Review: Best Worst Movie

troll II one sheetI’m an unabashed fan of old, low-budget movies, but even having seen tons of them, I still hadn’t seen what is considered one of the very worst films ever made, Troll II. It’s so bad, actually, that it’s become a cult favorite, in the same spirit as The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Dawn of the Dead, and more.

The indie film Best Worst Movie is a documentary about Troll II, about how an unassuming group of actors who never really had any successes in their careers got pulled into a ridiculously low budget film written and directed by surly Italian auteur Claudio Fragasso.

The film is directed by Michael Paul Stevenson, who played the young boy Joshua Waits in Troll II (you can see him in the poster on the right), and it starts with him talking about watching the film for the first time a year after finishing production. He put the video in the VCR player and, as he describes it, “ninety minutes later, my dreams of being a child star went up in flames. I hated this movie and I ran from Trolls II.”
Best Worst Movie mostly centers on the extraordinarily affable George Hardy, a dentist in small town Alabama and much loved by everyone. For one fleeting moment in his life, however, George was a movie star: he played Michael Waits, the father and lead in Troll II. To say that it didn’t lead to greater things in Hollywood would be an understatement.
And yet, Trolls II gradually grew in popularity precisely because it is so amazingly bad, to the point where there are special screenings and people who drive for hours to attend. I’m sure it’s quite entertaining, actually, as is the delightful paean to cult film stardom and the reality of an actor’s life that is Best Worst Movie.

There’s so much about Troll II that’s entertaining for bad movie fans that it’s hard to capture it all in either a documentary or in this brief review. As we learn, the film started out as Goblin, and is set in a small town called Nilbog (“It’s Goblin spelled backwards!”). The title switched to Troll II but there’s not a troll to be found in the film: they’re all still goblins. That’s about the level of sophistication of the story!

Filmed over three weeks in Utah in a small town, the film’s budget must have been about $100. Well, I’m guessing, but the special effects are laughably obvious and there are masks you can buy at the local Halloween outlet store that are about as sophisticated as what was used in the making of Troll II.
So how did this cheesy film end up being a cult favorite? That’s really what Best Worst Movie tries to explore, with some success. The problem is that because the director was one of the actors in Troll II, he often seems to just be letting us share in his amazement that people like the film precisely because it’s so bad, rather than trying to dig into why that might be the case.
As Stevenson explains it, “I wanted nothing to do with Troll II until I realized that there was more to the movie than I understood. And this [Best Worst Movie] is my movie about that movie.”

best worst movie troll 2 still

Hardy explains that when he first watched the film he thought “that’s bad, oh, that’s so bad”, and people would call him from all over when they saw the film on TV. “Just stop watching now, it just gets worse!” he’d entreat them.
The film visits all the actors from the original production twenty years later and it’s a fascinating chance to pierce the myth of Hollywood. Of the acting team (and I use the word “act” loosely when talking about Troll II, honestly) only one has had any success as an actor subsequent to the film, Connie Young (who played teen hottie Holly Waits). She explains “part of me wants to lie and deny that I was ever part of Troll II…” and how she watched the film and realized “oh my God, I sucked.”
The saddest story is of Margo Prey who played the mother Diana Waits in the film. She never really had any subsequent successes in film and has sunken into what seems to be a state of mild dementia. The sign in her driveway tells it all: “No Trespassing except US Mail. No dogs, no literature. Do not ring the bell except by documented request by the owner. Violators will be prosecuted.”
The film really gets interesting when they tour the cult film circuit and the actors show up at various sci-fi and film conventions for hard-core fans. People line up for signed photos, who would have thought it?  Then they get to The Memorabilia Show in Birmingham, England, and get zero attention. Is it still a cult movie, or has it just fizzled out completely? 
Best Worst Movie overall is terrific fun and a fascinating glimpse into how being involved with a movie production can be far less exciting than we dream about, and how bad films can turn into cult favorites, even if it is ultimately because it is so darn bad. If you’re into cult films, I strongly recommend trying to find a copy of Best Worst Movie.

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