Cheesy Movies and Me. A Love Story.
By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy
I don’t remember my first cheesy movie, but I’m fairly certain I saw it during Creature Feature one Saturday morning. My guess, it was Godzilla vs. Something, but whatever it was, it sparked a love affair that has lasted to this day.
I love cheesy movies, especially the disaster kind. This includes monsters, genetically altered fish, environmental disasters (both natural and man-made), epidemics, and anything that puts a large population at risk from something terrible.
Half the enjoyment of a cheesy movie is making fun of it, and I often root for the disaster or monster. I was terribly upset when the sun didn’t melt the Earth in Supernova: The Day the World Catches Fire. They made a promise right there in the cover and didn’t follow through. Jerks.
Although the line is a fine one, there is a difference between a cheesy movie and a bad movie. Bad movies are just badly done in a variety of way, but a good cheesy movie take real skill and a few specific elements:
It is what it is, and it’s okay with that.
The true cheesy movie needs to embrace what it is–if the goal is to be serious, it must take itself seriously, no matter how absurd the topic (such as Frankenfish). If it’s trying to be silly and fun, it needs to bring out the silly and fun (such as Berry Gordy’s The Last Dragon). But it always knows it has a ridiculous plot and it doesn’t make excuses.
It’s trying to do the movie justice, no matter what the budget.
Bad special effects when you have no budget is funny, and worthy of great cheese. Not even trying to maintain scene continuity and realism is just bad filming (yes, I’m looking at you Sharknado). At least try where production values are concerned. One of the best things about Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus was that they used the exact same factory control room as a submarine command deck for three separate countries–they just changed the lighting per country. Blue for the American sub, red for the Russian sub, and yellow for the Japanese sub. Cheesy? You betcha. But hysterical, and it embraced the cheese.
It’s trying to make sense and feel plausible.
Let’s face it, no cheesy movie is going to get anywhere near realistic, but it needs to feel credible within the ridiculousness of its own plot. I can suspend disbelief and buy some crazy ideas, but if you nuke a school of fifty-foot piranha, and they just shrug it off, I’m not going to buy a team of SEALs with spear guns finally killing them. There are limits, people.
It’s trying to be a cheesy movie.
I’ve seen plenty of “Best Cheesy Movies” lists that have great movies that never intended to be cheesy listed. They just happened to turn out that way. Maximum Overdrive didn’t set out to be a cheesy movie, it was a serious adaptation of the Stephen King story that went…um, wrong. Jason X knew what it was, and played off its own clichés and tropes for the humor of it. The DVD even has a “jump to a death” menu. I mean, seriously–space Jason used a hologram of one half-naked co-ed in a sleeping bag to beat another half-naked co-ed in a sleeping bag to death. The producers knew what they were doing.
Let’s take a quick peek at some of my favorites:
Janice Hardy’s Top Ten Favorite Cheesy Movies
I’m a huge fan of Treat Williams, and he’s been in countless cheesy movies. This is by far his best, and it’s a big budget film to boot. The plot is simple: smugglers (Williams and his crew) take some bad guys to a cruise ship in the middle of nowhere, but when they get there, the ship is dead in the water due to a giant squid monster. (Note, anytime you can use the words “giant squid monster” there’s a pretty good chance it’s a cheesy movie).
This independent film is a classic “zombies rise to eat everyone at prom” scenario, and could have been an episode from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Very well done, and lots of fun to watch.
A spooffette of Michael Bay’s film, this one is a great example of doing a lot with a little. Aliens invade the Earth, and it’s up to unlikely heroes to save it. They do a great job of maintaining plausibility and working within their budget. Need a president, but can’t afford an Oval Office set? Just have the guy crash in the middle of nowhere and wind up with some geeks who can help save the world. Totally works, and it left them enough cash for cool spinning balls of alien death.
The title pretty much says it all here. All you need to know to love this movie is that a giant shark jumps out of the ocean and takes down a 747. This one does push the “credible” envelope a little, but come, on. Shark vs plane? I’ll allow it.
While this one isn’t a disaster movie, it’s one of the best cheesy movies out there. It’s a kung fu spoof set in Harlem with a hero called Bruce Leroy and his evil nemesis, Sho’nuff, the Shogun of Harlem. Add in the always delightful Faith Prince and her wacky Cyndi Lauper meets Weird Al music videos and you have cheesy gold.
Aliens invade a small town in Ireland, and the only way to protect yourself is to get utterly blasted drunk. When the goal of the movie is to get everyone snookered at the bar, and it works, you’re looking at storytelling genius.
The IMDB description is sheer perfection: A comet wipes out most of life on Earth, leaving two Valley Girls to fight the evil types who survive. Still a classic, and a must-watch for every Halloween.
Jason Voorhees in space. Do I really need to say more than that? I already mentioned the hologram scene. This movie balances the horror and the humor in all the right ways. Or wrong ways depending on your definition of humor.
Part fish, part snake, all killer. It’s also the sequel to Sharktopus, so I’ll give you a minute to let that sink in. It’s a warm, loving film about a pair of fish-snakes doing their best to find their stolen egg from evil scientists. Or at least, that’s how I think of it. It also stars Michael Madsen, who is, well, Michael Madsen. Even when he’s bad he’s awesome.
No cheesy movie list is complete without this masterpiece on it. Bruce Campbell with a chainsaw for a hand, fighting medieval evil dead and spouting one-liners. I’d give him some sugar any time.
I could list great movies all day, but I suddenly have the urge to grab some popcorn and laugh at my favorites one more time.
What are your favorite cheesy movies?
Janice Hardy is the founder of Fiction University, and the author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, where she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, (Picked as one of the 10 Books All Young Georgians Should Read, 2014) Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The first book in her Foundations of Fiction series, Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure is out now. She is also a contributor at Pub(lishing) Crawl, and Writers in the Storm.