Back in 2018, Matt Rotman decided to start a blog focused on the genre films he loved. Now, the San Diego-based author and filmmaker has a book inspired by his blog called "Bonkers Ass Cinema: A Guide to the Wildest of Horror and Exploitation Cinema."
Filmmaker Doris Wishman made a career out of rebelling against censorship and American sexual repression. She made what were known as "nudie cuties" in the 1960s, when the Supreme Court ruled that films about nudist camps did not violate anti-nudity laws.
Rotman points to her film "Nude on the Moon" as an example of the kind of genre films that most people label as bad.
"The film is like a documentary showing all the shenanigans they're up to at the nudist colonies," Rotman said. "And so what does she do? She's going to pull a fast one. Let's have a nudist colony on the moon."
But dismissing films such as Wishman's as bad means that audiences have had to search for them.
"You've just had generation after generation of film critics that just beat these films in the ground, and that way films just disappear outright," Rotman said. "As long as they're not talked about, they're not watched. It's my goal to bring these films into the mainstream a little bit."
Films such as "Shriek of the Mutilated," "Easter Bunny, Kill! Kill!" and "Plan 9 From Outer Space" are the orphan children of cinema that Rotman embraces with the love, respect and the joyous celebration they deserve.
"There are two types of people in this world and two types only," Rotman said. "People who laugh at 'Plan Nine From Outer Space' and the weird, crazed hermit uncles that genuinely love it. And my book is a manifesto for all those crazed hermit uncles."
Too often people come to these films from a perspective of condescension, calling them "guilty pleasures" or "so bad they’re good." Rotman wants to distance himself from that and from the kind of "Mystery Science Theater 3000" approach of mocking the films being watched.
"I think a lot of people who are into this type of cinema, they approach this with an ironic lens that I absolutely despise," Rotman said. "(These films) may be like a punchline to a lot of people, but they're heroes to me for the most part. And so they really just make me want to pick up a camera and get out there because that's what they did."
Rotman looks to Joe Bob Briggs as a guiding light because Briggs was one of the first to champion and take seriously genre and exploitation films.
It’s the do-it-yourself ingenuity and passion of these filmmakers that Rotman loves.
"Every film in the book really pumps me up," Rotman said. "It just juices me and makes the art of filmmaking itself seem more accessible, which it really is, especially in this day and age."
Take the microbudgeted "Bigfoot's Bride" from 2021.
"It rubs me the wrong way usually when people say that lower budgets obviously look different than higher budgets just due to the technology and the talent you can get," Rotman said. "But there's a certain aesthetic to this lower budget that draws a lot of people like me to it. It's not as polished. You can feel the work and you can feel the passion. And 'Bigfoot's Bride' is a great modern example of how you can use the tools of the digital age and make something on the cheap and it's still weird and powerful and unique."
Being unique is key. "Bonkers Ass Cinema" looks to 100 films in nine genres, ranging from animals attack to sexploitation to slasher, and no two are alike. That's part of what defines being bonkers.
"[A film] doesn't have to be crazy or wild or anything like that, but it has to have a certain quality that I haven't just seen before," Rotman said. "And that's what I always look for. That's what's entertaining to me. Usually the films I pick are like singular visions of a filmmaker that only makes sense to the guy who made the film."
Don Dohler’s "Nightbeast" epitomizes that. It typifies Dohler's style of wild, cheap, handmade sci-fi action films, which made it the perfect film to screen at Rotman's book signing on July 9.
"It's very easy to watch 'Nightbeast' and make fun of it, but just to imagine it was made for like $30,000, of what they are able to get on screen, it's inspirational," Rotman said.
Rotman hopes that screening "Nightbeast" and spreading his "Bonkers Ass" ethos will inspire people to seek out more of these films and realize that the only bad movies are the bland ones made without passion. So don't call these films "guilty pleasures" when we feel no guilt about loving these movies.
You can purchase the book online at the publisher's website of Bear Manor Media.
The full interview will air later this month when Cinema Junkie Podcast returns with a new season.
NOTE: Both Accomando and Matt Rotman are volunteer programmers for Film Geeks SD, which is hosting the book signing/screening event.
- KPBS Arts Calendar