith—one of those guys whose face you know but name you have to look up. More often than not, though, the cast of the Cheap & Cheesy is filled with no-name actors willing to take on just about any role in order to pad out their acting resume.
Hey, no judgment. Everyone’s gotta start somewhere, even the big names. Raul Julia actually starred in one of the movies MST3K lambasted, after all.
Now, to clarify, I’m not saying all cheap movies are cheesy. In fact, there are some pretty darn good spec fic movies out there that were filmed on a shoestring budget, most notably Gareth Edwards’ Monsters. This movie was shot ‘opportunistically’ (they basically drove along the US-Mexico border and stopped wherever at any place that caught their fancy to shoot a few scenes, using locals as extras when needed) with a tiny crew and limited equipment. Any and all visual effects were produced by the director himself, using his home computer and store-bought visual effects programs. And the cost? About $600,000.
That’s cheap in cinema terms, but this movie is anything but cheesy. It’s gripping, different—definitely a pleasure to watch.
Category the Second: SyFy Originals:
I’m using this term generically. There are a lot of C Grade movies that fall into this category that weren’t produced by the SyFy channel, but you say ‘SyFy Original movie’, and most people immediately know what you’re talking about. They’re the big daddy, with a huge category of (possibly, maybe, but probably not) soon-to-be classic movies.
Ironically, although the SyFy channel has been producing SyFy Original for several years, most of the world never noticed until that wonder of terribleness Sharknado came out in 2013. A movie that—while not one of my favorites—serves to highlight the basic characteristics of a SyFy Original. In general, these movies are a step up from the Cheap & Cheesy. Sometimes several steps up, with some of their movies teetering on the brink of pretty darn good (think the Battlestar Galactica spin-off movies, or Farscape: Peacekeeper Wars). They share the same triple-ugly whammy as their lower grade cousins, but with slightly bigger budgets, slightly better acting, and marginally better special effects. Casting can be…interesting in these movies. A lot of them have names you’ll recognize (Judd Nelson starred in Lost Voyage, for example, and somebody thought it would be a good idea to dress Coolio up as a soldier for Pterodactyl), but the budgets usually only allow for one ‘name’, leaving the rest of the cast to be filled out with…well, whoever.
Again, no judgment. You never know what part will springboard your career.
I will say this about SyFy Originals: there is nothing better to watch when you’re down and out with the flu, or stuck inside on a particularly craptastic day. You can check out SyFy’s entire catalogue here, if you’re interested (or sick, or whatever): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Syfy_original_films
I’d recommend Ice Spiders if you want a ‘so bad it’s good’ film, and Dog Soldiers if you want to try one that’s ‘not quite bad and actually kind of good’. Oh, and there are tons of shark-based movies, so if that’s your thing, you’ve got a whole weekend’s worth of programming on offer.
Category the Third: Blockbuster Bellyflops:
These movies maybe crack the B Grade barrier. Maybe. They come with much bigger budgets than either the Cheap & Cheesy movies or the SyFy Originals—enough funding to pay for a full squad of named cast—and have the distinguishing characteristic of having been shown in an honest-to-god theater. They’re the movies you stop on every single time while flicking through the channels. Never mind that you missed the first half already—don’t need to see the opening, the plot is thin enough that the back story doesn’t really matter. Besides, you’re just gonna watch through to the next commercial and find something else. Or maybe you’ll just finish it since, ya know, it’s not all that long of a movie…
Anyway, the Bellyflops are interesting—and my favorite category of movie—because they aren’t meant to be bad, despite that they carry a distinct odor of cheese. Some play it tongue in cheek, others take themselves way too seriously. In either case, there’s entertainment. At least, for fans of bad movies like me.
And that’s why this is my favorite category of bad movie. Simply because these movies have names, and resources, and should by all rights be better than they actually are. So, without further ado, I’d like to launch into the real meat of this blog post and tell you a little bit about one of my absolute favorite bad movies. A little piece called…
“Three people attempt to stop a gigantic crocodile, who is terrorizing residents in Black Lake, Maine.”
That’s right, Maine. Despite the title, this movie is not, in fact, set in upstate New York.
Bill Pullman (pre-Independence Day beard, a little heavier than his Spaceballs punching weight) as Jack Wells: a small town Fish and Game officer dealing with a New York sized crocodile problem.
Bridget Fonda (remember her smoking that bong with De Niro in Jackie Brown?) as Kelly Scott: a paleontologist from the big city dealing with a small town Fish and Game officer dealing with a New York sized crocodile problem.
Olive Platt (in what I’m pretty sure is his one and only role involving a wetsuit) as Hector Cyr: a mythology professor cum crocodile enthusiast and one of the few people in the movie who’s actually excited to be dealing with said small town’s New York sized crocodile problem.
Betty White (at her best, most adorable and endearing Betty Whiteness) as Mrs. Delores Bickerman: a lonely little old lady who spends her time feeding helpless livestock to the New York sized crocodile problem plaguing this small town.
Brendan Gleeson (yes, you read that right, they talked Brendan Gleeson into appearing in this movie) as Sheriff Hank Keough: a small town cop—well, you know where the rest of this is going.
Budget & Box Office Sales:
- Budget: $35M
- Box Office Sales: $31M (sad trombone)
Sequels & Crossovers:
Lake Placid 2, Lake Placid 3, Lake Placid: the Final Chapter, Lake Placid vs. Anaconda—all of which (wait for it) were SyFy Originals. You know your movie’s bad in a good way when it spawns a whole series of SyFy Original children.
The Story (in a Nutshell):
Warning: Spoilers. Proceed with caution.
The set-up: After a diver gets killed in a Maine lake by something that is ‘probably a bear’ though they’ve ‘found a tooth that doesn’t look like a bear. More…prehistoric’, recently dumped, big city paleontologist Kelly Scott is sent by her deadbeat boyfriend (who’s also her boss, natch) to check the tooth out. Said girl arrives with a big old chip on her shoulder due to the previously mentioned dumping and her—surprise, surprise—complete hatred of all things outdoorsy and Maine.
So, let’s recap: dead guy, unknown tooth, lovelorn girl who despises small towns and the outdoors. Sound familiar? Yeah. Familiar formula. Anyway.
The rest of it: Following the previous set-up, enter Jack Wells (aka, Fish and Game Guy) and queue the instant bickering—which we just know will lead to unrequited love. Intros, Paleo Girl and Fish and Game Guy head over to the lab to examine that tooth. Guess what? It’s not prehistoric. It’s just reptilian. Bummer.
Anyway, they head over to the lake where the diver died and end up interviewing a sweet, old lady named Mrs. Bickerman who, for unknown reasons, promptly confesses that she killed her husband. Everyone’s too busy with their tea and cookies to particularly care, though, so they finish up and head off to set up a campsite.
That’s when crocodile enthusiast Hector Cyr arrives and enthusiastically proclaims that they’ve got a crocodile in that there lake. Apparently, “These lakes all link together and eventually connect to the ocean, so it’s not that far-fetched.”
Beg to differ, but, whatever.
So, despite Croc Guy’s insistence, everyone’s pretty skeptical of this whole crocodile diagnosis. That is, until Paleo Girl manages to fall in the water a few times—she falls into and out of a lot things in this movie: boats, trucks, holes, you name it—and gets chased by something menacing, forcing hunky Fish and Game Guy to save her—at the very last minute, of course. Hijinks ensue, with various and sundry unfortunate things happening, including a deputy losing his head—literally, the crocodile jumps out of the water and takes it clean off—and a rampaging bear getting dragged into the lake in broad daylight by this self-same crocodile everyone but Croc Guys refuses to believe actually exists. Well, the bear thing does the trick, and everyone decides to get on board and take down the massive beastie.
Phew! Glad to have that temperamental plot point dealt with. Also, I should mention the crocodile is really freaking big. Like 50 feet long big. Now on to the rest of the story.
Incidental to the rest of the plot, the Sheriff and Croc Guy develop some strange kind of bromance, and Fish and Game Guy and Paleo Girl repeatedly slip aside into the trees to share sweat whispers. But they don’t like each other. No. Absolutely not. Boys are icky. Girls too. Still, love blooms beneath the crocodile scourge.
Meanwhile, more bad stuff keeps happening, and our cast of heroes can’t agree on what to do. Croc Guy wants to drug the thing and trap it—a la King Kong—which is an obviously bad idea, but everyone goes along with it for some reason. Using a helicopter and a cow as bait—oh yeah, we found out earlier that sweet, old Mrs. Bickerman has been feeding live cows to the crocodile for years now because she loves it, even though it killed her husband…or maybe because of that—they attempt try to lure the crocodile close to the shore so they can drug it down with the good stuff.
Things don’t go quite as planned, but after crashing the helicopter and trapping the crocodile inside it—don’t ask, it doesn’t makes any sense—they manage to tranquilize the beast and save its life. Insert whatever explanation you want for why they do this. In the movie everyone just gets dewey-eyed over the freakishly large but now defenseless crocodile and agree to save it out of the goodness of their hearts. Strangely, however, no one seems to feel particularly bad when the Sheriff blasts a second, surprise crocodile into a slurry soon after. It’s smaller than that first one, so maybe they just don’t like little crocodiles? Who knows, doesn’t matter. Crocky junior dies and everyone oves on.
The movie closes with a series vignettes. The crocodile gets hauled away to…somewhere on a big, old flatbed truck, ostensibly to live happily ever after, or else get slowly and painfully dissected in a lab. Paleo Girl hops into Fish and Game Guy’s truck and they drive off to…somewhere to live happily ever after, and likely break up in a few months. The Sheriff hops into the ambulance with Croc Guy—who’s getting cart off to the hospital—to continue their bromance and probably really live happily ever after. And—back at her lakeside cabin—Betty White dangles her tootsies in the cold, cold water while she feeds a fresh batch of baby crockies, setting the stage for all those follow-on movies.
Final Thoughts: In its defense, Lake Placid doesn’t take itself too seriously—that’s its saving grace. I’ve jokingly referred to this movie as ‘Jaws with crocodiles and a helicopter,’ but it knows better than try and match the straight up terror of that classic movie. Lake Placid mixes blood and gore with a good dose of humor, and some really first rate, bickering exchanges, most of them involving Betty White’s Mrs. Bickerman. I’ve included a few of my favorites quotes below for your enjoyment.
Cyr (holding up a lone human toe): Is this the man who was killed?
Sheriff: He seemed…taller.
Sheriff: I brought a pork chop for luck. Maybe you could hang it around your neck.
Cyr: That’s sweet. Maybe later you can chew the bark off my big fat log.
Sheriff: Ma’am, your husband Bernie, you didn’t by any chance lead him to the lake blindfolded?
Mrs. Bickerman: If I had a d*ck, this is where I’d tell you to suck it.
Mrs. Bickerman: Murders and rapes in the city, people bomb planes, can the police stop ’em? No! But feed one little cow to a crocodile…
Sheriff: You’re gonna stay right here until the police show. You’re under full house arrest.
Mrs. Bickerman: Thank you, Officer F*ck Meat.
Bad Movie Rating: 5 (our of 5)
Regular Movie Rating: 3 (out of 5)