Doc trawls for fame and critical redemption

Best Worst Movie

on May 14, 2010 by John P. McCarthy

Can a movie really be so bad it's good? Fans of Troll 2 would certainly answer in the affirmative, but after watching this doc about the 1990 horror flick's cult status, viewers will be torn-logically and in their gut-as to whether the "so-bad-it's-good" designation makes sense. Best Worst Movie is a must-see for students of film criticism and the philosophy of art. And because Troll 2 devotees already constitute a built-in audience, the movie's financial performance will be one way to measure how high Troll 2 ranks in the pantheon of cinematic cults.

Filmed in Utah during the summer of 1989 by Italian director Claudio Fragasso and his screenwriter wife, Troll 2 (Troll 1 doesn't exist, by the way) was never released theatrically, although it eventually aired on HBO after its underground notoriety had started to grow. Variously described as the "worst movie ever made" and, somewhat contradictorily, as the "the My Space generation's Rocky Horror Picture Show," it follows vegetarian goblins that attempt to eat a vacationing family after turning them into plant matter. Every element-the writing, acting, directing and tech credits-is awful, perhaps perfectly so. For those who've never had the pleasure (or pain) of sitting through it, the clips shown here are proof enough.

The creation of Troll 2's child star, Michael Stephenson, Best Worst Movie revolves around Dr. George Hardy, now a dentist with a thriving practice in his Alabama hometown. Hardy lived in Utah during the late '80s and, having always wanted to act, successfully auditioned for the role of the dad. Called the "Patch Adams" of dentists by his adoring staff, the genial, outgoing Hardy leapt at the chance to participate in a series of Troll 2 screenings staged throughout the country beginning around 2006. Stephenson chronicles this multi-city tour, introducing us to Troll 2 groupies from across the globe, most of the other principal actors, as well as to director Fragasso and his Rome-based crew.

Stephenson acknowledges that, from the cast's perspective at least, this is not a story about delayed success but about disappointment and dashed hopes. The lesson being that you might as well embrace your past, no matter how awful. The disconcerting question that arises is: How long do you hold the embrace before moving on? Best Worst Movie edges toward the pathetic as Hardy becomes disillusioned about his 15 minutes of fame and minor celebrity status. While most of the actors that appeared in Troll 2 are embarrassed, out of touch, and/or at a loss to explain all the hoopla, director Fragasso is the only one involved in making it who addresses the question of why it has struck such a chord. He defends Troll 2 with a straight face and more than a little spleen, testily and self-servingly concluding that it must be a good film on some level if it can elicit such strong reactions.

He has a point. Except that it's difficult to accept that those shown celebrating Troll 2 are being completely sincere. A few groupies and curatorial elites speak convincingly about its appeal and address the conundrum of how something so bad can be so good, and hence sustain repeated viewings. But there's no getting around the fact that most champions of Troll 2 are laughing at it. Their affection notwithstanding, their bond with the movie initially grew out of negative qualitative judgments. And so, without necessarily being spiteful, their veneration has an arch, condescending flavor. Straddling Generations X and Y, with a median age of around 28, these advocates appear to be predominantly white, middle-class kids raised on a steady diet of pop culture irony. Evidently, they've got lots of free time on their hands and choose to spend it performing a kind of evaluative alchemy.

Stephenson had the misfortune of being cast in Troll 2 as a kid-mind you, his performance contributed to the disaster-and he has decided to make the best of it. He succeeds as far as he can. In the final analysis, however, no matter how hard one tries, it's impossible to defy logic and the laws of nature by turning tin into gold. Enthusiasm for Troll 2 is contagious, but skepticism about its renown will never be dispelled entirely.

Distributor: Abramorama
Director/Screenwriter/Producer: Michael Stephenson
Genre: Documentary
Rating: Unrated
Running time: 93 min.
Release date: May 14 NY, May 21 Exp.


Tags: Michael Stephenson

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