Welcome to my bizarre world
A few weeks ago, I decided to host a screening for one of the most notoriously awful films of all time, Tommy Wiseau’s The Room. If you have never heard of this movie, know that it’s the modern day The Rocky Horror Picture Show, a film that’s so bad it’s hilarious to watch in group settings. Many of my friends have questioned my sanity in actively seeking out the worst films ever made, but I’m hardly the first to have developed such a fascination with inept cinema. Hell, a little show called Mystery Science Theater 3000 has reached across generations to all lovers of terribly made films, and countless video essayists have made their careers on discussing the worst of the worst movies. And later this year, the producer of last year’s Oscar–winning Moonlight is about to release a movie called The Disaster Artist about the making of The Room as directed by James Franco and written by Seth Rogen, both enormous fans of Tommy Wiseau’s hynoptizingly terrible film. But why are these people and myself so interested in watching a bad movie? Let’s take a break from reviews and discuss my own history with enjoying the unenjoyable.
Years ago, I had an English high school teacher during homeroom discussing movies with his students when he asked if any of us had seen Plan 9 From Outer Space. Given that all of us were around 14-years old at the time, none of us had ever even heard of it. He called it the worst film ever made, but it was downright hysterical to watch. Interested, we asked if he could show the film for us during homeroom and he agreed. Over the course of three days, my class and I laughed like hyenas because not only was my teacher right, the film had exceeded our wildest expectations. See, Plan 9 is not written as a comedy at all, but a traditional 1950s science fiction flick. However, everything from the terrible acting to the bizarre script and the bafflingly bad “special effects” made Plan 9 feel almost like a parody of classics like Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Thing From Another World. After watching this, I became fascinated with how such a train wreck came to be. Which lead me to watching Tim Burton’s Ed Wood.
See children, once upon a time, Tim Burton used to make critically acclaimed films based on subjects he loved and one of his most well regarded films was a biopic about the director of Plan 9 From Outer Space. Having Ed Wood portrayed by Johnny Depp, Burton explored Wood’s personal struggles as well as his passion for films and his strange friendship with Hollywood legend, Bela Lugosi (the most well-known Dracula of the Universal Monsters). Ed Wood provides viewers like myself a window into the mind of a creative who is so convinced that he’s making fine art, he can’t see any of the glaring faults that appear among their work, but is still driven by some purpose. While the exact nature purpose isn’t exactly conveyed in a film like Plan 9, you can still recognize the brazen passion the creator has for his final product…pulsating warts and all.
And this small idea is what separates an enjoyably bad film from a purposefully bad film like Machete, Planet Terror, or Death Proof: a ticking heart. You can’t fake being genuinely terrible at something, and directors as talented as Tarantino couldn’t even do it. So to make something that’s truly “so bad, it’s good,” you have to have a degree of ego that’s…basically unhinged. As in there’s very little basis in reality for thinking what you’re making is good by any measure. I’m talking delusions of grandeur that is borderline insane. I’m talking about being like Tommy Wiseau.
When you first catch yourself watching The Room, you immediately notice in the opening credits that Wiseau is the lead actor, producer, writer, and director. Now, I’m not saying that every director who’s also the lead actor is egotistical by any means, but it does become a problem when said director refuses to listen to any input that what they’re doing is completely messed up. And from the opening minutes of The Room, you can tell so much is wrong: the delivery of the lines from your lead actors, the framing of the scene, the fact that the camera keeps slipping in and out of focus, that irrelevant plot details pop their head in and are never discussed for the remainder of the picture, distressingly bizarre sex scenes, and the sheer stilted nature of the dialogue feeling as unnatural as a cat attempting to communicate in Spanish.
These facts are funny enough alone, but the film just keeps going. Soon you find yourself in a story that doesn’t make a lick of sense, characters entering and leaving the film almost at random, irrelevant scenes that do nothing to further the plot or add anything meaningful to the characters, before finally devolving into an explosion of atrocious acting that could only come from someone who has never heard of shame. The Room leaves you in a daze, as if you had just watched a clown car crash headfirst into a titanium wall before dozens of brain-damaged clowns pour out of it babbling incoherent nonsense. If such an image makes you curious, then you have the same illness that I do that makes me excited for the prospect of atrocious filmmaking.
Comedians like Carol Burnett and Bob Newhart infamously said, “comedy is tragedy plus time.” It’s the essence of humor: as time passes by a truly awful event, suddenly people find the humor in what they had experienced. It’s a perfectly human reaction to terrible events, because being miserable is not a default state. We as humans hate the feeling, so some people try to tell jokes to keep their mind off of the subject. Writers for Saturday Night Live, South Park, and The Daily Show excel at this sort of writing to provide some form of relief when people are down in the dumps.
Hell, some people use comedy to make a point about how a tragedy could have been so easily avoided, because any reasonable person would have said the events leading up to the terrible event were dumb to begin with. Tragedy through incompetence is one of the easiest things to laugh at, which brings right back to terrible movies. Almost every frame of The Room could have been done better in a dozen or so ways, and the fact that the film sidesteps every attempt to improve itself is what has made the movie a veritable gold mine of jokes. But it’s far from the only one, as regular readers of my site have taken extreme glee when I watch a truly miserable film.
Let’s recollect on some of my favorite examples, starting with my front runner for best worst movie of 2017: xXx: The Return of Xander Cage. The incompetence is evident from the title alone: who in their right mind was waiting for another XXX movie (besides Vin Diesel)? But watching a cheesy 90s B-movie with a big budget in these current times is a true sight to behold, especially when your lead (who also produced the film) has been written in such a way to become a black hole of egotism. Scantily clad women several years his junior practically worship at Diesel’s feet, but the ludicrousness of the action scenes is where the movie takes a life of its own as a miasma of terrible ideas.
Speaking of terrible ideas, I dug up on old review of one my favorite terrible films of the last decade: The Identical. Do give it a read because it’s a special gem of spectacularly stupid ideas. It’s essentially a faith-based recreation of an old conspiracy theory involving Elvis Presley’s stillborn twin surviving into adulthood and becoming an Elvis impersonator. That might sound stupid, but hold on, it gets WAY dumber. See, the filmmakers replaced Elvis with their own knockoff version called “Drexel the Dream” complete with knockoff songs that are range from bad to ear-splittingly awful. Add in some absurd make up to show off aging of certain characters played by Ray Liotta and Ashley Judd, and you have yourself an experience unlike anything you’ve seen before or indeed ever will.
While watching certain films have been an agonizing experience, the resulting reviews born from watching them have consistently been among my favorite to write. While the Internet has sometimes taken the concept of criticizing films too far when they become all about pointing out flaws that barely distract from even good movies (hello Cinema Sins, you worthless diarrhea stains), I and others still find joy in mocking truly ineptly made films. At the end of the day, while none of these films will be heralded as masterful steps in cinema or be showered with accolades, they at least provided some form of enjoyment…however unintentional that feeling may have been.
Got a favorite bad movie you enjoy to mock? Sound off in the comments below