Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.
Premiered March 13, 2009 at the SXSW Film Festival
Directed by Michael Stephenson
Written by Michael Stephenson
Cast: George Hardy, Michael Stephenson, Claudio Fragasso, Connie Young, Margo Prey, Jason Wright, Darren Ewing, Jason Steadman, Robert Ormsby, Don Packard, Rossella Drudi, Lily Hardy
So what do you do if you’re a one-time child actor who starred in a ridiculous 1990 horror movie about vegetarian goblins, and discovered as an adult that the film, inexplicably called Troll 2, is not only regarded as one of worst films ever made, but has become a cult favorite among bad film lovers the world over? Well, if you’re Michael Stephenson, who played the young lead in the film, you gather together as many of the cast and crew members as you can and shoot a documentary about the phenomenon, and call it Best Worst Movie.
And what exactly is a ‘best worst’ movie? For those of you who’ve never heard the term, or don’t spend countless hours watching low-grade films for the sheer joy of it (like I do), it’s a way of describing a perfectly awful movie—one that’s universally panned and derided—that you somehow find entertaining, and can unabashedly watch again and again despite its sub-par qualities and gut-busting ineptitude. A well-known example of this would be Plan 9 from Outer Space, the Ed Wood sci-fi classic that tops many ‘worst film’ lists but is still eminently watchable; for me, it’s The Creeping Terror, which I only discovered a few years ago, but have gleefully suffered through a half-dozen times since.
And for many others, as this documentary revealed, the ultimate best-worst movie is Troll 2, a woefully misguided and sometimes incomprehensible creature feature that was not only not a sequel, but despite its title had nary a troll in sight! Filmed in Utah in 1989 by an Italian director, written by his wife, and featuring a game cast of amateur locals, Troll 2 was (not surprisingly) released straight to video, and after numerous cable airings in the ’90s, slowly but surely developed a fan base, and soon a reverent cult following.
Which brings us to Best Worst Movie, one of the most engaging, good-natured, and amusing documentaries I’ve ever seen, and one I wholeheartedly recommend to everyone, whether you’re familiar with the source material or not. Here, Stephenson tracked down and spoke with nearly all of the principal cast—as well as director Claudio Fragasso and his screenwriter wife—and brought a few together for on-the-spot reunions, before following a core group as they traveled to midnight screenings and bad movie festivals across the country, where they met and interacted with their enthusiastic fans, and had a grand old time doing so. And no one had a grander time than the perpetually upbeat Dr. George Hardy, a small-town dentist who twenty years earlier answered a casting call, and was now the focal point and shining light of a very entertaining behind-the-scenes film chronicle of the movie he was cast in.
This was my second viewing of the documentary, and I what I really noticed this time around was just how appreciative and welcoming the cast members were to their fifteen minutes of fame; while there wasn’t much love and respect for the film itself, there certainly was between the cast, who seemed genuinely happy to be in the limelight, and more importantly, to spend some time with each other again. Even the grumpy director, who was distressed to discover he hadn’t made a masterpiece, was finally won over (for the most part, anyway). Filled to the brim with personal stories, interviews with fans, footage from screenings, clips from Troll 2, and even off-the-cuff reenactments, Best Worst Movie is not only an informative look at the making of a low-budget film, but a feel-good treat that proves that bad films are only ugly on the outside. (9/10)