Fame can be a cruel master. He shows up when and where he wants to, and always on his own terms.
You’ll do almost anything to make Fame stick around. But when Fame is finished with you, he just crawls back into the woodwork and finds another favorite son.
Case in point: Troll 2 (1990): a ridiculous yet strangely earnest horror movie that has captured the affection and attention of bad movie lovers everywhere, some seventeen long years after its debut.
Starting in approximately 2006, Troll 2 and its cast got the fifteen minutes of fame they had been denied since the film’s inauspicious premiere in the Bush I era.
In particular, Alabama dentist George Hardy — who plays the imperiled family’s patriarch in the film — rode a crest of cult popularity for a time.
The downside of this new found celebrity, however, involves two factors. First, the fact that the duration of “15 minutes of fame” has a built-in-expiration date. And secondly, the exact nature of Troll 2’s fame.
Specifically, Troll 2 has become many film fans’ favorite candidate for the “worst movie ever made.”
On a sympathetic note, I should add, this is really a patently unfair assessment. I actually believe it’s much more accurate to suggest that Troll 2 is simply one of the weirdest, most oddball movies ever made. The movie is set in the town of Nilbog (Goblin spelled backwards), and — as the screenwriter attests to in Best Worst Movie — it serves as some kind of weird comment on assertive, over-the-top vegetarianism.
The quirky brilliance — or perhaps, terrible badness — of Troll 2 arises from the specifics of its “lost in translation” behind-the-scenes equation. In particular, the film stars Americans, but was produced, written, shot and directed by Italians. There’s some kind of critical creative disconnect there, and in that disconnect, unintended humor appears to emerge.
Best Worst Movie is an extremely compelling, surprisingly touching documentary chronicling the rise and fall and subsequent rise and fall again of Troll 2. The film was made by Michael Paul Stephenson, who starred in Troll 2 back in 1990 when he was just ten years-old.
Stephenson is our steady guide here, and he is not out to hurt or demean anyone. He’s not trying to be an arbiter, impartial or otherwise. He’s just trying to contextualize this personal experience he had when he was a kid; making this crazy, infamous horror film. He wants to understand and process that experience better, and that’s a good motif for the audience to carry through the film’s duration. Because we’d all like to understand that experience too.
So Stephenson’s ubiquitous cameras follow Troll 2’s lead actor, affable George Hardy, as he first tastes fame and notoriety, and then sees it slip away as the cultists inevitably move on to the next thing. George is a happy go-lucky, extremely extroverted fellow, and you can see that it deeply hurts when the new found attention dissipates.
Look, there’s one of the stars of Nightmare on Elm Street 4!
And hey, isn’t that director Neil Marshall over there?
Underneath the surface trappings — the green goo, the burlap sacks and the backwards spellings of the 1990 film –– Best Worst Movie is really an exploration of fame, and how capricious celebrity can seem. Again, the film is not cruel about this idea; only observant.
For instance, George Hardy is all about the love so long as Troll 2 is the center of attention. He patiently and enthusiastically repeats his famous line reading, about “pissing on hospitality,” always to a good laugh.
But then, at a horror movie convention, George experiences his first Spinal Tap moment — and I’ve had em too, at book signings, no doubt — where no one visits his table. Not a soul.
Then, all the sudden, by George’s way of thinking, the horror genre is “sick.” Everyone associated with horror has “gingivitis” according to this very successful dentist. These people have no taste.
What is this really about? It hurts to feel rejected. Again, if you are a blogger, an actor, or a movie-maker, you recognize this feeling…and should be sensitive to it.
By the end of the film, George also overcomes this unpleasant stage of the process and seems at peace with himself and the Troll 2 experience. And it’s nice to see that, at the end, there is redemption and acceptance.
Troll 2 director Claudio Fragasso is also a major player in the film. At times he gets downright hostile with his actors and his audiences over the idea of Troll 2 being the “worst movie ever made.” He’s rude and not at all civil on this topic, but God bless him…it’s his movie, and unlike the actors (as he accurately points out), he can’t easily distance himself from the “art” he created. This movie is his child; and no one likes to a see a child treated poorly.
Of course he’s going to defend Troll 2, and throughout the documentary, we see him search for a basis to do just that. Fragasso’s efforts in this regard are actually impressive, if not entirely persuasive. Why is the movie famous? Well, “it means I’ve made an impression,” he suggests.
Or, he notes, there’s not really that much difference between being loved for making the worst movie ever or the best movie ever…is there?
The more I think about that one, the more I think he could be right in that particular regard…
In yet another sense, Best Worst Movie also concerns horror fandom in general, and how open-hearted it truly is. The laughter of the crowds in Troll 2 is not cruel. Nobody in any audience is disrespectful to the actors or the behind-the-scenes personnel of the film. In fact, there’s this ground-swell of love and appreciation for these people who — intentionally or not — made a film that has become a personal favorite to many. The horror fans here are not capricious by design, either. They are simply possessing of wide interest. You can’t live on a diet of Troll 2, alone.
I mean, the world is big enough so that we can all enjoy George Hardy, Neil Marshall and the stars of Nightmare on Elm Street IV, isn’t it? For horror fans — and this is why I consider them such an accepting bunch, by and large — appreciation isn’t always only about quality.
Sometimes appreciation is about nostalgia and childhood. Sometimes it is about a great scene in a bad movie that nonetheless inspires the imagination. Sometimes it’s just about recognizing the heart with which a talent made a movie; that “A for Effort” syndrome I’ve written about here before.
In toto, I found Best Worst Movie extremely…emotional.
Over the years I’ve made no-budget movies too (with titles like Annie Hell…) and written books that some people have really not liked or appreciated.
I know how that “dislike” can feel to the creator: like a punch to the gut. So I really admire Michael Stephenson for embracing his experience with Troll 2 — the good and the bad — and putting it before the entire world to see.
Because of his openness and sense of honesty, at the end of Best Worst Movie there’s a feeling of overwhelming catharsis.
It’s a feeling that despite the moniker “worst movie ever made,” the Troll 2 experience was kind of a magical, one-in-a-million thing.