By Ethan Stanislawski

Every Sunday night at 10 p.m., various residents of Snell-Hitchcock residence hall gather in their recreation room to watch a bad movie—ranging from Hollywood failures, classic American B movies and international movies that simply defy explanation.

A crowd of roughly 20 people came one recent Sunday to see The Warriors, the cult classic B movie from 1979. They came to bury the film, not praise it. No aspect of the film was safe. Everything from the acting to costumes to editing was routinely mocked. Among the chief sources of amusement were the appearance of the “baseball gang” in a central plot point, multiple unnecessarily long takes and the numerous deus ex machinas that appear throughout the film.

“Thanks for wasting an hour and forty minutes of my life!” says first-year student Mandy Stafford after the film was over.

On a typical bad movie night, the crowd ranges from 20 to 30 students. Throughout the years, the many failed attempts to start a good movie night in Snell-Hitchcock were lucky to draw a crowd of five students. “People’s tastes are more uniform when it comes to bad movies,” says fourth-year student Margot Spellman, current “bad movie czarina.”

It’s easier for everyone to agree that a bad movie is bad than for everyone to agree that any given good movie is good,” she says.

Origins of Bad Movie Night

Yet the fortunes of good movies in the dorm were not always the same. While watching bad movies has been an element of life in Snell-Hitchcock at least since the early 1990s, the modern form of the event did not begin until the earlier part of this decade, when Christian Kammerer, AB’03, inherited the movie night from Mike Spence, AB’02. Spence had usually shown classic golden age Hollywood films.

When Kammerer took over, he “simply announced at the last house meeting of the year that I was seizing power over Sunday nights and bending them to my own twisted will. Which meant good-bye Bringing Up Baby, hello Spider Baby,” he says.

The event gained unprecedented popularity, which Kammerer, now a PhD candidate in Evolutionary Biology, attributes to its ability to give “perpetually stressed Chicago students a place to vent. There’s undeniably a sense of schadenfreude to it all.”

Comaraderie in Bad Movies

Spellman agrees: “The camaraderie of the group is the most important element of Bad Movie Night.” Both find the commentary of the group as essential or even more so than the movies themselves.

In an ideal bad movie, Kammerer reasons, “laughably bad effects” and “insane dialogue” are both essential. And a crucial element is the director’s absolute sincerity. “There are few things worse than a bad movie that knows it’s bad, trying to yuk it up for the camera and nudge nudge wink winking every moment.”

When asked about the worst movie he’s ever seen, Kammerer replies, “Hands down, Space Zombie Bingo. Old friends of mine from the dorm still shudder at the mere mention of the ‘alien lactation scene.’ I showed it only because my audience had grown cocky and claimed they could handle anything I had to throw at them.”

Originally published on June 9, 2008.