How do you combat the burden of being an actor attached to Troll 2, the worst film of all time? If you’re Michael Paul Stephenson, you film a stunning documentary, Best Worst Movie, that chronicles the unexplainable phenomenon that has turned Troll 2 from a bargain bin film into a cult classic.
As an admitted fan of Troll and Troll 2 (Which have absolutely nothing to do with each other on a story level), my ears perked up when I heard that there was going to be a documentary based on the sequel. If you haven’t seen Claudio Fragasso’s Troll 2, you are missing out. Words can’t possibly explain how unintentionally funny and confusing it is, which has much to do with why people have come to love it so much. It’s so bad that actress Connie Young refuses to put it on her acting resume.
One of the better parts of Troll 2 (1990) was the acting of child star, Michael Paul Stephenson, the man responsible for Best Worst Movie. For years, Stephenson ran from the criticism that came from Troll 2, perhaps somewhat frustrated that the film extinguished any chances he had of becoming a larger presence in film. Now he has a second chance as director, and Best Worst Movie succeeds on every level that Troll 2 failed. As we follow his journey to understand how such a bad film can offer such a good time for thousands, we learn a lesson as film lovers ourselves. Films don’t necessarily have to be good for us to fall in love with them. The purpose of a film is to entertain. Based on that criteria, Troll 2 is undoubtedly a success, as is Stephenson’s recent creation.
Best Worst Movie offers a glimpse into the lives of the actors, director and writer responsible for the perfect storm of poor cinema, a film ranked on IMDB.com as the worst film ever made. Inexplicably, their project now screens across the nation to sold-out crowds. As Hardy describes it in the film, it is the Rocky Horror Picture Show for the MySpace generation.
The actors in the film feel like a dysfunctional family amped to the thousandth degree. Every actor fits into the film family tree. Dr. George Hardy, Michael Waits in Troll 2, finds the celebrity status and cult following that he hoped would have come to him in 1990 when Troll 2 was released. Hardy is fantastic and his smile and acceptance of his role in the scheme of the film’s rising success makes you cheer for him. By the end of this film, your favorite movie quote will be, “You can’t piss on hospitality! I won’t allow it!” Trust me.
Like every family, the Troll 2 cast has their share of puzzling personalities. Margo Prey and Claudio Fragasso are both complex subjects, much like the aunt you see at Christmas that still wears her hair like Farrah Fawcett. Don Packard would be the uncle you have that did one too many hits of acid. He’s hilarious and scary all at once. Connie Young is the sister that has found her voice, now having the skills appropriate for her. Darren Ewing and Jason Steadman are fun and genuine in their attempt to explain why the film went wrong.
Occasionally we see the true champion of the film, Stephenson as he helps us understand the journey that Troll 2 has taken him on. For the majority of the film, Stephenson is content to stay behind the lens, removing any chance of the audience to feel that he is making the film strictly for himself. Stephenson makes us a fan of the film by seeing through to the heart of the cast and fans that have rallied around Troll 2.
You can’t help but love this film. In fact, I dare you to watch it and tell me that you weren’t both entertained and attached to the actors. There will be moments when you are in tears from laughing at the relationships on-screen. Claudio Fragasso is Italy’s answer to the George Lucas defense of Jar Jar Binks, unaccepting of the fact that Troll 2 is a disaster. There will also be times when you feel sorry for the people, such as when we realize the sadness of actress Margo Prey’s life.
The magic of Best Worst Movie is in its examination and understanding that wonderful things can come out of horrible events. Every person in the film has a profound moment in their interviews, whether it is Fragasso rationalizing that the worst film of all time is as important as the best film due to its ability to make an impression, or Robert Ormsby’s excellent analysis of a human’s place in life, to just fritter it away.
Austin, Texas, the Alamo Drafthouse and the horror genre are stamping their names on some of the best documentaries in the past two years. Zombie Girl premiered at Fantastic Fest and still amazes me. Best Worst Movie can also wear that badge of achievement. It is the perfect companion and counterpart to Troll 2, and I demand every theater that shows Fragasso’s film to run Stephenson’s right after. If the hardships Stephenson suffered from the after-effects of Troll 2 led to his directing of Best Worst Movie, then I think it was worth every second that he experienced. Too bad I didn’t have a role as an extra in Waterworld. Maybe I could find a way to spin that film into gold like Stephenson has with Troll 2. Okay, no I couldn’t.
Even without Troll 2, Best Worst Movie stands on its own as one of the finest documentaries I have ever seen. It’s fun, poignant and a must see. After watching Best Worst Movie, you will love Troll 2 even more. It’s incredible that both films are entertaining individually and can heighten the viewing experience of the other. If you’re looking for one of the standout films of SXSW, Best Worst Movie is that film. It’s destined to be a seat-filler just like the film that inspired it. Maybe you’ll see me there. I’ve seen it twice and plan to go back again this week.
Best Worst Movie is screening on Friday, March 20th at the Austin Convention Center at 9:30 p.m.