If I tried to explain to you the plot of Troll 2 you would not believe me. Many have tried to dissect the nonsensical structure and chaotic visual style that’s rendered it notorious; either for its outrageous ineptitude or its towering avant-garde genius, depending on your point of view. Whatever your flavor of fanaticism, Best Worst Movie attempts to document the phenomenon of the unlikely cult surrounding Troll 2, the 1990…let’s use “film” loosely, which seems to have replaced classics like Ed Wood’s Plan 9 from Outer Space as the coveted Worst Movie Ever Made.
Heading the investigation is Michael Paul Stephenson, who played the young lead in Troll 2. Stephenson spends a good deal of Best Worst Movie wrangling old co-stars and crew members and fans of the movie who are much more giving with their time than they might have been had the director not been “that kid from Troll 2.” And it is the insider’s quality that really sets Best Worst Movie apart from other docs that have attempted to qualify cult films. Because loving Troll 2 is a mysterious and wonderful thing, a chemical reaction between movie and viewer that can only be described as love. Troll 2 fans wear Nilbog t-shirts (look it up), recite lines, create goblin masks and costumes, throw Troll 2 viewing parties and travel hundreds of miles to secret, midnight screenings. Theirs is a communal love, passing a worn VHS copy from friend to friend, stopping what they’re doing to watch it with a Troll 2 neophyte. Explains one fan, “I feel like you’d have to not have a heart or something not to like it”.
In short, these are the perfect people to talk at length to “that kid from Troll 2.” Stephenson is able to orchestrate so many great fan moments—a viewing party at the UCB Theater in New York and dozens around the country—precisely because he comes with first-hand Troll 2 knowledge and insight. He also comes with George Hardy who played the dad in the film. Described in the documentary as “the rich man’s Craig T. Nelson,” Hardy is Troll 2’s most vocal cheerleader (makes sense since Hardy actually was a cheerleader in college). The protein shake-chugging dentist will tell anyone about his claim to fame, including anyone he meets on the street, at a movie theater or horror convention and, it seems, every single resident of his hometown of Alexander City, Alabama. Hardy, with Stephenson, manage to track down nearly all the “stars” of the film to re-stage scenes in their Utah-based locations and travel around the country doing Q&A’s for eager fans.
But not every Troll 2 alumnus is as enthusiastic as George. Some of the doc’s best scenes feature the Italian writer/director duo from Troll 2, husband and wife team Claudio Fragasso and Rossella Drudi. Fragasso and Drudi are initially thrilled at the film’s inexplicable popularity, then puzzled, then dismayed. In broken English, Drudi explains the film handles important social issues; the director is equally self-important, explaining the philosophical underpinnings of a movie about goblins that kidnap a family to turn them into plants so that they can eat them: “In Italy, we call this parable.”
Sadder still is the story of Margo Prey, who played the mom in the movie. When Hardy and Stephenson approach her for a reunion, she’s living in the same Utah neighborhood where Troll 2 was filmed; signs in her driveway warn against solicitations, doorbell-ringing, knocking, and parking. Trespassers will most certainly be prosecuted. Eighteen years later, Margo Prey is living in a world of self-delusion. Of all the cast interviewed, she’s the only one who thinks the film is actually good. With her glassy eyes and unusual demeanor, Prey is dangerously close to Norma Desmond territory. Stephenson inquires after her acting career. Oh, she replies, I’m not auditioning anymore—maybe in a few years. In a film that’s mostly filled with good-natured humor and celebratory irony, Margo Prey is a vibrant reminder of the shattered aspirations of a would-be actress who saw an Italian-produced, Utah-based horror movie starring non-actors as their ticket to Hollywood.
Screening before the feature was a clever short film called Winner: Best Short Film, a tongue-in-cheek satire of the film industry written and directed by Peter Meech. The film stars Kevin Farley as the director of a five second short film called Blow Out and his attempts to pitch himself as qualified for producer John Farley’s new feature. Winner: Best Short Film was shot on location in a real Hollywood producer’s mansion, complete with a bevy of poolside bathing beauties, lending the quick film (three minutes) an instantly recognizable verisimilitude. The dialogue is sharp; the actors are quick and smart in their delivery. Meech has a deft hand and a good sense of when to edit and when to let the actors breathe. The film is an incisive commentary on festival politics and the absurdity of Hollywood business: a fun, quick watch.
Best Worst Movie and Winner: Best Short Film were screened on October 17, 2010 at the Anaheim International Film Festival. For more information, visit www.anaheimfilm.org.