Patton Oswalt Sees the Beauty in Bad Movies

The comedian talks about the B-movie marathon he's hosting this weekend.

Comedy Features Patton Oswalt
Patton Oswalt Sees the Beauty in Bad Movies

Patton Oswalt’s a man of many roles, many voices, and countless talents: Depending on your life’s path, you might know him as the world’s biggest New York Giants obsessive in 2009’s Big Fan, the narrator in the long-running period sitcom-cum-’80s nostalgia piece The Goldbergs, the heart and soul of a chef-aspirant rat in Ratatouille, Omari Hardwick’s white voice in Sorry to Bother You, Charlize Theron’s drinking buddy in Young Adult, and of course a veteran comedian with fistfuls of specials and album releases under his belt.

Oh, and he’s a major cinephile, too, so much so that he up and decided to host his own mini movie fest on Shout! Factory TV. Patton Oswalt’s Six Pack Movie Marathon. will stream at Shout! Factory TV on Saturday, November 7, starting at 9 a.m. PT (noon ET). Lest the easily intimidated assume his cinephilia is rooted in fancy-pants high-falutin’ tastes, this half dozen collection comprises a whole bunch of schlock: Chopping Mall, Battle Beyond the Stars, Shriek of the Mutilated, Suburbia, Eat My Dust and Q the Winged Serpent. None of these qualify as high art. A few of them barely even qualify as movies, such is their jaw-dropping ineptitude and rampant awfulness.

But that’s not the point! The point, as Oswalt lays out in a conversation with Paste, is what even very bad movies can teach us, and how they can inspire us to find ways to live better lives, and how we’re on the precipice of a new, rich age for B-movies to thrive:

Paste Magazine: So I heard the about Six Pack Movie Marathon you’re doing, and I looked over the six selections, and now I’m sitting here thinking, “How do these all tie together?” They’re all B-movies, but I’m not a religious man, and God, please help connect the dots here. What about these films said to you, “I should put these together”?

Patton Oswalt: Part of it was the stuff that I remembered from my childhood, Battle Beyond the Stars and Q the Winged Serpent especially, and Suburbia, were big deals for me growing up. They have a lot of amazing, hidden qualities to them that I think make them, yes, they’re “B” films, but they’re also great films. They have so many amazing things in them. I also love the fact that a lot of these feature people at the beginnings of their careers, like Ron Howard. You have so many people popping up in Chopping Mall, to just affectionate nods to cult figures like Mary Woronov and Paul Bartel. If you want the basic connective tissue, it’s what I’m fascinated by. And then there’s Shriek of the Mutilated right in the middle of it, which is a movie that’s almost miraculous in how it has absolutely no redeeming qualities.

Paste: I watched that yesterday and I was thinking to myself, “What am I looking for here? What am I trying to find here?” It is sort of amazing what people can do with nothing, or that people will push themselves to make something out of nothing, because it’s so clear that they’ve got nothing in the bag that they can actually use. But isn’t it almost miraculous that they try anyways?

Oswalt: That’s what I love! I love the fact that these are people who for better or worse had a vision and saw it through. All of us say, “I got an idea for a movie, I could do, blah blah blah,” and we never do it. They did it! It doesn’t matter that the movie is good or bad. They had a vision, they convinced people to get together and do costumes and stuff like that. And it’s amazing.

Paste: The perpetual question for movie critics is whether or not what we do is more important or as important as something like Shriek of the Mutilated. It sounds like, to you, the very fact of its existence has value.

Oswalt: Exactly. Yeah. I mean it’s the existing that matters to me. Even if it’s bad, it came from a hopeful, optimistic place.

Paste: So that’s how we should be appreciating these things: Thank God it exists! It’s great that it just exists, and I know people are gonna watch this movie and try to do their Mystery Science Theater 3000 while watching it. But sometimes I wonder if that maybe misses the point we’re making here?

Oswalt: No, I think that with Mystery Science Theater 3000, there’s also a very positive, optimistic thing in that they’re given nothing to do and bad movies to watch, and they’re trying to make it a fun thing. It’s about making the best out of a bad situation, like being the outcast at the nerd prom and going, “I’m going to use creativity and imagination to make it fun.”

Paste: So this marathon is your celebration of imagination? It’s not necessarily about the best movies, but maybe it’s suggesting that what a good movie is, isn’t necessarily about how well made it is but about the spirit that goes into it?

Oswalt: Yeah. I mean, the only bad movie is a boring movie and none of these movies are boring, even Shriek of the Mutilated, which is so incompetent it’s fascinating. Like, how the fuck did this get completed?

Paste: That’s a stark contrast with, say, Chopping Mall or Suburbia, which if we’re ranking these, I feel like Suburbia’s the best of the bunch. But it is interesting to see that as a way of connecting the dots. We don’t ask that question with Chopping Mall, but maybe we should! Who decides to go and make a movie about killer robots in a fucking shopping mall, anyway?

Oswalt: You think Chopping Mall is bad? Well then make your own killer robots in a mall movie! Show us how it should’ve been done right.

Paste: Do you think that’s the challenge for the audience or for critics, or maybe for both because critics at the end of the day are fans in the audience too?

Oswalt: Yeah, I don’t think of it as a challenge, though. I think it’s just a better way to live your life generally, and that will be instrumental to you having a better attitude toward existence. You’ll start seeing movies and creative objects that way, and everything will be more entertaining. It’s just a better existence that you end up having.

Paste: Now we’re not just talking about movies themselves, though, but really an aesthetic for engaging with life?

Oswalt: Absolutely. Anything can be linked toward that, how you think of food, how you think of relationships, how you think of your relationship to sports or whatever it is you love can be a link to living your life better.

Paste: All of this is taking me back to my teen years, now, and so this is starting to feel like an act of archaeology. I feel like people know Chopping Mall and Q the Winged Serpent, but man, I’m so glad Suburbia is on here. I don’t feel like as many people I know are as familiar with that.

Oswalt: That was an especially beloved film from when I grew up, especially for bored suburban teens who didn’t have access to the city up in Northern Virginia. That was like, “Oh yeah, we’re going to destroy everything!” It just captures that energy from being a young teen.

Paste: So now I’m curious: Is this one your favorite of the bunch?

Oswalt: My favorite is actually Q the Winged Serpent just because Michael Moriarty’s performance in the middle of this terrible film is so goddamn brilliant. The disconnect is thrilling.

Paste: Alright, I can’t resist: Do you think Bill Burr borrowed his performing style from Moriarity’s work in Q?

Oswalt: [laughs] I don’t even know if he’s ever seen Q. I think that’s how Bill was raised. He is from deep Boston. I don’t think that he was a young comedian who went and saw Q the Winged Serpent and said, “That’s my guy. That’s what I should be doing.”

Paste: “Yeah, that’s my aesthetic!”

Oswalt: I think Bill Burr hatched fully formed.

Paste: But maybe someone will watch Q, see Moriarity, and say, “That’s gonna be me.”

Oswalt: Or maybe somebody should remake it with Bill Burr!

Paste: Wow. Yeah, if someone ever does remake this, they’ve gotta cast him, or else what’s the fucking point? But this goes back to that inspirational quality we were getting at before. I think that’s essential. I feel like we’ve lost this B-move tradition today, so maybe it’s necessary for us to go back and rewatch these kinds of movies?

Oswalt: I don’t know, man. I gotta say, I think there are so many platforms and they’re so hungry for content. I think we’re about to enter a second golden age of B-movies and direct to screaming and direct to video stuff where yeah, there’s going to be a lot of chaff, and then there’s going to be some really brilliant people that come out of that world. I mean, keep in mind, Roger Corman launched Coppola, Scorsese, Ron Howard, Jonathan Demme, all these people came out of that world. So maybe the streaming world, the content world is going to create new artists. We don’t know, but I’m actually kind of hopeful right now.

Paste: That’s so fascinating to me. What specifically do you have in mind in terms of that belief? I would love to see that. The next Demme could be out there waiting to be found, and I think there’s so much value in these movies for that exact reason.

Oswalt: Go look at the stuff that Shudder and Arrow Films are putting out and even Netflix, to a certain extent. They try out newer filmmakers, edgier stuff. I mean, I think that there’s always going to be people that are determined to get their stuff out one way or the other.

Paste: Shudder’s such a great example. You can spend, and now we have weeks and months and maybe a year to do this, but you can spend weeks and months and years on Shudder finding this stuff.
Oswalt: It’s there! There’s stuff getting launched and it’s really good.

Paste: Outside of something curated, like what you’re doing, how do people find it? Talk about sifting through chaff, this takes me back to the old argument that horror fans make the best movie fans: They watch a lot of bad movies, so they know how to appreciate the good ones when they discover them.

Oswalt: Hey, there’re Facebook groups, Instagram threads, Twitter; it is easy to get the word out about something really amazing.

Paste: But it really comes down to watching it, too, and with so much content out there, you could watch so many movies but never find the ones you need to watch. Streaming is a net benefit, but it also feels like a curse in a way.

Oswalt: Yeah, although to me, I think that what you need to be watching is what you end up finding to watch. If you’re constantly searching for what to watch, then you’re not letting movies do what they should be doing to you, which is inspiring you to think about life differently or live differently and stuff like that. Movies should be a compliment to life rather than they should be life.

Paste: With that in mind, what movies, apart from these six, would you recommend as a compliment to life as we know it under the hellscape—let’s call it that, generously, that we’re in right now.

Oswalt: Well, there’s a new movie out, The Deeper You Dig, which is on Arrow’s streaming service. It’s a super low budget movie by this group called the Adams family—not the TV show—but it’s brilliant. Then there’s this other movie on Amazon Prime right now called The Vast of Night, also a young filmmaker, no budget, gorgeous. Stuff like that, it’s out there.

Paste: I’m so glad you brought up The Deeper You Dig. That movie got slept on, and it’s so good. And you disproved my earlier assertion that these low budget, no budget movies don’t exist anymore, because that’s a perfect example.

Oswalt: Yeah, exactly! I mean, I just hope that we’re always going to get to see films like that, where you feel like you’re watching the beginning of a new filmmaker’s career. That I love.

Bostonian culture journalist Andy Crump covers the movies, beer, music, and being a dad for way too many outlets, perhaps even yours. He has contributed to Paste since 2013. You can follow him on Twitter and find his collected work at his personal blog. He’s composed of roughly 65% craft beer.

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