Bad Ben Is At It Again (Bad Ben: Benign)

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Recently Nigel Bach came out with the ninth movie in his insanely low-budget, cult-favorite series, and since I’m in a reviewing mood I thought I’d give it a go.

Reason for filming: It’s Tom Riley, that’s why. Honestly if you’ve made it to film 9 you don’t even question these things anymore.

What’s the horror: More ghosts.

Does the dog die? No way. Bad Ben steers clear of animal cruelty, even when the occasional dog or cat makes an appearance on screen.

Gore factor: Another no.

Re-watch scale: Regular rotation, as are all Bad Ben movies. Letting them play in the background by now is like having a family member chatting away while I do dishes or something.

SPOILERS BELOW -DON’T READ IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW

Tom Riley is back after meeting what appeared to be his demise in movie #8, titled Pandemic. Tom’s appeared to meet his demise many times throughout this series, so this was never a reason to be concerned. We knew he’d be back.

Bad Ben: Benign Trailer Brings the Ninth Terrifying Chapter in Nigel Bach's  Cult Franchise

And he is back, and his bullet wound has magically disappeared. And there are all these random items in his house that don’t belong to him, along with a strange cat and a lot of phone calls asking for someone who doesn’t live there. There are some fun tricks Bach pulls as Tom Riley wanders around the house trying to re-orient himself to his surroundings; the old trope of the ball that bounces down the stairs is enhanced by having about 18 of them bounce down all at once, mysterious brownies appear on the kitchen cabinet (that Riley, of course, eats), and a great gag where he takes his ghost meter all over the house and determines it is clear since it never went off, only to realize it didn’t have batteries in it (of course it goes off as soon as he replaces them).

Bad Ben Review (2016) - My Favorite Horror
From the original Bad Ben movie

There’s also some really fun Tom abuse – another Bad Ben staple – such as a ghost chucking a full-sized pumpkin at him, getting smacked yet again by the attic door (you’d think by now Tom would have figured out a way to get around having to walk under that thing), and getting yanked off the floor and smashed against the ceiling. None of these effects are done with a Hollywood-level of quality, and some of them are fake looking as hell, but at this point that’s not just part of the charm of these movies, it’s a selling point. Tom getting smashed against the ceiling wouldn’t be half as funny if it was done realistically. With each movie, though, Nigel Bach expands his repertoire and tries to add new things to the mix; in this one we see a demon with more clarity than we ever have, and even though it still appears to be just a dude in a black cloak Bach works some magic to make it more effective than previous attempts have been. He’s got a few good jump scares up his sleeve, and a new clown in a jester cap, and he takes a stab at more physicality than he ever has before – fighting off invisible demons and getting knocked down by them repeatedly.

Bad Ben (2016) Review - Found Footage Critic
Another Bad Ben 1 image

We also get Tom at his wise-cracking best, with cranky comment after comment that’s really the cohesive glue holding every Bad Bad film together. Where the visuals are weak, Tom’s self-dialogue is strong; where the story lags, Riley’s there with a wisecrack to fill in the gaps. And Bach is never above making fun of himself – he rags on his weight (“did I never think of eating a fuckin’ carrot?” he chastises himself as he tries to squeeze through a window), walks around naked (with proper -albeit probably exaggerated-pixilation), and falls down stairs. He also adds a lengthy Tom Riley butt-shot and some twerking this time around, but more about that later.

Nigel Bach on Twitter: "Bad Ben 6: The Way In...coming soon.… "
From Bad Ben 6: The Way In

Some of Bach’s new effects are fun, like the severed hand that casually strolls around the house, soon to be joined by the floating head of a dead priest who engages in mostly casual conversation with Tom about the ghostly goings-on (“my body was chopped to pieces and distributed across the land,” the head tells Tom. “Well the good news is, I think I found your hand,” Tom quips back). And if there’s one thing Nigel Bach knows how to do by now, it’s provide a movie with a bang-up ending. He sticks another landing here, with Tom Riley getting his dance on to cheer up and clear up the negative vibes in his house, which he’s been told will cast the evil demon away. And it’s no slouch of a dance either – he runs from room to room, spinning and skipping and yes, occasionally twerking, for basically an entire song before throwing a load of roses at the demon to send him away. Bach knows what his fans want, and what they want is a full-length Tom Riley dance number.

The Fourth Time's Not The Charm : “Bad Ben : The Mandela Effect” | Trash  Film Guru
From Bad Ben 2 or maybe 3 since there was a prequel that came before it but I am not sure if it counts: Badder Ben

There’s also some explaining to do about why there are so many unfamiliar items and animals around his house, and just what happened with that gunshot that should have killed him at the end of Bad Ben 8. But that’s all I’m going to say about that, because you get the idea by now. This is another solid Bad Ben installment that fans will love and others may or may not like at all; such is the nature of low-budget found footage horror – but by this time, it’s clear Nigel Bach is a master of this subgenre, and he’s doing it better and more prolifically than just about anyone else.

Movie Review: Bad Ben: The Mandela Effect (2018) | by Patrick J Mullen | As  Vast as Space and as Timeless as Infinity | Medium
An image from Bad Ben 4: The Mandela Effect

My one and only complaint about Bad Ben: Benign is that as packed as it is with sight gags and sarcastic quips, it still drags in the center. There’s a bit too much walking around and wondering aloud about what may or may not be going on, and a book-reading sequence that goes on way too long. For that reason, this may not be the best movie to use to introduce someone to the Bad Ben-iverse. That’s best done with the original, in my opinion. And while the last two Bad Ben installments have taken Tom out of the familiar format and into some different situations – Bad Ben 7 takes place entirely in Tom’s car, and in 8 he’s in his basement for the whole movie, reacting to what takes place on Zoom – Benign puts Riley back where he’s been many times before, all by himself in the house on Steelmanville Road, settling scores with spirits on his own.

Some may see this as a step back due to his recent experiments with different settings, but for me this is Tom Riley at his best (even though I enjoyed both 7 and 8 immensely) and is a well to which he’s likely to continue to return. And why not? Nigel Bach’s instincts have been dead-on so far (for the most part), and his formula, which he tweaks and twiddles with each time out, is one that works. I personally hope he never runs out of ideas for this series, even when Tom Riley has to ride around his house in a wheelchair to scare the ghosts away. For however long these movies are being made, I’m going to show up for them.

Watch Bad Ben: The Way In | Prime Video
From Bad Ben 6: The Way In

Found Footage Fave: The Bad Ben Series (SPOILERS!)

The Bad Ben series of found footage horror films are written, produced, directed, acted, and everything else you can think of by Nigel Bach. Most of them use his house in Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey, as his setting, and the star of most of the films is Bach himself, as his alter-ego Tom Riley. An interview with Bach can be found here that breaks down the humble beginnings and the sustainability of what has become a legitimate franchise; suffice it to say that Bach made his first movie for $300 with his cellphone and the rest is history.

SPOILERS BELOW! Don’t read if you don’t want to know.

Reason for Filming: Tom Riley just bought a house at auction that he intends to flip and sell for a tidy profit. He starts out filming the house to show it off, but ends up installing security cameras to capture the paranormal events as they unfold.

What’s the Horror: Demons, Paranormal, Monster Lore

Does the Dog Die? No dead animals here!

Gore Factor: None

Character Quality: Great – although these movies aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. If Tom’s antics amuse you from the start, you’ll know you’re in the right place. If you find yourself either falling asleep or wanting to punch him, you should probably just move on. Personally I find the character of Tom Riley amusing and endearing, as do many others, and my favorite films of his are the ones where he is the star. Nigel Bach occasionally takes a break of acting and just directs his films, but I don’t care much for those. Bach is the reason Bad Ben works, and he’s at his best when he’s focused on Tom Riley doing his thing.

Re-Watch Scale: Regular rotation. These movies make me happy.

Bad Ben movies can be bought or rented on Amazon (you used to be able to stream them for free until recently). I came across them when they were still free, but enjoyed them enough to purchase them once they started charging to watch. The first Bad Ben movie was made after Nigel Bach wrote a script, hired some actors, and prepared to get to work – only to have the actors back out on the first day of filming. So, Bach simply used his iPhone and some of the structures he’d put in place for the other movie to make one by himself. And thus Bad Ben was born.

It is literally just one man using an iPhone and being filmed on a security camera system in a house that is experiencing paranormal activity, and yet it is ridiculously entertaining to a certain segment of the movie-watching population and has spawned 7 or 8 films total, all of which this certain segment of the movie-watching population gobble up delightedly.  I am one of that segment – although I have my favorites, and others I don’t watch on repeat. Now, I love horror films, and I love found footage horror films (and trust me there is no dearth of low-budget found footage horror on Amazon that is absolute trash). I also love weird, low-budget, art horror films and home horror movies where creative people turn their limitations into strengths by finding a way to work within them – the Marble Hornets YouTube series is another example of this, but it’s super-long and actually really freaky, so I wouldn’t watch that one unless you enjoy being wigged out for weeks. The super low-budget horror movies the Mansfield Dark channel has on YouTube, like The House on Mansfield Street, are also very well done but again, they are more true horror, whereas the Bad Ben series has some nice scares and tension, but is ultimately more about the unique, quirky, and naturally funny character at the center of it – Tom Riley. As a found footage film reviewer said about the inexplicable success of this franchise, “There simply is no Bad Ben without Tom Riley,” who is more or less Nigel Bach himself.

The plot doesn’t need to be explained beyond what I’ve already revealed – a man buys a house, moves in, and experiences strange occurrences that lead him to set up security cameras in every room where the audience gets to watch him do things like threaten ghosts who are bothering him with exactly the same tone and attitude as he might shout at kids who won’t get off his lawn, or yell at furniture as it moves across the room. He does most of this clad in boxer shorts, house slippers, and a Hanes T-Shirt, all while refusing to do what the spirits want him to do at every turn, which is evacuate the house. That’s one of the things that makes Bad Ben so much fun; Tom Riley simply does not react to these demons the way we’ve ever seen anyone react before. He yells and curses at them (and he curses A LOT), he gets in their invisible faces and dares them to fight back; but he does it all without really ever getting his blood pressure up too high over the whole thing.

Nigel Bach made the first Bad Ben for $300, and 7 or 8 more films have been made after that. Some of them involve a cast of characters, but my favorites are the ones where it’s just Tom Riley doing his thing, talking to himself and the camera, and occasionally cracking me up when he calls a possessed doll a “little plastic bitch” or tells a demon “you know, you don’t have to make that noise; I can smell you.” I don’t quite know why they comfort me so much, but I think it’s partly how his movies manage to feel authentic and completely cheesy at the same time in a combination that works. Are the visual effects horrible? Yes, but because we know Bach made them himself, we allow it. Are the sound effects equally bad? Yes, but again – it’s just Bach making a movie with an iPhone and whatever noises he or his dog can make that he can manipulate into some sort of demonic growl, so we appreciate the effort instead of judging the quality.

In the end, I guess Nigel Bach is like a crazy uncle who lives in New Jersey and is constantly making movies on his iPhone that I appreciate because he’s “one of us” – a creative person doing the best he can with what he has, completely independent of any interference or outside obligations, and even in the midst of something as awful as a global pandemic he can keep doing his thing for as long as he has a cell phone and a salty tongue. This makes me happy in a world where so many of us have had our lives put on hold, our plans completely thrown out the window, and everything thrust into flux in the midst of so much struggle and uncertainty. When the news overwhelms me, or the crazies in my deep-Red neighborhood get me so pissed off I can’t see straight, I stream one of my favorites from his series to clear my sight and my mind. It’s gonna be okay, because Uncle Nigel is still out there making his crazy movies and being hilarious with his iPhone and his security camera, and his (and our) creative spirit will simply not be restricted or restrained. If Uncle Nigel can do it, well, I guess we  can too.

But I can’t stop my Bad Ben rambling here without telling you my favorites! As much as I love Nigel Bach and the Bad Ben series, I can’t recommend all of his films. There are some that work for me, and some that really, really don’t. I am not going to name them because I feel that would be rude to everyone involved, but I will share the ones I love here :

  1. The original Bad Ben, about a man who buys a home that turns out to be haunted
  2. Badder Ben – This is the only movie of his with other actors onscreen that I care for, but the cast of this film works really well together and plays off the strengths of the Tom Riley character effectively. In this movie, that cast plays a team of paranormal investigators who decide to revisit the Tom Riley tragedy from movie #1, and soon enough get Tom himself involved. Chaos ensues. 
  3. Bad Ben: The Mandela Effect – This movie plays smartly on the fact that his fans obsessively watch his movies over and over, mainly by having Tom Riley visit the home over and over in parallel universes, with different hauntings occurring each time until a deliciously funny conclusion ends the pattern. This is my favorite ending sequence of all the films (although Badder Ben also has a real corker of an ending), and any weaknesses in the plot that come before it is forgiven by the satisfaction of how perfectly it wraps up. In fact, I get the sense Bach thought up the ending first then constructed a plot that would build up to it – that’s how much of a total rimshot it is – but I have no confirmation of this; it’s just my guess. 
  4. Bad Ben: The Way In – Tom Riley is hired as a paranormal investigator to clear the house of demons before a new owner moves in, and encounters a truly ridiculous number of spirits that have taken possession of the strangest assortment of artifacts ever seen in a horror film about possessed artifacts. This movie includes what is, for me, one of the funniest scenes in all his films: Tom gets bitten by a possessed doll hidden in his bed, grabs it, walks casually out of the room holding said possessed doll by the hair, and just chucks the thing down the stairs with all the energy of someone throwing a gum wrapper into the garbage. Problem solved. For some reason I crack up insanely every time I witness this.
  5. Bad Ben: Pandemic – Actually made during the pandemic, this movie is a love letter to Bach’s fans – who call themselves Bennites – by putting many of them in the film. Tom Riley is in his basement, hiding out from the Coronavirus and trying to keep his fledgling paranormal investigation business afloat by helping clients cleanse their spaces of spirits via Zoom. The fans show up as customers contacting Ben about very similar situations happening all over the globe that appear to be connected somehow to the COVID-19 outbreak; fans simply Zoomed themselves talking to Tom while boxes and guitars fall over behind them, walls knock and doors slam shut, and, in many cases, ghoulish deaths occur. All the while we see Tom reacting to each situation with ever-increasing horror. From what I can tell, none of the fans involved in the making of this film are actors, so a lot of grace has to be given for this film to work, but as a fan of the series I appreciate what Bach pulled off here, and it also stands as a unique time capsule to what has been an awful, awful year for everyone; highlighting one of the many ways people have managed to stay creative and positive during unprecedented circumstances.

So, to sum up: Bad Ben is an acquired taste and a niche audience, but if you’re the least bit curious about the whole phenomenon then I recommend checking the first movie out and seeing what you think. It looks like Pandemic is currently streaming on Amazon for free with a Prime membership; not sure if the others are back to free streaming or not because I own them.