Bad movies. Some of us love to hate them. Some of us just hate them. And then there are people like me.
I have a fondness for a few films that practically everyone would agree are terrible. My seemingly illogical love of 1988’s absurd McDonald’s-funded E.T. rip-off, Mac & Me, has earned me a rotating sequence of callbacks on my podcast, The Skiffy and Fanty Show.1 It’s a sickness to some, but for me, it’s a product of experience.2 To be fair, I almost deserve it. I will jump at the flip of a hat to defend that movie against almost any criticism, not because I believe it’s high quality cinema but because there is a deeper connection to that movie for me, as there is for so many of the trashfire films that occupy my DVD rack.
Many of the objectively terrible films I love came into my life during times of vulnerability. TMNT 2: The Secret of the Ooze (1993) — a far lesser film than TMNT (1990) — came out when I was seven in what I now refer to as my “Ninja Turtles years” (roughly 1988 to 1996 — the full run of the original show). The presence of Ernie Reyes Jr. (and the Turtles, obviously) were an inspiration to little bullied me. Reyes Jr. wasn’t a big guy. Fit, sure, but you couldn’t imagine him taking out Shredder. And yet here was a pizza guy doing wicked roundhouse kicks and fighting the Foot Clan alongside my reptilian hero friends. He really could take on Shredder (maybe). Eventually, my parents gave me the chance to take Tae Kwon Do courses at Ernie Reyes West Coast Martial Arts in California. While I never put in the effort I should have, it was an experience I won’t forget. How often do you get to learn how to do roundhouse kicks when you’re a little kid? How often do little bullied kids get to feel like they’re Keno in TMNT 2? Or Leo? Or Raph? Or Donnie? Or Mikey?
Mac & Me has a somewhat different history for me. It came out when I was four or five. I don’t recall if I saw it in theaters, but I do know that I watched it on Betamax at some point in 1988 or 1989.3 There are two reason this film continues to resonate with me: 1) it didn’t scare me nearly as much as E.T.4; and 2) it was one of the two films I recall watching over and over when I was home sick with asthma. You see, I was a pretty sickly kid when I was young. My mother tells me I almost died as a baby from an asthma attack, and those attacks didn’t go away until adulthood (mostly). When the attacks came, I had to be at home with my now-ancient nebulizer and a TV. Those attacks were never just about taking your meds and recovering; they were also a constant threat that I’d have to hit the ER at some point.
So I’d watch a lot of movies. And by “a lot” I mean “the same dozen or so over and over.” Thanks to my grandma, I had a steady supply of Disney classics, so it wasn’t all bad. Two of the films that had the biggest impact on me were Star Wars (the whole trilogy) and Mac & Me.5 The protagonist, Eric Cruise, was a lot like me. Not exactly, obviously. The character is in a wheelchair (and the actor, Jade Calegory, has spina bifocal in real life), which isn’t the same as asthma. But he did have an “illness” that led a lot of people to underestimate him. So, to watch a guy sorta like me get to be the hero was a welcome comfort in those days when I was stuck at home struggling through wheezy hell.6
Most of the terrible films I love have similar stories. They came during times of stress and provided comfort. I’m not naive enough to think they are on par with better films. Hell, I know that Mac & Me can’t hold a candle to Star Wars. It is terrible in so many ways, from its overt corporate sponsorship (McDonald’s party FTW) to its cheap puppet aliens to its obvious attempt to grab some money off the E.T. buzz some 6 years too late. But sometimes the circumstances in which you see something are greater than the quality of that thing. Feeling better about yourself in times of stress is worth almost any degree of terrible. This is one of the reasons I find it hard to criticize people who found comfort in films I consider terrible. If it brought them good feels, who am I to reject their perspective?
They call comfort food “comfort food” for a reason. It may not be good for you (sometimes), but it makes you feel better inside. That’s why I won’t give up my terrible movies no matter how terrible they are. I want to know they’re always there to give me a pick-me-up when I need it.
What about you? What are your “comfort food” terrible movies?
- I’m only half teasing…
- This topic was suggested by wabbit89 on Twitter. Thanks!
- It’s the only movie I remember watching in that format, oddly enough. Once VHS won the format war, it was all Star Wars and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on VHS.
- Seriously. E.T. still terrifies me as an adult. The alien is scarier than the xenomorph from Alien.
- Fun fact: Mac & Me is currently $4 on Amazon in DVD format (normally $7.99). Y’know, so you can add it to your collection. Betamax copies can also be found on eBay, if you’re one of those old school types.
- I’ll also note that this is one of the reasons I am quite fond of The Goonies, despite its inaccurate portrayal of asthma.