As movie fans, we all have our guilty pleasures. Films we know are utter crap, and yet we still love them, even if admitting it means we will be laughed at, or have our taste and judgment questioned.
For me, that film is Disney’s 1979 fiasco, “The Black Hole.”
Why I love this film so much baffles me. Objectively, even intellectually (and just using that word in connection with this movie makes me almost weep with laughter), I know it’s an awful film. And yet I can’t live without it.
I recently went out to Best Buy and invested in the Disney DVD, since my VHS Anchor Bay edition is getting old. As if this were something really important, like making sure my home has flood insurance, or changing the batteries in my smoke detector.
Here’s a “science” fiction movie where characters are exposed to the vacuum of outer space without spacesuits — and go merrily on about their business without so much as a burst blood vessel. Where you can see the strings on the robots that supposedly can float, and even on the humans in some scenes that are set in “zero gravity” on their ship.
Where Ernest Borgnine plays a cynical, scheming, intellectual journalist with dialogue like, “How can a lifeless derelict defy that kind of gravity?”
And don’t ask me what the movie’s bizarro ending means. Even after nearly 30 years, I still couldn’t tell you.
I’ve seen this movie more times than I can count. Every time I watch it, it’s another 95 minutes of my life I will never get back. I know this, and yet the movie can always snap me out of a bad mood and get me to smile, even laugh.
Maybe it’s watching Maximilian Schell smack himself in the forehead no less than three times in as many seconds while hamming it up as the Mad Scientist, as if to punish himself for putting moviegoers through this. Maybe it’s the stupid little robots with cartoon character eyes who speak philosophical platitudes in the voices of Slim Pickens and Roddy McDowall (who must have realized he was better off playing an ape).
Maybe it’s the sort of fascination not unlike slowing down to look at the aftermath of a car wreck, knowing poor Robert Forster had to slog through 18 more years of this shit before the redemption of “Jackie Brown.”
I don’t know if he coined the phrase, but in “Danse Macabre,” Stephen King’s wonderful exploration of horror films, books and television (which I highly recommend, even today, nearly 30 years after it was published), King makes mention of what he calls “the siren song of crap.” It’s something I think is as good an explanation as any for why I love “The Black Hole” — or why you love the bad movie of your choice.
In “Danse Macabre,” King talks about his favorite bad movie, John Frankenheimer’s “Prophecy.” After detailing its flaws at some length, he “comes stubbornly, helplessly back to the fact that I liked Prophecy, and just writing about it has made me long to rush out and see it a fourth (and maybe a fifth) time. … For me, settling into Prophecy is as comfortable as settling into an easy chair and visiting with good friends.”
Meaning, I think, that a bad movie is its own charm. Do people go to Kentucky Fried Chicken because they want an elite culinary experience? No, they go because they know they can get their fix of fried food and fattening side dishes that taste delicious even as they clog your arteries and bring your appointment with the Grim Reaper a bit closer.
Do people read authors like Harold Robbins or Jackie Collins because they write great literature? No, it’s because they deliver steamy stories about sex, money and power. A fix. A guilty pleasure. Life can’t be so bad as long as we can pig out on greasy food, or read trashy books at the beach — or howl with laughter as one-time Oscar-winner Maximilian Schell again proclaims that “some cause must have created all this, but what caused that cause?” Right?