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The Best Movie About the Worst Movie

May 21, 2010
Best Worst Movie

Best Worst Movie recounts the making and revival of Troll 2, which some claim is the worst movie ever made. Those people haven't seen My Name Is Khan.

Best Worst Movie, a documentary about Troll 2, would not exist but for the 20-somethings who made the aggressively awful 1990 horror flick an icon of ironic enjoyment. But the fans are the least interesting part of Best Worst Movie. The Onion’s been making fun of these kind of people for over a decade. Far more intriguing are the folks who made the film. There is nothing ironic in the profound ways their lives have been affected by a movie that was once the worst-rated on the Internet Movie Database.

One person whose life has been transformed, apparently for the better, is Michael Stephenson, the child star of Troll 2. Once deeply ashamed of the movie, the now-32-year-old produced and directed Best Worst Movie after being inundated by MySpace messages from fans in the mid-aughts. His documentary is certainly a love letter to those fans—and all their mask-making, Trollympic-staging weirdness—but it is also a moving, and occasionally disturbing, exploration of the consequences of the unrequited pursuit of fame.

Stephenson wisely anchors his film around one of the few people involved in the movie who did not stay in show business, George Hardy. Hardy, who played Stephenson’s father, is a successful dentist in a small Alabama city, a relentless optimist and a natural ham. Even his ex-wife can’t think of anyone who dislikes him. He has put Troll 2 behind him, as an amusing diversion on the path to a contented, comfortable life. He is the heart of Best Worst Movie, an object lesson in the way a good life can be fashioned in the wake of a stifled dream.

His positivity is matched by the film’s young fans, who are in awe of this little film about vegetarian goblins who turn people into plants so as to eat them. They host Troll 2 parties, make YouTube tributes, even travel cross-country to attend sold-out screenings, where they laugh along with every cringe-inducing line. Caitlin Crawls, associate director of the Brattle Film Foundation, calls fans’ devotion to the film a “religion.”

Only once he has filled us with all sorts of warm and fuzzies about Hardy and Troll 2’s growing fanbase does Stephenson begin to show us the ambivalent repercussions of involvement in Troll 2. Holly Young, who played Stephenson’s older sister, is still acting, and frets that any casting director who sees her performance will never consider her for a part again. Worse off is Don Packard, who was a pot-smoking mental patient when he played a bit part in Troll 2. His best friends are a collection of giant stuffed animals. After being feted at a 2007 screening of the film in New York, he says, “I was never thrilled at being who I was until that night in Manhattan.” Even Hardy gets caught up in the fan adulation, soaking up the attention that we realize he’s always been addicted to. As he tirelessly pimps out Troll 2 as a fundraiser in his hometown, his behavior turns from charming to slightly creepy.

Then there’s Robert Ormsby, who played Stephenson’s dead grandfather. A resident of Salt Lake City, he always wanted to act, but never had interest in moving to New York and Los Angeles. Now retired, he has no children or grandchildren. “I more or less frittered my life away,” he says, surrounded by piles of DVDs and books. “But what else is there to do with a life but fritter it away?”

Stranger still is Trolls 2’s director, Claudio Fragasso. A prolific Italian horror filmmaker, he continues to stand by the film. “Troll 2 is a film that examines many serious and important issues,” he tells Stephenson, “like living, eating and dying.” With a straight face, his wife, Rossella Drudi, explains she wrote the screenplay as a way of mocking her annoying vegetarian friends. Where others see their involvement in Troll 2 as a humorous lark or a sign of their own inadequacy, Fragasso chooses self-deception. “Being considered the worst movie is almost as much a compliment as being considered the best,” he says.

Somehow managing to combine both delusion and depression is Margo Prey, who played Stephenson’s mother and Hardy’s wife. A hermetic, paranoid woman, she spends her days caring for her elderly mother in Utah. Despite disastrous cosmetic surgery, she still considers herself an actor. She looks back at Troll 2 as the pinnacle of her acting career, seeing the film in the tradition of the best of Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn. But she is also the one major cast member who does not come to the Nilbog Invasion, a three-day celebration of the film in the Utah town where it was filmed. “It’s just complicated,” she tells Stephenson and Hardy, just before explaining that her fondest wish in life is to be somebody else and live anywhere but here.

And what of the object of the fans’ adoration? Does Troll 2 deserve the title of the “worst movie ever made”? It is certainly awful, depressing even, but it is competently shot and edited. One can hardly blame a crew with a tiny budget for the cheap special effects and flimsy sets. True, Drudi’s screenplay is laughably bad (signature line: “You can’t piss on hospitality!”), but what makes the film so memorable, I think, is the acting. It is completely off-key in a remarkably uniform and disciplined way. It’s as if Fragasso had instructed the cast to choose the least credible line readings at every opportunity, or that he cast the film with Aspergers’ sufferers doing their best to mimic these strange mental processes known as “emotions.” That neither situation is the case is the greatest testament to Fragasso’s breathtaking incompetence.

In the film’s last act, set at the Nilbog Invasion, Troll 2’s cast is gathered for a Q&A panel. Young recalls how she was depressed after first seeing the film on HBO, as Fragasso anxiously chews gum in the audience. Two other cast members discuss how the production was so disorganized they never even saw full scripts, prompting an annoyed Fragasso to yell, “You are wrong! You are completely wrong!” and storm out. The fans, as usual, laugh.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. bro permalink
    May 21, 2010 10:57 pm

    So it seems clear that you dont feel that Troll is the worst movie ever, but where does it rank among the rest of the dreck- plan 9, manos, little miss sunshine etc?

  2. Brad permalink
    May 21, 2010 11:27 pm

    You had to go and bring up Little Miss Sunshine? You probably drove MYOC back to the bottle.

  3. May 22, 2010 7:28 pm

    1) The Godfather
    2) Pulp Fiction
    3) Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

    10,355) My Name Is Khan
    10,356) Troll 2
    10,357) Plan 9 From Outer Space
    10,358) Cop Out (I haven’t seen it, but a Kevin Smith-directed ACTION movie?)
    10,359) Gigli (I have seen this, and I still look back at the experience with aching regret. The less I think about it, the better.)

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