A few days ago I read this review of Best Worst Movie on the newly-launched Cinema Monolith (previously The Derby Killer – go, read, be educated about film noir and Buckaroo Banzai, leave amusing comments, bookmark, revisit, read again, etc. etc.). For the uninitiated, Best Worst Movie is a documentary about the making of Troll 2, as well as that movie’s subsequent popularity with dedicated fans of all things so-bad-it’s-actually-good. Apparently it is regularly bestowed with the dubious honour of being voted the worst movie of all time, its cause championed in the face of stiff opposition by hardy masochists who watch enough terrible films to be able to judge with some degree of authority.
It was interesting to read that the Italian director of Troll 2, Claudio Fragasso, was distressed to discover 20 years after his film went straight to video that he hadn’t in fact ‘made a masterpiece’. There’s something gladdening about the fact that this man remained oblivious to the ridicule bestowed upon Troll 2 for more than two decades, and had for all that time apparently believed that he had created a well-respected work of art. And then it hit me. The reason for the appeal of these films is surely due to a certain degree of innocence. Part of the charm of bad movies, part of the undeniable pleasure that can be derived from watching them, comes from the fact that the director – it’s always the director – is aiming to make something great and invariably fails spectacularly.
With that perennial so-bad-it’s-good favourite Plan 9 From Outer Space, for example, the joke in part comes from knowing that its creator – who ironically became the subject of a truly great film himself – was convinced during production that he was making something magnificent, when he clearly wasn’t. Generously you could say it’s blinkered enthusiasm, but if you’re not feeling as charitable it can just as easily be described as absolute madness. But either way it’s there to be admired.
Today a whole scene has arisen from the ironic (and indeed the genuine) appreciation and celebration of ‘bad’ movies, which can be traced via the rise of Troma in the 70s and 80s and the terrible Martian, monster and robot flicks of the 50s and 60s all the way back to dated 30s propaganda films like Reefer Madness. Indeed many of these productions shouldn’t be sneered at or decried as worthless – Kevin Costner, Paul Sorvino, JJ Abrams, Samuel L Jackson, Vincent D’Onofrio and Marisa Tomei have all presumably erased the movies in question from their CVs by now, but technically they are united by the fact they all have a Troma skeleton in their respective closets (although it must be added that in some cases this is due to the company buying up dross after certain actors became famous). Though Troma has long celebrated tacky crap by accurately reproducing its own brand of modern-day tacky crap, there have also been some genuinely good modern approximations of the creature feature flicks of yore made elsewhere: Arachnophobia, Eight-Legged Freaks and Tremors are three examples that spring immediately to mind, even if they do look back toward the ‘better’ B-movies of the 50s.
These three succeeded partly because they all managed to tap into a certain earlier spirit of naivety, but today there appears to be an added cynicism at play, an appreciation by marketing execs that an audience exists who will lap up any old rubbish that is thrown their way if someone, somewhere describes it as being ‘so bad it’s good’. It’s not exactly new, but it has resulted in a spate of movies that have – in the early age of internet sharing – deliberately sought out the attention of millions through the title of the film or some other device. While the makers of Snakes On A Plane aren’t necessarily at fault, the way in which their movie achieved a phenomenally-swift word-of-mouth buzz across social media and blogs paved the way for a thousand and one terrible imitators to follow suit, such as Anthony C. Ferrante, who achieved a degree of so-bad-it’s-good success with his 2013 TV movie Sharknado.
Those who quickly sounded their ironic appreciation for Sharknado when it appeared on screens last year are perhaps missing the point a little. (And for this we have the Syfy channel to thank, who have also given us Sharktopus, Arachnoquake, Mega Python vs Gatoroid, Pegasus v Chimera and Jersey Shore Shark Attack.) There’s little sense here of a director failing spectacularly as he attempts to launch his career and become the next James Cameron; instead you just know deep down that Ferrante could probably have made something much better, had he wanted to, but he has either been given the remit or has deliberately set out himself to make something that stinks to high heaven. Why give it any love at all? You won’t get the feeling while watching it – despite the rubbish special effects – that on some level it manages to bring to mind the romantic notion of cinema as a vehicle for showing the impossible or the hitherto unseen. There’s not much love for the chequered history of B-movies on display, either. Instead there’s just terrible acting and the nagging sense that you’re proving some nasty, calculating marketing man right by watching the calculated, nasty little buzz-generating TV movie he helped to create.
Sharknado relies, of course, on the humour generated by its melding together of two completely unrelated elements: sharks and tornadoes, and this trend is gathering pace (just this week the trailer for a new film called Zombeavers became an instant hit on the web). Admittedly, the concept is mildly amusing, but the joke’s over with quickly and all that you’re left with is a feeling of disgust and the loss of an hour and a half that could have been invested in Jaws. In terms of the plot, the Californian coast is hit by a terrible storm and hundreds of sharks are flung through the air and thus out of their normal, natural habitat, meaning a few beach bums and Tara Reid get to run around while sharks land in their roads, houses and places of employment.
Reid – known primarily for her parts in the American Pie series and some tabloid-level misdemeanours – looks understandably pissed off that her career has nose-dived to such an extent, but at least she can act a little bit. The rest of those involved here – Ian Ziering as lead ‘Fin’ Shepherd, Cassie Scerbo as gun-toting sidekick Nova and Jaason Simmons as Random Australian Baz – are absolutely terrible, and the only benefit that comes from their performances is that the dreadful effects seem more realistic in comparison. The CGI shark that shoots up in the air from a storm drain, for example, is far better than Simmons.
There is some small appeal in seeing this poor cast play things completely straight (for the most part) and you can just about forgive the effects being so bad as the budget was probably extremely low (although of course that’s not really an excuse in the wake of Gareth Edwards’ Monsters, made for $500,000). However the more you consider the lengths with which the filmmaker has tried to cynically pander to the so-bad-it’s-good crowd, Sharknado gradually grates more and more. Sadly the sequel, starring Judd Hirsch, is apparently on the way.
The defence, of course, is ‘hey Stu, it’s just a bit of fun’, and ‘hey Stu, it’s just a TV movie’, and ‘hey Stu, even if it was on at the cinema people are free to vote with their wallets anyway’. Which is all fair enough, and I’m a sucker for an internet meme as much as the next guy, but there’s something rotten about all of this contemptuous, attention-grabbing filmmaking that is actually, weirdly, doing a disservice to all those bad films that have been made before. When Ed Wood or Claudio Fragasso released their movies they had tried hard to produce works that would be well-respected, and they were apparently proud of their achievements at the time. They didn’t want their films to be referred to as ‘the worst ever made’, and so there’s a slight sadness about the fact that was their fate. It makes me happy in turn to see the goodwill that has been sent their way by genuine fans of Plan 9 From Outer Space or Troll 2 over the years. When someone is knowingly, deliberately exploiting that goodwill it leaves a sore taste in the mouth, to the point where you realise that not giving them any further attention or exposure is the absolute best way of dealing with it.
So there you go.
Directed by: Anthony C. Ferrante
Written by: Thunder Levin
Starring: Ian Ziering, Tara Reid, Cassie Scerbo
Running Time: 86 minutes