The worst movies of all time
This act of masochism, watching the worst movies of all time – would that have been wasted time if there was no resulting book deal?
Good question. I think I’d probably be wondering about that to my dying day. It would make for a good dinner party anecdote. But I fully intended to write the book whether I got it published or not. Obviously the amount of money I pumped out on bad movies would’ve made it a financial loss, but in terms of the appreciation it gave me of cinema and filmmakers, I think it was worthwhile.
Movie-making is a big undertaking, there are a lot of people involved, it’s expensive – so how do bad movies get made?
I think the answer’s actually in the question. Movie making is such a complex collaborative and commercial endeavour that it’s actually a miracle when things go right. You might have a great script and a lousy director; or a great script, a great director but a meddling producer; or a great script, a great director, a great producer and an actor who decides it’s a drama instead of a comedy. Or you might have all the things come together and have really bad luck. A hit movie that’s well received by critics and moviegoers is a rarity.
On the other end of the scale there’s a lot of people who think they can make movies and just don’t have the talent or the resources. That doesn’t deter them. It’s almost like folk art. But because these amateurs approach it in that spirit, the results can be quite striking, for all the wrong reasons.
There’s that scene in Tim Burton’s Ed Wood where Ed is compared to Orson Welles, just because they both had that unassailable integrity. So you think it’s possible to have no talent but to be born a filmmaker?
It’s definitely possible. For every Ed Wood there’s probably ten dogged directors you’ve never heard of: Jerry Warren, Andy Milligan… It’s more common for these guys to die in obscurity. Anybody can have a go at filmmaking. Whether you end up as a maker of films that are known as inadvertently entertaining or not is up to the gods.
When Ed Wood perished in 1978 had been forgotten largely by everybody. The trade papers didn’t report him passing. It was only actually that year that people had begun to rediscover Glen or Glenda, and a couple of years after that when Plan 9 From Outer Space was announced as the worst film ever made and Ed Wood as the worst filmmaker ever in The Golden Turkey Awards book – and his posthumous cult began. In the years leading up to that he was completely forgotten.
So what makes a bad film merely bad and another bad film, like Plan 9, entertaining?
I think boredom is probably the bottom line. That’s actually perversely what I was looking for, a movie that was so terrible that you’d rather watch a blank wall for two hours. I did find a few like that. It’s probably very difficult to make a movie that has no redeeming value whatsoever. A bad movie that’s really good is a movie that’s terrible but its terribleness is consistently over-the-top, wild, weird and funny. But a lot of bad movies have moments that are jaw-droppingly silly but there are vast stretches of boredom in between. Out of the 400+ movies I saw there are probably three or four dozen that are consistently entertaining all the way through.
In that vain, The Room has been generating a lot of hype recently. How do you rate it?
It’s fabulous. I showed it at the launch of the book and I’d not seen it with an audience. 250 people laughed as hard if not harder than I’d seen any cinema crowd do. There’s Something About Mary-, Borat-style laughs all the way through. Tommy [Wiseau] set out to make a passionate Tennessee Williams-style melodrama. What he made was a po-faced movie where every single scene bar one is just so off kilter it’s amazing. Some people say he’s done it as a hoax…
Tommy himself is saying that the humour was intentional.
He says that now. I interviewed him about a year ago and he certainly wasn’t saying that then. He’s embraced the cult. He probably doesn’t want to look like as foolish as he is. But that’s a brilliant example of a really bad movie that’s supremely entertaining.
There are just a couple more movies I’d like to get your take on – what do you think of Mac and Me?I’m just amazed that you can release a film that is so relentlessly geared to promoting McDonald’s and Coca Cola. There’s an alien called Mac – because there’s some scenes where he’s hanging out at McDonald’s – and he and his whole family live on Coca Cola. Ronald even introduced the trailer at cinemas. It’s just so egregious.
Alone in the Dark?
Shocker. You could probably watch that film 22 times and have very little idea what’s going on. Just the fact you’ve got Tara Reid as a brainiac anthropologist museum curator – it’s a spectacular miscasting along the lines of Denise Richards in… pretty much any role… I mean, Uwe Boll has admitted that Tara can do comedy but she’s just terrible at anything dramatic and that’s a fair call. He also admitted that there were real problems with the script that he was going to fix as he went along. That didn’t happen. That said, as Boll said, it’s not a boring movie. It’s baffling and it’s stupid but it’s not boring. That’s something in its favour.
What about Showgirls? I know it has a special place in your heart.
Showgirls is along the lines of Plan 9, one of those bad movies that has become the benchmark for schlock that’s entertaining. I was entranced by it. I’ve seen it half-a-dozen times and each time it’s mind-bogglingly hilarious. It’s so obscene and raunchy and try-hard erotic but you can’t get turned on because you’re laughing too much. To the film’s credit it’s so unfailingly bad that after a horrific moment of sexual violence you’re laughing again. I wish that Verhoeven had managed to make the intended sequel Bimbos. I certainly would have watched that.
I always think of Michael Caine, who seems quite happy to admit he’s made “a lot of shit” just for the money. Were you struck by great actors who have ended up in bad movies?
I’d probably be more struck by great actors who didn’t make bad movies. Just about everybody has made a piece of utter schlock in their past. Even Sir Laurence Olivier puts in a hammy over-the-top performance in Inchon, and he’s generally considered the finest actor of his generation. Then there’s Humphrey Bogart in The Return Of Doctor X – if you can imagine Humphrey Bogart as a vampire, that’s this role. Brad Pitt, Sandra Bullock, Charlize Theron, Angelina Jolie, Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger all have stinkers in the closet, but then half of the oeuvre of Richard Burton and Liz Taylor are cheese-fests. It’s striking the consistency that award-winning actors have appeared in utter dross at some point.
Since you mention The Return of Doctor X, how much is an awful title an indication of the quality of the film?
Anything with a number two is a warning sign. Son of…, Return To… Then there’s just wackjob titles like Death Bed: The Bed That Eats, Evil Brain from Outer Space, Dracula vs Frankenstein, Billy the Kid vs Dracula, Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter, Frankenstein Island… you pretty much know what you’re in for with any of those. But they’re good fun, their titles are outrageous and they have to live up to them. If a movie’s called Horror of Party Beach, you know there’s going to be monsters menacing bimbos on the sand while a band plays. There’s plenty of fun to be had with those titles.
What about successful bad movies? I look on at the spoof movie genre particularly with growing despair.
What’s appalling about movies like Date Movie, Epic Movie and Disaster Movie is that they’re funded by a studio and the people who write them are really well paid – they’re not independent filmmakers just having a go and putting financiers on the line. And this is what they come up with. Idiotic parodies that are so stupid that they actually have to announce who they’re parodying. They hold their audience in utter contempt, and at least those guys like Ed Wood and Andy Milligan were trying as hard as they could. I was also appalled with Transformers 2. That was just the laziest piece of shit I’ve ever seen come out of Hollywood. I’d rather watch a Uwe Boll film any day than have to sit through Transformers 2 again. If you decided to waterboard me afterwards I would not be able to tell you anything about it because my mind was off somewhere paying bills and doing shopping. It’s a true sign of a bad movie where you don’t want to pay attention. Doubly so when the volume’s cranked up to 11 and you’re still not engaged.
Showgirls, Teen Wolves and Astro Zombies: A Film Critic's Year-Long Quest to Find the Worst Movie Ever Made is published through Murdoch Books.
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