As we have all learned from the Internet, failure is simply failure. But epic failure is epic. And if you can quantify your epic failure as the most epic of all, then you just might live off the bragging rights forever.
When director Michael Paul Stephenson began shooting "Best Worst Movie," the film "Troll 2" (1990) was officially rated as the worst movie of all time according to IMDB (this was back at a time when the wide demographic of IMDB voters still grudgingly acknowledged the existence of films not directed by Christopher Nolan), but his interest in the movie wasn't a product of this cold, clinical calculation of crapitude. No, Michael Paul Stephenson was also the child star of "Troll 2," a breakthrough role that never broke anywhere, mostly because the film never played anywhere … until now.
Any film rated the "worst ever" by such an august source must by definition be of interest to fans inclined to seek out and reclaim lost projects, and "Troll 2" has been plucked from obscurity to become a cult hit, selling out midnight screenings across the country. Well, maybe not quite all the way across the country, but if its followers aren't quite legion, they're still a heck of a lot more numerous than anyone associated with the film could ever have imagined. "Troll 2," which has nothing whatsoever to do with the first "Troll," in fact doesn't even have any trolls at all (it's got vegetarian goblins instead), and only superficially qualifies as a horror film, has somehow found an audience after nearly 20 years.
Surprisingly, Stephenson doesn't focus the documentary on himself, but rather on George Hardy, who played Stephenson's father in "Troll 2." Hardy is perhaps the only man in cinema history to deliver the line, "You can't piss on hospitality!" He is so irresistibly charming that even his ex-wife has nothing but good things to say about him (on camera anyway) and he's clearly thrilled to get another chance to be the star of a movie, even a movie about a movie that he's never previously been inclined to brag about.
Hardy and other cast members (including Stephenson, of course) follow the film from screening to screening, re-enacting scenes for adoring fans and soaking up the curious culture of fandom. Stephenson's approach is undeniably sentimental, but as the film progresses it takes an unexpectedly ambivalent turn. The "worst film ever" isn't quite the widespread hit that the initial sell-out screenings indicated, and when Hardy finds himself all but alone at a horror convention table among "the weirdoes," he starts to think that enough just might be enough, a much needed moment of clarity to temper the previously unqualified celebration. Does he want to be one of those people who keeps living off of one obscure film made half a lifetime ago? Maybe. Fame is pretty darned addictive for spotlight-seekers like Hardy and he admits that, despite all of his misgivings, he would be thrilled to star in "Troll 3."
"Best Worst Movie" lags frequently as Stephenson stretches to reach a feature-length running time. The fifth lineup of doughy, pink-eyed fans decked out in Nilbog t-shirts (Nilbog spelled backwards is… well, no spoilers here) is a couple too many, and as charismatic as perma-smiling dentist George Hardy is, you can only watch him hamming it up for the crowd so many times. But the documentary perks up when the Italian director of "Troll 2," Claudio Fragasso, arrives on the scene, faintly catching the scent of cash that has been elusive for so many years. Fragasso is delighted that his cinematic vision has finally been appreciated, but he is baffled by the audience's reaction. Why are they also laughing at the parts that aren't meant to be funny? He also can't bear seeing anyone else bask in the audience's adulation, and he's particularly galled when his "dogs" (actors) keep calling it the worst movie ever. They (the actors and probably the fans) are too stupid to understand his genius. But he keeps hanging around, so I guess he must be getting something out of the experience.
What the fans get out of the experience is a little less certain, and I wish Stephenson dug a little deeper into the subculture, an indeterminate mixture of condescension and sincere appreciation. But the documentary, much like George Hardy, has plenty of moxie and moxie is enough.
The film is presented in a 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer. The interlaced transfer is a professional effort with average image resolution. No complaints.
The DVD is offered in both 2.0 and Dolby 5.1 options. The soundtrack isn't exactly elaborate, but the dialogue is clearly audible and that's all that really matters. Not much else to say about the audio design. No subtitles or closed captions are provided to support the English audio. Forced subtitles for the Italian dialogue are provided.
Docurama has packed in a ton of treats for all good little Nilbogians to enjoy. Talk about hospitality.
It's hard to distinguish which clips count as "Deleted/Extra Scenes" and which should be listed separately. There are 14 clips that might count, running anywhere from 1 minute to 13 minutes each, and totaling about 85 minutes. Among them: "Provocative Interview with Goblin Queen Deborah Reed" (13 min.), some fan contributions and a PSA from George Hardy (1 min.)
A lengthy audio-only interview (82 min.) conducted by "Creative Screenwriting" and featuring Stephenson and Hardy is also included. I haven't listened to this one yet.
You will also find a Music Video (4 min.) and a Trailer (2 min.) along with a text-based Filmmaker Bio.
I always have mixed reactions about cults that develop around "bad" movies. It's great to see young audiences get so energized about a movie, but it would be nice just once to see them show up in such numbers and with so much enthusiasm for a movie that's actually, y'know, good. That's a pipe dream of course, and it's not my job to rain on anyone's parade. I wonder what happens with "Troll 2" now that it's hit the big time though. It's all the way up to a 2.1 rating on IMDB with 11% of the film's votes now at a perfect 10.
Is it going to be easy to sell "Troll 2" as "The 59th worst movie ever made?" What about old-school cult favorite "Manos: The Hands of Fate" (1966), already immortalized in an "MST3K" episode, which currently shares the "worst ever" honorific with "Super-Babies: Baby Geniuses 2" (2004)? What's it going to take for either of them to start selling out midnight screenings?
Does Armond White have to step in with a Fresh review to get the ball rolling? Let me give it a shot: "Director Harold P. Warren has artfully distilled the influences of Jean-Luc Godard and Straub-Huillet, fashioning ‘Manos' as a structuralist masterpiece and the culturally sincere antidote to the loathsome hipsterism of Noah Baumbach." Discuss.