In the documentary “Best Worst Movie,” one film critic muses on what can make a bad movie so watchable. “You don’t listen to bad music or go to see a bad band; you don’t tell all your friends to go read a bad book.” But a really, truly bad film is one to be shared. Some, like “The Room” or “Plan 9 from Outer Space,” become cult sensations, much like the film at the heart of “Best Worst Movie”: “Troll 2.”
“Troll 2” actually has nothing to do with the first “Troll” film. Directed by Claudio Fragasso, it’s the story of the Waits family who go on vacation to the quaint little town of Nilbog (if you want the plot spoiled, read the town name backwards). Something is not quite right in the town of Nilbog. The residents insist on trying to feed the Waits a strange green concoction and refuse to eat meat of any kind. That’s of course because they are vegetarian goblins who turn their victims into vegetable paste and eat them.
“Troll 2” is truly a bizarre film in every sense of the word. One of the actors in “Best Worst Movie” describes it as the film aliens would make if they were trying to make the closest approximation to a movie without actually having seen one, which is a fair assessment. Like so many other films it was almost lost in video store purgatory were it not for the power of word-of-mouth and the internet. “Troll 2” is so bad that it crossed into hilarity and the few that saw it began to tell their friends. The terrible dialogue that includes lines like “You don’t piss on hospitality! I won’t allow it!” became infamous and oft-quoted by fans of the film. Such was its popularity in film circles that it was dubbed the “Rocky Horror Picture Show” for the MySpace generation.
It was through MySpace that “Best Worst Movie” director Michael Stephenson became aware of the popularity of “Troll 2.” Seventeen years prior, Stephenson was the child star of the film, a freckle-faced tyke who is charged with saving his family by the ghost of his grandfather (as if you need more proof of the bizarre plot). Now an L.A.-based videographer, Stephenson noticed that he was increasingly getting messages at his MySpace inquiring about his role in “Troll 2.” Further investigation made him realize that not only was the film being watched, it was a cult hit. Screenings were being organized across American to huge audiences and there was a demand to have the cast and crew at these screenings. Stephenson decided there was a story here and set out to make his first documentary feature.
As a film fan, this is an incredibly interesting documentary to watch because it chronicles how an audience can reclaim a film for its own. Stephenson travels to sold out showings all over North America and interviews fans who have gone to weird and wonderful lengths to demonstrate their fandom for “Troll 2.” One adorable geek couple spend a big wad of cash making their own Troll masks from clay, while a fan in Toronto hosts a yearly ‘Troll 2” Olympics.
In large part, the fun of the documentary comes from seeing the cast and crew of “Troll 2” reunited. At its centre is George Hardy, an Alabama dentist who decided to try his hand at acting and won the role of Father Waits, a favourite for fans of the film. Hardy is a charmer, tanned and good looking with a winning smile who in another life would have been an excellent foil on a soap opera somewhere. Hardy was as shocked as Stephenson by the success of “Troll 2,” but rushed in headlong to embrace it. But as “Best Worst Movie” demonstrates, fame is a double-edged sword, even when your only fame comes from a film widely considered to be the worst film of all time. On the opposite end is Fragasso, the delusional director of “Troll 2” who fancies himself the second coming of Fellini. Unlike Hardy, who can appreciate how bad the film is, Fragasso believes his film to be a genius social commentary on the state of the American family. He cuts a tragic figure throughout the documentary, unable to understand why audiences are laughing at a film that, to him, is art.
“Best Worst Movie” is two things, in reality. It’s a snapshot of a phenomenon almost totally unique to film; the ability of the audience to claim a piece of art as its own and change the original intention of the artist. But at the same time it’s a bittersweet story about how people have found fame and validation for a film that could have simply festered at the bottom of a VHS bargain bin.
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