Relaxation comes with a price. As with most people who work hard, I find taking more than a day or two off work tricky. It’s not that I want to go to work, but that I feel the need to keep improving my mind. I read quite a bit on holidays, and, being of the opinion that movies are the modern mythology, I like to watch what I can. Last night I saw a film I’m too embarrassed to name, but which was so utterly awful that I can’t get it out of my head. Call it an experiment in relaxation. Or call it madness. Either way, I came to realize just how much impact a movie might have without really containing anything to give back. This particular film is often listed as a cult classic.
I’ll confess right now that I loved Attack of the Killer Tomatoes the first time I saw it. (This is not last night’s feature.) It is a bad movie—so bad that it’s good. My professional reputation may suffer for it, but I have to admit to having watched it multiple times over the years. I’d heard that last night’s film was like that. So bad that it’s good. And that made me ponder the blurring of these categories. Without a universal deity to declare the terms, good and bad are matters of consensus. No quantitative means exists for making, a movie for example, good or bad, beyond the human judgment of viewers. We tend to listen to critics, who experience more cinema than the rest of us can afford, but I’m sure we all have our secret likes that don’t match the decrees of the experts.
Films that flaunt convention so radically, and which gather disciples, are, as I mentioned, called “cult classics.” This is the language of religion. Although religionists have moved away from the use of the word, cult implies irrational intensity of devotion toward that which is clearly, in the eyes of the majority, bad. Again we come to the question of who defines value. For most of human history it has simply been majority opinion. Cults, however, give meaning to those who “get it.” Cult classics have faithful followers. In the line of duty some months back I watched Exorcist II: The Heretic. I later found out that it also frequently makes the list of all-time worst movies, despite starring Linda Blair, James Earl Jones, Paul Henreid, and Richard Burton. It’s a cult classic. The unnamed film from last night has no known stars. Hideous acting. Ludicrous writing. I watched it to relax. Now I wonder if I’ve joined a cult, or if I just need a vacation.