In 1989, Claudio Fragrasso, an Italian director barely fluent in English, came to a rural area of Utah to make a movie called Goblin. Filmed over three weeks, the movie — which was renamed Troll 2, a purported but utterly unrelated sequel to a film called Troll, and which features no trolls — never found its way to theaters, but its fascinatingly watchable badness (and presence on HBO) gave it a cult afterlife.
Twenty years later, Troll 2’s child star (Michael Paul Stevenson) shot Best Worst Movie, a relatively nostalgic portrait of the film’s curious afterlife. Best Worst Movie is framed around a sort of anniversary tour of Troll 2 screenings, which prove so popular as to bemuse the film’s cast and crew, most of whom had all but deleted the film from their resumes. Troll 2’s star, a gregarious and burly dentist named George Hardy, is a beloved dentist and father in Alabama, and he serves as Stevenson’s protagonist, relishing the fame he never knew he had.
Apart from Hardy, whose thrill in the limelight is infectious, Best Worst Movie has a lot going for it. The film offers a strong argument for why certain objects of kitsch are adopted by eccentric fans (they praise Troll 2’s sincerity, its fascinatingly valiant attempt to be good and honest in the face of its lunacy, mediocre talent, and irredeemable script), and interesting examples of how the film has been picked up by pop culture and the general citizenry (comedians from the Upright Citizens Brigade are big fans, and we meet one soldier who brought a copy of Troll 2 to the Green Zone in Baghdad). Its best moments come when Troll 2’s director crashes the anniversary tour. His shock upon learning that his film is not just a cult but a camp classic is priceless: “they laugh at things that weren’t made to be laughed at,” he says. (Later, Troll 2’s editor makes the case that the film inspired the Harry Potter series.)
Given the director’s past with his subjects, Best Worst Movie does some tip-toeing around potentially awkward subjects. What are Fragrasso’s other films like? What’s the deal with Margo Prey, Hardy’s Troll 2 co-star, who refuses to participate in the film’s anniversary celebrations and is now a paranoid recluse whose dream is to “go away somewhere where no one can find me”? Stevenson’s reticence to probe his fellow cast members is disappointing, but Best Worst Movie is still a winning debut, and thankfully judicious with its use of clips from Troll 2: that new classic will be shown after the documentary’s June 11 screening.