From Bad To Worse

They’re the movies audiences love for all the wrong reasons – the cinematic flops that are now finding appreciative audiences at cult screenings.

Once these films were slaughtered by critics; now they’re attracting viewers who laugh, heckle and applaud at late-night sessions and Worst Movie festivals.

There are movies that are so hilariously bad, you’re glued to the screen.

While serious film buffs have long argued whether Citizen Kane, or one of a dozen other classics, is the greatest movie ever made, digital cinemas with adventurous programmers are inspiring interest in the other end of the movie spectrum – the Citizen Kanes of Awful.

Glen or Glenda.

Fans are discovering the likes of Tommy Wiseau’s 2003 romantic drama The Room, which has the writer-director-producer-financier playing a banker who is betrayed by all his friends. A ”landmark in ineptitude” wrote one critic about its confusing plotlines and continuity errors; others were less kind.

Then there is Claudio Fragasso’s Troll 2, a 1990 horror film about a family pursued by vegetarian goblins who want to turn them into plants. ”Very, very bad,” noted a reviewer, ”and there are no trolls”.

It ranks last on the Internet Movie Database’s bottom 100 films – below even such recent shockers as Battlefield Earth and Gigli.
Worst Movies Festival, Cremorne Plan 9 From Outter Space.jpg

Plan 9 From Outer Space.

They are contenders with Ed Wood’s 1959 sci-fi pic Plan 9 From Outer Space for the title of most ineptly directed, least convincing, laughably awful movie ever made, although some consider his semi-autobiographical pic about transvestism, 1953’s Glen or Glenda, to be even worse. Once it took decades for so-bad-they’re-good movies like these to become cult favourites.

The American cable TV movie Sharknado, from the producers of such strangely familiar sounding movies as Transmorphers, Snakes On A Train and Lord of the Elves, has become such a cult hit in eight weeks that it is heading to cinemas next month. A horror-sci-fi pic about a hurricane that dumps bloodthirsty sharks into Los Angeles, with a cheesy plot, unconvincing visual effects and sub-soapie acting, is screening on Friday the 13th.

But while Sharknado was made as a trashy B movie, Stefan Popescu, associate lecturer in film and digital arts at Sydney College of the Arts, says the real classics take themselves much more seriously.

Robot Monster.

”There’s a certain qualifier for best worst movies – an earnestness,” he says.

”You have to step into filmmaking really innocently and think that you’re making the best film that anyone has ever made, then it’s a complete failure – and you can’t see that it’s a failure.”

Popescu says fans of tragically awful movies – largely under 40, with a healthy Gen X cynicism – enjoy watching them as a community.

”You can watch these movies online quite easily but you don’t have that communal mocking of bad moments,” he says.

In his other role as co-director of the Sydney Underground Film Festival, Popescu is screening three contenders for the worst movie in history next week – The Room, Troll 2 and James Nguyen’s Birdemic: Shock and Terror, a low-rent Hitchcock homage from 2008 that has some very unconvincing birds attacking a small town.

Viewers at these sessions get a bingo card with their ticket. And when classic moments happen on screen – an infamous line of dialogue or scene – they cross them off their card and win prizes during the screening.

”It adds a little bit more interactivity,” Popescu says.

At late-night screenings of The Room in Los Angeles, fans are even more interactive. Just as at screenings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show and The Big Lebowski here, they dress up as their favourite characters and join in with the dialogue. And in references to baffling moments on screen, they also toss footballs and throw plastic spoons.

Jose Maturana, who runs cult movie marathons and drive-in nights through Melbourne’s Valhalla Social Cinema, joined a packed house at Cinema Nova recently for the ”cultastrophe” double bill of Sharknado and Frankenstein’s Army, a horror-sci film about a secret Nazi lab that stitches together super soldiers from dead bodies, which he calls ”a big WTF kind of film”.

”They were there in force and ready to laugh,” he says. ”You walk out and think ‘that’s why cult film is so great sometimes’.

”The surprise isn’t in the quality of the film – it’s in the reaction and the company you keep at the time.”

Certain films, Maturana says, are ”like a time capsule of hairstyles, production design and dialogue” of another era.

”When you’re watching them, you’re thinking ‘how on earth was anyone ever convinced that this was going to work?’,” he says. ”But I love the fact that it exists.”

Alex Temesvari, who runs I Heart Retro screenings at the Cremorne Orpheum, drew an enthusiastic audience for a Worst Film Festival recently that featured Plan 9 From Outer Space, Glen or Glenda and Robot Monster.

”There are movies that are so bad that after 20 minutes, you think I just can’t watch another second,” he says.

”Then there are movies that are so hilariously bad, you’re glued to the screen. It’s a real fine line.”

Temesvari says ticket sales ”are going through the roof” for The Room in October. ”It’s a real vanity project,” he says.

”[Wiseau] is completely earnest about this thing, yet the end result is one of the most atrocious pieces of film ever released.”

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