In the horror community, many people mention "Cannibal Holocaust" as the most shocking film they have seen. Well, I have seen it and, in my experience, it's not the most shocking. It's gross and certainly not kind to animals, but to me it lacks the power of Andy Warhol's Bad.
Bad is an interesting movie, to say the least. It is, in many ways, a piece of shock cinema that stands the test of time. Surprisingly, the shock doesn't come with much schlock. It manages to be a comedy, yet is seldom funny in a conventional sense.
It has dark humor, sure, but its main strength is the absurd blending of violence and the mundane.
But is it really that absurd? The main character, Hazel Aiken (Carroll Baker), runs a beauty salon, while managing a black market murder for hire business on the side. It is all based out of her home, too. That is strange, yet it sounds like it was ripped straight out of a headline somewhere.
Bad hits upon a well-known concept -- evil hiding behind a normal facade --, but manages to somehow not be preachy. Nor does it apologize much for the world it depicts. There is a matter-of-fact, almost documentary style to it all. The characters each have multiple dimensions, but have compartmentalized personalities. That trait is often noted of sociopaths and psychopaths, but Bad suggests that it applies to people in general. Now that is real horror, and possibly real life.
Also, no person, place or thing is sacred in Bad. Hazel's hit-women are willing to kill animals and children -- if the price is right. Now, why does that sound familiar? It makes me think of the job market in general. People often do work they don't necessarily like, but do it because they're paid, and at least minimally qualified for it.
I became engaged in the movie. As if blending into the story line, I thought, "Well, why not include children and animals as possible targets? That's not much worse than killing an adult human being. Why be ageist?" So, strangely enough, my own thoughts and feelings started blending into this crazy movie. And I can tell you, that doesn't happen with everything I see.
As Carroll Baker put it: "The subject is totally unique. These characters are normal, sweet looking people who are monsters without knowing they are monsters. It's an attack on middle class morality. These people have no conscience whatsoever."
A great example of this? At one point, Hazel says "I won't have that kind of toilet talk in my kitchen." In other words, Hazel can run a murder-for-hire business out of her kitchen, but can't stand a little salty talk? This moment indeed reminds me of someone I know, who shall remain unnamed
Basically, Bad makes me think of the awful things people support when it's not happening directly to them, to or anyone else they care about. For example, it's easier to yawn at a distant war, because the bombs aren't dropping on your house. If you think about it, that's not a far cry from one of Bad's characters -- a pyromaniac who sees her all-consuming fetish as perfectly normal, and all but yawns at it even when it nearly kills her.
How far can our casual acceptance of destructive behavior go? To what degree should we be selective in our care for others? How casually should we dismiss other people? If we don't care about others, they are less likely to care for us.
Still, it seems the joke is on us, even if we're prepared to face these questions. There is no definitive answer, because bad things and bad people will dismantle any answer. So, I'll just say that Bad is a movie that stayed with me, made me think. It wasn't quite over even when it ended. Bad is so bad that it's good.