October is a fantastic month. There’s costumes, colorful leaves, and candy; what’s not to love? But by far the best thing about this month are all the horror movies that come to theaters. Some of them are high-budget thrillers designed to get your heart pumping, and some of them are dredged up from the bowels of drive-in projector room floors. The latter, often known as “schlock” films, are bemoaned from America to Japan: the greatest praise they receive is that they are as fun as they are stupid. But these movies don’t deserve the mockery they earn; they should be treated with greater respect, and enjoyed sincerely.
If we’re going to talk about schlock, we should probably define it. “Schlock” comes from a Yiddish word meaning “poorly made.” Traditionally, the word only refers to low-budget monster and/or horror movies, especially from the 50’s-70’s. This definition came into the public consciousness in 1973 when John Landis’s (“Blues Brothers,” “Animal House,” etc.) movie “Schlock” parodied this genre. Today, “schlock” has come to mean any “so bad, it’s good” movie.
Schlock is not high art, there’s no doubt. To quote my editor, “bad movies are like Twinkies.” The point he was trying to make here is that eating Twinkies is fun, but only in moderation. Let me make a better analogy: bad movies are like Twinkies, fun and filled with unexpected flavor.
When I watch Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla, it’s like being a child again. Giant monsters and robots are wrestling over Tokyo, and who cares if it’s really just two guys wearing rubber suits? Actually, I do care; being one of those guys has always been a dream of mine. And that’s what so great about schlock: its earnest, childlike love for the movies.
Think about it this way, why do hipsters take so much flak? It’s because they’re so ironic. They refuse to enjoy anything unless it’s ironic, because being cool requires liking the right thing. This method of enjoyment allows them to be safe from liking the wrong thing and losing any credibility. Compare this annoying trait to schlock.
The creator of “The Room” didn’t think he was making the most ridiculous, uncool movie of all time. Tommy Wiseau thought it really would be a cinematic masterpiece, an honest look into normal life.
And amazingly, he was right. Schlock movies are just like life. They’re poorly acted, no one knows their line, and no one is as attractive as a movie star. Life is ridiculous and confusing, but ultimately genuine and way better with popcorn.
Schlock films don’t just show us life, they make life better. The cult following that has sprung up around “Troll 2” has offered people access to new ideas and relationships. “Birdemic” has done more for environmental awareness than Al Gore ever could. Schlock has become so culturally and economically significant that studios are even starting to make it on purpose, with things like the “Sharknado” franchise. You could argue that it’s not schlock if it’s being made poorly on purpose, but I think that assumes the point of a bad movie is being able to mock it, and call me childish but that just isn’t nice. Schlock is all about nice.
So, for the rest of this month, have fun watching schlock, and while there’s nothing wrong with joking about the quality, I urge you to be sure that your critiques and jokes come from a place of love.
If this column has piqued your interest, I recommend the following films to further your schlock edification this Halloween:
“The Room’ (2003-R): Love and infidelity, friendship and betrayal. All these come together to make Tommy Wiseau’s opus.
“Godzilla vs MechaGodzilla” (1974-PG): The King of Monsters faces off against the King of Robots.
“King Kong Escapes” (1967- PG): King Kong fights Godzilla and Mecha King Kong in this classic which would ultimately become the inspiration for the Power Rangers.
“The Eliminators” (1986- PG): An android, a scientist, a robot, a mercenary, and a ninja team up to take down a time-traveling supervillain. A must-see.
“The Star Wars Holiday Special” (1978-TV).
“Robot Monster” (1953): The alien Ro-man from the planet Ro-man is sent by his master, Ro-man, to hunt down the last eight humans on Earth. Total production time: 4 days and $16,000.
Connor is an artist who specializes in doodling large, herbivorous animals using non-traditional forms of transportation. The significance of his work won’t be recognized until after his death, so he writes for the Opinion section and makes fun of Nebraskans in the meantime.