Friday, October 09, 2015

What is the Misery Mill?

Well, the short version is I watch randomly-selected movies from the Mill Creek Chilling, Drive-In, Pure Terror, and Sci-Fi Invasion 50-movie packs as well as from the 200-movie Drive-In Cult Cinema Classic Pack and post short essays about 2 of them every Friday evening, uploading those that are in the public domain to the Internet Archive (or linking to them when already available).

The longer version is this comes out of my experience growing up watching Captain USA, USA Up All Night, and, while I lived in Cleveland, Big Chuck and Little John. There was a unique joy to bad film, to seeing it on TV, to stumbling across it, and I wanted to share that experience. Specifically, I wanted to put together my own horror host show.

To do that, I'd need movies to broadcast. I knew about the Internet Archive and that the Half-Price Books near me sold Mill Creek 50 Movie megapacks for next to nothing. So, when I got a 50% off coupon for the store, I'd buy one of the box sets and start combing through the discs to see what was PD and not currently on the archive.

That was the root of the PD Project—the desire to make my own horror host show and to make sure the raw materials I'd be working with were available to others. As I was gathering my materials and making my plans, though, The It's Alive Show, a horror host show, premiered on a local independent station in Pittsburgh--the city I was living in at the time. I thought, I don't need to do this anymore, it's covered.

I still had the movies, though, and the PD Project became a means for me to force myself to watch all these movies and to feel like I had something to work on while waiting to be accepted into, and then actually head off to, grad school. I managed to make it through the first two box sets—the Horror and Sci-Fi collections—and intended to continue through the Chilling and Drive-In sets. Two things happened to delay that process.

One is that life got in the way. I moved to Philly, started grad school, and then became a teacher. There wasn't really time to sit and watch these movies like there had been when I was unemployed and living in my dad's basement.

The other is that this was the PD Project, the Public Domain Project. Many, if not most, of the movies on those two sets weren't PD at all. The effort would produce very different results, so what was the purpose then?

I tried several times to sit down and start watching the movies, but they never quite grabbed me (I joked to my bad movie friends that “Chilling” was so-named because “Boring” wouldn't sell). I ended up buying the Pure Terror and Sci-Fi Invasion sets and receiving the massive 200-movie Drive-In Cult Cinema Classics set giving me a total of 400 movies that I hadn't watched just sitting on my bookshelf. I was also, once again, toying with the idea of doing a horror host show, this time in Philly where, at the time, there wasn't one. Part of that plan involved doing riffs of films from the box sets that weren't PD and either selling them on Rifftrax or posting them as a podcast. Also, I've been really enjoying the We Hate Movies and The Flophouse podcasts and wanted to do something similar. I decided it was finally time to settle in and start working through these movies.

The process: I've put all 500 movies (including the Sci-Fi and Horror which I won't be re-watching) into a spreadsheet sorted by title. Whenever I want to watch one, I roll a 100-sided die and watch the corresponding movie (watched movies are removed from the list). If I went through them systematically—movie 1 of disc 1 side 1 of the Chilling set, movie 2 of . . . —I would get beaten down by the weight of it. Each movie wouldn't be a step closer to having watched everything, let alone be able to stand alone, it'd just be a drop in the bucket of this task I'd set myself. I needed to hide my progress from myself. Also, if I didn't make it random in some way, I'd just stop watching the movies. There are a few that look neat, but once I'd shrugged my way through those there'd be little desire to watch the others, including the ones that turn out to be real gems.

While watching the movies, I'm also knitting. Because the movies are bad. No, really, they're pretty bad. There's real entertainment to be had from the hallucinogenicly bad The Creeping Terror, but that's a rare bird. More often are the perfunctory pieces like The Beach Girls or films that take a hard right into the realm of “how did you think this was okay?!” like Cavegirl. To stay awake and to feel like I'm getting something done, I knit while I watch. It helps alleviate the pain.

And the films are painful. They're inspirational in the amateur filmmaker sense—you can watch them and honestly say, “I can do better than this,” and then make something better—but most of them are just boring. Since most of them aren't PD, it seemed inappropriate or at least unduly hopeful to continue calling this the PD Project. Instead, since they all come from Mill Creek box sets, I give you the Misery Mill.

For this project, I'll only post about 2 movies once a week, generally with a short essay about each film as opposed to a summary blurb. I think there's something special about badfilm, or paracinema as Jeffrey Sconce would say, something of the cultural subconscious seeping out. Generally speaking, these films weren't made with the political/ideological determination of, say, a Billy Jack. Rather, they were done to either make a quick buck or for the sake of making a movie. In both cases, if the producers thought about it at all, their films reflect an ethos of “this is what people like and this is how people think” which is a sentiment that changes over time.

So that's the plan. Every Friday at 6 PM ET I'll post short pieces on two films including links to the archive.org pages of the movies when available. I will also still be adding to the archive when I can, but there are 400 movies here, it'll take some time. Plus I'll include status updates about my knitting because, hey, we all know that's what you really came here for.

With 400 movies and posting about 2 every week, this should all be done by . . . August 2019. Oh God, this is my life now.

Welcome to the Misery Mill!

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