One of my favorite television shows is based on a movie. The movie wasn’t nearly as popular as the show, but was, to me, still enjoyable. Recently I’ve heard several people saying that they couldn’t even watch the movie because it’s too campy. I’ve heard the same people write movies off as not being enjoyable because of its camp factor. To them it seems that campy equals crappy. I disagree.
That logic is mind boggling to me, because I’ve never found a film to be unwatchable simply because it was a bit silly or dare to inject a bit of humor between the scares. Sometimes that makes the film what it is. While horror, by definition, is meant to horrify, a bit of silliness can help to alleviate the sense of tension one inevitably experiences during a frightful film and can help make the movie even more memorable. I think it’s important to see the value in any film, even the campy ones. So I’ve picked a few of my favorite examples highlighting that campy does not have to mean crappy.
I watched this film more times than I could count as a kid. As an adult, I’ve had several people raise an eyebrow when I’ve mentioned it: “You mean the one with Kevin Bacon?” they snickered. And while it isn’t the most terrifying horror film ever made, the concept is pretty frightening. Man-eating creatures larger than school buses are living beneath the earth and could pop up any time and eat you before you’ve even realized it wasn’t an earthquake. Also, unsettling is the fact that there is never a scientific explanation offered for the creatures, and they aren’t your typical movie monsters. One can at least appreciate the attempt at creating something different than the run-of-the-mill movie monster.
While the creatures themselves aren’t the scariest, sometimes even laughable, the fact that they mostly stay hidden underground helps keep you in suspense and leaves you to draw some of your own conclusions. The film has enough of the “got out of the way in the nick of time” moments to put you on the edge of your seat rooting for the survivors. The dialogue is great, most of it is on the cornball side with tongue firmly in cheek but that’s half the fun!
An ‘80s holiday classic, Gremlins is loved by the X and Y generations. Upon attempting to show this movie to a much younger member of my family I was met with, “that’s not scary, that’s stupid funny!” It was a shot to the heart. This film had me nervous about the possible existence of gremlins for years, not to mention keeping a watchful eye on the Furby I received for Christmas years later.
Looking back, I realize that Gremlins is a bit outlandish. But even so, the movie has a lot of gruesome human kills (death by stairlift for one) as well as gremlin deaths that are pretty clever. The film was so violent, that it (along with a couple other films of its era) is credited for the creation of the PG-13 rating. While it may not strike terror into the hearts of kids today, its zaniness more than makes up for that.What’s better than a theater full of hideously disgusting creatures watching Snow White and singing along to “Heigh-Ho?”Bordello of Blood (1996)
I love a vampire movie. I really love a vampire movie that showcases fangs dripping blood and hearts being ripped out. With a great cast including Dennis Miller as a sardonic, horn-dog, private detective, Chris Sarandon as a preacher with shady intentions, and the seductive Angie Everhart as a vampire madam churning out innuendo laced one-liners, this a fantastically quotable movie.
The story features a classic Tales from the Crypt surprise ending, but most people are going to be won over by the jokes and gore long before the film is over. That’s the real gold of Bordello of Blood. And who doesn’t enjoy Corey Feldman?
While the title may sound a bit absurd, if you haven’t given it a chance, you really should because there is a lot a value to this hilarious gem.
The Evil Dead
The Evil Dead, a film loved by so many horror fans that it has become a bonafide cult classic. And it illustrates why camp can be a positive thing in horror films. More people glorify The Evil Dead for its laughable moments more so than disparage it for its occasional digression into camp territory. This picture proves that a little well-timed humor can work perfectly in a horror film. For example: Linda’s outrageous cackling and refusal to just stay dead.
The makeup on the “possessed” characters is probably laughable by today’s standards. The deadites probably look absurd more so than genuinely creepy. But ultimately, the film walks the line between serious and silly and it walks it brilliantly.
The film’s tight budget limited what they were able to do with special effects, and knowing this makes the makeup and other effects more charming. Plus, if you read about the filming conditions, injuries and financial obstacles the movie faced, you can appreciate the picture knowing that everyone who worked on it truly wanted it to be great. Otherwise, they would not have pushed through the hard times.
Also, the whole tree-rape scene? Hilarious and offensive all at the same time. A lot of things that make this film humorous–including Bruce Campbell’s performance–are the same things that made it memorable. The ridiculousness doesn’t take away from the horror, it simply adds another dimension to the picture. The camp makes it a classic.
So, just because you hear that a film is campy, doesn’t mean that it will be crappy. Almost any film has value if you know what to look for. The features on this list were considered truly scary by the generations who grew up with them and then seen as campy by later generations. Nostalgia has a lot to do with how we perceive film. So it’s good to remember that just because a film might seem over the top doesn’t mean it lacks value. It’s all in how you view it.