Monday, January 3, 2011

So Bad, It's Really, Really Good!

I'd always scoffed at the idea of movies being so bad they were good. Guilty pleasures I could understand, the movies that appealed to the audiences baser natures in a way that might be blunt, but did their jobs. But how could a movie gain any sort of cachet simply for being terrible? Someone pointed out to me that I had missed the documentary "Best Worst Movie" on the list of 2010 films I hadn't seen yet. It's about the fandom around the inept horror film "Troll 2." I figured that I would get more out of "Best Worst Movie" if I saw "Troll 2" first. The friend who lent me his copy also tossed in Tommy Wiseau's notorious "The Room" for an unholy double feature.

I braced myself for the worst, and boy did I get it. And boy was it fun! "Troll 2" is a work of unintentional hilarity, full of hammy acting, bad special effects, and nonsensical plot points. We follow a boy hero named Joshua (Michael Stephenson) trying to save his oblivious family from being killed and eaten by a pack of local trolls. The twist is that the trolls are vegetarians who have to turn their human victims into plants first before they can consume them. Why they couldn't just eat pre-existing plants is never explained. Instead, we get lots of bad rubber masks, gallons of fake green blood, and a magic grandpa (Robert Ornsby) who might be a ghost. Or he might be alive. Or he might be the kid hallucinating. It's incredibly silly and stuffed to the gills with Grade A cheese.

What sets "Troll 2" apart from other bad horror movies is the extent of the incompetence and the consistency of it. There is some semblance of narrative coherence in the first ten minutes or so, and then we go into a series of increasingly bizarre, illogical encounters with the trolls and their minions. I think my favorite character is a goggle-eyed seductress, Creedence (Deborah Reed) who succeeds in turning one of the minor character into her own personal piece of topiary. Or there's the priceless performance of the father (George Hardy), who delivers his horrendous dialogue with such effort and conviction, all of his scenes are exponentially more hysterical. I can't wait to see "Best Worst Movie" now to see what was going on behind the scenes of this thing.

But while "Troll 2" was fun, nothing could have prepared me for the bad cinema glory of Tommy Wiseau. "The Room" is a fascinating piece of work because the film's components aren't all that bad. Many of the actors show signs of talent and the production values are decent, though probably more suited to a late nineties prime time soap. However, "The Room" was directed, written, and stars Wiseau, who turns out to be a barely competent director, a lamentable writer, and an utterly awful actor. Saddled with a thick accent, weird mannerisms, and a stiff presence, this is a man who would never have been onscreen if he weren't making the movie himself and had complete creative control.

And yet "The Room" is engrossing. Wiseau creates a universe that panders to his ego, where his character, Johnny, is beloved by everyone around him. The only exception, tragically, is his fiancĂ©e Lisa (Juliette Danielle), whose affections waver. The world of "The Room" is so skewed in its rules and morality that everyone who Lisa talks to is only worried about the effect of the breakup on Johnny – even her own mother. And then there's the fact that every instance of Johnny hanging out with his male friends requires throwing a football around. And then there are the endless sex scenes and the rambling conversations about Lisa's love life. "The Room" provides a tantalizing glimpse into Wiseau's mind, and it seems to be one seriously screwed-up place. It's hard not to wonder if the film was Wiseau's response to a bad breakup, because he seems to be exorcising personal demons all over the place.

"Troll 2" and "The Room" are exceptional in that their flaws are uniquely bad in a way that makes them inadvertently entertaining. They're classics by accident, which was an inevitable development, I suppose, after years and years of an ever-growing morass of cheaply made bad movies. So I concede the point that, yes, there is such a thing as movies so bad they're good – if by good you mean that they're an awful lot of fun to watch.

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