May 11, 2010

We bitch about them all the time, but there’s really something kind of special about a bad movie — unlike books, and to a far greater extent than most pieces of music, a bad movie requires the involvement of a great number of people, most of them passionate believers in the doomed project at hand. A movie that’s only crappy will just bore you, but a really bad one can take you outside of your skin for 90 minutes and make you re-examine the way you look at the world. How can so many people go so wrong? Is art real? What does “talent” mean?

These are the kinds of questions posed by the very worst movies, and according to a not inconsiderable number of people, the worst of them all is 1990’s Troll 2. It’s difficult to describe the motion picture misery that is Troll 2, but some of the high points include the fact that it has nothing to do with 1986’s Troll, and it was filmed by a non English-speaking Italian director, in Utah…and it doesn’t include a single troll. The plot, such as it is, revolves around vegetarian goblins (in the quaint burg of Nilbog, natch) who trick people into turning into plants so they can be eaten. There’s a lot of cheap latex, a lot of green food coloring, and tons of truly terrible acting from the cast of unknowns. It technically has a beginning, middle, and end, so whether it’s truly the worst movie of all time is somewhat debatable, but there’s no arguing Troll 2 is a pretty miserable viewing experience.  More after the jump:

Unless you’re bored, among friends, and possibly inebriated — in that case, Troll 2 is a shining beacon of entertainment, which is why a robust cult has developed around the movie over the last 20 years. It’s really a movie that demonstrates some pretty terrible things — that a script can contain no intelligent lines, that a filmmaker’s money can be thoroughly wasted, that an actor’s career can be utterly destroyed by a single performance — and as is often the case when humans are confronted with terrible things, it’s best approached when you aren’t alone.

Intrigued by its enduring, um, popularity, Troll 2‘s putative star, Michael Stephenson, decided to make a documentary about it, and thus was Best Worst Movie born. For aficionados of bad film, it’s a fairly irresistible idea for a feature — to not only peek behind the scenes of a notorious flop, but to examine the cult surrounding so much failure. So cheeky! So ironic! And yet so meta!

To his everlasting credit, Stephenson did what seems like a pretty exhausting amount of legwork for Best Worst Movie; not only does he take viewers to an assortment of Troll 2 parties and tongue-in-cheek theatrical screenings, he’s instrumental in re-assembling the movie’s original cast and crew, which is harder than you might think, given that most of them haven’t done much in the way of acting since the Troll 2 wrap party. As Best Worst Movie begins, we’re introduced to George Hardy, who played Stephenson’s dad in Troll 2 and is now an Alabama dentist; he seems pretty settled in his career and extremely well-liked in his small town, but you just know anyone who has this turkey on his resume — and followed it 17 years later with an appearance as the eloquently named “Edwin Gophercum” in something called Street Team Massacre — is wrestling with some dark demons.

Hardy, for reasons that quickly become apparent, immediately settles in as Best Worst Movie‘s star. He gives self-deprecating interviews, attends Troll 2 screenings with the giddy smile of a guy who’s totally in on the joke, and seems pleasantly befuddled as to why anyone would want to relive his 20-year-old mistake. But as the Troll 2 reunion coalesces, you see Best Worst Movie‘s sad underlining — that these folks might, for the most part, understand they made an epically bad movie, but they did it because they had dreams of being successful in the movie business, and that’s also why it was so easy for Stephenson to get them back in front of the camera. Confronted with their legacy, the cast has the same “okay, guys” vibe shown by Crispin Glover as George McFly when he’s getting picked on in Back to the Future — they seem like basically decent people who want to be liked, even if it means dredging up Troll 2.

Somewhat predictably, not everyone agrees that Troll 2 sucked; Hardy’s only real competition for screen time in Best Worst Movie comes in the form of Troll 2 director Claudio Fragasso, who harbors some deranged beliefs about his film and is given to ever-ruder outbursts directed at anyone who disturbs that fantasy. Still, even if Fragasso is a crummy director (and, with more than 20 films to his credit, an unaccountably prolific one), he doesn’t seem like a bad guy. He and screenwriter Rossella Drudi had a definite vision for their movie, and the fact that it ended up being blurred doesn’t make them villains. This lends an unmistakable air of sadness to Best Worst Movie. Even if the cast is mocking themselves — and the instigator is one of their own — does that let us off the hook for joining in?

This is probably an unnecessarily heady question for a 93-minute documentary about a footnote in cinematic history, but it’s indicative of why, as entertaining as it is, Best Worst Movie never really moves beyond saying “Ha ha! Troll 2 sucks and it’s turned into a bizarre cult phenomenon.” The people who love Troll 2 don’t love it for any reason beyond goofball irony, and the people who made it don’t understand the movie, let alone why anyone would buy a ticket to a midnight screening, so Best Worst Movie illuminates nothing beyond the danger of mocking a movie while you’re standing in earshot of the director. Stephenson has made a fun film, and there’s nothing wrong with that — but it’s tempting to wonder what a more objective director might have done with this.

Jeff Giles is the editor-in-chief of Popdose and Dadnabbit, as well as a frequent contributor to Bullz-Eye and an associate editor at Rotten Tomatoes.

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