The Asylum: Where Have All the Good “Bad” Movies Gone?

Movies Features

When most of us think about “bad movies” in 2013, the images that swim to the forefront of our minds are roughly the same. We see giant—even mega—sharks, crocodiles and snakes, blatant image and property theft of current Hollywood blockbusters and starring roles in the hands of washed-up former TV and music stars. Those elements are to most Americans the calling cards of modern schlocky film, and it’s all because of The Asylum.

I would use “schlocky cinema” as a descriptor, but that wouldn’t really be accurate. You’re never likely to see a movie from American film studio/distributor The Asylum in an actual cinema. They are the preeminent makers of low-budget genre fare, which they produce with a very specific medium in mind—your television screen. Whether you’re seeing their films on TV or via DVD/streaming, that’s how these movies are meant to be consumed, if only because the special effects would be even more galling on the big screen.

To someone who is actually passionate about “bad movies” as an ideal, The Asylum is a curious case. They dominate the landscape of cheap genre movies and “mockbuster” film parodies, but their work invariably lacks in genuine innovation or “interesting” badness. In fact, most of these films manage to take an outrageous premise and transform it into the most bland and sterile possible result. In doing so, the company has built itself into something unique, a sort of Wal-Mart of terrible, passionless movies that aren’t even enjoyable as a joke.

It really is a lack of passion that is one of the chief issues. The “best” bad movies are usually made by somewhat unhinged but intensely passionate and self-confidant auteur filmmakers. The Room, 2003’s cult classic melodrama, will always be the perfect example of this case. Its creator, Tommy Wiseau, carried that entire project on his back to both its great detriment and ultimately great (if unconventional) success. To look at the film is to gaze directly into the wounded soul of its creator; the world’s most transparent, clumsy but sincere ode to a broken heart.

The Asylum has never made a film like that, and they likely never will. Instead, their product revolves almost exclusively around action, fantasy and horror movie concepts that are far, far too ambitious for their meager resources and talent. It’s a direct result of their business model to craft the so-called “mockbuster” releases that emulate specific Hollywood films in wide release. They spend their micro-budgets on cut-rate, Bizarro World versions of a blockbuster like Thor so they can release Almighty Thor the same weekend via the SyFy Channel, rather than take a chance on more novel concepts.

All of this probably sounds promising as entertaining bad movie fodder goes, but it has the additional effect of making most movies from The Asylum virtually indistinguishable from one another. This is particularly true of the creature features—movies like Mega Piranha or Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus—that are so similar, you could probably insert 10 minutes of one into the middle of the other without anyone noticing.

The other common thread is the complete reliance on bargain basement CGI, motivated out of clear necessity. It simply isn’t possible to make a large scale disaster film like Megafault (yes, another “mega”) on a shoestring budget with practical effects. Thus, shoddy, 1990s-quality CGI is the standard. This in turn further exposes the weakness of Asylum casting, as their typical actors would have a difficult enough time reacting to physical props, much less an empty patch of air that will be “filled in with a big crocodile in post, don’t worry.”

All these factors, combined with fast production schedules and an assembly-line mentality, make movies from The Asylum the cinematic equivalent of a frozen TV dinner—almost appealing-looking on the box, but mostly inedible in practice.

It’s a sad state of affairs when even an advocate of bad movies doesn’t have the heart to recommend watching one from the preeminent bad movie maker in the country.

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