The Form of the Bad

The three worst movies I have ever seen (and I could not have managed to sit through them without the help of the folks who did Mystery Science Theatre 3000) are Manos: The Hands of Fate, Plan 9 from Outer Space, and The Star Wars Holiday Special. What is amazing is that I can’t decide which is the worst. They are all bad in their own ways.

Manos’s main problem is the total lack of technical ability on the part of the film-makers. Put simply, they didn’t know how to make a movie. The camera-work and lighting are horrible, the dialogue had to be dubbed in afterwards, no scene is longer than 32 seconds beause of a horrible camera… I think that if the makers had actually known what they were doing, they could have managed to make a generic, fairly bad, but not terrible horror movie, but as it is the movie is nearly unwatchable.

The makers of Plan 9 clearly had much more technical skill, though there are still some odd parts where it suddenly switches from day to night even though its all supposed to be at one time, or you see a cardboard piece of scenery get knocked over. They make up for it, though, by having an even worse script – the plot simply makes no sense. Aliens… are coming to earth… to force humans to acknowledge their existence… and they’re going to do it by raising zombies? What the hell?

The Star Wars Holiday Special’s problem is that it has no plot to speak of. It’s just a variety-show-style series of songs, dances, cartoons, etc, none of which are any good, with a really stupid premise trying to hold it all together. This was by far the most boring of the three, because the other two at least had a plot that you could try to make sense out of (even if most of the time it was a futile endeavor).

Anyway, when reflecting on these movies, I am reminded of the first like of Anna Karenina; “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” I wouldn’t say that every good movie is alike, but these bad movies certainly do find many different ways of being bad.

It seems to me also that if there was such thing as simply “badness”, these bad movies would all be alike. That they are so diverse suggests that they are not somehow actively bad, they simply all lack qualities that would make a movie good. They lack different qualities, thus they are “bad” in different ways.

I know this is not an actual argument against the existence of bad, but it does suggest to me that bad is just a lack of good.

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