On paper, this project sounds about as well advised as a hiring Dr. Lecter to perform your open-heart surgery: Do we really need a documentary devoted to a negligible, mostly forgotten relic of 1990, an ersatz sequel that goes by the title of TROLL 2? Fortunately, BEST WORST MOVIE (which is currently making the rounds of art house theatres across the country) is not a revisionist attempt to rehabilitate that shoddy horror film’s dubious reputation, nor is BEST WORST MOVIE a detailed account of the making of TROLL 2. Instead, director Michael Stephenson (who played the frightened boy Joshua Waits in TROLL 2), examines the 1990 film’s unexpected rebirth as a midnight movie camp sensation.
This in itself is wacky enough to provide a hook for our attention, but it might not be enough to sustain a movie; fortunately, Stephenson focuses little on his own personal story (failed dreams of stardom), instead keeping his camera trained on George Hardy, who played Joshua’s father. The story of the former actor is a delightful and amusing one. Well-liked in his community, where he has a successful practice as a dentist, Hardy, it becomes obvious, would relish a return to the screen; his brush with Hollywood is a sort of weird anamoly to his friends and patients, who dutifully rent TROLL 2, only to find themselvs in capable of finishing it.
Most of BEST WORST MOVIE follows Hardy as he embraces TROLL 2’s cult status, attending screenings, answering audience questions, and recreating scenes and dialogue (his signature line is his admonition to his son: “You can’t pisson hospitality. I won’t allow it!“).
Hardy rides this roller-coaster for two or three years. Gradually, other cast and crew join the cult phenomenon. Even TROLL 2’s director, Claudio Fragasso, flies in from Italy to join his former comrades on a visit to TROLL 2’s locations (rather like a felon returning to the scene of a crime). Hilarity ensues as Fragasso visibly bristles at the suggestion that his film contains no trolls (the dialogue actually refers to the monsters as goblins). He bristles even more at the cast’s’ honest admission that TROLL 2 is terrible. (The American actors recall that the Italian director refused to take their advice for adjusting TROLL 2’s English dialogue, responding along the lines of, “That’s not how Americans talk.”)
Eventually, the wave of small-time credibility crests and recedes. Visits to horror conventions baldly expoe TROLL 2’s limited appeal even as a cult item (attendees are interested in Jason and Freddy, not Trolls or Goblins), and Hardy finds himself under the same roof with other has-beens-who-never-were, milking their brief associations with long-gone installments of popular franchises.
In a moment of admirable self-awareness, Hardy shifts from criticizing other former actors (Don’t they have anything better to do than talk about af ilm they were in over 20 years ago?) to asking himself the same question. This, along with his waning enthusiasm for reciting his infamous line about hospitality, leads him to wonder whether Celine Dion grows sick and tired of singing the TITANIC’s theme song over and over.
The best compliment one can bestow on BEST WORST MOVIE is that it transcends its subject matter. You do not need to be a fan of TROLL 2, nor even have seen it, to enjoy BEST WORST MOVIE, which emerges a a fascinating glimpse at the little-seen world of cult celebrity and as a wonderful character study of a very likable man, whose fifteen minutes of fame no one – be they bad movie fan or otherwise – would begrudge.
BEST WORST MOVIE (2009). Written and directed by Michael Stephenson. Cast: George Hardy, Michael Stephenson, Darren Ewing, Jason Steadman, John Gemberling, Claudio Fragasso, Scott Pearlman, Chris Pudlo, James M. Tate, Scott Weinberg.