What Makes for a Beloved Bad Film? Jackey Neyman Jones (Manos: The Hands of Fate) Talks to Pretty Much Pop (ep. 73)

While there have of course been numer­ous attempts at movie mag­ic that have result­ed in some­thing less than audi­ence pleas­ing, only a few demon­strate such bold inep­ti­tude as to become “so bad that they’re good.” Such a film requires a strong sense of vision cou­pled with a com­plete inabil­i­ty to real­ize that vision in a coher­ent way, and it must dis­play real charm, as we see through the pre­sen­ta­tion to behold real human beings cap­tured in the poignan­cy of their doomed filmic endeav­or.

Some often cit­ed can­di­dates for this new kind of film canon include the clas­sic Plan 9 from Out­er Space, whose cre­ation was dra­ma­tized in Tim Bur­ton’s film Ed Wood; Tom­my Wiseau’s The Room, chron­i­cled by the book and film The Dis­as­ter Artist; Troll 2, a film that has no busi­ness or cre­ative rela­tion to the already dubi­ous film Troll that was doc­u­ment­ed in Best Worst Movie; and the an up-and-com­er Bir­d­em­ic: Shock and Ter­ror, self-financed by James Nguyen, whose pop­u­lar­i­ty great­ly increased through the treat­ment of his films by Riff­trax, one of the TV show Mys­tery Sci­ence The­ater 3000’s Inter­net suc­ces­sors.

And then there’s Manos: The Hands of Fate, laud­ed as one of the most trip­py finds of the orig­i­nal 1993 MST3K. It’s a film writ­ten, direct­ed by, and star­ring (lit­er­al) fer­til­iz­er sales­man Harold P. War­ren about a fam­i­ly (on their “first vaca­tion”) get­ting lost in West­ern Texas and end­ing up stay­ing the night at a house with a reli­gious cult. Jack­ey Ney­man Jones played the six-year-old girl in the film who even­tu­al­ly (spoil­er!) ends up tied to a stake as the cult lead­er’s sev­enth wife. Her father played the cult leader and cre­at­ed much of the art for the show, her moth­er sewed the cos­tumes, and her voice was dubbed over by a ful­ly grown woman who was not at all warned that she’d be hav­ing to imi­tate a child’s voice.

Jack­ey wrote a mem­oir about the expe­ri­ence, and here joins your Pret­ty Much Pop: A Cul­ture Pod­cast hosts Mark Lin­sen­may­er, Eri­ca, Spyres, and Bri­an Hirt to talk about the ongo­ing inter­est in the film despite its ini­tial, com­plete dis­missal as well as the dynam­ics and per­ils of work­ing with a supreme­ly con­fi­dent “auteur.”

The dis­cus­sion also touch­es on oth­er bad films like Cat­woman, The Hap­pen­ing, and Bat­tle­ship. Are these con­tem­po­rary, big-bud­get flops wor­thy of such can­on­iza­tion? What about films made inten­tion­al­ly to be cheesy, whether by auteurs like Veloci­pas­tor or pumped out by a com­pa­ny like Syfy’s Shark­na­do series?

You can watch Jack­ey read her entire book online. See her art. Read her inter­viewed in Cracked, Enter­tain­ment Week­ly, and the AV Club. Check out her IMDB page and her short-lived Hand of Hor­ror pod­cast. Manos: The Hands of Fate is in the pub­lic domain, so watch it unriffed if you dare, or check out the clas­sic MST3K episode or the more recent Riff­trax treat­ment. See also the warped stage ver­sion with pup­pets: Manos: The Hands of Felt.

To think more gen­er­al­ly about this top­ic, we con­sult­ed some lists of bad (or “so-bad-they’re-good”) films by The Ringer,  Thril­list, Screen­rant, Yard­bark­er, and Wikipedia.

Hear more of this pod­cast at prettymuchpop.com. This episode includes bonus dis­cus­sion you can access by sup­port­ing the pod­cast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This pod­cast is part of the Par­tial­ly Exam­ined Life pod­cast net­work.

Pret­ty Much Pop: A Cul­ture Pod­cast is the first pod­cast curat­ed by Open Cul­ture. Browse all Pret­ty Much Pop posts.

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.