The first thing I ever reviewed on this site was an adaptation of The Hobbit that Gene Deitch made in 1966. Later I reviewed a Harry Potter fan-fiction called My Immortal by Tara “XXXbloodyrists666XXX” Gilesbie. What connects these is that they are both so-bad-they’re-good. Ben & Arthur, on the other hand, is almost so-bad-it’s-homophobic, and it’s the worst movie I’ve ever seen.
It’s not that Ben & Arthur can’t be entertaining in its failings, but Ben & Arthur’s outlook on the world is veiled more thinly than The Room’s misogyny. And what is this outlook? Why, it’s that “straight people are all evil, bigoted psychopaths,” of course! Why then did I say that the film is borderline homophobic? Well, because it’s both heterophobic and homophobic.
The Worst Movie Ever
Being straight, I apologize if I get any details wrong in this review—please don’t hesitate to correct me if that happens. Still, many of the laws mentioned in the film didn’t actually exist, and the reality was often far worse. Bad films have a habit of having persecution complexes; Ben & Arthur just happens to be one of the few such movies where the supposed persecuted group really is being persecuted. Mind you, that doesn’t make the film any better. Despite Sam Mraovich (and presumably everyone else involved in this film) being gay, much of it comes across as hateful towards homosexuals. Sam Mraovich served as the film’s Tommy Wiseau equivalent, acting as its writer, director, producer, star, casting director, composer, editor, and cinematographer. As one might expect of a film that’s been compared to The Room, Mraovich knew how to do exactly none of those things.
The film begins with a piano tune from the public domain, and we see a long list of credits, most of which go to Sam Mraovich. Then the film proper begins with Mraovich lying in bed. Mraovich plays Arthur Sailes, the “hero” of the film. I say “hero” in the pre-Tolkienian sense of the word, as Arthur never does anything remotely selfless or courageous. Arthur is woken by a phone call from his boyfriend Ben Sheets, who tells him to turn on the radio. He does, and it turns out that the State of Hawaiʻi has decided to legalize marriage equality. Now, I should mention that such an announcement wouldn’t happen for a number of years yet, which is just one of many things in this movie that don’t match what was really going on at the time. Exactly five hours later—and the movie specifically tells us it was five hours and not just “later”—Ben arrives at their flat and they celebrate. I know I should have been happy for them at this point, but I was too focused on Mraovich’s abysmal acting.
“This Country Fuckin’ Sucks!”
What follows is a packing montage, and it’s as bad as you think it is. The following morning, Ben gives Arthur the morning paper, and Mraovich reads it. This is where the quality of his acting really shines through; it’s bad—really, really bad. His reading of the news sounds like he just learnt to read the day before. It turns out that the ruling was overturned so they can no longer get married in Hawai‘i, and I’ve no idea why the movie didn’t just start with this scene. Then we get Arthur’s tantrum, having heard it may take another two years before they can marry:
“O, fuck it—another two years, Ben! This is ignorance and completely unfair! This country fucking sucks! It just fucking sucks! You know what? If we ever get into a war and they draft my ass, first thing I’m gonna tell ‘em is ‘if I’m not good enough to get married in this country, then I sure as hell ain’t dying for it.’ It fucking sucks, Ben!”
Despite the terrible, terrible acting, pretty much everything he said was entirely justified. The line about getting drafted, however, was a bit odd, as the reality at the time was even worse; gay people weren’t allowed to serve in the U.S. military. I don’t quite know why, as you’d think homophobes would want to send gay people to their deaths, but there you have it.
Some Bitch Named Tammy
Ben chooses this very moment to tell Arthur that despite their having been together for three years, he’s still finishing up a divorce with his wife Tammy, whom Arthur’s never heard of. What was he planning to do once they got to Hawaiʻi? Then out of nowhere Arthur starts narrating a diary entry:
“Dear diary… I can’t believe Ben. He’s married to some bitch named Tammy.”
This never happens again, although I can’t help but feel that Arthur’s contempt for Tammy is a bit unfair at this point, as she was presumably unaware that her husband was just using her and didn’t actually love her. While Ben is a victim of a homophobic society, it seems like she’s also a victim, but Arthur seems to blame her for it. In the very next scene, however, ominous music plays as we meet Tammy. I don’t even know how to describe this scene! Tammy, who’s apparently not seen her husband in three years out of the five they’ve been married, is surprised when he tells her he wants a divorce. Then she tells him he’s “just confused,” because all straight people in this movie are homophobes. She refuses to sign the papers and storms out.
There’s a Whole Two Inches Left
We find out that Ben has a degree in nursing but works as a dishwasher in a coffee shop because he wants to focus on his music, even though we never see him play an instrument in the film. Arthur, who works as a waiter in the same establishment, decides he’s going to quit, get a degree in business, and open a porno shop—because that’s not an offensive stereotype, right? Somehow this doesn’t make Ben realize that his boyfriend’s a scumbag, and he doesn’t break up with him, instead agreeing to support him in this. It is here that we meet Mildread, the only straight person in the film whom we never see acting bigoted in any way. Arthur asks Mildread how her day’s been, and it’s clear she’s having a bad day. Arthur fills Midlread’s cup halfway and then laughs as he walks out the door.
After a second montage, in which Arthur is turned down for a job as a stripper, Arthur knocks on his brother Victor’s door. Victor doesn’t recognize his own brother but invites him in anyway. Victor is portrayed by a gay pornstar, because pornstars are known for their stellar acting, aren’t they? Despite the casting, Victor Sailes is a fanatically religious homophobe. After Victor asks if Arthur has “finally freed himself from these demons,” Arthur replies that he needs tuition money. Victor agrees…
“Look… I will help you under one condition. You understand me? You… you agree to this condition? Look… I will give you more than enough; I will give you eight thousand dollars… if you bring this man over to this apartment… and respect me… and respect this apartment… and respect the Lord, Jesus Christ. Understood? Will you do that?”
Arthur agrees, and in the very next scene the couple receive a letter that reads,
“You will NOT marry a man! I’m warning YOU.”
This has no significance; I just thought it was funny which words they decided to underline. Ben and Arthur decide to speak with an attorney so that they can get married in California. She tells them to just go to Vermont and get a civil union licence. We see their wedding in Vermont, and even I—knowing as little about American geography as it is possible to know—find it odd that there are palm trees in Vermont. The wedding scene is as horrible as every other scene in this movie. Moving on.
Murder to the Sound of Shitty Techno
Victor calls Arthur a few times, getting no response, before resolving to hire a private investigator. This is where it starts to become clear how bad the music is—music composed by Sam Mraovich, of course. Despite thinking what Victor’s doing is morally wrong, the intern private investigator agrees to spy on Ben and Arthur. Two days later, the intern private investigator has gotten all the information Victor wants, and they agree to meet. The score only gets worse from this point onwards. We don’t actually see their meeting, as the film cuts instead to Victor skulking around a carpark to the sound of some of the worst techno music I’ve ever heard. Victor crosses himself, follows Ben’s lawyer into the parking garage, pulls out a gun, shoots her twice in the chest, and runs off without anyone having seen him—all while techno music makes the audience vomit blood.
Dinner at Victor’s
After a pointless scene of Arthur calling Victor to make arrangements to come over for dinner, the film actually cuts to the dinner itself. Victor and his friend Stan obviously berate Ben and Arthur just as you’d expect.
“You know what? I’m never going to have any nieces or nephews, ever, because you know what? You are so fucked up! You know that?”
Arthur quite reasonably responds,
“You… fuck! How dare you talk to your brother like that? You want nieces and nephews? Well, I’ve got news for you, buddy. You don’t even know how to be a brother; what kind of uncle do you think you’d make?”
After they leave, Victor and Stan agree they’re going to need “more drastic measures,” because apparently taping a bottle of holy water to his brother’s door is more drastic that killing a woman. Really, that’s what they do next! Then we get Ben and Arthur’s shag-scene, and it’s similar to the ones from The Room. Moving on.
We then cut to Tammy taking a gun out of the glove compartment of her car. The music here is awful. Tammy points the gun at Ben and says that she’ll just be gay, and then that will supposedly make it okay for them to get remarried. When Ben tells her she’s not making any sense, she says,
“Hey! I don’t make sense? You don’t make sense! I make sense! That’s who makes sense!”
The movie is full of stupid lines like this. Ben eventually—and I do mean eventually—wrestles the gun from Tammy, and for some reason he keeps it. Ben decides not to call the police because he’s a bloody idiot, and Arthur announces that he got them a life-insurance policy:
“Well, in case something happens to me, or if I get killed in any way, you get a million dollars.”
I don’t know if this is just bad foreshadowing or if Mraovich has managed to screw up in some other way. “If I get killed in any way”? That wording makes it sound like some sort of bizarre invitation for Ben to bump him off. At that very moment, Ben gets a call from the lawyer’s secretary Margaret, who for some reason has a name when the lawyer doesn’t. Of course we already know what the news was going to be, and the only surprise is that it took this long for them to find out about it. Immediately after hearing this news, Mildread appears at their door and informs Arthur of a break-in. Arthur, being the asshole that he is, slams the door in Mildread’s face mid-sentence.
Now it has come time to talk about Mildread. Ben and Arthur treat her like garbage for no apparent reason, and at no point in the movie does she do anything other than take the abuse. Sam Mraovich tried to justify this in an interview by saying that Mildread is a psychotic homophobe. The problem is that we never see her do—or even say—anything even remotely homophobic, and to anyone watching this she’s the victim of undeserved abuse on the part of our “heroes,” who presumably hate her for no other reason than that she’s straight. This is really, really bad storytelling on every level, as even the smallest bit of exposition would have remedied this somewhat.
An Abusive Marriage
Ben discovers that his bike’s been stolen and returns to the flat to blame Arthur for it. Arthur brings up a story involving all his internal organs falling out onto the floor, then says,
“Well, you know, Ben, if I ever get killed, maybe you can take that insurance money and just go ahead and buy a hundred bikes.”
To which Ben responds by punching his husband so hard it knocks him unconscious. When Arthur wakes, Ben tells him that this should teach him not to say stupid things. He then promises to make it up to him by taking him on a honeymoon. What the hell? We are meant to root for this relationship, but it’s an abusive relationship! Having witnessed spousal abuse of various sorts and on both sides, all any viewer wants at this point is for Ben and Arthur to end up divorced by the end, because they really are quite terrible people. We’re meant to root for them for no other reason than because they’re gay, but just as that’s no reason not to root for their relationship, it’s also no reason to want them to be together; the characters’ gender is irrelevant. Of course we’d want their relationship to prevail were it a healthy one, but this one clearly isn’t! Just because most of the straight people in the movie are even worse people than they are doesn’t mean our sympathies automatically lie with them. Instead, our sympathies lie with no one, and we just want to turn this thing off.
After the potion predictably doesn’t work, Victor calls Stan and says he’s going to resort to “the final plan.” This is put on hold, however, as the priest Father Rabin summons Victor to tell him that the congregation doesn’t want the brother of a gay man in their church. Victor insists that he’s given over ten thousand dollars to the church, and that he therefore cannot be kicked out, but Father Rabin says that,
“No. You gave that money freely out of good Christian love. You cannot buy your way into heaven and you can’t buy yourself a place in this church.”
Can’t buy your way into heaven? Yes you can! Yes you bloody can! It’s called an indulgence, you idiot! The church is no different from any other big corporation. Rabin continues:
“Victor, your brother is a demon, and we do not want the relative of the man who defies and desecrates God’s holy word here! Now leave here at once! God have mercy on your soul.”
That line was particularly entertaining—especially with hindsight, having seen the rest of this movie. It’s not that I don’t think crazy religious fanatics are like this—many of them are. It’s that the acting is so bad that I can’t believe that any of these characters are genuine. Victor leaves the church in disgrace and returns home to throw a homophobic slur-filled fit. As with many scenes in the movie, the sound quality is atrocious. The scene also goes on for far too long before Victor finally calls Stan to tell him he’s been kicked out of the church. Then he whines,
“I’ve got to be accepted back into the church. I need Jesus as my saviour now!”
Where the Fuck is the Whiteout?
Later at the church, every part of which looks like it’s made of cardboard (probably because it is), Father Rabin searches in vain for the whiteout:
“O, fuck. Where the fuck is the whiteout? Jesus christ… Helen! Jesus Christ—I just bought some the other day. Where the fuck is the whiteout⁈ … Yes! Who is it?”
It turns out it’s Victor again, and we never find out where exactly he put the whiteout. Victor tells Father Rabin that he’s “willing to do anything—even the ‘final deed’—to get accepted back into the church.” Of course we already know this, as Victor murdered the attorney not too long ago. As it turns out, Rabin—like any priest worth his salt—knows a hitman and promises to get Victor in contact with him by the evening. When Victor insists that he can’t wait that long, Father Rabin shows just how much he knows about his own scripture.
“Hey, hey. It took God seven days to create the world. I think that if I can get back to you this evening that’s doing well on my part.”
First of all, how does the first sentence relate to the second? It’s a non-sequitur. Also, perhaps most startlingly, it was six days, you moron! I mean, I know Christians cherry-pick verses, but this is one of the few that they actually pay attention to!
We cut then to Ben and Arthur’s honeymoon. I don’t have to talk about this scene, do I? It does nothing for the plot and Arthur’s a whiny asshole. Moving on. Later, back at the poorly-lit flat, Arthur answers the door only for Victor to enter uninvited. Victor tells Arthur about how they threw him out of the church, and Arthur says,
“Well, probably because you’re some crazy, psychotic fuck!”
I cannot describe how abhorrent Mraovich’s acting is. This is the worst movie ever made. Anyway, Victor tells him it’s because he has a gay brother and that he knows about Arthur’s porn shop. Arthur hands Victor a dildo and throws him out. All the while, Victor babbles on about how Arthur needs to “accept Jesus as his saviour.” Then we cut to a pointless scene of Arthur vacuuming the flat. Rabin gets Victor in touch with the hitman; Ben tells Arthur to get Twinkies, Skittles, and Soda; Arthur goes shopping; and Victor arrives at Ben and Arthur’s flat with the hitman. Arthur returns to find Ben, who appears to be dead.
After a horribly-lit and far-too-long scene of a detective walking slowly up the steps to Victor’s flat, the detective questions Victor about the assault on Ben. Victor says that Ben’s dead, which should make the detective suspect him as it turns out Ben survived the assault, but nothing comes of it. He later questions Father Rabin, who says that Victor isn’t capable of murder and that Arthur has “spiritual problems,” which ends this sub-plot abruptly.
Fire and Water
Arthur breaks into Victor’s flat and taps his phone. Victor discovers Arthur in his home and demands how he got in, to which Arthur replies,
“I wanna know who you hired to do that to Ben, you fuckin’ cunt!”
Arthur threatens to burn down the building if Victor doesn’t tell him, and Victor pulls out a gun and points it at his brother’s head, proclaiming:
“This little puppy’s—this is the same one I used to kill that little faggot friend of yours when you were little.”
Arthur, at this shocking revelation, smiles and says,
“You’re a sick cunt. You know that?”
The Pyre of Father Rabin
Arthur leaves the flat, and Victor calls Father Rabin. Arthur listens in on the call, learns the name of the hitman, and—to the sound of bad techno music—drives to the church to confront Rabin, who doesn’t recognize him. He pretends to be a churchgoer and asks for the hitman’s address, which Rabin is more than happy to give; this will go absolutely nowhere. Arthur chloroforms Father Rabin and goes outside. We get a long scene of Arthur running to his car, opening the trunk, taking out a bottle of liquid, and running back to the church in quite an upbeat manner. He casually pours what looks like water on unconscious Father Rabin and then, calmly humming to himself, strikes a match, sets the priest on fire, cheerfully bounds back to his car, and drives away.
Who’s the Good Guy? Who’s the Bad Guy?
So now we know that Arthur is just as much a psychopath as his brother, as he clearly enjoys himself during the murder. Had Arthur beaten Rabin to death while screaming profanities—had it come across more as a crime of passion than a cold, calculated, sadistic act—then maybe we could have felt something for Arthur. However, the decision to have him hum to himself as he flicked the match at Rabin’s unconscious, oil-drenched form makes Arthur completely irredeemable.
The Final Deed
Arthur brings Ben home from the hospital and makes him sleep on the couch despite his protests. Then we see Victor and the hitman as they approach the block of flats. Victor sends the hitman away, deciding instead to do the “final deed” himself. He crosses himself and rings the doorbell. While Arthur showers, Ben answers the door only to get shot dead with what looks like a water pistol painted black. Everything about this scene is terrible, but the onion-skinning effects applied to the shot make it unwatchable. Victor holds his gun to Arthur’s head and chloroforms him. When Arthur awakens, Victor asks,
“Will you accept the Lord, Jesus Christ, as your saviour, Arthur? Will you?”
This is incredibly stupid as the next scene would probably have carried more meaning if it had been entirely forced. Speaking of which, Victor makes Arthur strip naked, takes him into the bathroom, and baptizes him in the bathtub. Why did he even ask permission? In the Catholic church, at least, anyone can baptize anyone regardless of consent. Then he chloroforms him again.
Arthur wakes up, puts on underwear and a shirt, and finds Tammy’s gun. He approaches Victor and shoots him in the shoulder. Then he implies not only that Victor is himself secretly gay, but also that he desires incest:
“Is this what you want? You can’t stand having Ben touch me… So you want to touch me… You wanna fuck me, don’t you, Victor? Here I am. Come and get me. Come on, Victor. You can fuck me; you know you can. Come on, Victor… Come here and fuck me now, before it’s too late.”
This… this movie is disgusting! This scene would have made so much more sense and been so much better had it taken place between Victor and Ben. Have Arthur be the one Victor killed and have Ben be the one Victor’s attracted to! Not only does it remove the cringe-inducing incest, but Jamie Brett Gabel (who plays Ben) is also a much better actor than Mraovich. It would mean that Victor has always been jealous of his brother’s relative freedom, explaining his motivation. This is so simple that the only explanation I can think of for why it’s the way it is is because Mraovich wanted to be front-and-centre.
Before Arthur can rape him, Victor grabs his own gun and shoots Arthur repeatedly. We get a reaction shot of Mraovich, who looks like being shot gives him some sort of masochistic sexual pleasure, and then Arthur fires one last shot. This hits Victor in the head, killing him instantly, and Arthur dies of his wounds.
I feel I should note here that the film’s tagline reads, “Only the power of love can defeat a holy soldier on a mission,” a quite unfitting tagline as the “holy soldier” in question wins in the end. Yes, Victor dies, but it’s already been made clear he doesn’t care if he dies so long as he completes the Final Deed, which he has. By all accounts, the power of love did nothing of the sort. Victor was the victor! The alternate tagline, “The showdown is about to start,” is far more appropriate. In any case, with the actual tagline unfulfilled, we see a still shot of Arthur’s dead body before fading to black. And that, for all those who’ve stuck with the review this far, is the end of the worst movie ever made!
So Bad It’s Homophobic
I’ve seen this movie five times—twice while making this review and thrice before that—and I still don’t know if it’s pro-gay rights or homophobic. A part of me can’t help but think that Ben & Arthur must be some thinly-veiled Mormon propaganda film about how gays and Catholics are the worst people in the world. By the end of the film I had no idea whom I was supposed to root for—all the characters were just so deplorable. Ben’s a husband-beater, and Arthur—Arthur’s even worse! He’s an obnoxious, narcissistic layabout who falls into virtually every horrible gay stereotype I can think of and likely more that I can’t. Worse than that, he’s a murderous psychopath just like his brother!
An Irredeemable Abomination
The message is unclear, the characters unlikeable and ambiguous, the acting beyond poor, and the production values (including but not limited to cinematography, lighting, sound design, editing, and music) among the worst I’ve ever had the displeasure of witnessing. It shouldn’t exist, and that it does is all Sam Mraovich’s doing, as he was personally responsible for every aspect of production. Every second of this abomination is painful, and I’m sure that if I were gay I’d hate it even more. To anyone reading this who’s gay, I’m sorry that this film exists.
M. Night Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender is the film that I loathe more than any other, and I fear that will always be the case, but even I must admit that Ben & Arthur is an objectively worse movie. I can never despise Ben & Arthur to the same extent as I do the film that bastardized my favourite show, but Ben & Arthur is nonetheless the undisputed worst film I have ever seen.