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June 6-12, 2007

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Cult Leader

Buggin': The problem with movies that witness madness

By Steve Palopoli

I HAVE NO no idea why I thought I had to see Bug. I don't like William Friedkin movies. I don't even like William Friedkin. Did you read Easy Riders, Raging Bulls? The guy is possibly Hollywood's most famous asshole. And c'mon, The Exorcist? Really? Great effects, yes, and Linda Blair was cool as hell as a child actor, but here's the question a real movie fan needs to ask him or herself: If you truly love nonconformist movies from that era—the experimentalism, the gritty realism, the complex characterizations—how can you like The Exorcist? It was a deliberate rejection of everything that was good about movies from that time—not to mention a desperate attempt to preserve God-fearing, sexually repressed conformity—and to me it's enjoyable only as pure camp somewhere between Reefer Madness and the Amityville Horror. Which is to say, not so much.

And I hate movies about people going nuts. Not because they're bad, but because if they're even marginally effective they totally freak me out. Other things like monsters and ghosts and all that can be scary, too, but they're generally fun, or at least provide some kind of rush. Mental illness is just grueling and sad. Except for supervillains and mad scientists, of course, but I think you know what I mean. Oh, and you know what else I hate? Ashley Judd's acting. Seriously, I saw Double Jeopardy eight years ago and decided that was it for me and Ashley. And don't even get me started about Harry Connick Jr.

So it's very possible I'm the last person in the world who should have gone to see Bug, Friedkin's adaptation of Tracy Letts' play about a crazy Army vet who drags a down-on-her-luck waitress into his paranoia in a motel room. It definitely got to me—not as much as say, Charles Beaumont's Brain Dead, which practically gave me a panic attack—but Bug gets pretty unhinged. I can't say I enjoyed it, but it got my attention. Mainly, though, I noticed that it has cult film written all over it. Just read what people are posting about it on the web—it's a classic case. The people who don't like it tend to go straight to ridiculous hyperbole like "worst movie ever," while its defenders instantly jump to the conclusion that anyone who doesn't like it must not "get" it. Mainly, they claim naysayers went in expecting a straight horror movie and felt let down by the lack of gore.

Certainly, I think Bug had a serious marketing problem. It would be very easy to feel misled by the trailer, especially since it's misleading in every conceivable way. (And it shows the ending just to get a spectacular action shot, which is the lowest blow in the book when it comes to trailers.) It's also true that not everyone will be down with this film. For the most part, it's a filmed stage play, more likely to be appreciated by those who enjoyed David Mamet's early movies than horror fans.

Still, I read one anonymous posting that I thought provided an interesting counterpoint for not only fans of Bug but for all cult films: "I just had to post because I think it's hilariously arrogant and elitist when I see the myriad posts saying that if you didn't enjoy the movie, then you didn't 'get it.' That really is funny. I guess you've never noticed the raw number of people out there who are saying the same things about their particular little alternative movie picks ... I mean, how could anyone possibly say that if you don't enjoy a movie, you obviously don't understand it? Don't people realize movies are a matter of personal taste? It's perfectly reasonable to assume someone saw Bug (or any other movie), understood it fully, but just wasn't entertained for whatever reason."

Of course, that's easy to say when it's not your cult movie. It certainly won't convince those who are reading all kinds of deep meaning into Friedkin's latest. I'd like to argue the finer points of all this, but I really have to go put on my tin-foil hat, before the secret government agency that has been set up to make me like Ashley Judd beams anything else into my head.

Cult Leader is a weekly column about the state of cult movies and offbeat corners of pop culture. Email feedback or your most recent sighting of black helicopters here. To check out a previous edition of Cult Leader, click to the Cult Leader archive page.

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