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Best Worst Movie

Previously on Movie Curiosities, I went through a seven-day marathon of the most infamous enjoyably bad films known to modern cinema. The line-up naturally included Troll 2, and I did indeed think that it was an adorable kind of batshit clusterfuck. But when I sat down to watch the film, I knew that my work wouldn’t end there. If I was going to see that movie, then someday — and someday very soon — I would have to watch the companion documentary.

Best Worst Movie comes to us from director Michael Stephenson, the would-be child actor who played the lead inĀ Troll 2. Twenty years after that movie’s release, Stephenson was inspired by the massive underground fanbase that had somehow formed around the shitty picture that destroyed all of his hopes for a film career. And Stephenson wasn’t alone in that sense of crushing disappointment.

The documentary catches up with pretty much everyone in the cast and crew of that movie, and the vast majority of them were terribly embarrassed. Some of them were so disappointed with themselves that they voluntarily gave up acting, others quit because they knew they’d never get another acting job ever again, and they were all harassed by friends and family who somehow caught Troll 2 on HBO. There were a few notable exceptions, however.

We meet Don Packard, who had a brief yet very memorable role as the grocery store owner. As it turns out, Packard was on furlough from the nearby mental institution and had to constantly smoke pot just to stay sane at the time of production on Troll 2. He had virtually no memory of his time on that set, and he didn’t get to see the film until two decades years later. I won’t spoil exactly what his reaction was, but I’ll say that it was truly priceless.

Then we have Margot Prey (the mother of the main family), who always thought that Troll 2 was a delightful and well-made movie. Then again, it bears mentioning that Prey is living a very reclusive life and her acting career never seemed to get off the ground. It’d be funny, if it wasn’t so incredibly sad. Heaven help her, Prey has gone so senile that she goes on record comparing Troll 2 to Casablanca. Yes, you read that right. No, I could not possibly make that up if I tried.

And yet, when the Alamo Drafthouse puts on “the Nilbog Invasion,” a massive Troll 2 convention at the very same town where the film was shot, Prey is the only cast member who refuses to attend. A dozen oxen and steel cables could not drag her to that convention. Like I said: Reclusive.

By a similar token, we have the director/writer pairing of Claudio Fragrasso and his wife, Rossella Drudi. These people are flat fucking crazy. They genuinely believe that Troll 2 is a work of greatness, offering deep commentary on family, xenophobia, and the human condition. Editor Vanio Amici is even more insane: If you asked him, Amici would say that Troll 2 was a vital inspiration for Harry Potter (He seriously says that. I swear to God.). So they hear that Troll 2 has finally found an audience, and they think “Wonderful! It took nearly twenty years, but audiences have finally come to appreciate my genius.”

So then Fragrasso meets the fans, who of course have no idea that the film says anything about life and death. He sits in on a screening, listening as people laugh through the entire film. Including the parts that weren’t meant to be funny. And he really doesn’t know how to react except to ask “What the fuck is wrong with you people?!”

(Side note: Alas, Deborah Reed — the queen of the goblins herself — is notably absent from this documentary. I understand that footage of her was shot, but edited out due to time. So far as I can tell, she’s the only player from the original film that didn’t get an appearance here. That’s a damn shame, considering that — in my opinion — she was easily the most enjoyable part of that movie.)

Still, the undisputed star of this documentary is Dr. George Hardy, who played the father character in Troll 2. He spent the past couple decades as the dentist of a small Alabama town, and the news of Troll 2‘s new popularity naturally took him by complete surprise. One day, the guy’s a total nobody. The next day, he’s out on a worldwide tour of fan screenings. He’s signing autographs, he’s posing for photos, he’s greeting total strangers who tell him that he’s awesome, he’s meeting up with old acquaintances who made this crappy movie with him back in the day, all that stuff. In one scene, he’s watching a fan get the Troll 2 box art tattooed on his arm.

That kind of attention can be overwhelming, especially to someone who hails from Bumfuck, Nowhere. There’s a very interesting sequence in which Hardy mulls over the prospect of using this movie as a springboard for a renewed career in acting. It bears repeating yet again that Hardy is talking about goddamned Troll 2.

In fact, as if to provide that desperately needed perspective, the next sequence shows Hardy going to some huge geek conventions. Pop culture fanatics of all stripes are there, dressed up in their finest cosplay and meeting true media icons. And there’s George Hardy, trying to explain the premise of a famously awful movie that he starred in twenty years ago to an audience of eight people who’ve never heard of it. If that doesn’t humble a person, nothing will.

The horror convention is a great case in point. Horror fans are a notoriously loyal bunch: They’ll go ask for autographs from actors who were in some Nightmare on Elm Street movie twenty years ago, and did absolutely nothing else. Yet no one asks for autographs from Hardy, who only did a single “horror” film twenty years ago. Then again, Troll 2 notoriously failed as a scary film, and Hardy himself is so visibly uncomfortable with horror movies that he can barely pronounce “Nightmare on Elm Street.”

That said, there’s no denying that the fans of Troll 2 show a ton of the aforementioned to-hell-and-back loyalty. The film takes us to a couple dozen screenings all over the world, each one sold out and attended by people who came from miles away. We see the merchandise, the tattoos, and the theme parties. We get a glimpse of the artwork, the video games, the music, the sculptures, the outdoor games, and all these other creative works that were inspired by the movie.

And through it all, there’s the underlying question: Why are people unironically moved to such a lunatic degree over a movie that’s a total piece of shit in every conceivable way?!

Several bona fide film geeks and historians weigh in on the improbable success of Troll 2, and no one can seem to explain it. They all agree that it’s this weird indescribable thing that can’t be fully understood without being seen. As best as anyone can figure, the movie is so appealing precisely because it was so clearly made with the best intentions, aiming for greatness with all sincerity and failing miserably.

Strangely enough, I think that Claudio Fragrasso himself is the one who most clearly expresses the documentary’s thesis statement. That’s sort of hilarious to me, given Fragrasso’s overpowering delusions of grandeur about himself and his movies.

Anyway, it’s Fragrasso who argues that a movie’s quality depends solely on one criteria: If a film emotionally moves its audience in some way, then it’s a good film. And say what you will about Troll 2, but it somehow moved a whole bunch of people. It may not have brought the emotional resonance that the filmmakers intended, and it may not be an emotional resonance that everyone can understand or explain, but the resonance is most certainly there. At the end of the day, the movie has brought inspiration and enjoyment to so many people, and who would take that away from them?

Moving on, the documentary goes back to discuss the making of the film itself. Of course, the proceedings are all constantly interrupted by Fragrasso, who loudly denies that anything ever went wrong on set, but whatever. The point being that the actors constantly struggled with a director and crew who barely spoke a word of English. In fact, the actors would spend hours backstage trying to interpret their lines and figure out how to make them sound natural.

One of the teenage actors went so far as to propose changing some lines, so the dialogue would be more like what an American teenager would actually say. To which the middle-aged Italian man with no comprehension of English would (allegedly) reply: “I know what an American teenager sounds like! I direct in all languages! I am a man of the world!” etc.

Best of all, the documentary presents re-enactments. In several scenes, the original cast members act out scenes from the movie, trying hard not to laugh as they do it. Many of these re-enactments take place in the very same house where the film was shot, with Fragrasso shouting out directions nearby. It gives the audience a fascinating window back in time to see what it must have been like actually making the film. It’s hilarious and enlightening in equal measure.

In my review of Troll 2, I recommended seeing that movie as an introduction to enjoyably bad cinema, and also to foreign knock-off cinema in general. Now, after seeing Best Worst Movie, I say with confidence that all film geeks should consider this pairing must-see cinema.

Watching Troll 2 helped me understand how people could enjoy laughably bad films without irony. Watching Best Worst Movie reminded me how much work goes into making even the shittiest of movies, and how passion can be spawned from the unlikeliest places. But I could never have completely appreciated one without seeing the other. I don’t care which of them you see first, just get out and see them both ASAP.

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