We have always loved that elusive line that's oh-so-thin between a 'good' and 'bad' movie.
It’s this notion that brought us (Alyssa Bonanno & Bec Hac) to conclude that the general consensus on what's 'good' and 'bad' is, well, pretty shit. Lucky for us, Letterboxd is brimming with freaks who share our crooked sense of morality when it comes to cinema, so we reckon most of you will dig this.
We believe in this notion so heavily that we are starting a podcast (cue collective groans). Here, we're delving into the best and worst of the cinematic world. Every week, we pick apart two movies linked by subject, genre, or theme, challenging those labels of 'good' and 'bad,' and wondering if the public's perception is just misinformed or totally jaded.
This journey has led us to discover some accidental gems (if you haven’t seen Psychomania, you're missing out, seriously). These 'bad' and 'good' movies have quirks that go beyond your run-of-the-mill genre flicks, sparking larger conversations about quality, morality, and legacy. We’re most pleased about our film pairings when they tell a broader cultural story or frame material in a fresh context…
Peep Good Movie Bad Movie's full list on Horrorville here.
PSYCHOMANIA & GHOST RIDER:
Bikers raise hell in these two entries in the leather-clad occult cinematic universe: where men trade in their souls to the devil for the ability to do cool motorcycle stunts.
Ghost Rider is an early-arrival in the Marvel industrial complex, boasting a $110,000,000 budget and a scathing critical legacy. Psychomania (aka The Death Wheelers) has the cinematography of a BBC folk horror film—one of many produced through the 60s and 70s—and enough energy to raise the dead back to life, set to an idiosyncratic droning soundtrack. Both films are haunted by themes of the youthful death-drive for power, and the suicidal will to defy death.
Peek closer at Ghost Rider—past the outdated SFX and tumorous romantic subplot, where Cage and Eva Longoria stare, gaping, at each other with the chemistry of a black hole.
You’ll find the narrative of a conflicted and broken man who traded away his soul in the fruitless hope that he can save his dying father. Mephistopheles approaches Johnny Blaze and determines that likes how he rides, and imbues him with immortality with the promise that he will eventually come to collect his end of the bargain.
Twenty years pass, and deathless Johnny Blaze has made his name as a stuntman with rock-star fame. But his fortunes are shallow; he is haunted by his contract to be the devil’s bounty hunter, cursed to rev his flaming hog in the pursuit of wayward souls to drag back to hell. This compelling core narrative is stunted at every turn by needless subplots, hokey dialogue, and a punishing runtime of nearly two hours.
Psychomania’s protagonist, the motorbike gang leader Tom (sadly lacking flaming Harleys) is similarly stillborn as Johnny Blaze, craving an inheritance of power his psychic mother (played by Beryl Reid) and mysterious butler (George Saunders in his final role) keep locked away in their sprawling, 70s-sex-club-themed mansion (dig the shag conversation pit). He learns his own mother traded his infant soul to the devil in return for—can you guess?—powers to see beyond the line of life and death.
But their dark god is no Satan; misty shots of Stonehenge-like monoliths and no mention of a heaven or hell imply that the supernatural in Psychomania is not Christian, but Pagan. Tom learns of this power and uses it to become immortal, beckoning his gang to follow him in undeath.
Contrasting these films, beyond their shared themes of motor-driven immortality, you’re struck by how bloated Ghost Rider feels, despite its immense budget, SFX, and star power (that last one is up for debate after seeing Cage mumble his way through the starring role).
Psychomania, riding through on a shoestring budget with motorbikes that constantly broke down on set, feels idiosyncratic, energetic, and even profound, fifty years after its creation. Don’t make a deal with the Devil, kids: the house always wins.
The late 90s heralded a new era of meta horror, where victims and masked murderers were keenly aware of slasher tropes, and commented on them with snappy dialogue. Slasher casts were, finally, not paper cutouts of archetypes waiting to be stabbed, but characterized with careful attention and emotional subtleties. Wes Craven’s Scream (1996) is credited for kicking off this phase of horror, and had its share of knockoffs, including Jamie Blanks’s Urban Legend (1998).
Scream 2 (1997) went into production before its predecessor left theaters. We catch up with the sole survivors of the Woodsboro massacre, whose lives are being sensationalized through book deals, Barbara Walters interviews, and even a slasher film, Stab. Someone has taken their love of Ghostface too far, and dons the mask to terrorize Sidney and Randy’s college campus. While we are treated to some shocking kills, a somber tone haunts the film: the survivors are unable to move beyond the tragedy of the Ghostface murders. Everywhere they turn, they are faced with predatory journalists and peers itching to use their notoriety as a kind of social collateral. It preceded the modern cultural phenomenon of true crime as a spectacle that we salivate over through Netflix specials and podcasts, and commented on the contemporaneous obsession with violence in the media.
Urban Legend jumped on the wave of blood and is generally regarded as a boneless ripoff of Scream. Its central theme—a serial killer who copies urban legends—leads to plenty of creative kills, from the infamous “murderer in the backseat” to microwaving a dog (eek). Sexy young leads (Alicia Witt, Jared Leto, Rebecca Gayheart, and Tara Reid) try out their most egregious Scream impressions as they face down an extremely efficient killer in a parka. The dialogue ranges from utilitarian to cringe-inducing and mean-spirited; the film lacks the emotional depth and relationships of the Scream series and some of its better knock-offs. But it’s stylish, creative, and most importantly, fun. Its paper-thin characters, romping pace, and inventive but relatively non-violent deaths owes more to slashers of old, like Slumber Party Massacre (1982) and Sleepaway Camp (1983).
Where do I stop and you begin? Something strange happens when you get two women alone in a room together.
Facing off one of the monumental creations of cinema with a forgotten 90s sexy mental illness thriller (sorry, psychosexual) may seem ill-advised, and it is. In our defense, both films explore the territory of erotic, even incestuous obsession that rises out of intense female bonds.
Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullman regarded Persona’s infamous shot of their faces merged together with confusion and, in fact, did not recognize themselves in the image; Andersson thought the face was Ullman’s, and vice-versa. Bergman chose the actresses because of their resemblance to each other (and his attraction to both). Andersson has stated that Bergman knew she and Ullman were close friends, and used Persona as the vehicle to get “inside” of their relationship. Persona has been rightfully regarded as a masterpiece since its premiere in 1966, and remains one of the most celebrated and analyzed films of all time.
Single White Female enters this charged territory with less hang-ups, but it makes use of the eerie similarity between its leads, Bridget Fonda and Jennifer Jason Leigh, playing the roommates Allie and Hedra. The early focus on their genuine, loving friendship feels more fitting for a melodrama than the slasher it eventually descends into, as Hedra plots to take Allie’s clothes, her hairstyle, her boyfriend, and eventually her entire identity. Our characters live rich, complex lives; the uneasy boundary of cohabitation getting steadily violated means that the film’s horror comes from an emotional and psychic invasion, not just a violent, physical one.
Horrible parents, underage youths seeking justice, a girl getting pulled into a television set as our villain proudly gloats, "Welcome to prime time, bitch." In the realm of horror threequels, Halloween 3: Season of the Witch and Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors both diverge from their respective franchises' established norms, presenting audiences with unconventional narratives that break away from the familiar tropes.
Halloween 3 ventures into a techno-occult plot, deviating from Michael Myers' slashing spree to explore a dark conspiracy involving Silver Shamrock masks and sacrificial rituals. Our hero is (apparently?) a drunken surgeon who embarks on a journey to discover who killed the father of his new lover. There are explosions, three different head-centric deaths, and robots in suits. It’s a hard movie to hate, but the critics seemed to anyway.
Nightmare on Elm Street 3 injects new life into Freddy Krueger's dream-infested world, introducing the concept of Dream Warriors, individuals with unique dream abilities fighting against the iconic villain. Our heroes are a group of kids led by the hero from the first film, Nancy, as she teaches them how to leverage their own power inside the dreamscape. There are also more alcoholic dads in this film, a battle with a skeleton, and a ghostly nun.
Both films showcase a willingness to innovate within their franchises, with Halloween 3 embracing technological horror and ancient rituals, and Nightmare on Elm Street 3 expanding the Elm Street mythology through imaginative storytelling and the enduring presence of Freddy Krueger—in the most bizarre way possible.
Bec and Alyssa have been creative partners for nearly a decade, harkening back to their days at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Their collaboration has earned them glittering awards like Clios, Cannes Lions, Webbys, and Youtube nods through Better Half Creative, nestled right in the heart of Soho.
Together, Bonanno and Hac have conjured up successful campaigns for major platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Paramount, Spotify, and Match Group. The idea for the podcast emerged from their shared cinematic psychosis, realizing that their manic film rants in the office needed a bigger audience (or just a more appropriate container). Thus, "Good Movie Bad Movie" was born, a space to share their passion for cinema with the world.