Video collective Everything Is Terrible! began at the University of Ohio in 2000. Bored by the unforgiving Ohio winters, founder Nic Meier sought escape by making his friends laugh with obscure, outdated and generally terrible VHS tapes—the more nonsensical and cornier the better.
Eighteen years later, the group has created nine feature-length films and a wildly popular website, and toured the country with a puppet-featuring live show, all the while amassing the world's largest collection of Jerry Maguire VHS tapes with the intention of building a massive pyramid in the Arizona desert out of them. (Yes, really.)
"It's amazing we get to do this stupid thing we love," says Meier. "I keep thinking, 'This is the thing that's going to end us, and people will tell us to stop,' but people keep coming along with us, and it's really awesome."
For their latest project, which is coming to Cinema 21 this week, Everything Is Terrible! consumed and recontextualized more than 2,000 VHS tapes into The Great Satan, a film made up of archaic videos pertaining to general religious kookery, D horror films and the satanic panic of the '80s. That includes a gaggle of folks who once thought that Dungeons & Dragons was a gateway to child sacrifice and calling upon none other than Lucifer (whom Everything Is Terrible! lists as a "longtime collaborator") to return to earth. The resulting work is a psychedelic mishmash of quaintly out-of-touch and out-of-context hilarity.
"Religion is the thing we get the most footage of," says Meier. "It's been a thing we've harped on for many years and found the Satan angle to be the most funny. There is a lot of unfunny stuff about Christian propaganda, but we liked the idea of a villain."
In The Great Satan, middle-aged white pastors show youths how hip they are by rapping about Jesus ("Do the hip-hop!" one pastor intensely commands his young audience over and over while "rapping"). There are evangelical ducks. The Phil Donahue/Oprah talk-show circuit is mined for gold. Glenn Danzig appears (shirtless of course), as does a pre-fame Keegan-Michael Key in a video informing kids they can have asthma and still be cool. Overall, The Great Satan feels like someone spiked the punch at a religious conversion camp with LSD.
"It makes you think about how we got to where we are now. The black and white ideas of good and evil and villain and hero," says Meier. "Our world is crafted to some extent by all these crazy goofballs. And the underlying horror with everything is one of the main facets of Everything Is Terrible!"
Considering Meier spent countless hours for two years watching all this madness, I asked him if consuming so much insanity is detrimental to his mental well-being. "I have been twisted pretty hard by Everything Is Terrible! in the last decade," says Meier. "I'm bored more quickly than ever. I'll stand in my office and go through like 13 movies, so after that, do I want to watch Game of Thrones? No! I'm way behind on everything like that."
Still, it's clear Meier loves what he's doing. "It's kinda cheesy, but I really think that everything is terrible. I'll be watching TV and wonder if anyone else sees what I see—this is terrible!" he laughs.
And anyway, there's still quite a bit of work to be done. When asked how many Jerry Maguire tapes the group wants for their pyramid (they've currently amassed around 16,000), Meier responds in typically absurdist and obsessive Everything Is Terrible! fashion. "All of them," he says. "Every single one out there." DONOVAN FARLEY.
SEE IT: The Great Satan screens at Cinema 21, 616 NW 21st Ave., 503-223-4515, cinema21.com. 10:30 pm Saturday, Feb. 10. $12 in advance, $14 at the door.