If you haven’t seen Troll 2, you probably should. It’s that rare breed of bad cinema that oozes embarrassing sincerity. It’s that less rare breed of “so bad it’s good” cinema. It is a staple for film buffs who relish getting their hands on films that are both indescribably shitty and thoroughly entertaining. While the excitement of the random “bad movie” find is completely lost with Troll 2’s notorious fame, the joy of appreciating such un-ironic riotous dribble comes with a legion of enthusiastic fans.
The new documentary Best Worst Movie was produced and directed by Michael Stephenson who, as a child in 1988, played the lead role of Joshua. Fans talk about their love for Troll 2, there are interviews with the cast and crew as well as a look at the screenings, conventions and Q&A’s that have evolved out of the film’s following. Mainly though, the film creates a very solid and succinct arc with Dr. George Hardy, who played father Michael. He wanted to be an actor, but ended up going into dentistry, which his family pushed for. He lives in a small Alabama town and is known for his consistent enthusiasm and generosity. Hardy is a simple man who enjoys the simple life. When he learns about the cult phenomenon of the film, he begins to take part in screenings and conventions.
Hardy’s story demonstrates what happens when subculture specific fame runs dry. To say George gets caught up in his fame is an understatement. His patients are stuck listening to him babble on endlessly about it. He repeatedly reenacts scenes for others, most notably the “you can’t piss on hospitality” scene. He is worshipped at the screenings and he witnesses firsthand the passion that many have for the film. After a couple of bad experiences including a UK convention where nobody knows who he is and a horror convention that sickens him to his core, he begins to overcompensate by re-embracing his Alabama life. He realizes the town does not have the enthusiasm for the film that its fans do. Not everybody knows who he is. His daughter does not care a bit. Hardy’s arc is complete once his perspective radically shifts gears.
There are many sad and awkward moments in Best Worst Movie. Many of them come from the fans relation to the film being in opposition to the cast and crew’s. Outside of Stephenson and perhaps Robert Ormsby who played Grandpa Seth, nobody involved with Troll 2 understands or relates to the context of the fandom surrounding it. Most of the cast, including Hardy and Connie Young, are ashamed to have been in the film and do not really relate to the enthusiasm people have for it. Then there are the Italian crew members, most notably director and writer Claudio Fragasso and writer Rossella Drudi who vehemently stand by Troll 2 as a serious piece of filmmaking. Every time Fragasso is onscreen, the film becomes painfully awkward. Seeing him realize the reason behind its fame is difficult and his defense mechanism is to take on an even more awkward superiority complex that was clearly there even before the realization set in.
Along the way we learn about the other cast members, a couple of which are clearly unstable. A personal highlight was seeing the fans themselves talk about the film and why it works as a “best worst movie” for them. I wish we learned more about what Stephenson thinks about his mild temporary fame. He has a voice at the beginning, but mostly the film never focuses on him. The footage was clearly put together in the way that is pessimistic about how far this fame could take the cast and crew. He knew there was a story to tell here. Yet Stephenson himself is involved in every part of this process. He is central to the most painful scenes of Best Worst Movie, which depict Stephenson, Hardy, Fragasso and others revisiting the house they shot at and reenacting scenes, complete with Fragasso directing and yelling at them to take it seriously. These people are desperately trying to revisit 1988 with a forced nostalgia. Is this being done because they truly want to perform the scenes again? Do they think the audience would get a kick out of it? Do they think something like this is in demand? It is hard to tell and Stephenson’s stance on the experience and these moments in particular is something that could have been expanded upon.
Best Worst Movie has a lot more to it than a simple revalidation and tribute to a cult film. It has some insightful looks at the distinct parallels between fan subcultures and everything outside of it. Seeing how the cast and crew see it in relation to the fans says a lot about how what an audience takes from a film can be vastly different then what is intended. Mostly though, it is about George Hardy who ends where he began taking with him a lesson about the expiration date that comes with fame.