Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Cult Films 101: The Worst Movie Ever Made

So far in our survey of cult films, we've tried to zero in on films with merit, however modest. But there's a cottage industry out there -- and let's be honest, it's far more mainstream than most actual cult films -- built around the idea of The Worst Movie Ever Made.
medieval torture chair
Strange there hasn't been as much debate about
The Worst Chair Ever Made.
But what does "The Worst Movie Ever Made" even mean? The most inept? The least coherent? Something that advances a morally repugnant ideology (the highly praised Nazi propaganda film Triumph of the Will, for instance)? The most insulting to the audience's intelligence? It's a fraught question I'm not entirely sure I know the answer to, but let's jump in.

Best-Loved Worst Movies

Troll 2
The subject of the documentary Best Worst Movie, Troll 2 is not the sequel of Troll, nor does it actually feature any trolls. But while bad, it ranks low on the utter incompetence scale. It had a decent budget and was shot by film professionals. They did not, however, tend to speak English, so the resulting dialogue spoken by the non-professional actors is pretty stilted and unintentionally laughable. It's not so much that it's inept, it's just that every single creative decision made in the movie was terrible.

Plan 9 from Outer Space
I talked about this Ed Wood movie as an example of the "Guilty Pleasure" variety of cult films. It's a bad movie, particularly in the acting and set-decoration departments, but it gets a lot of unfair knocks against it, such as day and night continuity errors when a lot of films in the 50s still used the time-honored day-for-night photography trick because of slower film speeds. It's my favorite film on this list.

Manos, The Hands of Fate
Also the subject of a documentary, this time called Hotel Torgo, Manos, the Hands of Fate was made on a bet by a fertilizer salesman, was forgotten after a single screening in El Paso, Texas, but rose to prominence after receiving the Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment, earning distinction as one of the worst movies the crew had ever seen. But there are some memorable elements, like Torgo, the weird satyr servant of The Master, the Master's ceremonial robes with giant, red hands on them, and a protracted fight between ladies wearing granny panties. Look, I'm not saying it's good, I'm just saying you won't forget watching it.

The Room
This train wreck has been a fixture in Los Angeles ever since I moved here, but much like the Springfield Tire Fire, its stink has spread. It ranks high -- so, so high -- on the utter incompetence scale, and gained notoriety for it. For years now, it has regularly sold out midnight screenings, and has even been shown at the American Film Institute. It just goes to show, kids, if you make your movie, and make it bad enough, people will take notice.

Simpsons - Springfield Tire Fire
Only slightly less offensive than seeing writer/director
Tommy Wiseau naked in
The Room.
Maybe Actually the Worst Movies

There are only two movies I would not willingly endure again due to their utter and complete awfulness. There are other movies I'd rather not see again because of their content, but these two movies are the cinematic equivalent of that single tear that leaks out of your eye while the dentist scrapes your gums to shreds with that little metal hook they have.

Birdemic: Shock and TerrorThe Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies 

They continue to arm-wrestle in my brain over which is the worst movie I've ever seen.

They Really Should Have Known Better

Hollywood, bless its little Botoxed heart, will occasionally line up its utterly unparalleled storytelling, production, marketing, and technical skills behind a pile of poo that somebody along the line should've smelled, scooped, and disposed of way before anybody had a chance to buy a ticket to the thing. Usually, these movies result from an actor/producer's inflated ego, a contract with a star that has to be honored with a movie release, no matter how bad the finished product, or just terrible, terrible luck. As Bill Murray told Elvis Mitchell, nobody wants to make a terrible movie. Even the terrible ones require long hours and tremendous amounts of work. When it comes to Hollywood misses, the end product often looks beautiful and is technically excellent, but the story, script, utterly uncharismatic acting, or confounding direction make it largely unwatchable. I personally find these the least enjoyable "bad" movies because they are often dishonest and cynical money-grabs by people capable of much, much more. But to each his or her own...

The usual suspects in this category are too numerous to mention, but include Battlefield Earth, Catwoman, Freddy Got Fingered, everything by Uwe Boll, and Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever.

I believe that, ultimately, the Worst Movie Ever Made is one in which you can find no enjoyment whatsoever. And to be honest, that's hard to do because when it comes right down to it, we're still watching movies. Things could be worse.