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DVD Review: Best Worst Movie

Best Worse Movie DVDBest Worst Movie
Director Michael Stephenson
Starring George Hardy, Michael Stephenson, Darren Ewing
New Video Group
Release Date: November 16, 2010

Imagine, somewhere out there in the United States of America, there is a video store that actually has a section called “Holy Fucking Shit.” It must take a very special movie to end up in that particular section, and it must take a very special audience to embrace that movie. The new documentary Best Worst Movie is about such a film.

Meet George Hardy. He’s a dentist living and working in the small town of Alexander City, Alabama. George is a really nice guy. Everyone loves the man and it’s not hard to see why. George approaches everything he does, from giving one of his patients a filling to playing a rollerblading tooth fairy in the town’s annual Christmas parade, with an indomitable spirit and a zest for life. Give him a smile and a howdy and the man will be your friend for life. It’s hard to not like George Hardy. The mayor of Alexander City greets him with a hug, and even the guy’s ex-wife has not a single bad word to say about him. But if you bring up the one moment of notoriety in the life of George Hardy, that one time he decided to indulge his youthful passion for acting by taking the lead in a little-known horror flick that was filmed quietly in the town of Morgan, Utah, not far away from where an independent film revolution was brewing at the Sundance Film Festival, then suddenly everything gets awkward. The reason is because the movie George starred in had charted a two-decade journey from reviled exploitation toss-off to beloved cult phenomenon. The movie in question is Troll 2 and Best Worst Movie (now available on DVD after a limited theatrical run) tells the story of how it all happened and how this extraordinary turn of events came to affect the lives of nearly all involved, primarily George Hardy.

First of all a little background information about Troll 2: the movie that in the past decade has become the Plan 9 from Outer Space for the Facebook/YouTube generation was originally filmed as Goblin and brought to life by an eclectic team of American actors and Italian filmmakers; the director was one Claudio Fragasso, one of Italy’s journeyman hacks with credits including Monster Dog (with Alice Cooper!), Zombie 4: After Death, and Scalps, and on most of these movies Fragasso used a pseudonym, such as the one he created for Troll 2, Drago Floyd (or Drake Floyd, as it appears during the movie’s opening credits); Fragasso co-wrote the movie with his wife Rossella Drudi, who rather naively wanted Troll 2 to be a social commentary on vegan culture in America, or something along those lines; most of the film’s cast was local talent hired from Salt Lake City, near where filming would be taking place in the picturesque hamlet of Morgan; a language barrier on set between the American actors and Italian crew resulted in a lot of confused direction, performances that resembled deer caught in the headlights (take a look at Margo Prey), and a poorly-translated script that not even the actors could make much sense of.

By the time the movie was released it had been retitled Troll 2, no doubt in an attempt to cash in on the 1986 fantasy film Troll (which featured a character named Harry Potter), to the confusion of everyone involved since there were no actual trolls in the film they had made. Needless to say Troll 2 initially didn’t make any of its stars swell up with pride. People flat out hated it. For years the movie was ranked #1 on the Internet Movie Database’s infamous Bottom 100 of the Worst Films Ever Made (current ranking- #59). It seemed like Troll 2 was destined to fade into cinematic obscurity and become little more than a minor footnote in the careers of everyone involved with the production. But then during the later years of the last decade, with the advent of social networking sites and information sharing at an all time high, Troll 2 made an unexpected comeback. I remember back in 2007 when I first got a computer and Internet connection in my home I checked out YouTube for the first time and started a MySpace page, and since I was a fierce admirer of all kinds of cinematic gems, be they works of art or putrid wastes of celluloid worthy only of the harshest mockery, it was inevitable that my path would cross with that of Troll 2. Since I was young I knew of the movie’s existence but even though every home I lived in during my teen years had HBO or Cinemax I never had the opportunity to see it. My first sampling of the mind-boggling genius of Troll 2 came courtesy of one of those YouTube compilations of clips from some of the worst movies ever made. You’ve probably seen them; they usually contained such priceless gems as the “Garbage Day!” clip from Silent Night Deadly Night 2, Christopher George’s unnecessarily slow death scene from Enter the Ninja, and the classic “Pussy” line from Shark Attack 3. The Troll 2 clips were naturally hilarious in a so-godawful-it’s-funny manner and I wondered just how bad the entire movie could actually be.

This past summer I finally received my chance to behold the movie in all its glory when I picked up a MGM Double Feature DVD from Barnes & Noble that contained the original Troll and its in-name-only sequel. It was a purchase I shall neither forget nor regret. As a result of having seen thousands of movie in my lifetime I’ve come to the conclusion that the worst a film can aspire to be is lazy and uninspired, and that description does not suit Troll 2 at all. However you feel about the film’s writing, acting, direction, music (by the stellar Carlo Maria Cordio, who also appears in this documentary giving us a sampling of his Troll 2 score), or it’s stunningly bad visual effects (including some of the poorest-looking goblins ever put on film-midgets in immobile Halloween masks wearing burlap sacks”¦.the horror”¦.the horror), you can’t deny that Troll 2 is an immensely entertaining flick that seems to exist solely in left field because of the random nature of its plot where literally anything can happen at any time for whatever reason: floating old man ghost heads, kids pissing on food, people being turned into plants and then eaten by vegan goblins, unintentional (or intentional depending on your interpretation) homoeroticism, bad dancing, and a double decker bologna sandwich used as a weapon to defeat evil. It gets so much wrong that in the end it all seems right. I don’t know how to best explain it, but it works.

The director of Best Worst Movie is a gentleman by the name of Michael Stephenson, someone who has a special connection to Troll 2. As a child actor Stephenson won the lead role in Fragasso’s movie and got the bulk of the screen time. Upon viewing a VHS copy of the movie he received as a Christmas gift the year after it was released he soon realized the exposure would not serve him well in his burgeoning acting career. When the movie started to experience a resurgence in interest Stephenson got the inspiration to make this documentary, and he decided that George Hardy would be the main subject. Hardy becomes the unlikely hero of the piece as Stephenson and his camera follow the extroverted dentist from the raucous atmosphere of packed coast-to-coast screenings of Troll 2 to a chilly reception on the horror convention circuit, but Stephenson also takes the time to track down the various members of the film’s cast and crew who haven’t fallen completely off the face of the earth. There is a great deal of interesting stories and personalities intercut with Hardy’s surprising journey and his encounters with Troll 2‘s many devoted followers. As Stephenson and Hardy travel the country attending screenings, greeting fans, answering strange questions, and rounding up their long missing-in-action colleagues in order so they can bask in the limelight, even though Hardy admits in the documentary, and several of his friends and family members agree, that he enjoys the limelight a bit too much and doesn’t like to share it, most of all with Fragasso.

Ah yes, Claudio Fragasso. Next to George Hardy, the cranky Italian hack is probably the most watchable character in Best Worst Movie. Listening to his rambling delusions about how he believes Troll 2 to be a worthwhile film (which it is, just not for the reasons he believe is) and how he intended for the movie to be a commentary on things like”¦.family”¦and food”¦.and families eating food”¦.and so on and so is one of the funnier moments, and also one of the saddest, in the entire film. It’s very possible Fragasso doesn’t get the joke, or maybe he does and he just doesn’t want to accept it. His wife is no help either. Drudi apparently conceived of the script as a total rip of American culture and our obsession with eating vegetables and seems convinced her point was made quite well. It’s one thing to go into a project with certain intentions only to see those intentions corrupted or dumbed down, but to still believe that despite what the majority of the free, movie-watching world believes your film can hold its own with the best of Scorsese or Spielberg any day of the week seems to border on delusions of grandeur greater than any suicide bomber can muster. Fragasso’s egomania comes through strong throughout the film. At one point during a Q & A following a screening of the film sponsored by the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema he stands at the back of the auditorium and berates the actors on stage trying to have a good sense of humor about the rough and often confused production, even calling them “dogs”. You really want to hate Fragasso but at the same time you can’t help but feel for the guy. The flustered director seems to take the cult following his film has gained pretty well at first, I guess because he seems happy that Troll 2 is finally being accepted by the public after years of resting uncomfortably at the bottom of the cinematic barrel, but when he witnesses the audience at a screening he attends laughing all the way through the movie (even during the moments that weren’t meant to be funny) his demeanor changes rapidly. Just watch as he responds rather rudely to a question from an audience member about why the movie was called Troll 2 when there aren’t any trolls to be found in it.

There are many more stories like that. Most of the Troll 2 cast and crew have greeted its newfound fame as the Worst Film Ever Made with warm appreciation, good humor, and a strange sense of pride, and their own stories are fascinating in their own right. Don Packard, who played the creepy general store owner in Nilbog, had been admitted to a mental institution back in the late 1980’s and was on leave from the hospital when he auditioned for the role. He holds nothing back in his interview, claiming that the crazy look on his face during his scenes was not acting and that he wanted to do severe bodily harm to several of his fellow actors, most notably young Mr. Stephenson. Robert Ormsby (the ghostly Grandpa Seth, one of Troll 2‘s frequent highlights) talks about his career as a stage actor but also appears convinced that most of his life has been wasted. Connie Young (Holly, the sister of Stephenson’s character) accepts her notoriety with a moderately honest and cheerful attitude but she still refuses to put the movie on her acting resume. A return trip to the original Utah filming locations, including a brief sojourn in the house used for filming some of Troll 2‘s most quote-worthy moments, gives us an eye-opening glimpse into Fragasso’s abrasive directorial style, but it’s still fun to watch Hardy carry an adult Stephenson around the house on his shoulder while recreating his infamous “hospitality” tirade is pretty hilarious.

But all is not fun and games for Hardy and company when they find out what life outside the Troll 2 cult is like. When Hardy, Stephenson, and several of the cast members take a trip to a collectibles show in the UK they don’t exactly receive the warmest of welcomes (footage from a Q&A session shows them in good spirits reflecting on the movie, but it’s a bit sad when the camera pans over to the audience to show there isn’t really much of an audience there at all), and at a horror convention in Texas the sentiment is repeated, and watching Hardy attempting to hobknob with some little-known actors whose biggest career highlight was playing one-dimensional cannon fodder in the Nightmare on Elm Street sequels provides some awkwardly humorous moments. Hardy even gets visibly annoyed and creeped out by the conventioneers, washing his hands repeatedly and noticing the amount of gingivitis on the people he meets. Back home in Alexander City George arranges for a charity screening of Troll 2 and finds that most of the townspeople are reluctant to attend. The cult of Troll 2 endures though: soldiers stationed in Iraq keep their spirits alive by watching the movie constantly; a group based in Toronto holds special screenings complete with “Trollympics” games; fans create their own videos, songs, and even video games to show their unabashed love for the movie; and the creators of Guitar Hero II reveal a Troll 2 reference they slipped into the game. No matter how much the regular moviegoing community and the rest of the free world may regard the movie as a failure there still remains an ever-growing fanbase for Troll 2.

Special Features

Shot in standard definition Best Worse Movie is perfectly preserved on this DVD in a fine 1.78:1 widescreen picture and features a hearty six-channel Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track and a 2.0 stereo track. No subtitles are included.

The disc has enough bonus features to choke a gob”¦.I mean a troll. There are more than two hours of goodies to dive into. Let”˜s have a look:

“Minestrone, Pink Floyd, and Anorexia” (8 minutes) features more with Claudio Fragasso and Rossella Drudi as they discuss the genesis of the film and the origin of Fragasso’s directorial pseudonym Drago Floyd (or Drake Floyd as it appears on the Troll 2 print).

“Lord of the Goblins” (6 minutes) is an extended interview with Paul and Patrick Gibbs, two of the original goblin actors from the film.

“Hand Grenades and Machine Guns” (5 minutes) features more of the interview with Robert Ormsby.

“Death by Convention” (6 minutes) is an extended clip of Hardy and company as they take their show to the Texas Fearfest.

“Reflections from a Bodybuilding Poet” (5 minutes) is an interview with someone who didn’t appear at all in the documentary, actor Mike Hamill, who played the crazed Preacher Bells in Troll 2.

“Rolling Roadshow and Rude Pigeons” (11 minutes) features more footage from the Alamo Drafthouse screening of Troll 2.

“Troll Queen Tooth Repair” (3 minutes) is another deleted moment from the movie where Hardy makes a pilgrimage to the office where he practiced dentistry at the time he got the part in Troll 2 and even gets to do a little dental work on his co-star Deborah Reed, who played the Goblin Queen Creedence.

“The Holy Grail of Bad Movies” (7 minutes) is a montage of several of the interviewees giving their opinions on Troll 2 and what it takes to make a great bad movie.

“A Public Service Announcement from George Hardy” runs about a single minute and features Hardy parodying his classic “hospitality” scene from Troll 2 in a “no talking and texting” PSA that ran before screenings of the film.

“Kingdom of the Goblins” (4 minutes) is a Troll 2-themed rap video from the group Dem Waffle House Boiz.

“Meat Noam Telnobody 2″ (6 minutes) is another Troll 2-themed fan video, this one a weird short film.

“Provocative Interview with Troll 2‘s Goblin Queen, Deborah Reed” (13 minutes) is exactly what the title implies, a sit-down talk with Reed, who like Hamill didn’t appear in the documentary.

“George Hardy Doesn’t Know My Name” (4 minutes) is an interview with Stephenson and Hardy from a movie-themed web chat show, and it’s pretty cheeky.

“Monstrous Music Video” (4 minutes) is a Troll 2 tribute song by the group ECOMOG.

“Creative Screenwriting Filmmaker Q&A” (82 minutes) is a podcast interview with Stephenson and Hardy conducted by Jeff Goldsmith, the senior editor of Creative Screenwriting magazine. Since there is no audio commentary on this DVD the interview is the next best thing as Stephenson and Hardy talk at great length about their experiences making Best Worse Movie and Troll 2. Next to the extended footage this is the highlight of the extra features. The pod cast can also be downloaded for free from the magazine’s Blogspot page and you can get it here:

Rounding out the extras are the film’s theatrical trailer, a one page text biography of Stephenson, a one page text essay about Docurama Films, and trailers for assorted Docurama titles: Don’t Look Back, Air Guitar Nation, A Crude Awakening, and The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill.

Best Worse Movie is an honest, funny, and poignant tribute to those audiences that don’t merely enjoy a special kind of movie but embrace it as a cause and a lifestyle, and even if Michael Stephenson’s lovingly-assembled documentary doesn’t make you want to rush out and watch Troll 2 you’ll at least come away with an appreciation of the people who make all of those delightfully atrocious movies with nothing but heart, can-do spirit, and a budget less than the craft services bill on Iron Man 2.

And now I will close with a reading from the Troll 2 Bible, chapter seven verse twelve: and as Father Michael led his son Joshua up the great staircase his righteous fury brought forth words of condemnation: “Do you see this writing…? Do you know what it means…? Hospitality. And you can’t piss on hospitality! I WON’T ALLOW IT!” Amen. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a belt to tighten.

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