Before it hit theaters last year, few outside the faithful knew that the dizzy documentary Best Worst Movie was actually about the making (and eventual cult embrace) of the hackneyed horror apocalypse known as Troll 2. For many, that title was nothing more than a mindless supposed sequel to an already stunted Albert Band original - though the two films actually have little in common. But in the frat house fumes and slacker cafes of underground indie culture, Troll 2 is Rocky Horror. It’s a mutant Midnight Movie made available around the clock thanks to the ready access of home video. It is worshiped and worried over, a real rite of passage for those too young to remember the Medved’s original Golden Turkey takes. With the addition of the documentary (made by the feature’s child star Michael Stephenson), the failed fright film has become a clear cottage industry.
All of which begs the question - what’s the next ‘Best Worst Movie’? What film among the many flotsam flops and jetsam junk will be deified by the denizens of Messageboard Nation. It’s not merely a question of bad. Few will be filling the Alamo Drafthouse for special screenings of Battlefield: Earth or rearranging their life based on Barry Sonnenfeld’s Will Smith stinker Wild, Wild, West. No, in order to make it into Troll 2 territory (or, by that regard, the exclusive kingdom of Plan 9/Eegah! /Red Zone Cuba), it takes a specific kind of crap, a movie so ripe in its ambitions and yet so miserable in its execution that the two approaches combine to set off a nutty nuclear wasteland of worthwhile entertainment. Again, it’s not hard to locate cinematic stool (just open up today’s Cineplex listings). Finding the right kind of filmic feces to celebrate is another matter all together.
That’s where Short Ends and Leader comes in. While our knowledge of movie mediocrity is vast, it is not completely comprehensive. Yet within the five choices here are enough failed aspirations and outright creativity insanity to spawn at least a couple of dorm room discussions. Who knows - 20 years from now, Robert Scott may be as legendary as Claudio Fragasso - in the ‘best worst’ way possible.
The Video Dead (1987)
A couple of kooky ‘80s kids, dressed like refugees from a Jazzercise exhibition gone horribly, horribly wrong, start setting up their new household while Mom and Dad are off in Saudi Arabia (?). The sexually frustrated (and ambiguous) son discovers a moldy old TV set in the attic. Little does he know that it is actually a magical doorway to zombie Hell. Yes, actual members of the walking dead come out of the boob tube, killing random members of the citizenry before setting their sights on our duo. Add in an expositional character channeling Gremlins’ Hoyt Axton, a true lack of convincing F/X, and a last act confrontation which finds our zombies desperate to - dine and dance??? - and you’ve got the makings of a mangled movie religion.
Beware: Children at Play (1989)
This infamous Troma pick-up, so supposedly shocking that potential buyers fled its premier at the Cannes Film Festival, is actually horrifying for only one reason - the use of Beowulf as a major plot point. Yes, the feral young-uns of a small upstate New Jersey town are tired of being bossed around by their puritanical parents. So they hook up with a cannibalistic wild child channeling Charles Manson by way of an epic poem (and you thought Mr. Helter Skelter’s obsession with the Beatles was weird). As a clueless sheriff and his bestselling author buddy try to solve the mystery of the kids’ disappearance, wee ones go all Lord of the Flies on the populace. In true taboo busting style, the ending features the mass slaughter of the now evil offspring. Classic!
Outlaw Prophet (2001)
Another terrific Troma title, with even bigger literary ambitions in its sights. Christian musician David Heavener decided to jump on the plentiful post-Matrix bandwagon by doing something cinematically that the Brothers Wachowski were apparently too intelligent - or scared - to undertake. Using a veiled metaphor featuring reality TV, aliens, a “frequency” named John 141, disco, Running Man references, zombies and demons, he crafts one of the most crackers allegories about the second coming of Christ…ever (yes, you read that last line correctly). Like watching David Lynch drink and then dredge up the Kool-Aid of his famous fever dream logic, the experience here is less evangelical and more stark raving insane. For his part, Heavener (gotta love that last name) looks like Miles O’Keefe’s less interesting brother, handling all the filmmaking chores (writing, directing, acting…singing?) with equal ineffectual aplomb.
Death Bed: The Bed That Eats (1977)
This one has to go on reputation, urban legend, motion picture myth, and a few unhinged YouTube videos to make its point. The story does indeed center on a bed possessed by a demon, the result being an underlying mattress loaded with acid that tends to dissolve those who lay on it. Even better, this fright night bit of furniture is capable of capturing its victims with its own sheets, and remaking itself once the carnage is over and done with. The story - what there is of it - centers around the standard victim fodder finding its way into the bed’s deadly domain, and doing dumb things in a hopelessly illogical and dumb manner. A DVD supposedly exists, and with a director eager to explain himself to the world, this has Troll 2 tendencies written all over it.
All This and World War II (1976)
They’ve supported sneaker commercials and a silly Cirque De Soleil experiment, so why can’t the Fab Four re-imagine WWII as well? Indeed, someone thought it was a good idea to take classic Beatles songs, have them rerecorded by famous names of the day (i.e., the mid ‘70s) and then set the tunes to stock footage of the Axis/Allies beatdown. For a brief period, director Susan Winslow makes it all work. But once Helen “I Am Woman” Reddy sings “Fool on the Hill” while Hitler lounges in the background, all bets are off. Eventually, things degenerate into a mishmash of meanings, Frankie Valli’s take on “A Day in the Life” juxtaposed with scenes from the invasion of Normandy. By “The End”, the bomb has been delivered and the reputation of all involved has been reduced to radioactive rubble as well.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong online. Please consider a donation to support our work as an independent publisher devoted to the arts and humanities. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times where advertising no longer covers our costs. We need your help to keep PopMatters publishing. Thank you.