Making a good movie is hard. Making a lousy movie is pretty easy. But making a movie so transcendently awful that viewers watch it with the same rapt awe as watching a train wreck is exceedingly difficult, akin to catching lightning in a bottle.
This week’s “Piranha 3D” seemed to aim at that exalted breed of film but it fell short of the mark: The movie is actually good, filled with all sorts of gross-out moments and genuine scares. And maybe that’s its problem. If it were worse — and I mean a lot worse — “Piranha” might not have done better at the box office (it earned a paltry $10 million) but, five years from now, it might have conventions thrown in its honor.
Here are some of our favorite awesomely awful flicks:
PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE (1956)
The Orson Welles of awesomely bad filmmaking is indisputably Ed Wood and this flick is his “Citizen Kane.” To criticize the staggering incompetence of “Plan 9 From Outer Space” is like ridiculing a child’s drawing for not understanding perspective. Sure, the film features gasoline soaked paper plates posing as UFOs, ghouls terrorizing housewives in cardboard cemeteries, and talk of a bomb that makes sunlight explode, but Wood’s vision is so earnest and pure that the “Plan 9” seems strangely wholesome. And it’s no more frightening than your average episode of “Mister Roger’s Neighborhood.”
TROLL 2 (1990)
By pretty much any measure, this film has to be ranked as one of the worst films ever made. Describing the mind-bogglingly idiotic plot might very well induce a migraine, but it includes oozing chlorophyll, militantly vegetarian goblins, and some of the worst line readings in history. It was even the subject of a documentary called “Best Worst Movie.” The one thing the movie lacks: a single troll.
“Showgirls” was advertised as a racy erotic thriller, proudly wearing its “NC-17” rating on its bedazzled sleeve. But instead of “Basic Instinct” — director Paul Verhoeven and screenwriter Joe Eszterhas’s previous collaboration — audiences got something much weirder and sleazier. What do you make of a scene where the two main characters bond over their shared childhood love of dog food? Or that bizarre swimming pool love scene with Kyle MacLachlan? “Showgirls” is filled unhinged moments like these. And they didn’t happen on accident. Though star Elizabeth Berkeley delivers a go-for-broke, completely exposed — in all senses of the term — performance, you can almost hear Paul Verhoeven snickering in the background.
THE ROOM (2004)
To describe Tommy Wiseau’s staggeringly awful opus is no easy feat. Even people who have seen the flick multiple times aren’t really sure what the story is about except that it centers on a guy who mumbles a lot, his harpy of a girlfriend, and a whole lot of subplots that go nowhere. Yet “The Room” has developed a “Rocky Horror Picture Show” like cult following in Los Angeles. Every month, the movie’s many mavens line up around the block to shout at the screen and reenact some of the flick’s best lines. Rumor has it that Wiseau is planning a sequel.
THE WICKER MAN (2006)
The 1973 original, which was hailed as a classic of British horror, has an ending that still shocks. The 2006 remake is also riveting but for all the wrong reasons, combining Neil LaBute’s trademark misogyny taken reductio ad absurdum with some of the most preposterously hammy acting of Nicolas Cage’s career. And that’s saying something. The film’s high (or low) point comes when Cage, dressed in a bear suit, cold-cocks a young maiden. Yes, you read that right.