|Best Worst Movie | Written and Directed by Michael Stephenson | Area 23A | 93 minutes|
I've been strong-arming acquaintances about this deliriously entertaining documentary ever since I saw it at South by Southwest last year. The response to my fevered pitch for Best Worst Movie
has been polite nodding, eyes glazed over. Who wants to squander an evening on a movie devoted to a badly made horror flick? Sure, it's cute that silly cultists have embraced Claudio Fragasso's startlingly inept 1990 film Troll 2
(in which a Southwestern family face off against a horde of goblins), and that they find a perverse joy in watching this straight-to-VHS effort again and again. But why would anyone else want to get involved with the Troll 2
backstory, which is vividly dramatized in Best Worst Movie
If I weren't a Best Worst Movie devotee (three times so far), I'd feel that way myself. There's something philistine and offputting about those books that condescend to awful cinema ("The Fifty Worst Movies of All Time," etc.), and even about Mystery Science Theater 3000's clever skewing of atrocious sci-fi. But making fun of things is easy, and it keeps one emotionally distanced. A friend put it this way about his college students: "My kids would rather laugh at a movie than love a movie." It's a little troubling that adolescents will line up at midnight for a film that's "so bad it's good" — which means ridicule and escape — while staying clear of films that are "so good they're great" — which means thinking and feeling. Ozu and Mizoguchi, no. Troll 2, yes. That's where the crowds are.
But when Best Worst Movie takes its camera to "cult" screenings of Troll 2, my puritanical objections melt away. The obsessive audience for Troll 2 seems to be smart, agreeable, normal young people who really, really do love this godawful movie. We witness showings, often at midnight, in New York and LA, at the Alamo Draft House in Austin, and at our own beloved Brattle Theatre. Everyone is having so much fun! It's awesome and cool. And, yes, the film does achieve a kind of upside-down, Showgirls-style, damaged beauty. Troll 2 commentators explain its Ed Wood–like verities, how it was made without irony or cynicism by people behind the camera, and in front of it, who believed they were doing something artful and significant. Think Orson Welles and the Mercury Theatre taking on Citizen Kane, but with talent-challenged thespians, and Halloween-masked goblins in burlap bags.
The actors came across Troll 2 when it played, in the 1990s, on HBO. Most reacted with intense embarrassment. Said one: "I was a crappy actor in a crappy movie." Those pursuing entertainment careers kept it off their résumés. But then the film was uncovered, discovered, and championed, often as "the worst movie ever made." It was at this point that Michael Paul Stephenson, who had been the freckle-faced child ingénue, stepped in, as an adult filmmaker, to put together a documentary about the Troll 2 phenomenon, which to him was both ridiculous and oddly complimentary. It was he who gathered the old cast, interviewing them and bringing them to Troll 2 screenings and to an on-the-old-set reunion.
The greatness of Best Worst Movie is tied to the astonishingly diverse (and weird!) Troll 2 players, from good-guy Alabama dentist George Hardy to recovering mental patient Don Packard to the Norma Desmond–like Margo Prey. Best of all is the Italian director, the stupendously unskilled Fragasso, who remains outside the joke, insisting that Troll 2 is a wonder, and regarding himself as a kind of B-budget Fellini.