Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Review: Best Worst Movie

Every human being on earth has unique motivations and goals, but it's safe to say that no one grows up wanting to be a failure. Any project we take on, we generally have a desire to succeed and be recognized for our achievement. No one TRIES to create something terrible. So when something terrible is created, the question is always asked: why? Why did this happen? Whose fault is it? And perhaps most importantly, was it all a waste of time?

These are the kinds of questions that the cast and crew of Troll 2 might have asked themselves at some point. Long considered by many to be the worst movie ever made, Troll 2 is a demented unintentional comedy that tries to be a supernatural horror movie, fails spectacularly, and gets great storytelling mileage out of short people wearing goblin costumes (no trolls anywhere), people being turned VERY SLOWLY into plants, and a young boy pissing on family dinner to save his parents' lives. If you haven't seen Troll 2, you are missing out on the best belly laughs of your life. This review is not about that movie however. This review is about the movie about that movie. It's about Best Worst Movie.

From the first few minutes, this documentary hooks us with its warm and honest portrayals of the major players in the Troll 2 saga. The film starts with a montage of people discussing how much they love and respect George Hardy, a middle-aged dentist who lives in Alabama. George is kind, personable, and good with his patients, and it's obvious that he was meant to be an entertainer. He carries Best Worst Movie for most of its running time, and you wonder how it could be that he never got a bigger shot at stardom. Or, if you've already seen Troll 2, then you don't have to wonder at all. George was Michael, the father and hero of that movie, and having something like Troll 2 on your resume is about as helpful as telling a hiring manager that you often black out and wake up covered in blood. The film severely derailed the professional acting lives of its cast. It was considered one of the biggest bombs in the history of cinema, and the folks involved with it pretended it never happened. 

After nearly 20 years however, a strange cultural shift was taking place. Troll 2 had become a midnight favorite, a genuine cult classic. People were traveling from miles around and paying good money to see it with other fans. Sure, they were laughing when the director intended for them to scream, but regardless, Troll 2 fandom was officially a thing. Michael Stephenson, the child actor of Troll 2, shines a spotlight on this phenomenon, attempting to reveal why so many have latched on to an objectively bad movie, how the cast and crew of said movie process their newfound celebrity, and what it means for filmmaking in general.

Best Worst Movie is special. Sounds corny, I know, but bear with me. I am not a fan of documentaries as a rule. Sure, if it's a subject I'm into, that's going to fare better than a movie about the evils of the fashion industry, but I find that most doc filmmakers have an agenda that they push without subtlety, as if a movie is just a bigger version of a megaphone for them. Michael Stephenson doesn't do this. He allows the actors and fans to tell the story, never getting in their way or leading them down a preordained path. As a cast member of Troll 2, he gets a pass mostly because he was a kid and dealing with a director who was short-tempered and spoke English as a second language (poorly), so BWM doesn't spend much time on Stephenson's performance. He does engage with George in some delightful scene reenactments, however. Speaking of, George Hardy is the heart and soul of this film. His good-natured attitude, his enthusiasm, and his unapologetic desire to be a star had me grinning throughout, and it's no mystery why he was made the center subject of the movie. When he's asked at the very end of the film, knowing what he knows about the last go-round, if he would star in Troll 3 under the same director, he says "Of course. Are you kidding me? I'd love to be in Troll 3!" What a trooper.

What's most impressive about BWM is its transparency. As much as I liked George, the film never painted him as perfect. It was irksome to see how whiny he became when trying to promote Troll 2 at a horror convention and being mostly ignored compared to the attention he received at sold-out showings months before. As someone who enjoys all aspects of horror, I found his dismissal of fans of the genre narrow-minded and more than a little rude. I then realized that it irked me so much because George was displaying normal human behavior, and I was annoyed that I saw so much of myself in his grousing when the attention and laughs weren't coming his way. Similarly, I was annoyed by Claudio Fragasso (the director of Troll 2) being so arrogant towards the fans, the cast, and Americans in general, but I couldn't help but admire his dedication, and his unwavering belief that he had created something worthwhile. He may have hated that people saw it as a comedy rather than a legitimate supernatural thriller, but he has a point when he says that people are still watching.

The transparency of this film also brought me to some heartbreaking moments. Specifically, the interviews with Margo Prey and Robert Ormsby, the actors who portrayed Diana Waits and her father Seth in Troll 2. Neither one of them made another film, and both of them faded into poverty and obscurity. Ormsby, in particular, regrets having frittered his life away with nothing to show for it but a role in a Z grade movie. Prey, by all accounts, became a crazy cat lady, taking care of her elderly mother and warning away all solicitors and other visitors with sternly worded signs. When Stephenson and Hardy go to visit her, you want to laugh at first, then cry as you realize that this isn't scripted. She complains of loud shrieking noises and refuses to leave her home to join the rest of the cast in a reunion, even for a day. When Stephenson says goodbye, there are tears in his eyes. Is he sad that an old friend and co-star has fallen so low and he can't help her up, or perhaps that his movie mom is not the hero he once thought she was (even if it was just his movie mom)? Either way, it's a devastating part of the film.

Even if you haven't seen Troll 2, Best Worst Movie is an incredible documentary, thrilling, amusing, sobering, and uplifting all at once, and a convincing argument that even the most incompetent works can have lasting value. Ed Wood would be proud.

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