(2009) Michael Stephenson
Best Worst Movie is a documentary about the cult phenomenon of one of the most popularly bad movies of recent years, Troll 2 (1990), and interestingly, it’s a personal film, made by Michael Stephenson, who starred in the low-budget straight-to-video bomb. Now an adult, Stephenson is drawn to the film that at one point in his young life looked to him like his great big break in movies, but what turned into a thing of great embarrassment for him and many others associated with the film. But Troll 2 shocked them all and has gone on to be one of the great cult films in the “so bad it’s great” category.
Stephenson focuses on the “star” of Troll 2, George Hardy, an amazingly affable Alabaman goofball, who has since become a successful small town dentist. Like almost everyone else who wound up in the film, produced in Utah in 1989, this was a one-off fluke in a life that had little to do with the film after it was produced. But Hardy, a charming ham of a man, discovers the film’s underground popularity, showing in several major US cities and winds up going to the screenings and basking in the glory of a major movie star, though deeply aware of the irony.
The film has a rabid, passionate, indulgent fan base and eventually most of the cast is reunited for screenings, and most of them talk to Stephenson, along with the director and his wife the screenwriter, to reminisce and re-enact some of the movie’s more goofy scenes. The revisit the site of much of the shooting and tour around at conventions and enjoy a level of kudos and attention that they never experienced in their normal lives over the prior two decades.
Most of the cast seems to have come around to a place to appreciate the fact that while the movie that they made was incredibly bad, it has still earned a great deal of love and appreciation and they reconcile and enjoy the attention. The director, Claudio Fragasso, and his wife are a bit more delusional about the film. Fragrasso, who like the bulk of his crew, is Italian, seems to really believe that the film he made was not as bad as everyone thinks. And if there is anyone to blame, it’s the actors (dogs!). They also visit the mom from the film who seems to suffer from mental illness of some sort and compares the film to Clark Gable or Humphrey Bogart.
Stephenson manages his material well, not overly exploiting the more unusual or pathetic of the people that they dredge up from the film. And while at first Best Worst Movie seems like a bit of a love letter to George Hardy, it follows him through an arc of joyful indulgence and fun through a realization that while a couple hundred people in a major city showing up for a screening of a bad cult film is really thrilling, it’s not real stardom, especially when you’re languishing as a memorabilia convention in England or a horror film convention (which freaks him out to no end).
And in the end, the film is about the reality behind the curtain of even a really bad movie, the real lives, the hopes and dreams (and delusions). It’s also about cinephilia, about the relationship that fans have with films, and while it doesn’t necessarily come to any great discoveries therein, it paints a pretty interesting portrait of cult film and fanaticism. It’s a pretty sweet little film.