Welcome To The Room, A Staggeringly Bad Movie

Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Editor-in-Chief Emeritus of Ordinary Times. Relapsed Lawyer, admitted to practice law (under his real name) in California and Oregon. On Twitter, to his frequent regret, at @burtlikko. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.

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47 Responses

  1. Mike Schilling says:

    Not just Plan 9 From Outer Spacr, but pretty much anything made by Ed Wood. Glen or Glenda is particularly awful.Report

  2. Murali says:

    I thought the Species series was supposed to be bad. Its only draw was that it featured Natasha Henstridge prancing around naked or nearly so.

    PS. Its astonishing how many bad movies (or maybe just mediocre movies) Ben Kingsley has acted in.Report

  3. InMD says:

    ‘You’re tearing me apart, Lisa!’

    One terrible movie a couple friends and I have made a semi-tradition of watching around Halloween is Spookies. It is in fact two movies spliced together and got a lot of circulation on USA networks Up All Night. I’d recommend it for your gathering, Burt, if you haven’t seen it.

    My favorite show to feature bad or strange fare was Joe Bob Briggs’ Monstervision. Ah the days before cable matured.Report

  4. LeeEsq says:

    They aren’t exactly bad cinema but I have a soft spot for the Hammer Horror movies, especially Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter. Once DVDs hit the market, a lot of bad cinema of both the schlocky horror/science fiction variety and the non-Hollywood family entertainment variety. That represented a revival of sorts. The Eighties seemed to be a remarkably bad time for true bad cinema as opposed to the Hollywood failure variety because of the disappearance of the matinee and B-movie. A few like the Beast Master and some others got made but not as much as in the past. Or they got made but were harder to find. The move to streaming seems to have killed off a lot of bad cinema in its’ entirety.

    Movie making in general has gotten to the point where there isn’t really a market for true bad cinema. Special effects are much more affordable than before because of CGI, so non-big buck productions can appear more polished than previously even if they can’t reach Hollywood standards. Audiences seem to want better acting and better scripts to compared to the past. Plot holes and questionable acting were part of bad cinema. The dominance of the block buster thanks to the globalization of cinema also hurts bad cinema. One reason why it existed was because Hollywood didn’t make many science fiction or horror movies before the 1970s and 1980s. They were seen as kiddie in a bad way. Now that you have top talent involved, the market niche for bad cinema disappeared.Report

    • Kolohe in reply to LeeEsq says:

      You can find the soul of the schlocky b-movie on youtube; there’s a few channels that feature semi-pro filmmakers and acting troops giving their best with limited (and sometime patreon augmented) budgets

      There’s also a cadre of (mostly Eastern) European filmakers where since everyone speaks a different language natively, they do the movie in lingua franca of heavily accented English.

      (To be sure, on the spectrum of schlock-scream queens-exploitation-pornography a lot of the stuff unapologetically veers to that last thing)Report

  5. Saul Degraw says:

    I don’t get the “So Bad, It’s Good” school of liking or watching things. Perhaps it is the snob in me but I don’t enjoy camp* (which Sontag defined as “failed seriousness”). Life is just too short for it. Why spend your time watching something like the Room when you can watch something that is actually good?

    But lots of people seemingly love camp above all and would rather watch really bad movies all the time instead of good stuff. We know have huge markets dedicated to making “bad” movies like the Sharknado franchise which is full of knowing and seemingly really popular for reasons that defy comprehension.

    I don’t even really get the appeal of Rocky Horror.

    Camp doesn’t just appear in movies. It can appear in the performing arts. Swan Lake is a horrible ballet and was defined as an example of camp in Susan Sontag’s essay on the subject. I think Sontag is right. The music and plot in Swan Lake switches too quickly from the comedic and light to the overly dramatic and “serious.” The plot, as it exists is, risible.

    But lots of people think Swan Lake is pretty and they don’t want an overeducated graduate school influenced opinion on the ballet.

    Still, why watch bad or “bad” movies when you can watch Truffaut? Though the development of interest in bad or “bad” movies or arthouse movies seems to occur in the teenage years depending on the person.Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      There is another definition of camp as art that takes delight in its artifice. A lot of camp like John Waters or Rocky Horror or the Adam West Batman never tries to be serious in the first place. This type of camp just insists likes using the artificial aspects of theater and cinema for their own sake.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to LeeEsq says:

        John Waters is smart enough and talented enough to understand artifice.

        Other people, not so much….Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to LeeEsq says:

        I suspect that if he really wanted or needed to, John Waters could make a conventional movie that was decent.Report

        • veronica d in reply to Saul Degraw says:

          @saul-degraw — Hairspray.Report

          • LeeEsq in reply to veronica d says:

            Hairspray is more like a typical John Waters movie toned down for a family audience. It still has a lot of John Waters in it. Its just much less grotesque. I suspect what Saul meant was that if John Waters really needed to, he could do something really purely conventional like a romantic comedy or family drama and come up with a perfectly workmanlike production.Report

      • Burt Likko in reply to LeeEsq says:

        This is what I mean when I refer to something that is Intentionally Bad Cinema. The filmmaker has chosen to do something less than the best available way, typically in order to play the sub-par filmmaking for laughs.

        The real thing has an entirely different flavor.Report

        • LeeEsq in reply to Burt Likko says:

          I think most critics would call what your referring to as low camp. This is camp in the formed of failed seriousness. Intentionally Bad Cinema is usually referred to as high camp, art that delights in its own artifice. Both are categorized as camp though.Report

  6. Richard Hershberger says:

    some Random Blond Dude (the actor in real life was a child preacher)

    That’s Marjoe Gortner. If you can, track down 1972’s Marjoe. It is an amazing documentary about how the Evangelical preaching racket worked. Not much has changed, apart from slicker production values. I warn you, though: Marjoe is actually good. Indeed, very good. It won the Oscar for best documentary, then promptly went down the memory hole.Report

  7. Kolohe says:

    Re note 2 – I’m curious where you think Sharknado fits in this classification system, as well as what the people that made it thought of what they were making and had made.

    (It’s clear that the suits on the television network knew what they had and aimed to steer into the skid – which they were successful at)

    Eta also did Attack of The Killer Tomatoes know it was bad? I wasnt aware of that.

    The problem with Mars Attacks is that it tried to send itself up as a parody of the genre, but wasn’t consistently over the top enough nor took its own premises seriously enough to pull it off. (Compare it a successful genre parody/subversion like, say, Scream) (or for that matter Airplane and the Princess Bride)Report

    • Michael Cain in reply to Kolohe says:

      I’m curious where you think Sharknado fits in this classification system, as well as what the people that made it thought of what they were making and had made.

      According to my son, the Sharknado movies have the higher purpose of providing climatologists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research with a basis for viewing parties and drinking games. Each new home release is eagerly anticipated.Report

    • Burt Likko in reply to Kolohe says:

      Sharknado is Intentionally Bad Cinema. It is a comedy movie, not a monster-and-disaster movie gone wrong. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed Sharknado but not in the same way I enjoyed The Room.Report

  8. Jaybird says:

    I remember how Season 8 of MST3K had some interesting contrasts.

    There were bad movies like The Mole People and The Thing That Couldn’t Die which… well, as bad movies go, they were actually pretty good. A handful of problems, maybe. At the end of the day, though, they were movies that you didn’t mind watching in the first place and the gang cracking jokes provided the icing on the cake.

    And, later on, they gave us The Giant Spider Invasion which was, I suppose, cynical dreck that wasn’t good in the first place but was (barely) saved by the gang cracking jokes.

    And then there was The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies. This was, seriously, the longest movie I’ve ever seen. It created some sort of weird time-field… when we turned off the television, only two hours or so had passed in the real world, even though about a year had passed in our own lives.

    Not even the jokes helped. They couldn’t have. Nothing could have.Report

  9. Kristin Devine says:

    Great piece, Burt, I really enjoyed it.

    A couple weeks ago I was sitting in a movie theater waiting to watch Blade Runner and a preview for The Disaster Artist came on. There was this moment of confused weightlessness in my brain as it slowly dawned on me that I was watching James Franco as Tommy Wiseau.

    It was awesome.Report

  10. Michael Cain says:

    Troma Entertainment’s Toxic Avenger (1984). Which despite being truly awful on many levels, got sequels, a novelization, a comic book, a cartoon series, and a musical stage production based on it. Who says you can’t make a living off of bad art? Although I understand the musical had a run of over 300 performances, got passable reviews, and was nominated for some Off-Broadway awards — the people who did the musical must not have gotten the memo.Report

    • Saul Degraw in reply to Michael Cain says:

      The off-broadway awards are called the Obies.

      I remember the cartoon show from when I was a kid. I knew about it before I knew about the movie. It had a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle vibe. But isn’t Troma one of those outfits that tries to make schlocky movies on purpose? Ed Wood thought he was around the cinematic genius of Orson Wells and Jean Renoir, I don’t think the Troma people see themselves that way.

      My brief wikipedia research shows that the musical was meant to be funny.Report

      • I believe Troma also goes around buying up the distribution rights to bad movies that now-famous actors and actresses were in before they were famous. I’ve always wondered if there was a business opportunity in a service for celebrities of acquiring such properties in order to suppress them. Someone seems to have done a pretty good job of suppressing Deadly Twins (released overseas as Deadly Trigger), a horribly bad 1985 movie starring Judy and Audrey Landers. The sisters were/are at least casually famous, but internet mentions of the movie are few and far between, and are absolutely minimal. Someone named Joe Oaks is credited as producer, director, and writer, but seems to be a total mystery man otherwise unconnected to the movie business.Report

    • Saul Degraw in reply to Michael Cain says:

      Of course the interesting part about the musical is how good art can come from bad art* or even pornography.

      There was also an musical based on Debbie Does Dallas from the early or mid-aughts that was successful and commentary at the same time.

      *Bad art can also come from good sources. When I was in grad school, there was a play off-Broadway which was basically “The Peanuts characters as dysfunctional teenagers.” I hated it but the production had a bunch of TV celebs in it and was being done for profit (most theatre is non-profit). Lucy was a pyromaniac. Charlie Brown discovered he was gay and started a doomed romance with Schroder (who was sexually abused by his father). Etc, etc. Charles Schultz or his estate eventually sued to shut it down.

      There was also a play based on Three’s Company that was supposed to act as pointed satire but was shut down by the copyright holders of Three’s Company. This one became a free speech cri de ceour.

      Brad (Jake Silbermann), a cooking-school student like Mr. Ritter’s Jack Tripper, solves the problem by agreeing to move in. If you recall the winking premise of the original, Jack defused the landlord’s disapproval of this unorthodox arrangement by pretending to be gay, which occasioned several seasons of naughty double entendres and farcical goings-on.

      Mr. Adjmi’s play veers maladroitly between lampooning the dopey style of the original and thrashing through dank psychological waters. Were these Plasticine sitcom types actual human beings, “3C” suggests, they would be deeply damaged souls, the products of an uptight society trying to maintain rigid ideas about sexual roles in the face of social change.


      • LeeEsq in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        I’d figure that the parody/satire exception to copyright would apply to both productions, especially the latter because it has the numbers of filed off. I guess they just didn’t want a prolonged legal battle, especially the first one because that would lead to a lot of really bad publicity. You don’t subvert something as beloved as the Peanuts without expecting hell from the public.Report

        • Saul Degraw in reply to LeeEsq says:

          3C was ruled fair use by a Judge in 2015 but that is a long and expensive court fight.

          The Peanuts play came to some kind of arrangement but was also less obviously hidden than 3C. The author of 3C changed the names of the characters and was making more obvious commentary. The Peanuts play was “What if the Peanuts characters were modern American teenagers?”Report

  11. greginak says:

    @burt-likko If you don’t think Birdemic is sincerely bad you need to search out his other flicks. They are just as earnestly bad. The hallmarks of his “style” are present in all of them.

    I used to be an on line riffing group. Every Saturday for many years we would riff one or two or multiple terrible flicks. Very fun times. The group fell apart which is sad but while it lasted it was a hoot. There are so many movies out there of various genres that are forgotten or a zillion foreign films that there really is an endless supply of dreck.Report

    • Saul Degraw in reply to greginak says:

      IIRC the Birdemic director put a picture on-line with a line about how he was “discussing” filmmaking with David Lynch. The picture was him clearly at a book-signing where you have about 1 minute at most with David Lynch.

      I just feel sorry for these people, I don’t know how to laugh at them.

      I did theatre. I wasn’t the best director in my school and I am probably not as talented as I want to be or imagined myself as being but I was okay. I knew enough to get out of the industry. But there is something about the kind of delusion above that just makes me feel sad and pity, not mirth and merriment.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        Its kind of especially sad when you see middle aged or older people keep on to these delusions. With young people, people in their late teens and twenties, you know they have time. When they reach their thirties, fame is still plausible. George Clooney didn’t really make it big until well into his adult life. Same with Gene Hackman. Those are the exceptions. By the forties, you just feel like your looking at a potentially wasted life. I mean, maybe they are happy but there is an element that wants to scream give it up and live a normal life.Report

    • Burt Likko in reply to greginak says:

      Birdemic didn’t quite have me begging for death because I was really too busy laughing at the birds. The fact that this fellow made two sequels, and you’re telling me even other movies than this, makes me wonder if he is truly deluded about what kind of product he’s turning out. I probably can’t stop laughing at the awfulness of it, but at the price of feeling a bit cruel.

      In mitigation: no doubt people have told him that it’s bad, but that message must simply not be registering, which is not the fault of the bearer of this bad news.Report

      • greginak in reply to Burt Likko says:

        Julie and Jack and Replica are his older flicks. I think Replica is only available with and through Rifftrax. But those flicks are Birdemic level just without the fx. Yeah they are that “good.”Report

  12. rexknobus says:

    A couple of recommendations:

    1) I’m betraying some close friends here, people who had major production roles in this, but “Blood Hook” (serial killing while fishing for Muskies in Wisconsin) is pretty durn bad. Directed by Jim Mallon. I have stood in rooms and used every creative bone in my body to not make friends feel bad. But it’s pretty grim — and in that weird way, funny as well.

    2) There were hundreds of Italian westerns made. About half a dozen are worth watching. Most of them are complete dreck, but one that is almost psychedelic in its other-worldly badness is “Keoma.” Words fail me. But it is, shall we say, uniquely bad. Wait until you here the title song. (!)

    I don’t judge. A producer (who made at least two movies that were massive hits, near brilliant, quite influential, and are most likely in your library) once hired me to re-write his “Ransom of Manson,” a wacky comedy about, yup, Charlie himself. I needed the money. It’s not on my resumé…anywhere. But if it had been made — it would be a definite favorite for your gatherings.Report

  13. Slade the Leveller says:

    Big Trouble in Little China is generally about as bad as I’ll tolerate. I think it’s in the intentionally bad category, but you never know with Carpenter.

    I’m of a like mind with Saul when it comes to entertainment. There is so much unwatched good stuff, why seek out the bad.Report

    • Chris Walton in reply to Slade the Leveller says:

      I consider Big Trouble to be high camp and not truly bad. Yes, it’s ridiculous and over-the-top, but it’s consistently entertaining, and the acting and production values (by the standards of the time) are too good for it to qualify for genuine badness. It lacks the pervasive awkwardness that characterizes truly awful cinema.

      Of course, whether an artwork qualifies as camp almost always depends on the taste of the viewer.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Chris Walton says:

        Camp isn’t always intentional as argued above. A lot of bad movies are camp because they fail at their task but strived to be masterpieces.

        I would say Big Trouble is probably intentional in its campiness.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Chris Walton says:

        Big Trouble in Little China is definitely high camped. It has very good production values for the time and acting is good. Everybody knew that they were just make a fun action-adventure with Chinese mythological motifs and that this wasn’t supposed to be a serious movie. This brings up a point, you can sometimes have camp in the sense of failed seriousness within a movie that isn’t camp because an actor took it too seriously. Famously, Groucho Marx said that the woman who always played the matron in the Marx Brothers movies never really understood what type of movies they were making.Report

  14. aaron david says:

    So, an edited version of The Room has been an April Fools staple on adult swim for years, one that my wife and I fell prey to when first aired. You can see a trailer of the bumps here. They start off blacking out iffy bits, seemingly due to being broadcast/cable but they end up blacking out 90% of the screen, mostly from being The Room. Great fun.

    I have also seen the Bobbie whatever movie, but that was when I was a kid and it had just come out.Report

  15. Burt Likko says:

    Also, just became aware of this, in case you had any doubts about Wiseau being in on the joke and the fun:


  16. LeeEsq says:

    On Jimmy Kimmel, Tommy Wiseau admitted that he is originally from Europe, although he won’t say where experts believe Poland, but he has been in the United States for so long that he considers himself an American.Report