Thursday, February 23, 2012

Best Worst Movie (2009) / Troll 2 (1990)

Best Worst Movie:  Directed by Michael Stephenson
Best Worst Movie Starring George Hardy, Claudio Fragasso

Troll 2:  Directed by Claudio Fragasso
Troll 2:  Starring George Hardy, Michael Stephenson

Finding joy in the absolutely atrocious is an odd phenomenon that I think we all can relate to on some level.  It’s the reason I turn to the Sally Forth comic strip every Sunday morning and have a hard time turning off that Paul McCartney Christmas song.  Arguably, there has never been a work of art (to use the term loosely) that symbolizes that experience of “blissfully bad” better than Claudio Fragasso’s 1990 horror flick, Troll 2.  By every account, Troll 2 fails miserably.  In the 20 years since its (straight-to-video) release, this complete failure of a film has developed a fanatical cult following.  With its 0% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and its #1 rating on IMDB’s Bottom 100 movies, Troll 2 has even inspired a documentary, Best Worst Movie, to take an in-depth look at the “world’s worst film.”  Lucky for me, both are available on Netflix Instant.

To capture the experience of Troll 2 in words is a difficult task.  For to fully grasp how something so awful can exist, yet also be endearing, can’t really be understood unless it is watched.  Let’s just say that this movie finds the perfect balance of horrible acting, terrible production value, cheesy music, painfully awkward lines, and a nonsensical script.  A C-average middle school student would be embarrassed by this story.  Here is my foolish attempt at summarizing the plot:  a young boy and his dead grandfather try to save their vacationing family from the creepy townspeople who are really goblins (the monsters aren’t even trolls!) that try to feed newcomers green goo which turns the people into plants so the goblins and their goblin-witch leader can eat the humans, because they are all vegetarians.  Hard to follow, right?  However, that doesn’t matter because when added all together, there is something incredibly watchable about Troll 2.

We’ve all seen terrible movies, laughed at them, and left it at that.  No one ever takes the time to take a closer look at those terrible movies.  With his documentary, Best Worst Movie, Michael Stephenson (who was actually the child actor and star of Troll 2) takes the time to answer questions of how was a movie this bad ever made, why has it developed a cult following, and how do those involved in its making look back on the experience.  After I did my homework (watch Troll 2), I was very excited to take an in-depth look at the true story of a truly awful movie. 

It’s amazing how Best Worst Movie involves all of the insiders from the making of the film, and their reaction to their 1990 “classic” runs the gamut.  A common theme is embarrassment.  From being kept in the dark during filming by Troll 2’s all-Italian crew to its ominous VHS release and subsequent airings on HBO, most of the cast had the feeling that they were part of something especially bad.  For an actor, however, that “blissfully bad” experience doesn’t exist.  Troll 2 is a black cloud that hangs over their careers.  Most leave it off their resumes and feel nothing but shame when the movie gets mentioned, some are content with their embarrassment and have moved on with their lives, while others are stuck in sad and lonely places.  It took the better part of 20 years to forget, but its arrival of as a cult classic has suddenly brought it to their forefront and made them something a star.

George Hardy is the most memorable of Troll 2’s cast members in Best Worst Movie.  He is a practicing and well-loved dentist in his small Alabama hometown, and he was a practicing dentist in Utah when he auditioned for Troll 2 on a whim.  When people ask him about his “movie star” days, he just shines his giant pearly whites and laughs it off in good humor.  Other than that, George gives little thought to Troll 2.  That is until Michael, the documentarian and his Troll 2 co-star, informs him about the film’s huge cult following.  George dives head first into newfound stardom.  It's very fun to hear the fans express their love toward such a truly awful movie as George is guest of honor at sold out midnight showings across the country.  George becomes Troll 2’s biggest fan himself, wonders what a life of stardom would have been like, and realizes he is happy with his quiet Alabama life.  Who knew that the father in Troll 2 was not just a terrible actor, but also such an interesting character in the real world?

Various other cast members and filmmakers join as George and Michael enjoy the ride of Troll 2’s newfound fame.  Some of most powerful moments come from those who have never viewed their movie as a failure.  Sadness runs deep when we learn that the Troll 2 mother, and George’s on-screen wife, has turned into a delusional recluse afraid to leave her house.  She views her movie as a beautiful film on par with Casablanca.  More entertaining awkwardness comes from the director, Claudio Fragasso, who travels from Italy to experience Troll 2’s cult fame in person.  He has disdain for critics, pride in his film’s message, and confusion over the audience’s constant laughter.  His ego embraces the adulation but feels attacked when he realizes that the adulation comes from the love for his ultimate failure.  This contradiction reaches a high point during the entertaining arguments Claudio has with his actors and fans during some Troll 2 Q&A sessions.

I highly encourage people to force themselves through their worst 90 minutes of movie watching, because when coupled with a viewing of Best Worst Movie, the two create a very entertaining experience.  We all love to hate things, and quite a lot can be gained from seeing how individuals have embraced their greatest failures.  Who knows - if that failure is as monumental as Troll 2, you might be in store for a hell of a ride.

Best Worst Movie – Mark it 6.
Troll 2 – Mark it 1, naturally.

1 comment:

  1. Zack, another nice one, glad you actually watched all of Troll 2 before Best Worst Movie, I don't believe it is necessary, but it does inform a lot of the documentary. And it is a hilariously wild ride.

    You did mention the sadness, but I think that was something that was the most unexpected about BWM. The obvious example is the mother actress, but there was a poignancy to the actor who played Grandpa Seth talking about how he wasted his life, but "that's what one does." And even with George Hardy, who is a happy-go-lucky, gregarious, fun-loving person with a successful career and by-all accounts living a happy life, there are moments where he displays of a sense of loss and missed opportunity in his life. The unexpected semi-stardom he found because of Troll 2's cult following has hinted that he could have done something more exciting with his life had Troll 2 not been so terrible. But alas it was, and he was pretty terrible in it.

    Its in those moments where BWM most clearly brings the truth... that we all can relate to.