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Midday Movies: Horror So Bad, It’s Good

Defining what makes some bad movies irresistible

Poster for

Credit: McLendon-Radio Pictures Distributing Company

Above: Poster for "The Killer Shrews" (1959) screening this Friday as part of the Horrible Imaginings Film Festival's "camp night."

Beth Accomando, KPBS Arts Reporter and author of the blog Cinema Junkie

Miguel Rodriguez, Director of Horrible Imaginings Film Festival and Host of Monster Island Resort Podcast


This Thursday, the 4th Annual Horrible Imaginings Film Festival kicks off. Festival director Miguel Rodriguez has designated Friday as "camp night" with a revival screening of "The Killer Shrews" from 1959 and its brand new sequel "Return of the Killer Shrews." He will also screen "The Manitou," a Tony Curtis trash classic about a 400-year-old Native American demon spirit that erupts from a lump on Susan Strasberg's neck.

This prompted me to ask what makes a horror film so bad it's good? So bad that you can’t turn it off? So bad that you savor every painful moment? Here to consider these questions is Miguel Rodriguez, director of the Horrible Imaginings Film Festival and host of Monster Island Resort Podcast.

Beth Accomando: So Miguel, what is it about "Plan 9" that makes it so bad yet so irresistible?

Miguel Rodriguez: Ed Wood, Jr.'s "Plan 9 from Outer Space" (1959) is perhaps the most famous and most beloved bad movie of all time. It has cardboard sets, horrendous acting, cheesy special effects, and it's an absolute delight. Part of its appeal is that Wood was such a passionate and enthusiastic but incompetent filmmaker that his films had a special charm and innocence that proves appealing. The Mexican sci-fi fantasy "Ship of Monsters" (1960), with bathing suit-clad female astronauts from Venus and a singing cowboy, had a similar charm. Both benefit from a sincerity that endears them to the viewer.

MR: But then there are films like "The Manitou" that are painfully bad but with legitimate actors like Tony Curtis, Burgess Meredith, and Susan Strasberg struggling with an insane script. This is a completely different kind of bad. It's more like a car wreck that you cannot turn away from.

The Horrible Imaginings Film Festival runs Thursday through Monday at the Digital Gym Cinema at 2921 El Cajon Blvd. The festival opens on Thursday with the new documentary "The Splat Pack" By Frank Woodard (whose "Men in Suits" and H.P. Lovecraft documentaries played in September at the Digital Gym) and Mark Henry. The documentary focuses on the new generation of horror filmmakers (Eli Roth, Alexandre Aja, Darren Lynn Bousman, Neil Marshall) who have a penchant for gore. Following the documentary is a revival screening of Joe Dante's werewolf film, "The Howling."

Other highlights include the San Diego Sunday premiere of the contemporary vampire tale "The Curse of Styria," made by former San Diego film students Mauricio Chernovetzky and Mark Devendorf. I profiled their Kickstarter campaign last October. Now the film is starting on the festival circuit and the filmmakers wanted to screen it here in San Diego where the project has some roots.

On Saturday, there's a revival screening of the Japanese cult classic "Evil Dead Trap," and on Monday there is a panel on Horror in Opera or Song of the Undead put together by the San Diego Opera's Nicolas Reveles and featuring Rodriguez and myself.

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Columbia

Mexico's delightful "Ship of Monsters" with Lorena Velázquez.

A very short list of so bad they're good horror films (compiled with the help of my Cinema Junkie FaceBook followers, thanks!):

"Plan 9 From Outer Space"

"Ship of Monsters"

"The Killer Shrews" and "Return of the Killer Shrews"

"The Manitou"

"The Heretic"

"Demon Seed"

"Troll 2" and "The Best Worst Movie" (a documentary about "Troll 2")

"Death Bed: The Bed That Eats"

"The Worm Eaters"


"Shriek of the Mutilated"


"Amityville Horror 2" and "3"


"Devil's Rain"

"Lake Placid"

"Street Trash"

"Jaws 3D"

"The Toxic Avenger" and anything by Troma Studios

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