Best Worst Movie: Making of Troll 2

By Michael T. Dennis
 
Cult movies, fan communities, and the lives of small-time actors fall under scrutiny in the excellent new documentary “Best Worst Movie,” in which director Michael Stephenson traces the production history and aftermath of the low budget 1990 horror flick “Troll 2.”
 
For Stephenson, interest in the lauded movie is more than just a fanboy's homage or a filmmaker's choice of a clever subject. He was actually the child star at the center of “Troll 2,” watching as goblins threaten his family and doing his 10-year old best to shriek and shout the audience into frenzy.
 
With his train to stardom derailed long ago, Stephenson has crafted an authentic documentary using an unlikely subject to enter into a dialogue about some substantial issues. “Best Worst Movie” is his attempt to exorcise the demons that come along with infamy.
 
For the uninitiated, “Troll 2” is more than just a bad movie. Shot cheaply in 1989 by an unknown Italian production company in suburban Utah, the movie is based on a script about vegetarian goblins who try to turn a vacationing all-American family into plants in order to eat them.
 
“Troll 2” is lacking in every area–except effort. Bad dialogue, terrible acting, laughable special effects, and a plot full of holes complement the ridiculous premise. Still, the movie takes itself seriously, downplaying the humor and striving to be scary, even if the goal never comes close to achievement.
 
Despite the absence of actual trolls, “Troll 2” was rebranded to ride the coattails of the original “Troll,” with which it shares no cast or crew members, or even a basic premise. The “sequel” disappeared into the netherworld of direct-to-TV and home video distribution in the early-1990s, only to rise again in the age of social media. A DVD release, coupled with fan pages on social network sites proclaiming “Troll 2” to be the worst movie of all time, spawned viewing parties where fans don green “Goblin” t-shirts and reenact favorite scenes before laughing together uproariously for 95 minutes.
 
“Best Worst Movie” explores this strange cultural phenomenon from the perspective of “Troll 2”'s accidental celebrities, who have found a new wave of ironic fame with the resurgence of the film.  By far the biggest personality is George Hardy, who played the father in the film. Hardy lives a normal life as a community dentist in Alabama, using his infectious smile to get kids to floss and establishing himself as a small-town fixture.
 
Dr. George Hardy is one of those people who we might expect only to exist in the movies. His unabashed optimism extends to a friendly relationship with his ex-wife and aloof teenage daughter, as well as his inexplicable ongoing support for “Troll 2.” Hardy makes appearances at screenings around the country, signing autographs and reveling in the energy that the fan community exudes.
 
As expected, “Best Worst Movie” shows that not all of the “Troll 2” alumni have fared so well.  Director Stephenson accompanies Hardy on a trip that takes them to the home of reclusive cast member Margo Prey, who played George's wife. Margo is a reclusive burn-out, caring for her aging mother and surrounded by images of kittens. Besides an unsettling personality, Margo has some high praise for “Troll 2” that leads to serious questions about her mental state.
 
The story takes an even darker turn with the introduction of Robert Ormsby, who played the kindly grandfather in “Troll 2.” Surrounded by mementos of a wasted life the old man expresses an admission of never reaching his life's potential. It serves as a powerful counterpoint to George Hardy, whose real talent seems to reside in his dentistry. Instead, George gets more and more wrapped up in the cult of “Troll 2,” following the lure of fame to horror movie conventions where he sits alone at an empty table, miscast in a world of zombies and Freddy Krueger memorabilia.
 
By following George on his barnstorming, “Best Worst Movie” takes a fragmented look at the cultural meaning of movies, even the bad ones. Besides the people who make bad movies, there are the people who watch them. In both cases, the sense of community is paramount, but the human cost can be equally substantial. Lovers of so-called “bad movies” take an unusual position, part backlash against serious art and part embrace of the sincere efforts of flawed practitioners. There's a precarious line between laughing with, and laughing at, those flaws.
 
Nothing illustrates that lack of distinction better than the appearance of Claudio Fragasso, the director of “Troll 2.” Claudio, still working on low-budget productions in Italy, has not been able to distance himself from “Troll 2” the way other members of the cast have. While they've moved on with their lives, Claudio is still working, and defends his skills as a director when everyone else dismisses him as a comic fool.
 
“Best Worst Movie” refuses to pass judgment on anyone, instead giving us a look at what happens after the curtain closes and a film fails to give back to its makers what they put into it. In reality, this is the norm, with very few low budget films serving as red carpets to stardom. The people involved, like the films themselves, simply move on, but at least there's always the chance of spontaneous resurgence.
 
 
Cast:
 
Featuring George Hardy, Michael Stephenson, Darren Ewing, Jason Steadman, Margo Prey, and Jason Wright
 
Credits
 
Magic Stone Productions
Distributed by Abramorama and Area23a
Written and directed by Michael Stephenson
Producers, Mary Francis Groom, Alan Hunter, Hugh Hunter, Brad Klopman, Jim Klopman, Jim McKeon, Lindsay Rowles Stephenson, Michael Stephenson
Original Music, Bobby Tahouri
Director of photography, Katie Graham
Additional cinematography, Carl Indriago
Editors, Katie Graham and Andrew Matthews