2019 BSC Cinephile Good Bad Film Festival

Do you know a good bad film when you see one?


Help compile a list of the best, most memorable, and most unforgettable bad movies of all time, then spend your Spring with the Cinephiles exploring the hidden depths of bad cinema.

To participate, please:

  1. Send the name of a bad film you really enjoy to toddmp@buffalostate.edu before March 15th. This should be a genuinely bad film by whatever standard you choose, but please do not send me Citizen Kane.

  2. Stay tuned for the next Cinephiles meeting where we will compile our master list of good bad films.

  3. If you want, volunteer to write a brief review, or record a podcast about one of the good bad films from our list.

  4. Enjoy the good bad content here all spring.

Everyone is welcome to participate. Please be sure to get your nominations to toddmp@buffalostate.edu before March 15th.

How The Godfather Changed the Gangster Genre

Ethics and The Family

Devyani Sawant


The reason the first two Godfather films (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972, 1974) are so universally beloved—heralded by academic and popular audiences alike—is because they concern the universal ambivalence of family. By extending “symbolism of the family beyond the actual progeny of Don Vito Corleone to the criminal organization of which he is the leader,” Coppola makes a significant departure from earlier fictional representations of mob violence and creates a new, more appealing mythology of crime.[1] Unlike other gangster films, like Little Caesar (Mervyn LeRoy, 1931), the Corleones of The Godfather are not portrayed as murderous Mafiosi whose only goal is to attain as much individual wealth and power as possible. Rather, everything that the Corleones do is for the health and prosperity of their family; more often than not, villains in the Godfather universe are people whose pursuit of individual gain threatens that health and prosperity. Audiences forgive the Corleones’ depraved acts—even applaud them—because they are performed in the name of family. That both plot and theme revolve around the Corleone family reinvents the gangster film by allaying the guilt of identifying with criminals and permitting audiences to freely admit their love for the mobsters at the genre’s core.

Furthermore, The Godfather I and II reinvented family for the world. The term was originally used in place of “Mafia” to avoid the negative connotations it implied about the Italian-American community. This formation of a new euphemism—using Family as a point of identification for neutral audiences—produces the grounds on which The Godfather films assumed their pop culture prominence:

In suppressing the actual meaning and substituting a neutral, even positive, word to describe what was laden with negative, cultural insinuations, the “Family” becomes central to the discourse of The Godfather and constitutes the trilogy’s most distinctive narrative convention. […] Instead of structuring the story around the rise and fall of an individual gangster within his syndicate, the overarching plot of [the film] revolves around a poignant story of filial succession: The son, Michael, accepts the domestic leadership of the “family” from his father, Vito, as much as he takes responsibility for the leadership of the “Family” as a business organization.[2]

It is important to note the distinction here between lower-case family and capital Family: one refers to blood relations while the other stands in the for the pejorative term mafia. In print, the distinction is obvious, but when spoken in a film, it becomes invisible; audiences are allowed to attach their own feelings about family to the larger Family represented in the Corleone crime syndicate. Both biological and organizational meanings of the term play significant roles in developing of characters, plot, and theme in The Godfather movies. Family is the essence from which audience sympathy for criminal characters develops.


Part I opens with Connie’s wedding—a set piece that establishes the tone for the franchise. The audience is carried from the dark interior of Vito’s office (where hard decisions are made that build and maintain community relations) into exterior shots full of motion and light (where viewers, like Vito, can enjoy the warm atmosphere of the wedding ceremony those hard decisions created). The references to Sicilian history and culture—such as the Italian musicians playing the tarantella, or Carmela singing “Che La Luna”—stress the importance of family to the Corleones. From the relative safety of the celebration, the audience is able to properly contextualize the film’s opening scene: Vito’s interview with Amerigo Bonasera. Vito performs four major actions during this meeting: (1) he denies Bonasera’s request to kill the young men who attacked Bonasera’s daughter, (2) he rebukes Bonasera for attempting to resolve his problem with the police instead of immediately coming to see him, (3) he makes Bonasera pledge his loyalty to the Corleone family, and (4) he offers to pay back the wrong done to Bonasera’s daughter by ordering his employees to hunt down her attackers and have them equally beaten. Each of these decisions connects to the scene transpiring outside; the audience understands that Vito’s dedication to his family (and his Family) is what makes the celebration possible. The contradictions between the exterior and interior; dark and light; the public and private face of the Don; the domestic “family” inclusive of women and children. and the official “Family,” an exclusively male domain; are all bridged by the film’s opening sequence.[3] The Godfather films romanticize mob violence by legitimizing it with the love Vito has for his family.



Inventing family as the means through which law-abiding viewers can suture themselves to the lives of vicious gangsters is all the more impressive because Coppola does it with an adaptation of a novel often accused of lacking emotional depth. Critics have attacked Puzo’s exposition specifically for the flatness of the characters responding to their environment:

Since [Puzo] cannot penetrate beyond the surface of his characters, he piles along their path fact after fact, to which they must react, thereby manifesting themselves. The character is thus empirically inferred piece after piece as the sum of diverse reactions. But he never manifests himself as a whole.[4]

While this is true of Puzo’s writing, Coppola’s directing takes advantage of the visual medium to represent the characters’ emotions through paralepsis. In The Godfather movies, actions speak louder than words, as characters’ physical deeds circumscribe the unrepresented depth of their interior space. Vito’s love for his family can be inferred from the way he treats them. In the flashbacks of Part II, the audience infers that he turned to a life of crime only to support his wife and son. Viewers easily interpret the meaningful miscommunications apparent in a scene of a young Vito holding Michael in his lap and saying, in Italian, “Michael, your father loves you very much.” The language barrier between English-speaking audience and Italian-speaking Vito metonymically doubles the maturity barrier between the Don and his offspring: Michael only slowly comes to realize—through Godfather I and II—the importance of the hard decisions his father makes, and how they serve to protect and enrich him as a member of the Corleone family. Additional emphasis is added when Vito kills Don Ciccio, the man who killed his mother and forced him to flee to a new country at the tender age of nine. As Vito stabs his enemy, he whispers, “My father’s name was Antonio Andolini . . . and this is for you!” Coppola has Vito use his family name for the first time since his exile, effectively “turn[ing] a brutal crime into an act of honor, thus eliciting a sympathetic response from the viewer.”[5] While the Corleones on the page may lack the necessary inner life to excite readers, Coppola’s Family elicits identification through what is unsaid (Vito’s family name during his exile) or misunderstood (Vito’s declaration of love for his son) on the screen.

The major storyline of Part I is the passage of power from Vito to Michael; it is therefore a movie primarily concerned with patrilineal inheritance. It focuses on the events that turn Michael’s from a law-abiding war veteran to the new Don of the Corleone family. The narrative constantly stresses family as the motivating factor in Michael’s decision to revoke his stated intention to avoid the Family business. He first gets embroiled in the world of the Five Families of New York when Sollozzo and the Tattaglias attempt to kill his father Vito—twice. His love for his father (an unspoken echo of Vito’s Italian declaration of love for his son) propels Michael to volunteer for the task of assassinating Sollozzo, and thus begins his journey on the dark path that eventually leads to his destruction. Michael’s loss of innocence is unmistakable as he shoots Sollozzo in the head. The entire assassination scene is accompanied by non-diegetic noise that sounds initially somewhere between an industrial fan and wind through tree branches. Coppola intensifies the noise twice, in moments where Michael hesitates in his murderous task. The first occurs in the bathroom, as the sound clarifies enough to determine it is undoubtedly something mechanical. The second occurs in the moment immediately before he pulls his gun and kills his dinner partners—this time the noise is unmistakable: it is the sound of a subway car screeching on the tracks. Michael is clearly speeding away from his life as a sweet American hero, and into his life as the future Don of the Corleones. He too has made tough decisions that sacrifice his status as an innocent citizen in favor of his family’s health and wellbeing.


It isn’t until The Godfather Part II that the audience knows for sure just how ruthless Michael has become in his quest to make the Family prosperous. The opening scene emulates the wedding sequence from the first film with important changes; Anthony’s First Communion lacks the warmth and coziness of Connie’s wedding. The celebration in Lake Tahoe is devoid of family members having fun on the dance floor, and Italian musicians playing the tarantella are nowhere to be found. There is no sign of Johnny Fontane, and no Carmela singing “Che La Luna.” Instead showgirls entertain the guests, and a choir group performs as a “special gift” from Senator Pat Geary, who manages to mispronounce the Corleone name within ten seconds of the character’s introduction. The lack of Sicilian history and culture, so apparent in the first movie, signifies the degeneration of the Corleone Family. Michael is portrayed as a paranoid man whose drive to protect his family has caused him to forget what that family means: he disowns Connie in the film’s first ten minutes (she screams “you’re not my father!” to foreshadow that Michael is not as good a Don as Vito was). [6] The story arc that drives home how Michael’s hunger for power has ruined the family loyalty Vito spent decades building is Fredo’s betrayal. Michael loses all audience sympathy and emerges as a villain when he orders Fredo’s murder—an action impossible to imagine Don Vito taking. His relationship with Kay and his children also suffers through the course of Part II. Michael’s failure to keep his promise of making the family business legitimate prompts Kay to have an abortion—a grim legacy to the declaration of love made by Michael’s father when he was young.


However, it is not Michael’s crimes that cause him to lose audience support, but rather that his crimes no longer serve the greater good of the Corleones. The viewer who supports Michael’s murder of Sollozzo and rejects his murder of Fredo experiences no whiplash because s/he is sutured through the film’s central theme of family. The passionate loyalty of mobsters to their own blood remains the trilogy’s most unique and memorable convention.[7] Vito Corleone embodies this loyalty in both Part I and Part II. And by the end of Part I the audience is made to think that Michael is the next Vito. The second film disparages this notion; while Vito was the epitome of the Italian-American Mafioso, Michael was the cautionary tale insisting that only a true dedication to family can forgive the sins inherent to organized crime. In his decision to uphold the empire that Vito built at the expense of his blood relations, Michael lost sight of what made Vito such an effective and beloved Don.

The Godfather films thus define both sympathetic anti-hero and self-destructive villain through analysis of a character’s motivating desire. The audience supported Michael only so long as his actions were for the sake of his family. The minute he lost sight of that and steered away from his Sicilian roots, Michael paved the path for a self-destruction the audience finds just. The Godfather I and II establish a popular ethics beyond common calls for legality and universal nonviolence that continues to entice media consumers to this day.


[1] John G. Cawaleti. “The New Mythology of Crime.” (Boundary 2.3, 1975) 328.

[2] Phoebe Poon. "The Corleone Chronicles: Revisiting The Godfather Films as Trilogy."

(Journal of Popular Film and Television 33.4, 2006) 189-90.

[3] William Simon. “An Analysis of the Structure of The Godfather, Part One.” (Studies in the

Literary Imagination 16.1, 1983) 78.

[4] Giovanni Sinicropi. “The Saga of the Corleones: Puzo, Coppola and ‘The Godfather’: —

An Interpretive Essay —.” (Italian Americana, vol. 2, no. 1, 1975) 84.

[5] Poon 193.

[6] Todd Berliner. "The Pleasures of Disappointment: Sequels and the Godfather, Part II."

(Journal of Film and Video, vol. 53, no. 2/3, 2001) 113.

[7] Poon 191.

What is Real Horror?

Genre and Ari Aster’s Hereditary

By Dante Simoncelli


Near the end of Jason Zinoman’s 2011 book Shock Value—dedicated to the horror directors of new Hollywood—he describes pitching a movie to a producer who, although Zinoman chooses not to name him, produced some of the highest grossing horror movies in history.[1] The movie he pitches is about a career woman who starts out with a typical bourgeois American life and proceeds to lose everything: her husband, her job, and finally her pregnancy. She in turn retreats to an old, spooky house and waits alone for her baby to be stillborn. While there many uncanny things begin to happen, leaving the audience to determine whether what they see on the screen is supernatural or just the heroine’s delusion. Pitched as a 70’s throwback, comparing the protagonist to Mia Farrow’s character in Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby, Zinoman reports the big-shot producer was unreceptive to his film, with his biggest complaint being that the miscarriage plot was too unpleasant for audiences. Readers of Shock Value are left to wonder how the horror genre managed such a revolutionary change between the innovative films of the ‘60s and ‘70s and the conservative films of the later twentieth century.


In a 2017 article for The Guardian, Steve Rose tries to introduce another radical split in the history of the horror genre by proposing a new term: post-horror.[2] For Rose, post-horror is a sub-genre in which serious, artful themes unafraid of tricky contemporary political issues thrive. He uses Jordan Peele’s Get Out, Trey Edward Shult’s It Comes at Night, and David Lowery’s A Ghost Story as examples. This distinguishes post-horror from a “traditional horror framework” too rigid to admit films with higher artistic aspirations than, say, the Paranormal Activity series. Rose’s article was met with derision from many horror fans. An unsigned article summed up the backlash nicely; under the title “Sorry, but ‘Post-horror’ is just another unnecessary elitist label,” the author claims Rose tried to create a new term so filmgoers who traditionally looked down on horror as a lowbrow genre could enjoy the post-horror films mentioned in the Guardian article without risking their highbrow cineaste credentials.[3] Further combatting Rose’s arguments, the anonymous author goes on to describe how horror has always developed serious themes addressing political and philosophical topics, citing films such as John Carpenter’s The Thing, Adrian Lyne’s Jacob’s Ladder, and George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. In particular, the article criticizes Rose for saying mainstream audiences don’t react well to post-horror films, countering that even a “traditional horror framework” has historically proven to be too evolved for its contemporary audience; Carpenter’s The Thing was released in 1982 to critical and box office failure, but is now considered a major classic in the horror genre.


It is in the context of these two contested “breaks” in the history of the horror genre (first, the break between adventurous and conservative instincts in the twentieth century, and second the break between traditional and “post-horror” in the twenty-first), that Ari Aster’s 2018 film Hereditary can be properly examined. Aster’s first feature-length movie, Hereditary is filled with the supposedly highbrow themes of family, loss, mental illness, and abuse. Moreover, it stylistically wears its history on its sleeve, openly invoking past horror classics like Rosemary’s Baby and Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist without making knowledge of those films a shibboleth for enjoying the present one. In short, Hereditary demonstrates that if contemporary horror films are carving a new path it is not one that parts with the traditional framework of the genre, but rather one that returns to the innovative roots of its nascent decades.

Hereditary follows the family of the Grahams in the aftermath of the natural death of their maternal grandmother, Ellen. Ashley Graham (Toni Collette)—the matriarch of the Graham clan and main focus of the film—is an artist who creates miniatures. The rest of the Grahams include her husband, Steve (Gabriel Byrne) who is a psychiatrist, 16-year-old Peter (Alex Wolff), and her strange 13-year-old daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro). Ashley has mixed feelings about her mother’s death and decides to go to a support group to aid in her grieving. There she reveals a history of mental illness in her family, detailing how her father died when she was very young and her brother committed suicide when he was a teenager. With admirable attention to pacing, the movie slowly insinuates Ellen as the cause of these past tragedies due to severe mental/emotional abuse—we further learn Ashley didn’t talk to her mother after the birth of Peter, but reconnected when Charlie was born. Here the supernatural emerges in Ashley’s life; she sees Ellen’s apparition in a shadow and discovers Ellen’s grave has been desecrated.


But supernatural events are a kind of red herring—a sleight-of-hand trick where the magician shows you a ghost with her right hand while the left clutches a knife. Hereditary—like the great horror films of the past and the contemporary films that exemplify the genre’s renaissance—makes you afraid not of what is foreign, but instead of what is already inside your house. For this reason the most harrowing sequence of the film would feel right at home in a realist drama. [SPOILERS] When Peter is forced into bringing Charlie to a party after lying by claiming it was a school-sponsored barbeque, Charlie accidentally eats a cake containing nuts to which she is deathly allergic. Peter, high from smoking weed, drives his sister to the hospital in a desperate panic as she violently chokes; anxiety builds as the rapid ticking of the soundtrack accompanies shots of Peter’s headlights on an empty road. With a series of quick cuts, Aster expertly implies the simultaneity of two fateful events: Charlie rolls down her window and leans out in search of air as Peter swerves around a dear carcass in the middle of the road. After Charlie is decapitated by an electrical pole, Aster leaves us with an extreme long shot of the car at a dead halt idling on the highway, its silhouette barely visible in the gloaming. [END SPOILERS] This image, and its real threat to any family, will haunt the audience through the rest of the film more than any spook or specter.


Hereditary therefore blends the best supernatural elements of horror with the inherent terror native to a typical American family trauma. To say the film evokes horror classics like Rosemary’s Baby ignores the great debt it owes to more serious dramatic fare like Robert Redford’s Best-Picture winning Ordinary People, with a general plot of a middle class family breaking apart after the death of a child. Ordinary People shares a lead actor with another horror film about the loss of a child: Donald Sutherland plays the male lead in Nicholas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now, a film about a couple who travel to Venice to repair their marriage after the death of their daughter only for the mother to suspect that her dead daughter is trying to contact them. Likewise, although Toni Collette got her start in M. Night. Shyamalan’s supernatural thriller The Sixth Sense, Aster obviously capitalizes on the audience’s memory of her as the mother in Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris’s feel-good family drama Little Miss Sunshine (Milly Shapiro is even costumed at certain times in ways reminiscent of Abigail Breslin’s portrayal of Olive in that film). These cross-genre references do not mark a new turn in Horror, but rather serve as a connecting thread from Horror’s first moments to its resurgence today.


Hereditary will undoubtedly be remembered as one of the best horror films of the decade due its striking cinematography and Aster’s powerful juxtaposition of close-ups and unmotivated long shots. But it should further be celebrated for its underlying argument about the horror genre as a whole: that it finds its strength in a blend of real and supernatural terror, just as it has since its emergence in American pop culture in the middle of the twentieth century. Finally, Hereditary obviates post-horror as a descriptive term: we don’t know what will exist after horror because the best horror films of the present are of a kind with the films their directors grew up admiring.



[1] Jason Zinoman. Shock Value: How a Few Eccentric Outsiders Gave Us Nightmares, Conquered Hollywood, and Invented Modern Horror. New York: Penguin, 2011.

[2] Steve Rose. “How Post-Horror Movies are Taking Over Cinema.” The Guardian. 6 July 2017. Web

[3] “Sorry, but ‘Post-horror’ is just another unnecessary elitist label.” Cybercraft Video Productions. 2017. Web.