The Strange Magic of Good Schlock Movies

Last night, my friends and I decided to watch Bright in a fit of morbid curiosity. After satisfying that curiosity (but absolutely nothing else), we were craving an enjoyably bad movie in the vein of Wing Commander or Doom. We alighted on Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, which is every bit as dumb as the title and Peter Stormare’s name in the credits imply. We loved it.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at
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Schlock, in my estimation, is entertaining because the people making it have clearly set their goals far above their skill level, and it’s fun to see them go for it as hard as they can but come up short. Movies like Bright are the result of someone throwing $90 million at a director, writer, and actors who are just cashing a paycheck, and it shows on the screen. Bright is a cynical production: “Everyone loves those Games of Thrones! Get a big name actor and slap him into this terrible script and throw money at it until a movie comes out.” Nobody involved has a bigger vision for what it is, they made exactly what they set out to make.

Watching Bright made me realize that End of Watch plus a few scenes from Training Day might be the only story Ayer has to tell, which is a pretty bleak range for a creator.

Training Day and Harsh Times are also the same story, of a trusting guy whose loyalty is tested when he is coerced by a sociopath to participate in a series of crimes disguised as innocent errands, and spends the rest of the movie reacting to that realization. Harsh Times is way worse though.

I watched Training Day not long ago and was taken aback by how much I disliked it. Maybe it’s just that The Shield But Garbage grated on me more this time, but also it’s just a deeply implausible, almost ad-libbed story. Washington and Hawke are good, but man do their high points not come close to redeeming it.

@LaserJesus I think that’s a really good point. Bright feels phoned-in at every turn. There is not a moment or performance note that is not recycled from elsewhere.

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I should have made an exception for the actors in my post, because I don’t think the actors were phoning it in when making Bright. They’re clearly trying to make the best out of a trash heap of a script, but there was only so much they could do.

Dog Soldiers is the greatest film ever made (fight me). I’m convinced that I changed the course of a scene through sheer force of will, forcing an actor engage in a choreographed boxing match with a werewolf after his shotgun ran dry.

While I agree with everything in Rob’s post (the guy’s head getting smushed in Witch Hunters was a highlight for me), I kind of wish we weren’t at the point with Bright where everyone who was writing about what unredeemable racist mess it is doesn’t also have to shore up their trashy movie bonafides so as to prove they are accurate in staying Bright is a racist mess instead of just sticks in the mud.

Rob, I’ve given this some thought today because bad movies have come to mean a lot to me.
Two things are necessarily to walk that thin “bad-good” movie line:
There must absolutely be a critical level of sincerity to the movie, it’s hard to define that level exactly…but everyone involved has to be doing their damnedest to make a good film, whatever fucked up circumstances existed at the time.
A certain amount of personal context you attach to the movie.

For example, apologize in advance to fans, but Mortal Kombat is terrible! but I love it partially cause I remember getting high in a parking lot with a friend, going to the arcade and playing Darksiders, and then rambling into the theatre to see Mortal Kombat, and it was great.

This rings true. Personally, I can enjoy anything when it’s clear the people involved are/were having fun, which dovetails with sincerity, imo.

I agree that good schlock comes from people trying their hardest. It can bad actors giving it all, or good actors going all out in a movie they know is “bad”. I wouldn’t call the new Godzilla good schlock since it’s just too boring, but Bryan Cranston hit the good schlock notes pitch perfect. Even a shot of him just running was great in it. Seemed like he was the only involved who was in on it, though.

But maybe it’s just that dissonance that makes for good schlock. The contrast between actors caring too much about crap material, one actor being the only one going for a different tone, or cool music and flashy shots matched with the most bland voice over imaginable. The feeling of something being unintentionally off in a scene.

It is a direct and targeted attack by Hollywood against me personally that the 2010 A-Team movie never got a sequel. It’s the most perfect distillation of the dumb action movie ever made. They fly a fucking tank, people!

I don’t get many opportunities to push my favorite schlock movie, so here goes. I want to sell you on watching “Deathstalker 2”. In fact, I want you to watch it twice!

Deathstalker 2 is an incredibly problematic B-movie sword-and-sorcery epic. It’s treatment of women is abominable, the acting is… well… I think just about every delivery is perfect, but that does not mean its good. Joke are honest and unabashed. It’s like watching an extend series of dad-jokes. For example:
Damsel: "What’s your name, my hero?"
Hero: "Deathstalker."
Damsel: “Is that your first name or your last name?”

It’s okay to enjoy problematic things, and Deathstalker 2 is certainly problematic. Watch the theatrical cut - NOT the “Directors Cut” - then take a break. Think about what you enjoyed. Try to imagine everyone involved as good-natured people doing their best to make something they know is not by any means art. It’s fun. Everyone i having fun.

Then, watch the “Director’s Cut” WITH THE COMMENTARY. One of the earliest exchanges is (paraphrased):
Guy 1: "So, welcome to the director’s cut!"
Guy 2: "Did you make this?"
Guy 1: "Nope. I have no idea what this is, I made the other cut. Did you make this?"
Guy 2: "Nope. I also made the other cut."
Guy 1: “Well then. I guess we’re in for a ride.”

It’s a joy to listen to these two men make genuine interesting and funny comments about the production of their schlock film while also noting when scenes they cut or never shot at all appear suddenly in the middle of their film. “What movie is this from?” “I have no idea.”

Deathstalker 2 is a joy. It also has the best Title Mention of any movie I’ve ever seen.

(Though, no fooling, do not think about its sexual politics. It’s a film where every woman at some point takes off their top except for the one large woman who is actively shamed for her ugliness and treated as a monster. Like… just know that going in. If you can, just let yourself have a good time. It’s worth it.)

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You guys are on the money with sincerity being the key to good schlock. It goes along with the movie not trying to explain its ridiculous premise. The cast are all on board so don’t ask questions just roll with it.

I think Cowboys vs Aliens is a great example of this kind of film. I mean they weren’t even trying with that title. Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig play it so straight you can’t help but go along with it.

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I don’t enjoy watching schlock so much as I enjoy hearing other people try to dissect it. One of my favorite podcasts, We Hate Movies, is very good at this. They made a recommendation recently to watch the film Pottersville before listening to their episode on it, and I ended up actually kinda liking Pottersville. Sincere non-genre films end up sticking with me as enjoyable even if they’re bad at executing their premise. I just love seeing people care about something in an age where it seems like nihilism and apathy are perceived as cool.

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Maybe this has been mentioned before and I just don’t know, but how come he is credited as “Robert Zacny” as editor and “Rob Zacny” as author?

robert is rob’s evil, editing twin


I haven’t watched it in years (guess I’m overdue), but I remember really liking Bulletproof Monk. @sputnik mentioned sincerity being key, and Sean William Scott always brings a ton of sincerity to his goofball roles. I don’t care for the American Pie movies, but I love Goon and thought Cop Out was amazing. Role Models was decent, too.

I don’t think there’s a key or necessary part to endearing schlock. While sincerity is definitely present in a lot of entertaining garbage with earnest creators reaching beyond their means, it’s by no means necessary. I feel like a lot of entertaining schlock feels honest because those are the films that rose to the top while a mountain of sincere movies are just literal trash that everyone forgets. Combine that with good schlock being hard to imitate on purpose, and the circle is complete.

There’s lots of fun disposable movies out there that are clearly nothing more than cynical cash grabs. Jason X was clearly not a passion project, but it’s so knowingly stupid that it’s kind of fun to watch. I doubt Dredd was someone’s dream as much as an excuse to pump out a relatively cheap licensed film.

I’ll be damned if I can put my finger on when garbage becomes entertaining, and I think if people could figure that out they would have by now. Sometimes, people just win the lottery and there’s no plausible explanation you can reduce to its elements for why it works.

Come to think of it, Fury is basically “Training Day on an M4E8 in 1945.”

I actually kinda like Fury though. Probably just because there’s so few movies really about being a tanker. plus, hey, Actual Functional Tiger I.

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I think the first movie that I recognized as schlock was ‘Kung Pow! Enter The Fist’ and I thought it was funny at the time. I haven’t seen it in years so I don’t know how I would feel about it now. I wouldn’t be surprised if that film is racist in some way.

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