An Oral History of Bad Horror Movie Night Possibly my favorite accidental Halloween tradition

Warning: This is one of those insular, deeply personal posts that marked the early days of this site – when it was more of a literal “web-log” diary than the more universal thing I’d like it to be. However, I’m hoping that I can twist this exercise in indulgent nostalgia into something useful and relevant to the average Halloween fan. Let me know in the comments if I totally failed!

Bad Horror Movie Night is a tradition that goes back to 2009, and began utterly by accident. I had a couple friends over sometime in mid-October, and while channel-surfing (Google that, millennials) we stumbled across a basic cable station playing a movie called Night of the Demons. None of us had seen it, but the setup involved a Halloween party so we resolved to give it a shot. That pitch-perfect low budget 80’s horror tone made for spastically hilarious viewing – the stilted dialogue and acting, the rubbery practical FX, the dated music, and the further dated sexual politics may not have been intended for comedy, but they sure as hell became so in a few decades’ time. When the credits rolled, we all decided this would make for a fine annual tradition – and so became it. 

Today, it’s borderline trendy to irony-watch, or hate-watch, older movies and vocally snipe over them, and I recognize why some might deride this kind of behavior as smug hipsterism. But amongst my small group of regular attendees, Bad Horror Movie Night doesn’t have a smarmy or hateful vibe. It’s just friends eating kettle corn, drinking beer, lying on pillows and bean bags (some in pajamas), and laughing at the ridiculousness of horror cinema’s darkest, seediest corners. I like to think of it as a strictly horror version of MST3K.

The following is a list (to the best of my recollection) of the titles featured in each year of Bad Horror Movie Night from the very beginning, along with brief commentary about how it was received. It’s my hope that this fun tradition spreads to more people outside of my own circles, and hopefully this list can serve as a good starting point for some recommended trash viewing.

2009: Night of the Demons (1988)

As you may very well guess, the 80’s is ideal fodder for “bad” horror movies ripe for comic viewing. In fact, nearly all of the movies that made the cut are from this decade. Night of the Demons started it all for us, and is kind of the perfect template for what we came to consider a Bad Horror Movie Night movie. I can appreciate it enough even outside that context though, and I included it on my list of the best alternative Halloween movies. Fun fact: An awful remake starring Edward Furlong was released the same year we started this tradition!

2010: Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)

In its second year, Bad Horror Movie Night had yet to really develop an identity. I pretty much just picked any cheesy movie I had in my collection and put it on while people came and went at their leisure. Honestly, this movie is not a great selection, in spite of the rather pronounced 80’s corniness and the now-iconic tongue in cheek Freddy quips (“Welcome to prime time…” etc.). As the third best Nightmare on Elm Street movie, it’s too “good”, and too well known to make the cut today. But it is undeniably fun to watch in a group.

2011: Dead Alive (1992)

Peter Jackson’s hyperbolic splatter masterpiece is a little closer in spirit to the true Bad Horror Movie Night ethos. It’s one of the most gleefully gory and perverse splatter films ever made, and has enough bizarre, left-field moments of tongue-in-cheek comedy to get a crowd going. But therein lies the problem: it’s trying to be funny, and unintentional humor is more the goal here. But if watching swarms of zombie bodies get torn to giblets by lawnmower blades, blenders, microwaves and every other conceivable manner sounds like fun… well, this movie is the definition of fun.

2012: Friday the 13th Part 4: The Final Chapter (1984)

Another lazy choice on my part. Everyone knows Friday the 13th 4 is the quintessential F13 movie, the zenith of everything we know Friday the 13th to be and the apotheosis of 80’s slasher cheese at the same time. Cory Feldman AND Crispin Glover wigging out? THAT 80’s. But again, it’s too good, too well-known, and too self-aware for Bad Horror Movie Night.

2013: Basket Case (1982)

Now this is more like it. Basket Case is everything this event was built to honor. Grimy, sleazy, violent as hell, cheap-looking, bizarre, and semi-obscure. Siamese twins – ahem, conjoined twins – are separated against their will. Unfortunately, one twin happens to be a small, malformed blob of a thing (like a flesh-colored Slimer) with a violent streak. And his more conventionally-shaped brother carries him around in a picnic basket and covers for his grisly murders. It’s perfect. Watch this review on Cinemassacre and see for yourself.

2014: Sleepaway Camp (1983)

The reigning champion of Bad Horro- fuck it, BHMN, in terms of audience reaction. This has it all: horrendous fashion, deplorable sexual politics, hammy overacting, implausible murder scenes, and of course, nudity and gore. But it’s the famous ending that takes it completely over the top. If somehow you’re uninitiated in the Sleepaway Camp cult, you owe it to yourself to have your own Bad Horror Movie Night. Don’t do a Google Image search beforehand if you don’t want it spoiled (you don’t want it spoiled).

2015: Brain Damage (1988)

Another Frank Henenlotter (Basket Case) joint. This one is a bit more overtly comedic. OK, A LOT more overtly comedic. But it has a similar grimy and exploitative tone, and goes so over the top in so many ways that it ends up being perfect BHMN fodder (if you can find it). See the review here.

2016: Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)

I’ll level with you folks: I got too drunk too quickly on this particular BHMN, and I barely remember anything about this one. Moving on.

2017: Jack Frost (1997)

It didn’t occur to me until I made this final selection that I went with two Christmas-themed horror movies in a row for BHMN. I wasn’t 100% confident in this selection, to be honest. I chose it mostly based on the VHS cover art that I remember seeing at the local Blockbuster as a teenager – cover art that hilariously misrepresents the look of the titular snowman killer as well as the tone of the movie itself. It worked out OK, but the filmmakers clearly opted to lean into the corniness of the premise, ultimately harming the actual comedic value. I did get the opportunity to announce the title at the beginning of the night, then show the trailer for the Michael Keaton family film of the same name instead. So I got that going for me.

2018: ??????

I’m feeling very confident that this year’s BHMN pick will more than make up for last year’s tepid selection. I’m not revealing it now, in case any attendees are reading this, but there will probably be a full review appearing some time next week. I have a feeling this one is going to be a face-melter.

Reading this you might have been thinking that I’m overlooking a few obvious choices for BHMN, and you’d be right, but this is by design. I’m not saying I’ll never screen Troll 2 for one of these, but I prefer to be a bit less predictable than that. I mean, Troll 2 has its own documentary about its badness. I CAN guarantee that none of the Sharknado movies will ever make the cut. Those movies are what happens when people with bad senses of humor attempt to make a BHMN movie on purpose. Then there’s the strange phenomena of multiple bird-related Bad horror movies, including the likes of Birdemic, Thankskilling, and Poultrygeist, with requisite sequels. In all likelihood, I’ll exhaust many, many other options before hitting that particular barrel’s bottom.

Leprechaun in Space is one that I threaten to screen pretty much every year, and never have. Availability is a challenge there, as is the possibility that it’s just not all that fun to watch. I honestly don’t know. But it’s called Leprechaun in Space! There are a few red flags, however. IMDB lists “comedy” as one of its genres. It’s also from the late 90’s – a notoriously barren era for fun horror movies both good and bad (with the colossal exception of Scream).

In summation, there are many, many, many (many) bad horror films. It’s part of the nature of the genre. I remember owning a book when I was a kid called the Video Movie Guide, that organized movies by genre and ranked each one from four stars down to “turkey”. To quote my good friend, “the horror section is straight up Thanksgiving”. But the special variety of badness that makes for entertaining crowd viewing is much more rare. “So bad it’s good”, as previously stated, is a well-known trope, but there’s an art to being able to identify these hidden gems, an art I’m trying to hone each and every October. When the alchemy is just right – the right crowd, the right movie, and the right mood – there’s nothing more fun and more Halloween than a good Bad Horror Movie.

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