A perfect movie is sometimes defined as one that doesn’t have a wasted frame. Prolific director David DeCoteau does better than that: not only does he not waste a frame, he reuses the same frame over and over, repeating establishing shots not just in different films but in the same film. You could justifiably call this the hack work of a cheap, incompetent filmmaker. But there is a method to his badness, a deliberate, thrifty method that has created some of the most unintentionally surreal films in modern cinema.

DeCoteau uses the pseudonym Mary Crawford for his series of straight to VOD talking animal movies, including A Halloween Puppy (2012), A Talking Cat!?! (2013) and An Easter Bunny Puppy (2013). These films were made in the space of a few years; DeCoteau works at a feverish clip, churning out 13 titles in 2012 alone. His fruitful output can partly be attributed to the fact that his movies are often filmed in the same Malibu McMansion, which means that homoerotic scenes of male models walking around in their underwear may well have been filmed just hours after a bandaged cat was frolicking in the same house. This assembly-line rate is also a function of DeCoteau’s fondness for B-roll, which can lead to inebriation in a matter of minutes if you follow these simple directions: take a drink every time you see establishing shots of nature, a babbling brook, a waterfall. Even the most pickled alcoholic will begin to see pink elephants in minutes, with an important added bonus: those elephants will talk!

DeCoteau’s talking animal movies are an acquired taste, but once acquired they are a habit like cheap potato chips. You can’t stop at just one. And not unlike Pringles, the films seem to be manufactured to the same specifications, reusing cast members, locations and even footage from film to film.

A Talking Pony!?!, currently streaming as A Pony Tale on Netflix Instant, has a plot as old as cinema itself: a family is desperate to save its failing ranch, and the answer to its future is in its youth—in this case, a teenage girl. Juliet (Jenny Cipolla) wakes up and can’t find anybody else at home. She goes downstairs and finds that her mother has made her breakfast. She goes to the stables where she greets her favorite horse, Horatio. He answers back—or does he? It’s the voices of her step-brothers Craig (Max Wilbur) and Pete (Dillon Olney). They emerge with their mother Kim (DeCoteau regular Kristine DeBell, best known in her younger years from Meatballs) to tell Juliet how much they love her. They bring good news: the family is no longer in danger of losing the ranch after Juliet’s lottery numbers helped them win a billion dollar prize.

It’s a happy family ending, but it’s just a dream. Juliet soon wakes to her real life, once again the victim of her step-brothers’ many morning pranks; this time, they’ve dangled a rubber insect in front of her face so she’ll slap herself with the handful of shaving cream they’ve sprayed in her palm (she’s apparently a heavy sleeper). When Juliet goes downstairs, her mother has not made her breakfast at all, but left financial papers scattered across the table, pointing to the sad truth that they really are about to lose the ranch.

Juliet torments her step-brothers back, asking dumb blond Pete if he has two tens for a five, a trick he falls for repeatedly throughout the film. In fact, the family’s dire financial straits are constantly interrupted by this kind of sub-Borscht-belt humor, much of which comes from the mouth of a talking horse voiced by DeCoteau regular Johnny Whitaker (Jody on “Family Affair,” immersed in the kind of grade-Z career feared by many child actors). Juliet first hears her pony’s voice after being hit on the head with a horseshoe, you see.

The particulars of plot and character aren’t what make DeCoteau’s films so inadvertently entertaining. The real jokes are in the method. A Pony Tale, more than any of the Mary Crawford films, effortlessly (or lazily) falls into a rhythm that is cheap, incompetent and ingenious: bad jokes are followed by shots of waterfalls and babbling brooks, as if to give the audience time to recover between side-splitting guffaws. But the cumulative effect of this strange rhythm is that a shot of a waterfall becomes the joke; after the sixth iteration of “two tens for a five” falls flat, a shot of a babbling brook is hilarious, even if you haven’t been drinking heavily.

These B-roll passages may suggest that despite the inanity of mankind, nature’s majesty continues apace. They also help pad a sitcom episode’s worth of material into a 90-minute feature. Japanese director Yasujirō Ozu was known for his “pillow shots,” images of ordinary life that don’t contribute to a narrative but act as elements of visual poetry. DeCoteau’s B-roll loops are like pillow shots on steroids.

Ozu, of course, would never have used a synthesized trombone wah-wah to emphasize a bad joke, but this is part of DeCoteau’s vulgar genius. A Talking Pony!?!, and whatever other David DeCoteau films happen to be streaming at any given moment, are among the worst reviewed movies on Netflix Instant, but these terrible movies have attracted a minor cult audience and with good reason. They’re terrible and wonderful, the Platonic ideal of a good bad movie. If you’ve seen one, you’ll want to see them all.

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