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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 18 June 2018

It’s so bad, it’s good: Famously bad films that have gained cult status 

‘The Disaster Artist’, a film about the making of ‘The Room’ – ‘the worst movie ever made’ – has ironically earned Golden Globe nominations, but the original is not the first bad movie to gain cult status

Elizabeth Berkley and Glenn Plummer in Showgirls. Courtesy MGM
Elizabeth Berkley and Glenn Plummer in Showgirls. Courtesy MGM

The Room is such a crazy movie and Tommy Wiseau is such an odd character – person – in real life,” says James Franco, director and star of The Disaster Artist.

Franco’s film – a charming, feel-good comedy about following your dreams – is based on the book by Greg Sestero, The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made, an insider look into a film that has gained cult status for its sheer dreadfulness.

A struggling actor, Sestero met the mysterious Wiseau, who was determined to make a film whatever the cost. Scripting and directing melodrama The Room, Wiseau even self-funded the film, as well as co-starring with Sestero. “He was someone that had all the odds stacked against him – the way he looked, the way he sounded, how weird his ideas were – and he still got his movie made the way he wanted to make it,” says Franco, “and that is an accomplishment.”

The irony is that Franco is now nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance as Wiseau (his brother Dave Franco plays Sestero) whilst the film itself is up for Best Picture in the Musical/Comedy category. Wiseau, meanwhile, has seen The Room celebrated across the world, with audiences packing midnight screenings, quoting the wretched dialogue and even throwing spoons at the screen (an in-joke to do with the decor).

In other words, Wiseau’s film has crossed that void from being simply unwatchable to that treasured status of “so bad it’s good”. These aren’t cult films like, say, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, where audiences dress up as characters and quote-a-long. Nor are they bad films, which are 10-a-penny in Hollywood. Rather, they’re the sort of films that are so inept, they’re actually entertaining in their haplessness. Here are 10 of the best (of the worst):

The Room (2003).

The grandmaster of the so bad they’re good films. Never mind the rather run-of-the-mill plot about Johnny (Tommy Wiseau), his relationship with Lisa and the affair she’s having with his best friend Mark, it’s the staggering way it’s been put together (or not) that makes The Room a cinematic car crash. Continuity gaffs, dead-end subplots, terrible acting, pointless characters and baffling decision-making, it takes multiple viewings to truly appreciate its awfulness. Wiseau even massacres James Dean’s classic ‘You’re tearing me apart’ line from Rebel Without a Cause.

Bula Quo! (2013).

They opened Live Aid. They also made this film. Francis Rossi and the late Rick Parfitt, two key members of rock band Status Quo, took to the big screen in this comedy-adventure film that sees the musicians mixed up in a mafia plot in Fiji. With chases on just about every vehicle you can imagine – jet-skis, golf carts and the like – there’s even the chance to see the Quo fight a shark. Getting progressively sillier by the second, it’s also seasoned with classic Quo music on the soundtrack. Get down!

Jaws: The Revenge (1987).

What is it about shark movies that inspire filmmakers towards dross? Sharknado, Mega Shark Vs. Giant Octopus, Megaladon…the list goes on. But it is the fourth (and final) movie in the Jaws series that merits making this list. A vengeful shark following its prey into the Caribbean, it starts with a ridiculous premise and goes downhill from there. “I have never seen it, but by all accounts it is terrible,” said star Michael Caine. “However, I have seen the house that it built, and it is terrific!”

The Wicker Man (2006).

Nicolas Cage could arguably fill all ten slots with so bad they’re good movies, but this remake of the 1973 pagan horror set on a remote Scottish island takes some beating. Cage is the sheriff who investigates a young girl’s disappearance amid a closed community who practice strange rituals to improve their harvest. The original’s sacrificial scene is a classic, but it doesn’t top Cage being tortured by bees. “Oh no! Not the bees!” he screams, a line that’s launched a thousand internet memes.

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The Giant Spider Invasion (1975).

A meteorite crashes into Wisconsin and oversized spiders spew out causing havoc…Bill Rebane’s horror has all the throwbacks to classic 1950s B movies. But then any film that constructs its main spider from a Volkswagen car covered in fake black fur (and using its tail-lights to represent the creature’s glowing eyes) has to be something special. The puppetry for some of the smaller arachnids is also endearingly bad, although the gloomy cinematography hardly helps you follow the nonsense plotting.

Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959).

Before Tommy Wiseau, there was Ed Wood, another well-meaning filmmaker who held the title of Worst Director of All Time. Wood’s Plan 9 – a story about aliens trying to stop humans from creating a doomsday weapon – was probably the reason why, with its atrocious home-made special effects, continuity errors and dumb dialogue (“future events such as these will affect you in the future” says the opening voice-over). Rather like Wiseau, Wood was immortalised in Tim Burton’s 1994 biopic Ed Wood, starring Johnny Depp.

Troll 2 (1990).

There are no trolls in it, and it has no connection to the 1986 film Troll, but this comedy-horror directed by Claudio Fragasso (under the name Drake Floyd) was renamed from “Goblins” to cash in on… well, who knows what. The story of vegetarian goblins trying to turn a family into plants so they can eat them, linguistic problems between the Italian crew and the English-speaking cast meant the dialogue got mangled. Michael Stephenson, a child star from the film, directed a 2010 documentary about it, Best Worst Movie.

Showgirls (1995).

“It provides entertainment, though not in the way I think it was originally intended,” noted a horrified Kyle MacLachlan, one of the stars of Paul Verhoeven’s slice of camp. The tale of drifter Nomi Malone (Elizabeth Berkley) who heads to Las Vegas to make it as a showgirl, it won seven Golden Raspberry awards and gained late-night cult status as viewers flocked to re-experience its seizure-inducing dialogue and tasteless costumes. Critics have since tried to reassess the film as a satire; ignore that and just revel in its hideousness.

Birdemic: Shock and Terror (2010).

Inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, James Nguyen’s film was made for under US$10,000 (Dh36,726) and, boy, does it show. Never mind the wooden lines, silly plotting or poor sound, it’s the crude special effects that elevate this into bad territory. From poorly animated computer sprites to birds that explode on impact into puffs of red and yellow smoke, critics immediately recognised its nuttiness: “one more in the pantheon of beloved trash-terpieces”, as New York paper The Village Voice termed it.

Anaconda (1997).

A giant snake terrorises a documentary crew in the Amazon jungle. This B movie has a semi-decent cast, including Owen Wilson and Jennifer Lopez, and Jon Voight gives one of the most insane performances you’ll ever see, as a madman snake hunter. “When I did the character I didn’t think it was over the top, it was appropriate for the role,” he said. Worth watching just for the sequence where the reptile swallows him whole, then regurgitates him.

The Disaster Artist opens on January 4