Best Worst Movie (2009): United States – directed by Michael Stephenson
Not rated by the MPAA – contains some strong language
Some years after the release of Troll 2 [review here], correctly regarded as one of the worst films ever crafted, some of the cast started hearing reports that the film had become popular in certain circles. After years of hiding the film on their resumes (who, after all, would be willing to hire anyone who appeared in Troll 2?), some members of the cast eventually started to come to terms with the idea that their movie might have found an audience.
Best Worst Movie is the story of Michael Stephenson, who played young Josh in Troll 2. He has grown up now, and embarks on a personal quest to rediscover the old cast and learn why a new generation of people have fallen in love with his wretched film. The star of Best Worst Movie is George Hardy, who played Josh’s father in the film. George is, and was even before the film, a dentist in a small Alabama town. A gregarious figure, he is well-known around town and well-liked. He starts receiving calls from fan clubs to appear at their annual screenings of Troll 2. He soon learns that there is an underground circuit of Troll 2 screenings, and their popularity is growing.
Hardy remains the emotional center of the film, as it is his journey that is the focus as he attempts to face the reality of his position. For years he’s been haunted by the film, and suddenly he is faced with the fame and attention he always wanted. He ends up touring the horror festival circuits and decides that the horror circuit and acting life is too depressing for him.
Interspersed with Hardy’s trials and triumphs are a couple other story lines. One involves Stephenson and Hardy attempting to reconvene the remaining cast members. Some of them have continued to try their hand at acting, with the notable handicap of having been in Troll 2. Some of their stories are sad; Don Packard reveals that he was struggling with some serious mental issues (and a pot addiction) at the time he played the creepy drugstore owner. But he soaks in his time on stage at one of the screenings he attends with Hardy. Robert Ormsby, who played Grandpa Seth, lives with a great deal of regrets. Old and decrepit, he understands that he has wasted his life; but what was he supposed to have done?
Margo Prey is another sad story. A no-trespassing sign on her property indicates that not everything is right with her, and when George and Michael gather the courage to knock on her door they discover that she faces some serious problems. She spends much of her time taking care of her elderly mother, but claims that she keeps wanting to work on acting. But she looks like a plastic doll that aged too much before it was preserved. The result is pathetic and sad. She is one of the only cast members who still believes their movie was a masterpiece.
The only people more delusional than Margo are the director, Claudio Fragasso, and his wife, the screenwriter, Rossella Drudi. Stephenson tracks them down in Italy and has a series of fascinating discussions with them. They end up coming stateside to attend numerous screenings of Troll 2. Rossella admits that she wrote the story because a number of her friends at the time were becoming vegetarians and she thought they were very stupid. This anti-vegetarianism theme is about the only one that can be pulled out of Troll 2.
Claudio, on the other hand, truly believes that he made a classic film dealing with themes of family and togetherness. It is the actors, he states, who harmed the picture. He is glad when audiences laugh at the funny parts of the film, but confused when they laugh harder at parts that aren’t supposed to be funny. During a Q&A he yells at his ex-actors when they recount stories of his tyranny and bizarre decisions on set. They don’t know the truth; they are actors.
He makes it sound like he knew exactly what type of picture he wanted to make but faced severe challenges from the actors, who knew that the dialogue was stilted and ridiculous. Claudio truly believed that he knew American kids better than American kids knew themselves, and forced them to play the roles as he saw them in his head. Fortunately, Best Worst Movie keeps most of this story line lighthearted, and even shows the cast recreating some of the movie’s favorite scenes with fresh direction from Claudio.
The result of all of this is a powerful documentary. The different stories keep the proceedings interesting, while the overarching thread of Hardy’s resurgence as a popular character give the film an emotional core. But it is the appearances of Claudio and Rossella that lend the most insight into why audiences love bad movies, and why the best bad movies are those crafted by masterful, egotistic, idiotic geniuses. One must truly believe that their movie is fantastic in order for it to have any consideration as the worst film of all time. Best Worst Movie perfectly explores this conundrum as it gives the audience a glimpse into a number of actors coming to terms with a painful, embarrassing, and, for most of them, career ending moment in their lives.