As a bad movie fan, I’ve of course seen Troll 2 more than my fair share of times. It remains one of the most inexplicably bizarre and shoddily crafted films I’ve ever viewed. There’s no one element that could be corrected to save it, as everything about it is just terrible, amateurish and poorly conceived and executed. It’s also incredibly entertaining as a mess on film. So, the fact that its child star, now grown, decided to revisit this travesty had a slim chance of carrying on that entertainment as he delved into the Troll 2-making process. I’ve seen glimpses of director Michael Stephenson’s Best Worst Movie over the last two years or so and this weekend I finally got to view the whole thing.
Stephenson takes care to frame his subjects sympathetically, providing some background on them and letting their personalities shine. He casts a good light on everyone as he introduces his cast, the cast and crew of a movie who haven’t seen each other since its filming for the most part. Particularly standing out is George Hardy, a genuinely nice and charming dentist from Alabama and the general focus of the documentary. As Stephenson reunites the cast, not a small feat, they regale each other with tales of onset chaos and the picture of what went wrong grows clearer. For additional fun, they act out several key scenes, all of which are entertaining. Stories are shared of how each cast member heard about the release of the film, as no one bothered to inform them personally.
Much is also revealed of the nature of working with schlockmeister Claudio Fragasso (Women’s Prison Massacre), an obstinate man who places little value in the details of filmmaking. When not telling a critic that their version of events is wrong, he simply dismisses the mistakes he made as unimportant to the making of the movie. He either fails or refuses to understand what audiences find funny about his film. Fragasso and his Italian crew, besides dismissing and excusing mistakes in making Troll 2, laughably place it light years out of its true importance in film history. In the greatest instance, while arguing that audiences were unready for their film, one of his cronies posits that Troll 2 opened up the way for films to come such as Harry Potter. It takes a special kind of delusion to believe that you made the success of the Harry Potter franchise possible with your only evidence being a throwaway film from 1989 that is only embraced for being so mind bogglingly awful.
Stephenson actually needed not travel too far as, outside of Hardy and Fragasso, the cast stayed largely in the Salt Lake City area. Little of traveling to Hollywood or New York City and pursuing acting dreams, a la the Muppets, is spoken. Robert Ormsby (Grandpa Seth) laments this fact and his own lack of following this dream as he winds down the rest of his days. The upbeat, can-you-believe-it? nature of the film breaks up here and sadness seeps in, and Stephenson shifts focus on a very clear and interesting turn, emotionally, in the Troll 2 reunion hype. It begins with the introduction of Margo Prey, the mother in Troll 2. The years after the film seem to not have been kind to her. Reclusive and troubled, save her brief time with Stephenson and Hardy in her home she refuses participation in the reunion. Fragasso, though initially enjoying the attention his film brings him, ceases finding any amusement in explaining himself to kids who neither understand nor truly listen to what he says. Hardy goes guns blazing into conventions in London for both horror and sci-fi/fantasy genres, only to find a decided lack of interest in the product he has to sell. Hardy goes so far as to throw a tantrum on the convention goers of the horror show, lashing out on their tattoos and garish dress when ignored for too long. Stephenson finds an interesting contrast in the expectations and the realities of fame that comes from infamy.
Stephenson ends things lightly, treating the subject with the appropriate amount of reverence, which is to say little. He includes “where are they now” titles during the credits, which is a nice touch. Best Worst Movie works best in its look at fame, its nature and tolls, and in Hardy he has either found the perfect subject or crafted the film beautifully around the subject that he found. Which he did may be up for debate but the results are never dull, not unlike the origin of the documentary itself. 4 stars