Best Worst Movie
Film review by: Witney Seibold
In 1989, an Italian film director named Claudio Fragasso (“House 5,” “Zombi 3”) went to Utah to film “Goblin,” a horror film he wrote with his wife Rosella Drudi. The film featured a coty-dewlling family being stalked about the countryside by a vicious gang of vegetarian goblins who were intent of turning the people into plants and eating them. It was intended as a satire on the rising popularity of vegetarianism. Fragasso hired local actors, many of them in their first or second professional gigs, including child actor Michael Paul Stephenson, and a local dentist, Dr. George Hardy. He didn’t speak English too well, and none of the actors were very good, but Fragasso believed in what he was making, and soldiered through, completing “Goblin” in 1990.
The distributors of “Goblin” decided, without Fragasso’s permission, to rename his film after a mild hit they had had a few years previous. Thus “Goblin” became “Troll 2.” It went straight to video, and was quickly forgotten. Indeed, the few critics who saw the film, dismissed it as one of the worst films ever.
A few years back, Michael Paul Stephenson, now in his 20s, discovered that “Troll 2,” a film he had once wished would vanish forever, was now, strangely, making the rounds as a midnight cult favorite in hipster venues like The Alamo Drafthouse. Stephenson, finally at peace with his stalled childhood acting career, and this horrid oddity he made 15 years before, decided to make a documentary film about the making-of, and the citybound cult that is “Troll 2.” The result is “Best Worst Movie,” which opened in theaters recently.
“Best Worst Movie” is a surprisingly touching and insightful look into the making of a hit. But, unfettered by the self-congratulatory raving that come with most making-of documentaries of big hits, “Best Worst Move” very tactfully focuses not just on the success of the “Troll 2” revival, but the hubris, the shattered hope, the pain, and even the mental illness that has to go into making a truly bad film. In addition to exasperated recollections of shooting (actor Darren Ewing recalls having to stand in a flowerpot for 14 hours straight, the dwarf actors who played the goblins recall that the film made less and less sense as shooting continued, actress Connie McFarland had particular problems with the ESL dialogue), there are also interviews that teeter on the outright tragic (Actor Don Packard, who played the insane store owner, was not only high as a kite for his scenes, but was taking a break of a stay in a mental hospital. Judith Prey, who played the mother, feels, un-ironically, that “Troll 2” can be compared to “Casablanca,” and now lives a sad life caring for her extremely elderly mother in paranoid reclusehood.
Stephenson focuses mostly on the life of Dr. Hardy, and uses Hardy’s experiences with “Troll 2” as the narrative of the film: he was a small-town dentist who was given a big break, made one of the worst movies of all time, and then, 15 years after the fact, became an unlikely cult hero. We see the elation on his face as he steps out in front of sold out midnight audiences, and his gameness in answering their questions. “I don’t feel that way drilling a cavity,” he genially admits. We also see, though, the grind of the cult circuit eventually wearing him down; Hardy sits at an autograph table at a British Sci-Fi convention, and no one knows about him. He has to convince the Brits that “Troll 2” can be fun. He does the same at a Horror convention, but is openly disgusted with the pierced-and-tattooed gore-jockeys. “I bet none of these people floss,” he observes.
Stephenson is also a fair reporter, as he also catches up with Fragasso, and allows him to explain his side of the story. Either Fragasso still has unflagging faith in his talent, and in the film he made, or he has the world’s best poker-face. Either way, Fragasso is quick to explain why “Troll 2” is brilliant, why the critics are wrong, and how bloody annoyed he is that these hoards of American kids are gathering to laugh at his movie. His passion is palpable, and his annoyance is real; it’s hard to explain your ironic adoration of a bad movie to the filmmaker who believed in it.
If you haven’t seen “Troll 2,” I recommend that you do. It really does have a watchable quality, and does have that passionate love of someone who was trying to make something brilliant, and failing. As many of the interviewees in “Best Worst Movie” point out, once you’ve seen enough movies, it’s not necessarily the quality you seek any longer, but the underlying sincerity of the filmmakers and actors. Indeed, sicnereity lacking talent forms a much more interesting external narrative than any internal narrative can supply.
I also recommend “Best Worst Movie,” an intriguing and fun look at the skeleton of the goblins in our closet. I mean Trolls.