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In conversation with Crap Film Club

Crap Film Club screens entertainingly bad films in venues across North and East London
Crap Film Club screens entertainingly bad films in venues across North and East London

Crap Film Club is a group which meets every month or so to watch a terrible, terrible film and laugh. A lot. It seems like a winning formula. However, cult cinema encapsulates so many disparate elements of film, from the innocently bizarre to the discomforting vitriolic. So, I met with Will, one of the organisers of Crap Film Club, to try and get a sense of where he positions cult films and why he might devote so much time to bad films. The following is a mixture of email correspondence and in-person discussion.

How did the club get started?

Alcohol was involved, as it often is, with the best ideas. I have a group of friends, we go to the cinema and watch bad films, sometimes we watch good films too, but it kind of started by us going to Cineworld on a regular basis. Cheap Tuesday, whatever the cheap day was.

So, we were doing that for a bit and then I heard about things like Troll 2, Samurai Cop, Miami Connection. We'd have a DVD night at my house, and then Paul had the bright idea of starting a film club.

We got a slot at the Boogaloo pub in Highgate. The guy there didn't really know what the hell we were doing. We weren't charging, we were just putting the films on and passing a pint glass around at the end of the night if you enjoyed it, to put a couple of quid in. It didn't cover the costs, but it was fun. Good training, I guess. Then the attendees and the publican said maybe you want to start showing student films or something and that's not really what we're trying to do.

Then we found a venue called the Book Club in Old Street. Once we moved there, we jigged it a bit. I sort of took over the technical side of things in that we weren't just showing the film, we were kind of making it a whole night of crap. So, you come in, there are trailers playing, there's music, themed music playing, there's an interval with more crap, there's a competition, all kinds of stuff going on. Anna, who was involved then, brought in the visual aesthetics, the costumes, the decoration. It became something approaching a circus and it really took off.

Had you done that before? The dressing up, that sort of ritual?

Not when we were doing the Boogaloo. If it was Christmas, we'd wear bad jumpers. But The Book Club took it to the next level.

Have you been a cult film fan since you were young?

I'm a massive film fan. I did script writing at uni and I work in the industry. So, I think my film knowledge is pretty good. Studies have shown that to truly enjoy crap films, you have to be of reasonable intelligence. It helps if you understand cinematic conventions and cliches because then you recognize when someone has made a film that doesn't understand those conventions and cliches.

Like The Room?

Like The Room, right! It’s like they're the first person to have thought of it, and we can laugh at that.

Do you think The Room is actually good? Does it go full circle that it comes around to being amazing?

I think there's a case to be made that it's a bit of an outlier in the crap film world. The amount of money that was put [into it]. I know every month there's a terrible studio film out in the cinemas. But that has still got the language of cinema. I think, on some level, it's a miracle that Hollywood can make good films because there's so many people involved, so many egos, and so much input. But something like The Room—there's this whole thing about where did the money come from and the fact that he shot it on digital and film, and all of the various layers of bollocks that are involved.

I mean when you watched it for the first time, did you find it funny? Did you just go, what is this?

Yeah, I did. I think I'd seen clips. Everyone knows “oh, hi mark.” I don't think I was confused. I understood that this is someone who has completely misunderstood how film and how humans work. And that's hilarious.

I remember watching The Room with my housemate and it was just like, what? And then my other friend watched it. She hated it, but she was on drugs. Maybe Tommy Wiseau and drugs don't mix. I don't think she's tried to watch it not on drugs. There is something unique about The Room. I went to see Big Shark with Tommy Wiseau [at The Prince Charles Cinema].

Was it good?

Well, no, but... I was going into it thinking, he's going to have made a bad film on purpose, and it's going to be really, really, frustrating, and boring.

Now, I did actually enjoy it. And I would watch that again, maybe even screen it. I don't know, I've got to think about it. And I'm not sure if it's just because of the audience, but they were really up for it. Tommy introduced it. There was enough in it to make me think, yes, someone like Tommy cannot make a good film, because he's just wired differently. He's full of marshmallow. He's a fish man. He's an alien. He may have even tried to make a bad film on purpose, but because he's weird, it comes out as it comes out, and it's just the same scenes happening over and over again.

When you’re doing a screening, how much are you watching the film and how much are you watching the audience?

Oh no, I'm watching the film. I'm really enjoying the audience reaction to it and it makes me enjoy the film more, because these films are best when you see them with other people.

I'm sort of regularly watching crap films that I've heard about on Twitter or whatever. If something kind of grabs my interest, I'll then watch it with friends to see if they find it entertaining. If they find it entertaining, then it's got a shot of being screened. I don't think me just watching it on my own, usually sober, is going to give me the certainty that it's going to play well.

You say on your website that Crap Film Club is a place of non-judgement. Are you laughing at the film, or are you laughing with the film?

Oh, we're laughing at it, but we're not saying we wish it didn't exist, we're so glad it exists! You recognise that anyone can make a film. Literally anyone can make a film. There's an argument to be made that some of the best crap films are ego projects. People like your Tommy Wiseaus, your Don DeHarts, your Neil Breens. They just don't get why people don't think that their film is amazing because they just have a different brain.

The Old Queen's Head in Islington, a frequent host of Crap Film Club
The Old Queen's Head in Islington, a frequent host of Crap Film Club

What do you define as a cult film? Is it in its opposition to Hollywood, to the mainstream, or is it another thing?

I think it's another thing because there are some fairly successful films that are cult. Mean Girls has a cult, Elvis has a cult, they endure because successive generations discover them. People will watch them; their kids will watch them.

I look at in terms of what you are sort of into. You've got a so bad it's good film, but then you've got like exploitation films, you've got trash films, there are a lot of labels, and they have certain identifiers. Like a trash film, I think Troma, I think Toxic Avenger. Then you've got those shark films, CGI shark films and anything made by Asylum. Exploitation, it's probably going to be pretty grimy, it's probably going to be a bit rapey, it's going to be gory. It's probably going to be from Italy.

Critics such as Johanne Hollows have written about the ‘masculinity of cult,’ positioning the cult fan as a ‘manly adventurer who sets out into the urban wilderness’ to find strange, transgressive cinema. Do you see cult cinema, or even crap cinema, as inherently masculine?

There’s definitely a stereotype of the “film geek”, or the “collector”, which is seen as a primarily male obsession. Having watched documentaries such as “In Search of Darkness” (which I highly recommend), and attended Frightfest a few times, I’ve seen plenty of female interest in cult cinema so it would seem that this perception is shifting. In terms of who’s making cult films, or films in general, it’s still male-dominated, and perhaps the themes reflect that. I would add that all of the other bad film clubs and organisations that I interact with online, or sometimes in person, are run by men.

Is there a line that you draw in terms of what you screen?

Absolutely. Have you heard of The New York Ninja? It was filmed as being like a Miami Connection kind of film. There's no real plot and the guy who directed it disappeared or whatever. It's pretty grimy, it's rapey. Women get molested every other scene. I was watching with my friends and we're not really [into it]. There are things to enjoy about it, but overall, I think it would make people uncomfortable. I don't want to impose my morals on anyone but I do want people to turn up and have fun.

[The New York Ninja] didn't have the heart. Miami Connection is quite an innocent film. It's made by a guy who'd watched five films in his whole life and thought ‘I can do that.’ And it's for the kids, ‘I wanted to inspire the kids.’ It's this wonderful thing. Everyone in it is just wide-eyed.

So, the intention of the person making it has a big role in what you see as a good crap film?

It can do. The intention could be I need to convince people of my talent, or the intention can be to do this for the kids. Or I was bullied at school and I want everyone to see how clever I am, which is every Neil Breen film. Although there's this rumour that he's been trolling us the whole time. Which I really hope isn't true because that would really make me crazy. It would ruin it.

Why would that ruin it?

If that turned out to be the case, he would actually be the best actor ever. He would be better than Brando because everyone’s fooled. Breen somehow manages to make a genuinely entertaining bad film every time. He doesn't learn anything, seems to get worse if anything, but it's entertaining. I don't think there's any way someone could consciously write something this incoherent.

You mentioned elements of The New York Ninja being uncomfortable, particularly in regard to depictions of rape and sexual assault. How do you navigate around these parts of cult cinema?

I won’t screen anything with prolonged and/or frequent scenes of sexual violence. While I’m not in any way attempting to be the self-appointed guardian or censor of what other adults can watch, Crap Film Club is meant to be fun and this sort of material can, at the very least, make people feel uncomfortable and, at worst, be extremely traumatic. There are plenty of cult films to choose from that don’t contain much, if any, of this sort of content. As we previously discussed, I do review films with friends to get their feedback, and this helps flag whether something is problematic…and yes, it’s frustrating when an otherwise suitable film contains one scene that prevents it from being screenable but there you go!

Is there any value in screening a crap film with transgressive or problematic content?

That would depend on a number of things, such as the values/objectives of the individual or organisation which is screening the film, and how the difficult content is framed in the wider context of the movie. If “Trash Film Club” exists (which it probably does) and sets out its stall to show “edgy” cult films from the beginning then it will attract a different audience to the one we have, and they will be prepared to experience harsher material. We also have to be aware that what is considered “problematic”, and how we react to it, has changed from the ‘80s and ‘90s when a lot of these films were made. For example, most action films from that era, whether cult or mainstream, offered pretty thankless roles to women generally, but we can look at them now as ridiculous relics. Bringing things a bit more up to date, Tommy Wiseau’s depiction of women as calculating, conniving liars is problematic, but when you take into account that he is a) a “unique” individual and b) a terrible screenwriter, then it becomes comedic.

Do you think watching crap film has become more popular?

It depends because I think that what constitutes a crap film is subjective. I watch the stuff I watch. But, there are people probably going to the cinema to watch stuff like [Cocaine Bear], and they think that's pretty out there. And great, as long as they're entertained. 

What is the quintessential bad movie for you?

I'm going to say Samurai Cop. Because that's a lightning strike film. You just had so many things wonderfully congealed to create that film. You've got an Iranian director, English isn't his first language, writes a script, insists everyone speaks it like he's written it. You've got Sly Stallone's ex-bodyguard, who is likeable and charismatic, and I think that's important. It's trying to be a Lethal Weapon rip-off. They've got no money, halfway through the film, the lead actor thinks they're finished, shaves all his hair off, has to wear a wig. And then you've got all the great lines they kind of made up on set, like ‘I'm an undercover cop because I'm going under the fence.’ There are better ones than that. I think if you're serious about crap films, you just need to watch it.

Crap Film Club is £5 a ticket. Go to their website or follow them on Instagram for updates about their next events, or click here to read more about them in Strand.


Edited by Oisín McGilloway, Co-Film & TV Editor


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