Some movies are so bad they inadvertently become good, and find a rabid cult audience. That’s the thesis of Best Worst Movie. The documentary, directed by Troll 2‘s child star Michael Paul Stephenson (who was understandably embarrassed by that movie for two decades), is now playing at the Lagoon Cinema.
It’s about the making of and who-woulda-thunk-it fandom of Troll 2 (1990), considered in film circles to be the worst movie ever made (it carries an IMDB overall ranking of 2/10 and falls 65th in the bottom 100 on the site). But it’s also beloved by many, as Best Worst Movie so thoughtfully conveys. So, if many love something passionately, can it be truly bad?
I’ve seen what this movie has done to audiences. I’ve gone to countless screenings, and unlike so many other films, Troll 2 never fails to make people laugh. People have so much fun. Sure, the writing is bad and the acting is bad, based on cinematic principles. But where it doesn’t fail is that it has heart and it has sincerity. Most movies today don’t have that.
These words came from BWM director Stephenson in an excellent interview at Slashfilm.com, and I agree: I mark watching a midnight screening of Troll 2 at the Uptown Theatre as one of my all-time greatest moviegoing experiences. I can’t remember the last time I had that much fun at a cinema.
That is, until I witnessed The Room. If Troll 2 is the Casablanca of shitty movies, then The Room (carrying a 3.1/10 overall IMDB ranking) is Citizen Kane. It’s directed by Tommy Wiseau, a man who sounds like a brother of Arnold Schwarzenegger who as a child was dropped. Repeatedly. Wiseau, who never reveals his country of origin despite offten being asked, reportedly came up with $6 million (!) to make this colossal filmic turdpile.
$6 million only is somewhere between 1% and 5% of Avatar‘s budget, but when you watch The Room, you’ll find yourself wondering where $5,999,990 of that $6 million went. The Room looks like it was made with a $10 webcam. Add to that some inexplicable and poorly dubbed dialogue to go with the sub-soap-operatic melodrama plot, and you have the makings of a legendarily awful movie.
Wiseau has actually found success with The Room, as it plays all over the country consistently to packed midnight screenings. The Uptown Theatre screens it every month, and I highly recommend you experience the movie this way with a group of like-minded friends. But has this success gone to Wiseau’s head? You be the judge. Watch this tragic and funny video interview with Wiseau, conducted by David Chen of Slashfilm.com:
Wiseau would like us all to believe he intentionally made a “black comedy,” but it just ain’t true. Not after you’ve seen the movie. And it’s better this way. Making a truly lovable terrible movie is akin to the lightning-in-a-bottle effect that happens every so often with great movies. If making a good movie is a small miracle, then what is it when you achieve the inverse? Perhaps fate, if it does exist, is not without a sense of irony.
Christopher Goodwin wrote a piece in the Times Online (UK) headlined, “Cult hit The Room is best worst film”; in it he quotes from St. Cloud State University assistant professor of film studies Ross Morin, who has the film in his curriculum.
“As the cult of The Room has grown, so has the respect that people have for it. ‘I completely support Tommy, I love his film,’ says Ross Morin…’Through the complete excess in every area of production, The Room reveals to us just how empty, preposterous, and silly the films and television programmes we’ve watched over the past couple of decades have been.
“‘The real question is: did he know what he was doing’ wonders Morin, and everyone else in L.A. ‘He claims that “everything was done on purpose.” But any viewer can see that the film is that of someone who has completely failed to do everything he was attempting. Either way, there is only one conclusion: divine intervention.'”
If I had to make a Sophie’s-Choice-like decision regarding which film I prefer, it would have to be Troll 2. Mostly because I just laughed more. But both are great D-movie experiences. Best Worst Movie director Stephenson, in another interview at Slashfilm.com, put it best when asked to decide, once and for all, which film is worse:
“[laughs] I’ve heard so much about it, but I haven’t seen The Room yet. It’s playing in L.A., and when we were coming back from Toronto [for the Hot Docs festival] we were talking about how we have to check it out. From what I’ve heard, The Room is a little more cynical, whereas Troll 2 is a little more…innocent. [laughs]”
Troll 2 screened at midnight this weekend at the Uptown Theatre, in conjunction with the release of Best Worst Movie. For those who didn’t make it, the entire movie is available for free streaming at Hulu. To get the full experience, watch both the documentary and the movie around the same time, but it doesn’t really matter in which order. The effect will be the same—hilarity and bewilderment—as these two scenes from Troll 2 exemplify.
Uptown Theatre manager Joseph Larsen, admirer of Rocky IV and one of the prime movers behind the Midnight Madness screenings (which started in October 1997 with Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Delicatessen), says, “I myself am a fan of Troll 2, as I saw that as a kid when it was first released on VHS. For years I kept making references to ‘Nilbog’ with no one ever knowing what I was talking about, and it was only last year that I realized that I wasn’t the sole person to ever see the movie.
“There’s a certain magic in seeing films on the big screen surrounded by the crowd, but thanks to ever-growing home technology, it’s an event that a lot of people are no longer interested in. These new midnight films have finally been something to generate interest, and it’s fantastic that new audiences are being brought into the experience.
“The experience of the crowd makes watching the film completely worthwhile. Most of these ‘so bad they’re good’ films need the audience; otherwise they can be kind of unbearable.”
Well, not The Room, says Larsen. “That’s just as hilarious by yourself.”
Rocky Horror Picture Show was the original, he adds. “[It proved] you can take a goofy little film, add in some audience interaction, and ta-da, you have a hit. You come to see these films on the big screen for the crowd, not the films themselves.”
Theresa Purcell, who calls Riki Oh: The Story of Ricky the “best movie ever” and runs the always awesome and fun monthly series Trash Film Debauchery at the Trylon Microcinema with Brett Von Schlosser (he makes really cool screen print posters of every film they show, available at the door) says, “My goal for TFD since the beginning has been to offer awesomely bad movies—typically for free—for people in the Twin Cities who enjoy schlocky cinema and maybe wouldn’t have the chance to see these films otherwise. When I started doing this it was just a nice way to be able to see any movie I wanted on a big screen and it’s been really exciting to see other people like the same kind of crap I do. Plus, bad movies are always more fun to watch with other people.”
She elaborates further: “I guess I have a soft spot for the unintentional comedy. I also really enjoy the treasure hunt it takes to find an enjoyable bad movie because there are far more bad movies that are just plain bad with few, if any, redeeming qualities.
“I like to imagine the filmmaker and his or her process while making the film. How enthusiastic he or she must have been and just how much work it took and how much confidence they probably had in their film. Also, passing time adds a whole different level of enjoyment to most B-movies. It’s going to be great when we’re watching movies from today in 20 years and laughing at everyone’s stupid Uggs and watching a scene with some dude at a computer and being amazed at how ancient the internet used to be.”
Mike Dawson, creator of the fantastic weekly film podcast Left Field Cinema, whose love of art/world cinema belies his passion for crap cinema (a common trait amongst cinephiles), says that for “the best example of how a film can be better when it’s worse, you need not look any further than Starship Troopers 2 and 3.” 1993’s The Nostril Picker is his choice for best worst movie. (“It just doesn’t make any sense, and the acting is the worst I’ve ever seen.”)
So is there anything wrong with liking a movie because it’s terrible?
“Absolutely not!” says Purcell. “I’d like to think these people would be happy that their films are still being enjoyed after all this time, even if it’s not in the way they intended. I mean, I get no pleasure out of hurting people’s feelings, but any time you make a film, art, or any type of creative project and present it to the public, I think you need to then sit back and let people experience it in their own way. I believe that if I were to put in all of the time and effort and resources to make a film I would rather have it be loved for any reason—even if it’s for being a disaster—than for it to be forgotten.”
“A love of irony is the key factor,” says Larsen. “Going to see a terrible movie to laugh at has become an appealing group activity, and I think it dates back to Mystery Science Theater 3000. That cult show made it okay to tear apart bad films in hilarious fashion, and while it also may have resulted in unjust—and unfunny—heckling, it also built an appreciation for these nearly unwatchable works.”
The Web has certainly made this kind of fandom more immediate and group-oriented. The number of fans who gather online to celebrate terrible movies, along with all the other nerdy film journalists (a group I’m proud to be a member of) who’ve already covered this stuff, is proof that the phenomenon of loving bad movies is here to stay.
Larsen continues: “It’s not wrong to like a movie ironically, but it can certainly get out of hand. Even now, filmmakers are exploiting this idea of ‘so bad they’re good’ and purposefully making a terrible film that might catch on. Filmmaking is a business first and foremost and producers will jump on any bandwagon that comes along, but it’s an artificial experience.”
I debated this very notion in my article about Birdemic: Shock and Terror, in which having not seen the apparently awful movie, but only reading about it online, made me question the earnestness of the production. After hearing the director on the Adam Carolla Podcast, I no longer debate it. He meant to make a good movie. I plan to see it as soon as possible, and hope to laugh a lot.
“The best worst movies are made out of genuine cluelessness,” says Larsen. “The makers of Troll 2, Manos, and The Room—despite what Tommy Wiseau now says—did not set out to make awful films. They were really trying, which makes it kind of sad, if you think about it.
“A lot of great, ridiculously over-the-top films are also now easily misunderstood and get tossed in the ‘so bad they’re good’ category, like Torque. Torque is legitimately brilliant, and doesn’t get nearly enough credit for what it set out to do and accomplished tenfold.”
Noctivagant cinema habitués with a desire for sarcastic movie hegira tend to crave a different type of experience at the theater, which these movies all deliver. More than anything, it’s a ton of fun to watch them. The feeling is haptic and raw, and most importantly, positive. There’s no need for audiences to feel bad about that.
As Best Worst Movie director Stephenson says: “For me, I feel that Troll 2 is beautiful and it’s amazing. The worst thing you can do as a director is fail to entertain, and Claudio [Fragasso, director of Troll 2] has had an impact. He’s left an impression, and it’s going to go on for decades.”