The Twist Too Far, Lotsa Driving, and The Unified Field Theory of Bad Movies

In the 80s, people looked like this on purpose.

Today, I finally got around to seeing Rifftrax’s take on Rock and Roll Nightmare, the Jon-Mikl Thor anti-classic set in Toronto that helps explain how Rob Ford can happen. Mike, Bill, and Kevin dispatched the movie easily. The picture itself, though, got me thinking about things so many bad movies have in common.

–Lotsa driving:

Like Manos The Hands of Fate and BirdemicRock and Roll Nightmare includes an incredibly long driving sequence. The Van rolls along the highway, intercut with its eventual destination, The House. Getting these two together takes many, many minutes, during which almost nothing happens. Driving scenes are not bad, in and of themselves. Maybe the movie’s about driving–National Lampoon’s Vacation, The Fast and The Furious. Or maybe a chase needs to happen. Everyone loves a chase. But driving scenes that take up screen time only because it never occurs to the director and editor to simply cut from one location to another are a prime symptom of a crappy movie.

–Long explanations of the premise of the movie:

Like many bad movies, Rock and Roll Nightmare feels a need to stop the action (such as it is) so that the characters can explain to each other who they are and why they’re where they are. (Fatally, this  “As you know, Bob” scene follows hard upon the long driving scene.)

I’m not J.J. Abrams’s biggest fan, and I walk on a lot of the ground he worships, but I do think his TED talk about the mystery box does get at something crucial that bad movies miss. People don’t watch movies to have things explained to them. People watch movies to wonder about what they’re seeing. The objective of a movie’s opening is not to present data, but to put characters in situations that pose questions and suggest possibilities.

A good story is like a confidence trickster (whose job is, surprise, telling stories). It always appears to hold something back, encouraging the audience to try to outwit it in hopes of making it give up its secret. A bad story spills all the information in front of the audience, leaving them with little to do other than to say, “I see.”

Oh what a thrill it is to do that!

–Gratuitous Nudity:

I don’t write this one out of prudery. But nudity and sex scenes are like driving scenes. They’re great if the movie has something to reveal about them, but an telltale symptom of movie badness if they’re just there to pad the film. Think of every shitty teen comedy in the 1980s: Porky’s II, Porky’s Revenge, Summer Resort, Spring Break. Half their scenes just scream, “Look! BEWBS!” and the other half involve people saying “Those were great BEWBS! I wonder when we’ll see more BEWBS!” The slasher films of the era split things differently, alternating between showing great BEWBS and viciously slaughtering the person possessing the great BEWBS.

Arousal is the name of the game here, I guess, and I do remember being 12 years old, watching these movies, and being aroused. Of course, I was 12. Arousing a 12 year old boy is like getting a laugh from a stoned person. It doesn’t count.

Rock and Roll Nightmare‘s sex scenes failed to arouse me. They weren’t about anything except BEWBS and (sometimes) killing the owners of BEWBS. But I’ll admit they did make me wonder something: how Jon-Mikl Thor managed to find four actresses in Canada willing to whip their kits off for his shitty, grade-Z horror flick. I doubt he was paying worth a damn, and I can’t imagine anyone would think working on his movie would prove a gateway to anything.

I note that Thor’s then-wife, who appeared (and was given a Special Appearance By credit) in Rock and Roll Nightmare, was not among the topless. I gather that means their relationship was operating on a somewhat higher plane than that of Pia Zadora and her husband when he produced her sleazy jigglefests, Butterfly and The Lonely Lady. True, Mrs. Thor did have to let the camera bury itself in her cleavage during her once scene–and she was never allowed to talk–but being married to Thor meant her objectification had its limits.

–Stupid Twists:

I’m not talking about the reasonably well-set-up twist of M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense. (I could talk about some of the other twists he’s resorted to in his career, though.) What I’m talking about is the Sent From the 62nd Moon of Jupiter in A Bathtub style twist, like the one in Rock and Roll Nightmare where Thor, during the final confrontation with ultimate evil, explains that none of the other characters in the movie were really there at all. They were simulacra he dreamed up distract Ultimate Evil. (And to boink each other, and to have lengthy shower sex with Jon-Mikl Thor. As you know, some people build castles in the air, some live in them, and some fuck them.)

God. I. Hate. This.

It is the ultimate storytelling dick move. Remember the last 80 minutes? Psych! Monster A Go-Go pulled that crap on me, and I still want to crotch-punch Bill Rebane. If I had actually been rooting for any of the demon-chow characters Rock and Roll Nightmare offered me, I might have hunted Thor down and killed him. Instead, I groaned, rolled my eyes, and waited for the climactic battle between Thor and the big Devil Puppet.

So those are some elements I see as common to bad movies. If you can think of others, describe them in comments. Hopefully, we can form a hive mind that can develop a Unified Theory of Bad Movies.

Source: MMIP Riffs

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