What’s worse than a bad movie? A mediocre one. Think about it, you’re probably more likely to remember the most diabolical pieces of film you’ve seen than the ones which just inspired a mere shrug. Why else does Batman & Robin remain in the collective memory of people today when something as completely mediocre as say, Ridley Scott’s treatment of Robin Hood from a few years ago? Can you remember that film? Doubt it. Similarly wouldn’t we rather watch The Star Wars Holiday Special than any of the prequels, not because it’s any better as a film – indeed it is much worse – but it, at least, does not commit the sin of being terribly boring.
It goes without saying that a shockingly bad film will inspire a much stronger reaction from the viewer than an average one. There’s something deeply voyeuristic about humanity’s need to try and wring enjoyment out of the most shabby pieces of work. That probably explains the profile of A Serbian Film. The film’s status is that of a gross endurance test of one’s ability to sit through the most vile images, a bragging-rights examination. People watch these sorts of films for the same reason they slow down an inordinate amount when passing a car crash on the street: they want to see something disgusting that they can brag about to their friends afterwards and cause milk to spurt out of their nose.
There are of course, different types of ‘bad’ film. There are the gross-outs, the “so-bad-they’re-funny” ones like Plan 9 from Outer Space and The Room, and the just plain bad ones like the 1998 shot-by-shot remake of Psycho. The idea that someone literally sat down, watched the film and said “yes, we can release this to the general public” is perhaps what gives these films a shelf-life beyond their brain-gnawing idiocy.
The idea that seemingly no one told Ed Wood or Tommy Wiseau “hey, do you not think this is a little…rubbish?” seems to compel us to watch a film more than one to receive acres of critical plaudits.
A whole film studio has been built out of the “so-bad-they’re-good” factor; since 1997, The Asylum film studios have released such critically lauded classics as Mega-Shark vs Giant Octopus, Sharknado, and personal favourite Snakes on a Train (still awaiting the much-hyped sequel, Goats on a Gondola, though). Considering their continued output, it seems The Asylum are doing pretty well money-wise, and the hate-watch shall live on.
Long live the hate-watch!