Friday, April 24, 2009

Bad movies that hurt so good

I'm generally not prone to celebrating other people's failures but when it comes to a really bad movie I'm guilty of a touch of schadenfreude. To make a truly horrible film - which becomes known as such for many years - is indeed an artistic talent, albeit an accidental one.

Edward D. Wood Jr. is often cited as the worst filmmaker of all-time. The writer, director and actor made many films, but his most well known - popular is the wrong word - were "Glen or Glenda," "Bride of the Monster" and "Plan 9 From Outer Space." He is immortalized by Tim Burton in the film "Ed Wood," which starred Johnny Depp as Wood, but was not seen by many (budget: $18 million, domestic gross: $5.9 million). You should rent "Ed Wood," as it's a fascinating study of the man and the low-budget movie making business. If you're daring and enjoy a good chuckle, rent some of Wood's actual films.

Like any movie buff, I have seen scores of bad movies over the years. Truly horrible ones? Far fewer.

There are differences not only in the degree of "bad," but also in type. There's "bad" boring, "bad" dumb, and even "bad" inane - but then there's also "bad" hilarious. In other words, most bad movies will leave you annoyed, frustrated and/or confused, and in some cases actually move you to anger. Generally they all lead to disappointment. In contrast, an awful movie can be quite satisfying.

And making a hilariously bad movie takes talent - or at least some rare combination of tenaciousness, an utter lack of moviemaking skills and a void where your self-awareness gene should be.

Tommy Wiseau, the director and writer of "The Room" has talent. This movie is by far the worst I have ever seen. But it's wonderful. It should be required viewing for every film school student as an example (well hundreds, really) of what not to do when trying to make a movie.

"The Room" is ostensibly a drama about a guy named Johnny (played by Wiseau) whose girlfriend Lisa is cheating on him with his best friend, Mark. That's pretty much it for the story, although you can tell in an interview in the DVD's extras that Wiseau thinks there's a lot more going on.

Johnny is supposed to be a successful American businessman, loved by his friends and respected by all. But Wiseau's heavy (European?) accent is obvious in every scene. Plus, his character is often mocked. And for some reason Johnny's not good at eye contact. I don't think it's intentional, it's just bad acting.

Going into too much more detail will ruin the experience of the Room, should you choose to watch it. Suffice it to say, the dialogue is pathetic, the staging and art direction are lame (my wife swears she saw the Sesame Street set, complete with Oscar's trash can), the unrealistic greenscreen scenes - and interminable love scenes - will leave you howling, and the acting is pedestrian in most cases. Still, I have to give an honourable mention to the actress (over)playing Lisa's mother. Someone should report her to the acting police; her list of offences is long.

I heard about "The Room" from an article in Entertainment Weekly,,20246031,00.html that explains its whole history, which is fascinating but too lengthy to go into here. Apparently many hollywood stars love the movie, including Will Arnett, Paul Rudd and Kristen Bell. Bell even hosts "The Room" viewing parties. There are midnight viewings in some US cities (staged in a similar way to showings of the Rocky Horror Picture Show) and Wiseau sometimes shows up. He insists "The Room" is supposed to be partly comedic and the DVD cover mentions the film's black humour. Don't be fooled. It's meant to be a drama. And that just makes it so much better.

When I tried to rent "The Room" I couldn't find a single video store carrying it in downtown Toronto so I ordered it online. It was more than a box office bomb when it came out in 2003 (estimated gross $1,900), but Wiseau still paid for a DVD release. I'm so glad that he did.

If you love hilariously bad movies I recommend you get your hands on a copy too. But don't ask to borrow mine. I don't know that I could ever part with it. I'm no collector, but it's definitely one of my most prized possessions.


Blogger Mr. Jackson said...

Terrific, Mel! I will have to look for this gem of a movie.

June 4, 2009 at 4:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Definitely one for the books.

June 4, 2009 at 4:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


You're absolutely right! Not ALL bad movies entertain. Some merely bore. Like you, I saw Tommy Wiseau's magnum opus, The Room. Not only was I not bored, I was convulsed with laughter – at the high-school-level acting, the leaden dialogue, the ridiculous green-screen 'effects.'

Thanks for giving exposure to this dreadful masterpiece. Let's hope that enough people, and some influential critics, see this film and elevate it to its rightful place in the Pantheon of Schlock. It will be in good company, joining the canon of Ed Wood, the King of Schlock.

Don Douloff

June 4, 2009 at 4:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, what do you have against pedestrians?

The Raven. Don't remember it other than I wanted to walk out.

Blair Witch Project. Over-rated.

hmm, would have to think about it. there were some movies that came out of the 70s that were terrible.


June 4, 2009 at 8:06 PM  

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