Cinematic Guilty Pleasures

Here’s a little warm-up post to make sure my keyboard still works.

At work recently, a discussion came up about “guilty pleasure” movies.

Everyone has them, and everyone has different reasons for picking the films they do for that honor – I loosely define the category as “films I would watch if I were home sick with nobody else around” – the cinematic equivalent of comfort foods.

As I was thinking about which movies I put into this box, I was surprised to realize how little rhyme or reason there is to my choices – they’re all over the map.

I’m going to reveal a partial list – in no particular order – of my guilty pleasure movies, then invite readers to comment with their own.  Some of mine have already been reviewed here, and I’ll link back to those posts where appropriate.

Nosferatu (1922) – This German film was an unauthorized version of Dracula, and was almost sued out of existence by Bram Stoker’s widow.  It’s a silent film, so much of the story had to be told through body language.  Even 90 years later, Nosferatu puts a creepy sadness to the vampire tale that modern films like Twilight can’t touch.  Unfortunately, to a lot of people, it’s just a grainy old silent movie.

M (1931) I reviewed this one a few years ago here.  Another old German film.  The parallel efforts of the police and the criminals in hunting down a killer is interesting, and the whole film has an uneasy tension to it.  Something about it just makes me feel that it should be watched alone.

Shaun of the Dead (2004) – Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are awesome in this horror comedy.  Pegg’s Shaun, totally oblivious to everything that’s going on around him in the first act of the film is perfect.  I don’t re-watch many comedies, but I watch this one every few months.  The catch is that you have to appreciate both British humor and zombies to really get this one.

Mr. Vampire (1985) – An entry from Hong Kong, this kung-fu horror comedy will leave you dizzy if you spend too much time trying to sort it out.  There’s a lot of – peculiarities, let’s call them – to the story that sail right past American viewers.  I have this one in the chute for a review, so I’m not going to say much about it.

Westworld (1973)Cheesy ’70s Sci-Fi yarn (and the first American film here) about cowboy robots run amok at a futuristic theme park.  The effects are nothing to get excited about, but Yul Brynner’s sinister Gunslinger was a pretty clear influence on the character of The Terminator in later films.  Notable for raising the ethical question of robot prostitutes, then scampering away while the audience contemplates it.

The Car (1977) – Reviewed here.  You’ve gotta take this one on its own terms.  This film got lodged in my brain when I was 8, and it just stuck there.

Predator (1987) – This was Schwarzenegger at the top of his game.  Enough of a plot to stitch together explosive set-pieces, memorable one-liners, and an alien monster that remains popular even now.  I like the fact that the film didn’t feel the need to over-explain the Predator – it was here, it was deadly, and that was enough.

The Untouchables (1987) – A tale of Prohibition-era gangsterism.  Forget Kevin Costner’s wooden Eliot Ness.  Sean Connery’s Jim Malone and Robert De Niro’s Al Capone are the high points of this film.  Never let Al Capone get behind you with a baseball bat.

The Muppet Movie (1979) – I love the Muppets, but in recent years they’ve drifted away from the simple charm they had when Jim Henson was running the show.  The opening and closing musical numbers still make me smile.

And to make this a nice round number…

Ed Wood (1994) – Tim Burton and Johnny Depp put together a wonderful, if under-appreciated, biopic about Edward D. Wood, Jr., the director of such masterpieces as Bride of the Monster and Plan 9 from Outer Space.  The performances in this film are excellent, but the relative obscurity of the subject matter probably kept Ed Wood from reaching a wider audience.

Nothing coherent here.  All over the place.  That’s part of what makes them fun.

Let’s see what you guys have to put on the table.

-Jay

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6 thoughts on “Cinematic Guilty Pleasures

  1. I’ll contribute a couple of films that meet the “comfort food” end of your guilty pleasures. These two are ones that, before having them available via electronic/digital storage, I tended to view often, when I encountered them on television: Failsafe and Dr. Strangelove.

    It may have become a cliche of film history or criticism to pair them and for good reason. They are focused on the nature of the Cold War’s MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) doctrine and the real fear that the world could end with a bang. They are both done well and continue to hold up.

    1. Interestingly, I’ve never seen either of those. I’ve seen parts of Strangelove, but never the whole film. There may be a built-in aversion – I went to school with a guy who loved Strangelove, talked about MAD doctrine endlessly, and was thoroughly convinced that Nostradamus had correctly predicted the rise of the Antichrist in the form of the Ayatollah Khomeini following the Iranian hostage crisis. (I ran across that guy a couple of years ago – I figure that he either now works for the CIA or has attracted their attention…)

      In any case, this might be as good a time as any to look into these films.

      1. I await your views on the two films and whether the difference in our ages or the milieux of our coming of age might have influence.

  2. Well, I recently watched a film that hit the movie screen around me during my callow youth, Battle in Outer Space. I found it less horrible than most of its ilk of the time and even a bit later, but not nearly as good as my nostalgia had promised. I will not be viewing it again, I am sure.

    I’ll try think of films that might fit in our overlapping category, but I believe that it might be better served by films I might be willing to view again. That is distinguished from films I would like to and intend to view again.

  3. I can see your point, although I think the definition may be broad enough to include my examples and yours. The problem that I ran into here is that the films that I’ve seen that would fit your criteria tend to be films that I doubt I’d watch again except maybe as punishment for some grave offense – Hobo with a Shotgun, Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter, and such like.

    Thus is my quandry.

  4. CB,

    I am afraid I must argue against your use of “guilty pleasure” for this. Rather than the equivalent of comfort food. The term, at least in my experience, implies enjoyment in something that is usually regarded as mediocre or worse, beneath some accepted norms, or lacking in qualities, coupled with embarassment should the indulger be discovered. An example might be a dessert chef secretly enjoying Twinkies.

    Several of your choices are certainly above mediocre: M, Ed Wood, Shaun of the Dead, and Nosferatu. Certainly Pinata Survival Island or any of the Giant Sharkodilocotosaurus vs. Megahuge Dinonastysnakeorilla ilk would qualify, having few, if any redeeming virtues other than fleshly displays. No, viewing those repeatedly would certainly be pleasures that anyone over fifteen should expect to be embarassed about.

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