Schlock Appeal

Will 'Snakes on a Plane' join the pantheon of so-bad-the're-good classics?


For Freeman Williams, there's nothing better than a bad movie.

The flat acting, poor lighting, cheap sets, fake blood, inane plots - what's not to love? So Williams founded a Web site to review bad movies and extol their virtues at length. The best bad movies, he said, are entertaining in spite of themselves. They make you feel superior and give you something to laugh at.

They are, he said, "the stuff of classical tragedy."

But as moviemaking gets more expensive, and studios test market films to death, good bad movies are disappearing, say their fans. And that's why some people are so excited about tonight's opening of Snakes on a Plane, a movie that promises 100 percent title delivery, if nothing else. Some fans are also expecting a stinker - the worse it is, the more they'll love it.

"What really makes us enjoy bad movies is the train wreck factor - the fact that it's so awful you cannot look away from it," said Williams, 48, who lives in Houston. But he has some fears about Snakes on a Plane. If the movie tries too hard to be bad, then it can't be good.

"Every time anybody tries to make a bad movie or a guaranteed cult hit, it always falls flat on its face," said Williams, whose Web site is badmoviere "Whatever that magic is is ephemeral, and when you try to put your finger on it, it goes away."

Among his favorite bad movies are Robot Monster (a 1953 film so bad that after it was released and savaged by critics, its director attempted suicide) and two Ed Wood films - Plan 9 from Outer Space and Glen or Glenda, a movie that Williams said is "mesmerizing" in its awfulness. One film guide dryly describes Wood as an "American film director and screenwriter generally regarded as making the worst films in the history of the cinema."

Plan 9 is notorious for its goofs: Gravestones flap in the wind and fall over. In one scene, white X's, used to indicate where the actors should stand, are clearly visible on the floor. In another, when a woman falls to the ground, the pillows placed to cushion her fall can be seen. Day changes to night and back to day - many times in a single scene.

But because of that very badness, and their earnestness, Wood's movies are now celebrated. Tim Burton made a biopic about him, called Ed Wood and starring Johnny Depp, and the films are staples of B-movie fests.

No other art form cherishes the worst it has to offer quite like film. At least a dozen Web sites are devoted to bad movies and the Razzie Awards were established in 1980 to bestow honors such as Worst Picture and Worst Director honors. In 1996, eight Razzies went to Showgirls, and director Paul Verhoeven showed up in person to collect them.

Williams is encouraged that Snakes' distributor, New Line Cinema, is taking the film seriously. It is not trying to make a campy movie that recalls the horror-slasher films of the '60s and '70s. It wants the movie to be good. In fact, it took the movie so seriously that at one point it changed the name to the supremely bland Pacific Air 121.

After star Samuel L. Jackson threatened to quit, the studio changed the name back. And the title alone has fueled nearly a year of Internet buzz and anticipation for the movie.

New Line President Toby Emmerich told Entertainment Weekly: "What's unique about Snakes is that the idea of the movie has excited people. But that doesn't necessarily have anything to do with the movie we made."

The studio carefully cultivated the Internet hype, feeding news items to, which has become the official fan site for the movie. Created last December by Georgetown University law student Brian Finkelstein, the blog is a meticulous accounting of all things Snakes.

New Line flew Finkelstein, 26, from Washington to Los Angeles to attend tonight's premiere. He said the movie will only fail if it's boring. But if it's really good or - more likely - really bad, then the audience will be satisfied.

"New Line has a task where people are expecting a good bad movie," he said. "No one wants a parody or a joke movie, but at the same time it has to be snakes on a plane. It's not going to be On the Waterfront. It's not going to win best picture. It has to be a little bit stupid, but it can't try to be stupid."

The buzz for Snakes has become such a roar that the Charles Theatre - Baltimore's home for independent and offbeat films - will be showing the film on two of its five screens starting tonight. George Mansour, who books for the Charles, said Snakes got such special treatment because it's a very unusual movie.

"There's a tremendous buzz about the movie," said Mansour, who has seen it and says it delivers. "There are snakes. They are on a plane. But it's also very funny, it's very sly, it's very clever."

He said Snakes could very well be a good bad movie classic. But the fact that expectations are so high could doom the film's chances for immortality.

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