Tommy Wiseau: a name that sends a shiver down the spine of scrupulous movie critics. This heavily-accented film auteur came into the spotlight when audiences took note of his pet project The Room. What should have been an easily dismissed shitty two-hour soap opera gained an instant cult following precisely because its inane script, sloppy acting, and lurid sex scenes appealed to audiences’ craving for that rare “incomprehensibly bad” movie.
Categorizing films as “best worst movies” is not an easy task. Still, there are a few criteria that can be met for a film to merit that label. First of all, one must look at the filmmaker’s intentions. Tommy Wiseau set out to make a respected adult drama. He spectacularly failed at this task, adding an unintentional comic core to a melodramatic script. Although Wiseau has recently declared that his intentions for The Room were more along the lines of creating a black comedy, his comments are pure defense. You see, for this first criterion to be met, one must be laughing at—not with—the filmmakers.
Let’s take a look at another kitschy masterpiece. Starship Troopers, Dutch director Paul Verhoeven’s 1997 sci-fi epic, has it all: sex, violence, and aliens. But what sets this apart from the typical flesh/blood-fest is its inconceivably corny acting. The cast is comprised of youthful blond-haired beauties who would be more at home getting spray tans, not out in space valorously fighting evil bugs for the sake of the human race’s survival.
Exhibit A: Denise Richards plays the role of a precocious spaceship pilot who is eventually given command of a ship that carries thousands of crewmates. Who the fuck made that casting decision? Didn’t anyone on set notice how preposterous the situation was? It’s these little details surreptitiously slipping through Hollywood’s fine-combed editing rooms that turn shitty movies into entertainment incarnate.
Exhibit B: Casper Van Dien, who plays protagonist Johnny Rico, is publicly punished by way of lashings. Van Dien’s Ken-like appearance gives the scene the excessive sexual undertones rampant throughout the movie. Want proof? When commenting on the S&M-like scene, an IMDB user asked the question: “anyone else get a boner from this scene (and I’m a straight male)?”
For one reason or another, great shitty movies have an obsession with these kinds of lascivious encounters, implied or not. This lashing scene is just the tip of the iceberg in Starship Troopers. It’s filled to the brim with nude co-ed shower scenes, fucking in tents, and some risqué shots of Denise Richards. How they passed through the producers’ supervision is a mystery not worth exploring. Nevertheless, this ridiculous excessiveness unintentionally creates comedic gold. Once again, we’re laughing at the filmmakers and actors (and their private parts), not with them.
There’s always been an audience for poorly-made B-films, but it’s a special occasion when a big budget blockbuster is able to mimic a B-movie’s immoderation. Still, one must be able to spot the imitators who, out of their own volition, attempt to make their movies hilariously shitty. Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez tried this with their double-feature Grindhouse. The differences between this and an authentic grindhouse film couldn’t have been more apparent. The actors were too familiar and the script was a little too aware of its “badness”. Still, the movie was more of a tribute than an imitation, so these charges can be overlooked. The moral of the story: if you’re laughing at the movie you’re making, then it can’t be categorized alongside The Room and Starship Troopers in the pantheon of great shittiness.
The unexpected is what makes us laugh the hardest. I mean, there are a few great action scenes and special effects in Starship Troopers, but it is characterized by the gaping flaws that make it comedic above all else. It’s what creates that undeniable connection to its disparate peers—The Room, Troll 2, and Battlefield Earth. We sit and wait for their successors, but like a stroke of genius, their arrivals cannot be predicted. If you’re looking for fillers in the meantime, though, spoiler alert: Piranha 3DD is double the awfulness.