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Best Worst Movie
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by Peter Sobczynski

"You Can't Keep A Bad Movie Down."
4 stars

Once upon a time, 1989 to be specific, a group of neophyte actors gathered in the small town of Porterville, Utah under the aegis of the Italian director responsible for such exploitation fare as “Night of the Zombies,” “Rats of Manhattan” and “Scalps” to shoot a low-budget horror film about an ordinary family whose trip to the remote town of Nilbog is ruined when they are stalked by a horde of vegetarian goblins that want to turn them into vegetables so that they can eat the unsuspecting travelers or some damn thing like that. Alas, things didn’t really pan out the way that those involved had hoped and instead of becoming a $100 million-grossing smash that would go on to influence generations of future filmmakers, it would bypass theatrical distribution altogether and make its debut on home video a year later under the new name of “Troll 2,” despite the utter absence of any trolls or any connection with the 1986 movie “Troll,” to the complete indifference to the vast majority of the public in the manner of so many other obscure genre efforts over the years. Unlike most of those other films, the story of “Troll 2” didn’t stop there because the ensuing years would see a small but loyal cult develop around its legendary lousiness to such a degree that it would eventually play in sold-out midnight screenings across the country with hardcore fans cheering it on in much the same way that earlier generations did with “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” The genial and amusing documentary “Best Worst Movie,” directed by Michael Stephenson, who actually had the lead role in “Troll 2” when he was a child actor, tells the story of its creation and its strange afterlife and, perhaps as expected, it is pretty much just as strange and bizarre as the film itself.

The first part of “Best Worst Movie” shows how the “Troll 2” cult has grown and developed over the years and is seen largely through the eyes of George Hardy, a genial and well-liked dentist whose only screen acting role would be as the father of the beleaguered family best by the goblins. For years, Hardy kept his brief flirtation with screen stardom a secret from the neighbors in the small Alabama town where he eventually settled but would cop to it on the occasions when a friend, family member or patient would spot him during one of the film’s appearances on cable. After a while, he finally began to do a little digging on the Internet and discovered that what he had assumed to be a long-forgotten film had begun to form a cult among people who caught it on cable or on VHS and relished it for its utter cheesiness. Eventually, he goes to New York City for a screening and is stunned to discover a line around the block of people hoping to get in and he eventually begins to travel the country to attend similar showings and be regaled as a near-rock star by attendees who ask him for his autograph and to recite his most memorable lines of dialogue.

At this point, the film switches gears as Stephenson goes around to look up other members of the cast to get their impressions on the making of the film and its new notoriety. For the most part, they all agree that they went into the project with the best intentions only to see them spiral away thanks to the combination of an inexplicable screenplay (written by the director’s wife) and an insurmountable language barrier between them and the director and his all-Italian crew. Nowadays, the majority of them look upon the disastrous results with a certain amount of good humor, though one participant is still so mortified by her performance that she continues to leave it off of her resume to this day. One exception to this is Margo Prey, the actress who played the mother of the family and a woman who seems to take both herself and the film way too seriously--at one point, she actually compares “Troll 2” to “Casablanca” and it takes a minute or so before it finally sinks in that she really isn’t kidding. Another exception is Claudio Fragasso, the man who actually directed the film. On the one hand, he is pleased to see lines of people waiting to see a film that he made but fails to understand why many of them regard his effort as a joke--during Q&A’s, we see him ripping into people, even cast members, for failing to recognize the seriousness of his intentions.

In recent years, a number of films have emerged that have tried to position themselves as The Worst Movie Ever Made--the most famous of them is no doubt Tommy Wiseau’s truly strange psychodrama “The Room.” As someone who has cultivated a fondness for the whole so-bad-its-good phenomenon since the days when the Medved brothers published “The Fifty Worst Films of All Time” and “The Golden Turkey Awards” and continues to worship at the altar of “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” I have found most of these latter-day efforts and their subsequent cult followings to be too self-conscious for their own good--these films seem to be trying too hard to be awful and as critic Dave Kehr once astutely put it, “It is a curious attribute of camp that it can only be found, not made.” “Troll 2” is a terrible, terrible movie by anyone’s standards but the one thing that it does have going for it--and I believe this is the secret to its “success”--is a weird sort of sincerity; watching it, you always have the sense that all involved were genuinely trying to make a good film and that it just went haywire for reasons that they still cannot quite comprehend. That sincerity comes through in “Best Worst Movie” as well. It would have been easy enough to make a documentary taking cheap shots at a bad film, the people who participated in it and the people who have taken it to heart in the ensuing years. Instead, all concerned come across here as decent, grounded people looking back on a strange part of their lives with a certain amount of affection mixed with incredulity regarding what it has spawned. There is a point when it seems as if George Hardy may be getting a little swept up in the delayed adulation that he finally receives for his work but this is handled in a surprisingly deft manner that allows him to come to terms with his past and future without ever becoming too insufferable. Even the pugnacious Fragasso gets a moment of grace of his own when he comes upon the reels for “Troll 2” before a screening and acknowledges that this is the first time that he has ever seen an actual celluloid print of his film.

“Best Worst Movie” isn’t a profound or groundbreaking documentary by any means and there are times when it rambles on a bit too long for its own good--instead of a fairly unrewarding foray into the world of sci-fi/horror conventions in the final reels, I would have preferred a few more stories about the actual production of the film--and the relative paucity of clips on display from “Troll 2” will leave many of those who haven’t already seen it wondering what all the fuss is about. Then again, I suppose it is highly unlikely that anyone would go to a documentary celebrating the likes of “Troll 2” without having some kind of working knowledge of the film ahead of time. However, if you are a fan of trashy cinema and have always wondered what kind of people think up movies like “Troll 2,” now you have your answer.

Author’s Note #1: No doubt due in part to the recent notoriety surrounding the film, “Troll 2” has dropped from its #1 slot on IMDB’s ranking of the worst movies ever made all the way down to #65, well below the likes of “Glitter,” “Furry Vengeance” and any number of “MST3K” titles. The #1 slot is currently held by “Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2” and if anyone decides to make a documentary on that particular title, I may have to retire prematurely. Author’s Note #2: At the end of the film, a title card reveals that Fragasso and his wife are currently hard at work writing a sequel to their late-blooming hit. The title? “Troll 2: Part 2.”

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=18414&reviewer=389
originally posted: 07/29/10 23:54:29
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 South By Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2009 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: Independent Film Festival of Boston 2009 For more in the Independent Film Festival Boston 2009 series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 SILVERDOCS Documentary Festival For more in the 2009 SILVERDOCS Documentary Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Fantasia Festival For more in the 2009 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Starz Denver Film Festival For more in the 2009 Starz Denver Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

10/21/14 Richard Brandt BEST WORST MOVIE: Accidental celebrity as first bracing, then unnerving, finally tiresome 4 stars
6/07/10 David Hollingsworth Insightful on every level! 4 stars
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  DVD: 16-Nov-2010


  DVD: 16-Nov-2010

Directed by
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