Cinephilia is at an all-time high. From Instagram accounts to Letterboxd, everybody is a critic, situating themselves as purveyors of the finest films. This is fine; who doesn’t love a long chat about transcendentalism in the works of Robert Bresson? However, sometimes quality can become too much of a concern, vivisecting the film into metaphors, symbolism, and chunks of meaning. So, I seek the pleasure of bad films. Suddenly, film becomes simple again, a construction of different elements combined to make a narrative piece. Of course, in the case of bad film, the joy is found in laughing at the absence of these elements.
This is best enjoyed with others. The collective laughter at a clunky line of dialogue or particularly gooey exploding head is unmatched. While the Prince Charles Cinema seems to fulfill most people’s requirements, I tend to look for something a bit rougher around the edges. I want to be able to laugh out loud, whisper stupid comments to my companion, and have alcohol close to hand. This is where Crap Film Club comes in.
Taking place on the day before Halloween, the Old Queens Head in Islington, the venue for the night, was decorated with “spiders” webs, jack-o-lanterns and other spooky paraphernalia. After ordering a drink, my companion and I took ourselves upstairs to find a church-like room. Elongated stained-glass windows, columns stretching between the stained wood floor and the high ceiling, and a raised stage complete with a pulpit. This had all been hosed down in Halloween tat, similar to downstairs, shifting the atmosphere from holy to Hammer horror. Where better to watch a schlocky horror film than in a low-budget, imitation horror film set?
The organisers greeted us at the door, ready with a cardboard box brimming with complementary packets of crisps. This might seem random and, in many ways, it is. However, remembering that we were in a pub, the prospect of free crisps actually made a lot of sense. Grabbing a complementary packet of crisps each (I went for Quavers), we sat at a table. On it was a short competition sheet. The task: Shocking Dark (1989) a film. This meant slightly tweak a film to ruin it. For example, set Gravity on Earth or set Robocop in the British countryside and rename the cybernetic officer ‘Robo-copper’. Shocking Dark is a lazy rip-off of Aliens (1986), Terminator 2 (1991), and a host of other ‘80s classics. Hence, the task at hand! The competitions are entirely optional but add a lot to the experience, turning a passive viewing experience into something engaging and active.
This is what Crap Film Club is all about. Running every couple of months or so, the club will screen a crap film for all to laugh at. Other video oddities are peppered throughout intermissions whilst the night ends with a competition, complete with prizes from the ‘bag of crap’. Most of all, it is a communal experience. There are no hard-locked rules of cinema-going. You are encouraged to grab a drink, grab some crisps and sit and laugh as loud as you like at something absolutely terrible.
Shocking Dark features bad acting, banal plot twists and a lot of walking painfully slowly down long corridors, making for a great watch at the club. Uproarious laughter fills the room whenever the fish creatures languidly swipe at a victim. Every time actress Haven Tyler speaks, palms slap on faces, covering aghast smiles. This is a guaranteed great collective viewing experience. The film gets it so wrong, and everybody can see that. It is obvious. So, everyone laughs at the same time, further perpetuating one’s own laughter, effectively fuelling a constant cycle of giggles throughout the film.
Once the film ends, prizes are given out. Taking to the stage with a ‘bag of crap’, organiser Will reads out his favourite competition entries. Being selected as a lucky winner, I took to the stage and stuck my hand in the bag, expecting to find globules of green goo or something generally disgusting inside. To my surprise, I pulled out an actual prize. A DVD of Plan 9 From Outer Space (1957), the infamous Ed Wood stinker, a perfect prize for a crap movie competition. Other prizes varied from accessories to a statue of a xenomorph with Kermit the frog coming out of its mouth. If you didn’t know who this club was for before, you certainly do now.
One may expect a level of exclusivity here. Cult film circles are known for their self-prescribed sense of superiority. On some level, Crap Film Club is anti-Hollywood, anti-mainstream, anti-art. But, these oppositional values are collateral from indulging in crap. The club is all about having a laugh, at the expense of a very poor film. Not in a malicious way. The experience is supposed to provide a chance to laugh freely, be sociable, and take film less seriously.
Whilst not everyone may want to watch bad films, Crap Film Club certainly accepts everybody. It is a very welcoming space, a diaspora of film fans. There may be some reservations that this is a masculine space, dimly lit and chuckling at the commonly problematic content of bad films. In my experience, Crap Film Club does not feel like that. It is genuinely welcoming, making sure to screen bad movies which everyone can enjoy. It is innocent and fun, something which, for my money, cinema is generally lacking.
Edited by Oisín McGilloway, Co-Film & TV Editor