Troll 2 Take 2X: My Take on Best Worst Movie
I have a strong dislike for the fanboy subculture. It’s a personal preference, nothing more. We all have movies we “love” and will ardently defend with relish as we withstand an onslaught of attacks from friends who are just as happy to sling them.
But there’s a point when you see someone screaming at the top of their lungs that a movie like Troll 2 is the best movie ever made and say it with such earnestness that you just roll your eyes, grin a bit, and think, Okay. When you see the same people saying the same thing for over an hour that you think, Enough.
Best Worst Movie is a film that doesn’t so much celebrate Troll 2 as much as it celebrates its fanbase, which a half-hour into the film suggests more that they’re merely jumping on the bandwagon because it’s widely recognized as The Worst Film Ever Made than having anything nearing actual appreciation. If that distinction had been given to Santa Claus Conquers the Martians or Manos: Hands of Fate, two other films dwelling on the bottom ranks of both sites, I have no doubt that many of the same people we see in Best Worst Movie would be proclaiming those to be the best movie ever made. In 20 years, it may well be Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever
Back in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, just before there was an Internet, that title belonged to Ed Wood’s Plan 9 from Outer Space, and it inspired one of Tim Burton’s best films, Ed Wood. Likewise, the resurged interest in Plan 9 largely came about because of its reception of the Golden Turkey award, and Rhino media was quick to release it with that dubious honor proudly noted on the box.
I think it’s clear that director Michael Stephenson wants to make his own documentary along the lines of American Movie, or maybe even Ed Wood, but what made those movies work was a willingness to treat their subjects with some respect and sincerity. Yes, they had some fun poking at their directors’ movies, but they wanted to tell the more interesting stories behind these peoples’ lives. Best Worst Movie would rather point at its movie and interviewees and laugh.
Consider the scene midway through the movie when Stephenson and George Hardy visit the home of reclusive Margo Prey, who played Hardy’s wife. The woman is clearly disturbed, but the interview is a barrage of punchlines that borders on bullying: While Margo responds to questions about her personal life and career, Stephenson makes a mean-spirited joke of including a laundry-covered exercise machine in the frame and the dead plants in her kitchen while it becomes clear that Margo hasn’t worked in years. He follows it up with a shot of Margo’s semi-catatonic and disabled mother, whom she takes care of. In the next shot, Margo, Stephenson, and Hardy are reenacting a scene from the movie where the three sing Row, Row, Row Your Boat and the camera zooms in on the mother clutching her ears and rocking back and forth.
This is a particularly nasty sequence and, to be fair, Best Worse doesn’t again sink quite as low, but that’s Stephenson’s general approach. Almost every bit of humanity is treated sneeringly: from an extra’s mental illness to director Claudio Fragasso even to George Hardy, who was a good enough sport to stick by Stephenson throughout the whole film. The opening of the movie shows Hardy as a sweet, well-natured man celebrated by his community, but by the end it mines laughs by portraying him as a grand-standing glory hog. I have nothing against a documentary sitting back and letting the camera roll while its subject proceeds to dig their own grave, but here the editing and cuts are so noticeably going out of their way to make them look foolish that it feels unfair and cheap. A scene where Hardy attends a convention and begins to realize the limits of his stardom when only a handful of people show up makes a gag of the sparse audience by first showing Hardy’s talk, then panning to the empty seats before ending on a close-up of two of them sleeping in the back.
That’s a cheap shot for laughs.
I’d be more interested in Stephenson either coming to terms with Hardy’s temporary recognition or falling into disillusion, if that’s the case, but whenever Best Worst approaches some flicker of honesty, it merely uses it as a set-up to make fun. Why not rather let us come to our own decisions?
The convention sequences frequently repeat this joke, which was already exhausted when Hardy gets the same lackluster reaction going door to door handing out fliers for yet another local showing of Troll 2. (The number of times Hardy asks whether someone’s seen Troll 2 is a lame joke that by the end is grating.)
But that’s not to say that Best Worst does not have its share of funny or even touching moments—clips from the movie and, as Shannon notes, the interviews with cast members Connie McFarland and Robert Ormsby are highlights. Even some of the earlier interviews with Fragasso approach hilarity, but too often it felt like the “humor” fell back on Stephenson abusing his subjects’ trust and rehashing the fact that Troll 2 is the worst movie ever made.
But this plays like an insecure director, insecure, unsure of his talents, not sure of whether he has the talent to look deeply into his subjects’ souls when he should just let them talk, but he takes the cheap way out and ostentatiously laughs at the unfunny.
Troll 2: Worst Movie. Maybe it is, but I suspect you could swap Troll 2 out with another awful movie, and would hope that it’d inspire another documentary that wasn’t so eager to pander for laughs and be a bit nicer to its cast.
I should note that fans will notice a poster for another light-hearted “Bad Film,” the 1982 classic Banana Joe, adorning the walls of the Austrian fan.