Zen and the Art of Bad Movies


Our first BBQ of the summer this year ended with something different this time: a screening of the spectacularly bad fantasy film, Troll 2. The recent release of the making-of documentary, Best Worst Movie, has sparked renewed interest among cult fans. That it has generated headlines in major media goes to show you that the history of an utterly shitty movie can turn out to be even more entertaining than the movie itself. And this particular making-of documentary was directed by none other than Michael Paul Stephenson, the toothy, freckle-faced young star of Troll 2.

There’s something really intriguing about bad movies. Like that way that you pass a really bad car wreck and just can’t look away. Badly written, poorly acted, and shoddily designed, these movies are some kind of confounding testament to serious malfunctions in filmmaking, if not the human psyche altogether.

And yet, even the worst can, paradoxically, be the best…around. Their sole redeeming value is basically social cohesion. That they’re laughably horrible makes them ripee for riffing with a roomful of friends. And there’s certainly been far more cinematic stinkers than any “Worst Of” list can reasonably fit without being overwhelming. There’s plenty of obvious choices. Most any movie Ed Wood ever made. A slew of Japanese creature features from the 1950s. (The Japanese have come a long way, even inspiring American filmmakers who hunger for source material for sub-par remakes). There’s the over-hyped flops like The English Patient (elaborated on in a Seinfeld episode) and Battlefield Earth (which was labeled “Travolting”).The commercially-driven star vehicle like Cool as Ice.

With the Drive-In and late night movie marathons on cable television now being all but a thing of the past, obscure selections like Space MutinyMitchellSanta Clause Conquers the MartiansMonster A Go-Go, and a curious abundance of 1950s teenage rebel movies that overdid it on the slang were resurrected for Mystery Science Theater 3000. (Mike Nelson and the gang continued the tradition with the mp3-based Riff Trax). In addition to regular screenings of Rocky Horror Picture Show, the midnight movie circuit in various cities now run a small monopoly of so-bad-it’s-good fare. DC residents at least are also privy to the goodwill of the Washington Psychotronic Film Society, now with 20 years of real turkeys under their belt. Carl, the host, usually enlightens attendees of the free, weekly screenings with hilarious backstory. And I wonder,  if in time, Stephen Baldwin’s hammy Target, will join the list.

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Quit Bugggin’: Human Centipede


“I’m waiting for them to say ‘we aren’t really showing a movie, we just wanted to see how depraved you all are.'” – Carl

Human Centipede was the latest star of E Street Cinema’s “Midnight Madness.” Something that was advertised as an adults-only affair. This weekend only. And supposedly, it has become the new Internet meme, too!

I first heard about it from The Other AC who posted a trailer to his Facebook page a few weeks ago for an unusually high-quality production about a German surgeon who kidnaps unfortunate strangers to use in his experiment: the Human Centipede.

Oh… so it’s like Rocky Horror but not funny?! (Hint, hint, you movie parodying specialists!).

Technically, the title is a misnomer. This Centipede has nowhere near a hundred legs. Though, who knows… it might by the end of the trilogy.

Oh yes, there’s more!

A few days later, I saw the film poster at E Street during the opening night of The Runaways. It was playing in two weeks. The E Street Cinema’s MC barely plugged it. “Well, I won’t tell you what it’s about. You saw the poster.” We knew what we were in store for. I immediately sent a text to The Other AC. Calendars were engraved in stone.

It was far too weird a movie to even suggest to most of my relatively normal friends to come see it with us. That, and asking them to put up with the additional nuisances of driving  downtown, finding a parking spot, and staying out till what we people nearing 30 call… “the wee hours of the morning.”

The film poster gave away more information than the studio had when Dutch writer/director/AK-47 enthusiast Tom Six made his pitch about a surgeon who sewed people together, not letting on precisely how this fusion takes place. As we waited in the growing line of white, black-clad hipsters for the first of two nights for the midnight screening, I noticed Carl, the host of the Washington Psychotronic Film Society here in DC, and went over to strike up conversation.

Marvel at my casual, but cool introduction…

“You’re the dude from the Psychotronic Film Society!” (I said while pointing at him).

Don’t judge. Carl didn’t.

When you spend 20 years hosting the trashy, gory, bizarre, and just plain bad movies that have made up Psychotronic screening history to DC audiences in bar basements as Carl has, there probably isn’t much that can shock you anymore. Which is why it surprised me when he said he might be watching most of this film with his eyes closed. (See my clever oxymoron? Watching with his eyes closed. Let’s virtually high five!).

Compton bowed out early on after reading about the movie on Wiki and feared that she wouldn’t be able to keep down the dinner we’d have before the show. Even CNN had declared Human Centipede the “Most Disturbing Film Ever Made!” (I presume they’ve overlooked the suffocation-by-boner scene in Body Melt?). Could this movie really be so extreme that audiences would be vomiting in the aisles (or worse, on each other!), or fleeing the theater in horror and disgust like they did when The Exorcist debuted? I had been under the impression that this was just a well-shot schlock, but nothing really all that repulsive. (There was some funny commentary from the row behind us). Plus, I couldn’t imagine this kind of audience being quite that sensitive.

But there was only way to find out! And so, we piled into a row of theater seats with Lyz and the Other AC’s depraved friends and the lights went down…

Well, actually what followed was a sort of disgusting, but mostly disappointing movie.

The Six and Six team (I can’t figure out what relation one of the co-producers, a lady Six, shares with director/writer Tom Six… could you imagine if she is his wife?!) daringly draw a line in the sand and happily step over it. But, really, it’s a small line. And the leap over it is a really tiny one. Years and years of outrageous horror cinema did not suddenly get “outdid” by Human Centipede. I mean, my dear CNN columnist (and similar admonishers!): have you seen some of the crazy shit the Japanese and Koreans made lately?

Let’s take a look, shall we?

BE VEWY QUIET. THAR BE SPOILERS HERE!

As the good doctor explains to his victims with his handy overhead projector, the Human Centipede experiment requires breaking some knee caps and surgically attaching the specimens… ass to mouth. In the end, like a real centipede, they’ll be sharing a single digestive track. Oh, to be the lucky person at front of this train lucky enough to get their nutrients from actual food and not someone else’s doodie!

Shocking… isn’t it?!

But, as the DCist already pointed out, the 90 minute movie is consumed by it’s simple concept (although, maybe the unexplained difference between the First Sequence (part 1) and the upcoming Full Sequence (part 2) is the difference between seeing a buffet and digging in). The doctor finds his victims fairly quickly, since he only needs 3 unfortunate souls for his Centipede rather than, you  know, 50. He didn’t even have to go out and find them all, some came to him.  The expected escape attempt is quashed just as quickly. And, even though the demented doctor is a Hater (bluntly telling his victims, “I don’t like human beings”), he attempts to train the Centipede to be an obedient pet, only to get discouraged and go for a swim. Which is even more frustrating when two detectives with amazing hair show up around this time to investigate suspicious reports from the neighbors in what seems like almost an afterthought of how to end this thing. It’s basically all process.

Actually, a majority of this is as unsettling as it is to sit through because it’s star, Dieter Laser, is a creepy MF! And not in that Norman Bates kind of sociopath bathed in baby-face innocence. Laser is thin and veiny, has remarkably sunken cheeks, a hard square jaw with a permanent frown, and giant black eyes that harkens back to way Donald Pleasance described young Mike Meyers in the first Halloween: “He had the blackest eyes… the Devil’s eyes.”

I wonder though, if there was satire at play in Human Centipede. A German psycho-surgeon. A young, ineffectively defiant Japanese man who occupies the front of the Centipede. And, as punishment for not learning the basics of auto mechanics (changing a tire) — two American girls are placed at the end of this chain, simultaneously taking shit and kissing ass. Frustrating as it may be as an actress, walking around a film set with your face literally buried in someone else’s ass, it’s frustrating that they are permanent mutes. But, if it’s not satirical, then some of the imagery looks as though it was designed to fullfill some sort of kinky fantasy. In the scenes where the conjoined trio are asleep, it looks like an orgy that ran late past everyone’s bedtime. And I don’t think I’ll elaborate that last point any further.

All in all, the first installment survives on a reputation of hype. So what comes next?