Attack of the Cult Flicks!


April was a big month for so-bad-they’re-good movies. This past Saturday marked the one-year anniversary of the first New York screening of Tommy Wiseau’s crazy-awful melodrama The Room — a landmark the producer-writer-director-star celebrated with a sold-out screening at the freaking Ziegfeld. James Nguyen’s low-low-looow-rent thriller Birdemic: Shock and Terror screened at the IFC Center. (Don’t worry, it’ll probably be back.) Mega-Piranha, a sort of sequel to the abominable Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus, premiered on SyFy. And the onslaught ain’t over yet: Opening May 14 is the fascinating new documentary Best Worst Movie, a look at the cult behind the 1990 film Troll 2, an awful schlock thriller once deemed the worst movie ever made. (It has held the coveted place of honor on IMDb’s Bottom 100 list, though it appears to be creeping up a bit.) Best Worst Movie comes at a time when good-bad movies are threatening to transcend the cult-status bin, competing for valuable mind space with movies that are actually good. This is a problem — but maybe not for the obvious reasons.

The movies that once rose slowly to cult status did so not solely on the “strength” of poor filmmaking, but evidence of a certain delusional quality on the part of their creators — a quality well represented by the genuinely weird Wiseau and Nguyen. (Think back also to heartland schlock aspirant Mark Borchardt, as profiled in Chris Smith’s American Movie.) Their recent “success” shows the power of social media in helping spread a phenomenon. The filmmakers have eagerly promoted their own work via Tweets, web updates, and, of course, personal appearances. Seemingly delusional or not, both Wiseau and Nguyen have proven to be amazing self-promoters. They are basically the indie-film world equivalent of reality-TV stars.

And that’s the problem, as Spencer Pratt might say. We love good-bad movies. And The Room is genuinely bugshit insane, made by a dude who “scraped together” $7 million and made it look like a buck-fifty. But the experience of watching it loses something when you add self-promotion to the mix. The ghost of Ed Wood reigned over this world for decades, but now the nexus of digital technology, social media, and the DIY revolution ensures that any crackpot with a video camera can supplant him, potentially even making a career on his own ineptitude and ridiculousness. Suddenly, making a truly awful movie has become a legitimate avenue for success. And that means the joke’s on us.