Best Worst Movie
2010, NR, 93 min. Directed by Michael Stephenson.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., April 23, 2010
One of the breakout hits of South by Southwest Film Festival ’09, where it premiered, this documentary is just now emerging from the festival circuit and into a theatrical distribution run beginning with this Austin opening. The piece is a tribute to the 1992 film Troll 2 and its many fans, who have dubbed it the “best worst movie” ever made. It’s a dubious distinction, of course, one that this documentary never really examines (many arguments could be made for other far worse movies earning the honor instead, and the routes by which certain films slip into the cultural zeitgeist can often be as unknowable as the films themselves). One needn’t be a fan or nonfan or even nonpartisan toward Troll 2 in order to enjoy this documentary, which is directed by the horror film’s now-grown-up child star, Stephenson. The anchor of Best Worst Movie is George Hardy, a genial Alabama dentist whose one stab at an acting career turned out to be Troll 2. Once he saw the finished film years after shooting it, he declared it to be execrable, although Troll 2’s recent notoriety (it has a 0% rating on Rotten Tomatoes) has him intrigued. Gobsmacked by the adoring turnouts at cult-film screenings around the country, Hardy begins thinking about recommitting to the actor’s life until a deadly reception at a nostalgia convention reveals the truth of what Troll 2’s little patch of glory is ultimately up against. In addition to visiting with the actors (one of whom admits to performing his role while also living in a mental institution), Stephenson focuses his camera on the fan phenomenon that has grown up around the movie. Austin’s Alamo Drafthouse mother ship is, of course, in the forefront of this craze: Tim League showcased Troll 2 on a Rolling Roadshow tour, and the fervent appreciation of Alamo programmer Zack Carlson, who sports a Troll 2 tattoo on his shoulder, is also featured. The only real downer in the documentary is Claudio Fragasso, the Italian director of Troll 2, who arrives at a convention expecting vindication, thinking that the attention is the film’s final “fuck you to the critics.” However, he is clearly dismayed by the fans’ laughter and disparagement, utterly nonappreciative of the moniker “best worst movie.” Whether or not Troll 2 deserves the honor, Best Worst Movie is on to something with its look at the workings of a cult phenomenon. It doesn’t go nearly far enough, however, in its unchallenging analysis. Why, for instance, are such crazy movies made in Utah? Is there something in the water there that links up Napoleon Dynamite and Planet of the Apes with Troll 2? (In attendance for a post-screening Q&A will be Dr. George Hardy, writer/director Michael Stephenson, Jason Steadman, and others. It will be followed by an afterparty at the HighBall, where Troll 2 will play. See "Something to Sink Your Teeth Into," April 23, for a related interview with Hardy.)