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Life Arts    H4'ed 5/31/10

The Latest Campy Films

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Robert O'Connor
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The Los Angeles Times has an article today about "Troll 2," a 1990 film by Claudio Fragasso. "Troll 2" is called in the article the "best worst movie," which describes how it is shipped across the country where midnight screenings of the film are widely attended by folks who laugh hysterically at the sheer ineptitude of it.

This is, of course, nothing new. Midnight movie venues and midnight creature-feature shows have showcased these kinds of movies for decades. Son of Svenghuli in Chicago and Vampira in Los Angeles were a few of them. Sinister Seymour was another host whose successor, Elvira was a cultural phenomenon.

They would play B-movies like "The Blob" (one of Steve McQueen's first films) and "One Million Years B.C." (Raquel Welch's most famous role, despite speaking only four words in the movie). They would also play old horror films like Boris Karloff's "Frankenstein" and "Dracula" with Bela Lugosi in the title role.

Lugosi, toward the end of his life, would appear in film made by Ed Wood, the cross-dressing iconoclast whose films, like "Glenn or Glenda" and "Plan 9 from Outer Space" (Lugosi's final film appearance) are famous for their all-around incompetence.

Coleman Francis is another man who is often mentioned in the same breath as other bad films. He directed three in the early 1960s, "The Beast of Yucca Flats," "The Skydivers" and "Night Train to Mundo Fire" (AKA "Red Zone Cuba). All of them are considered among the worst films ever made, with "Night Train" currently occupying the number 1 spot on the internet movie database's bottom 100, the list of the lowest rated films.

"Night Train" was made in 1966. That same year, a fellow Texan named Harold P. Warren wanted to prove that anyone could make a film, as long as they had the energy and imagination. Warren, along with Wood, certainly had energy and imagination, but neither had the competence. Warren's film "Manos: the Hands of Fate" was made with a 16mm camera that had to be wound by hand, and could only film 32 seconds at a time. It couldn't record sound, so all sound effects had to be added in post-production by 3 people.

After it was released, "Manos" was a curiosity. Bad movie fans whispered about it and there were rumors as to whether it existed or not. That is until 1993 when it was played on the cult tv show "Mystery Science Theater 3000," which showcased bad and b-movies (including those by Wood and Francis). "Manos" has since become an even greater curiosity, spawning a 2004 documentary "Hotel Torgo" and a 2005 Entertainment Weekly article that called it the worst film ever made.

"Mystery Science Theater" has since ended, but the performers on it have created similar projects, such as "Rifftrax" and "Cinematic Titanic," both as DVD releases and as live shows.

So why all this fascination with "Troll 2?" Why write articles about the phenomenon that is making fun of that film when there is a long tradition of doing so and, for that matter, far worse movies? Who knows. Maybe the PR for the movie (or against the movie) is such that articles like that will happen in the way that it hasn't so far for the likes of "Manos."
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Robert O'Connor is a journalist from St. Paul, Minnesota. His work has been published by the Chi-Town Daily News, Newcity Chicago, The New Indian Express, the Twin Cities Daily Planet and others. He's also worked in radio at Radio K (University of (more...)
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