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Written & Directed by
Michael Paul Stephenson
Produced by
Stephenson, Lindsay Stephenson, Brad Klopman, Jim Klopman, Jim Mckeon, Mary Francis Groom, Ace Goerig, Will Ferniany, Dana Ferniany, & Gary Rowles
Released by Area 23a
USA. 93 min. Not Rated   

A talking head midway through this enjoyable if overlong documentary makes the good point that, unlike bad food and bad books, bad movies can actually be fun. Best Worst Movie tries to make such a case for Troll 2, a 20-year-old direct-to-video horror movie that’s the only film to get a lower user rating than the notorious Manos: Hands of Fate on the Internet Movie Database. It’s not hard to see why: the plot, such as it is, involves a family moving to a town called Nilbog, “goblin” spelled backwards, where the denizens are actually monsters that turn people into plants before eating them. This surpassing badness has evidently inspired a cult following—one I became aware of last year when a seemingly normal woman from Britain, who had sublet my place, asked if I had ever seen it. (“Yes,” I answered, “but why have you?”)

Michael Paul Stephenson, who, as a freckled, redheaded 11-year-old made his feature debut (and finale) as the star of Troll 2, decided to find out what happened to his castmates and the crew since the movie’s release. So, like any other hipster living in LA, he got a camera and tracked them down. As with many documentaries, the film succeeds almost by accident in that the man who played Stephenson’s father and uttered what became the film’s dubious catchphrase (“You don’t piss on hospitality”) is so infectiously genial. Now a dentist who makes his home in small-town Alabama, Dr. George Hardy has a full-bodied laugh and an up-for-anything spirit. Bored at a horror convention, he looks around at the goth attendees in their Hellraiser outfits and sniffs, “I bet not five percent of these people floss.”

The film mostly follows Hardy and some of the rest of the cast as they attend a roadshow of late-night screenings of Troll 2. There are some good times with the Italian director Claudio Fragasso, who flies out to attend some of these screenings. He’s as self-important and clueless as you’d expect the perpetrator of Troll 2 to be (“You don’t know nothing!” he shouts at an audience member who asks why a movie called Troll 2 has no actual trolls in it). But the documentary runs out of gas and exhausts the goodwill of all but the most devoted Troll 2-heads long before it ends.

Still, despite its need for more ruthless editing, the doc packs more of a punch than you’d expect. It’s actually strangely moving. Mostly this comes from the small portraits of the less successful cast members, some of the most honest depictions of unredeemed disappointment you’ll see at the movies. The woman who played Stephenson’s mother still lives in Utah and now cares for her ailing mother. With her eerie, thousand-yard stare, she says she’s only “taking a break” from acting and then compares Troll 2 to Casablanca. And the man who played Stephenson’s granddad approaches the end of his life alone in a small house, amongst the squalor of towering stacks of books and videocassettes, watching Family Guy. After matter-of-factly noting he has no children or grandchildren, he says, “Mostly, I’ve wasted my life.” I know the feeling. Brendon Nafziger
May 14, 2010



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