Thursday, April 08, 2010

Culture Shock 04.08.10: The search for the worst movie ever

It's the Holy Grail of cinema, and like that Arthurian relic, it seems impossible to find. Yet that doesn't stop people from searching for the worst movie ever made.

According to the latest user rankings at the Internet Movie Database, the worst movie of all time is "Night Train to Mundo Fine," aka "Red Zone Cuba," a 1966 atrocity written by, directed by and starring Coleman Francis. This is the movie that proved John Carradine would appear in anything for a paycheck.

Like many of the films in the IMDB's Bottom 100, "Red Zone Cuba" found new life as an episode of "Mystery Science Theater 3000," the TV show that turned mocking bad movies into an art. At No. 8 is "Manos: The Hands of Fate," the only film ever made by El Paso, Texas, auteur and fertilizer salesman Harold P. Warren.

But is either film truly the worst? Possibly, but they're up against strong competition, in the same sense that limburger is strong.

In their 1980 book "The Golden Turkey Awards," Harry and Michael Medved announced they had found the Grail, 1959's "Plan 9 from Outer Space," written and directed by Edward D. Wood Jr.

"Plan 9" stars pro wrestler Tor Johnson, movie hostess Vampira and stock footage of horror legend Bela Lugosi, who died in 1956.

Being named worst movie was the best thing that ever happened to "Plan 9." The film gained a cult following, as did Wood, who became the subject of Tim Burton's 1994 film "Ed Wood." But is "Plan 9" that bad?

I've seen worse, and so has everyone else who has gone on the quest for the Grail. Despite their flaws, most of Wood's films possess an endearing, earnest enthusiasm, which is more than you can say for most Hollywood blockbusters.

A new documentary, however, claims to have found the elusive worst movie ever. "Best Worst Movie" chronicles the cult following that has grown up around "Troll 2," a completely unnecessary sequel to the already bad "Troll."

"Troll 2" (1990) stars George Hardy, an affable, Alabama-born dentist who somehow ended up in an Italian-made horror movie shot in Utah. Hardy is back to drilling teeth in Alexander City, but he is scheduled to appear when "Best Worst Movie" screens Sept. 25 at the Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival in Birmingham.

Still, while "Troll 2" is an eye-gougingly abysmal waste of film that could have been better used filming a spoiled 8-year-old's birthday party, it's still probably not the worst movie of all time — not when there's "The Room," Tommy Wiseau's 2003 film about love and relationships, made with all the care and craftsmanship I put into that ceramic ashtray in second grade.

Oh, "The Room" is bad, but is even it bad enough?

Maybe Michael Adams has found the Grail. He is the author of "Showgirls, Teen Wolves and Astro Zombies: A Film Critic's Year-Long Quest to Find the Worst Movie Ever Made."

Adams is on the right track. He devotes one chapter to the films of drive-in king Al Adamson. I don't think any of Adamson's movies is The Worst, but they're at least in the same ZIP code.

Meanwhile, my pick for the worst film ever is "Zombie Lake," a 1981 horror flick about undead Nazis who attack a small, European village.

Seen from underwater, the "lake" is clearly a swimming pool. The Nazis' zombie makeup is always coming off. And one of the Nazis has a young daughter, even though the film is set in the 1980s and he has been a zombie since at least 1945. "Zombie Lake" is a movie not even gratuitous nudity can redeem.

Ultimately, however, the search for the worst movie ever isn't about finding it. It's about the quest. As King Arthur's knights learned, it's the journey that defines you.

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