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Have you ever seen a movie so bad that it’s amazing? That’s the question trio Paul Scheer (The League, Human Giant), June Diane Raphael (Burning Love, Grace and Frankie), and Jason Mantzoukas (also of The League and a litany of the best supporting roles in just about everything good) have set out to answer nearly 200 times since December 2010 on the consistently hilarious How Did This Get Made?, a sort of Mystery Science Theater 3000 meets At the Movies.
Released biweekly by Earwolf (co-founded by Scott Aukerman of U Talkin’ U2 to Me?), How Did This Get Made? invites a guest or guests to join the hosts as they investigate cinema’s most intriguing failures. While the personal enjoyment of some podcasts relies heavily on who drops in (such as on Pete Holmes’s You Made It Weird), the guests are secondary here, always outshined by the trifecta that is Scheer, Raphael, and Mantzoukas. Dedicated to seriously addressing the silly by riffing rather than ripping on these films, they’re able to find the inherent fun of what they’ve just watched. It’s a small but important distinction that sets How Did This Get Made? apart from other, similar podcasts, and the result is a true celebration of cinema.
The strongest HDTGM episodes rely on the hosts carefully curating their choices, often through crowdsourcing. It’s imperative that the movie was made in an earnest attempt to produce a classic but instead ended up delivering a labyrinthine mess. From standard Bad Movies™ like The Room to the ’90s nostalgia of early Angelina Jolie vehicle Hackers to blockbusters like The Twilight Saga, no episode more exemplifies this than episode 48: Sleepaway Camp (featuring Zack Pearlman of The Inbetweeners and Mulaney). The 1983 slasher turned cult film lends itself extremely well to each host’s individual comedic sensibility. Both Scheer and Mantzoukas have cited it as a favorite, and for good reason. As Mantzoukas says, “There might be no more difficult a movie in our history to unravel.”
Without spoiling major plot points, including the movie’s infamous twist ending — largely considered one of the genre’s most shocking — it’s important to note that the story hinges on an outdated and damaging view of the LBGTQ+ spectrum throughout. This goes unaddressed on HDTGM, which is surely more indicative of the six-year-old production date than the hosts’ points of view, while the remaining and inoffensively obsolete qualities of Sleepaway Camp encourage the hosts to play the roles they’ve become known for: a complementary combination of earnest, enthusiastic, and quizzical.
We’ll start with Scheer, who tends to offer the most comprehensive and review-like approach, guiding listeners as best he can through the convoluted happenings by carving out a spot in history for the film in question. Scheer explains that Sleepaway Camp actually held its own upon release (he backs it up with shocking statistics: the movie cost a little over $300,000 to make, but grossed around $11 million) despite the fact that the film has a baffling ten-minute-long baseball scene “where it looks like 8-year-olds playing [against] 30-year-olds and the 30-year-olds are so mad at these 8-year-olds.” He is also able to home in on an homage that comes almost two decades later in the satirical comedy hit Wet Hot American Summer (2001). “Wet Hot American Summer directly parodied this movie. It’s crazy. I mean, characters are dressed the same as they are in Wet Hot.” This means that many characters can be seen wearing what Scheer describes as “not even shorts. They’re just like penis holders.”
Mantzoukas is quick to respond to Scheer’s observation of the scantily clad men with the phrase “cock baskets.” And that’s fitting, because Mantzoukas is there to bring part unbridled enthusiasm, part unchecked indignance, often acting out the more animated performances and pointing out the biggest peculiarities for huge laughs. In the case of Sleepaway Camp, this results in Mantzoukas screaming the lines of a distraught water-skier, a performance that he says is “unfathomably good.” He also points out the ’80s trappings of the film, likening it to predecessors Bad News Bears (1976) and Meatballs (1979), which also focus heavily on cursing and fucking. “Kids swore like we as kids swore. That just doesn’t exist anymore,” he says, before noting how “singularly obsessed with kids getting laid” Sleepaway Camp seems to be. It’s outrageous and only the beginning.
The rest of the episode comes together with Raphael’s wild-card personality and continuous questions. Always willing to posit a theory and rework the film’s premise despite her co-hosts’ protests, she acts as a stand-in for the audience, asking some of the most common-sense questions in a quest to reveal the truth. In this episode, that requires her to ask, point blank, “That’s incest?” She’s also great at staying focused and extracting character motivation from distractingly absurd actions. For example, you can find her poking holes in the plot when she ponders, “How much money do you think the camp is bringing in every summer from these kids?” that the owner would be willing to cover up multiple murders in favor of making a profit. Of course, one of the best parts of How Did This Get Made? is that no matter how hard the hosts try, the featured films cannot be adequately explained.
Each episode ends with Scheer sharing “second opinions” in the form of five-star reviews posted by Amazon users. These never fail to provide additional and lasting laughs. One from this episode suggests you “watch this movie with a dog.” Fortunately, both the episode and the feature-length film are available online. Take your pick of the rest of How Did This Get Made?’s archive and you’ll find the hosts continue to ooze charm and chemistry no matter which cinematic catastrophe they revisit.