Continuing from last week’s so bad it’s great movie theme, I spent a significant part of my Tuesday revisiting one of my favorite documentaries, Best Worst Movie.
It’s kind of hard to explain Best Worst Movie for those unfamiliar with its subject matter, Troll 2. Really, I should let Troll 2 speak for itself.
If you’ve managed to make it through that video, Troll 2 is widely regarded as one of the worst movies ever. In fact, the movie holds a 6% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, because of a single so-bad-it’s-good rating.
The very loose plot revolves around a family who goes on vacation to a town called Nilbog, where the son Michael, with the help of the ghost of his grandfather, tries to warn them against the evil vegetarian goblins (GET IT? NILBOG IS GOBLIN SPELLED BACKWARDS.), who plan to turn them into plants and eat them. The subplots revolve around big sister Holly, and her boyfriend Elliot and the hijinks of his friends who think they’re tagging around for a fun vacation filled with women and debauchery and somehow instead get turned into plant food themselves. There is also a witch lady who has some connection to Stonehenge.
None of that matters though, because the movie as a whole, is terrible. It’s full of plot holes, and awkward dialogue, and even more awkward delivery. Maybe it’s my love for fun, genuinely terrible things that have been created with sincerity, but this movie is perfect for the midnight viewing, drunk-watching types.
This is where Best Worst Movie shines. The documentary traces the perfect evolution of a cult classic. It starts by revisiting some of the cast who have settled into lives where Troll 2 is a buried secret. Slowly, the cast become introduced to the idea that Troll 2 has a life of its own. Screenings are held around the country, sold out screenings. Fans have created art and tattoos and have written sequels and video games.
Some of the cast is blown away by their minor celebrity. They are shocked that this secret shame has brought them the attention they may have wanted as early actors, and so they start attending screenings. They slowly embrace this movie.
The casts starts to question what went wrong with the movie (a question that may never be fully answered). Was it the strange dialogue? Was it the frustrating direction? Was it a language barrier between the primarily Italian crew and American cast? Was it a general conflict between the director’s interpretation of the film and the actors? What do American teenagers sound like, anyway? The director starts to express some level of frustration with the film as audiences have not seen his vision they way he has, saying “it’s [their] problem, it’s not my problem.”
Through the cathartic, humorous act of recreating scenes filmed 17 years prior, the cast comes somewhat to terms with their film. They accept it for what it was, and appreciate that people have found ways to love Troll 2. Ultimately, Best Worst Movie is a fascinating (and at times hilarious) look and how something that could be a somewhat embarrassing and silly part of an actor’s CV goes on to become a cult phenomenon.
The cast of Troll 2 is not recognizable. George Hardy is a dentist in Alabama. Margo Prey primarily cares for her mother in Utah. Other cast members are composers, or small-time actors, mostly based in Utah.
What really makes this documentary come together perfectly, is that the director of Best Worst Movie, is the child star from Troll 2, Michael Stephenson. Having the director retrace his career and speak candidly about his experiences, while reconnecting with his fellow actors and crew really isolates what makes Troll 2 such a perfect movie experience for so many people. Ultimately, it’s about the people involved. It’s about their conviction and their passion for the movie, even if they admit that they had no real idea what was happening at the time.
Audiences of Troll 2 aren’t ultimately just laughing at a terrible movie. They’re not mocking the performers in a mean-spirited or cruel way. They are embracing the fact that this cast and this crew honestly believed in their work, and tried their hardest to make sense of a strange script and confusing direction to give us their best show.
The cast may have not been successful in creating the horror film they expected, but what they gave audiences instead, was a piece of earnest work. Watching the documentary, it’s very clear that the cast is well aware of their own faults as actors and performers. However, it’s their willingness to commit that has created a perfect cult classic.
As someone who is general a fan of movies, a fan of cult favorites, and a fan of movie theater experiences, this documentary nails what is it about so much of those “so bad it’s good” movies. It’s the love behind it that creates and sustains such passionate fanbases. If you’ve ever been to a midnight screening of a movie ever, whether it’s Rocky Horror Picture Show, or The Room, or any other of these “Midnight Movies,” you know what it’s like to be in a room with other people who have memorized the same clunky dialogue, who love laughing at the same awkward pauses and who have created a community around these movies. Best Worst Movie traces how something that could’ve been easily forgotten in the B-movie abyss and reconnects the lines between the cast, crew, and audiences to show how movies, all movies, have lasting impacts beyond their initial intention.
The Roommate Summary
One roommate was still at work, so I subbed in a friend who was visiting for the day. Despite the fact that neither my friend nor my roommate had seen the movie, they both found the documentary to be a bittersweet meditation on how movies get made and get turned into something beyond themselves. The cast and crew had varying reactions towards the movie, whether they viewed the film as just something that happened, or if it became something bigger, stranger, funnier, more emotional for them. Either way, it had become something amazing, important, and beloved to audiences.
Perhaps this quote from the film best summarizes the Troll 2 phenomenon.
We were trying to make a good movie, we really were. Um, It just didn’t turn out that way.
Best Worst Movie is currently available on Netflix Instant, and Troll 2 is constantly appearing on and disappearing from both Netflix and Hulu.