‘Oh my God, what is this?’: Bad Movie nights make a comeback at Ottawa Public Library

Estimated read time 6 min read

It’s not unusual to hear talking, joking, and laughing during the free movie screenings.

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There are plenty of reasons to like a bad movie, including its unintentional humour and its cheesiness. But one thing that can make a bad movie really good, says Steve Tennant, is how earnest it is.

Tennant is practically an expert in bad movies. He’s one of the organizers of Ottawa Bad Movie Nights, a group that is nearly a decade old and making a post-pandemic comeback. Together with the Ottawa Public Library, the group hosts monthly showings of some of the worst-best movies ever made.

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Among past showings include The Room, an infamous film about a love triangle that’s been repeatedly named the worst movie ever made.

“We laugh at somebody who just tries too hard. You’re like, ‘Oh my God, what is this?’,” Tennant said. “It’s so obvious that (the director) wanted this thing to be his Citizen Kane.”

The Room also highlights another aspect of bad movies that makes them popular: how participatory they are. It’s not unusual to hear talking, joking, and laughing during a bad movie screening.

“When we go to regular theatres, you’re not really participating with the people around you. You’re a captive audience. Bad movies are more participatory. We’re all there voluntarily, being held by this crap, but we’re all together to laugh at it.”

That collective experience is what has given the main driver of Bad Movie Nights, Al Dumas, the momentum to run the events since 2014.

“I think it’s fun to set the stage and bring people together and then sit back and just watch them,” he said.

Whenever money needs to be exchanged, like to get the rights to a movie, Dumas pays for it himself. The group has occasionally done a fundraising campaign, but Dumas said he prefers to pay so that guests don’t feel uncomfortable or pressured.

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“I want people to not care about (money),” he said. “Just show up, and get into it.”

The showings often start with classic cartoons, advertisements for the concession stand that viewers would have experienced decades ago, and, as Tennant puts it, “some really choice piece of antiquated 1950s PSA.

“Just all sorts of random stuff,” Tennant said. “It kind of takes you back to yesteryear, to the movie experience where you go in for a movie and there might be a 15-minute Looney Tunes cartoon to get everybody wound down before you jump into the big production.”

Ottawa Bad Movie Night was once reaping the rewards of years of effort. It had almost 200 people come out for one of its biggest events in 2018: the showing of Samurai Cop, a 1991 direct-to-video action flick that was so bad, it attained a cult classic status that led to a 2015 sequel: Samurai Cop 2: Deadly Vengeance. (Don’t let the 93% Rotten Tomatoes score fool you, it’s bad.)

But then the pandemic hit, forcing Bad Movie Nights to go online. Returning from lockdown wasn’t the same as starting from scratch, but they had certainly lost momentum. Even after a year and half of live events returning, Dumas says people still are surprised to hear these events are still happening. The numbers have since dwindled to 20-40 moviegoers. “I guess the word hasn’t gotten out.”

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There are lots of circumstances that may be stopping past attendees from returning, Dumas says, including the fact that fewer people are commuting downtown anymore. But his impression is that Bad Movie Night has been slowly growing again.

“The last event was very well attended,” Dumas said of the 55 people who came out to watch the February showing of Disco Godfather. “It felt like old times, and I’m hoping it’s going to keep going that way, because that’s what it’s about. It’s about bringing people together and having fun.”

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