Ah, Troll 2. Where would we be without it? Still talking about Ed Wood’s films, I suppose.
Wait, we’re still talking Ed’s films, aren’t we? So I guess my point’s been scuttled. If I even had one. So I guess this review’s got something in common with Troll 2 right there.
But actually, this review isn’t even about Troll 2 at all — it’s about the new documentary that’s about the new king of bad cinema, Michael Stepehnson’s superb Best Worst Movie.
Stephenson himself ought to know a little bit about the subject — after all, he was one of the stars of Troll 2 itself, a wet-behind-the-ears child actor back in 1990 who landed his first cinematic role as Joshua Waits, the little by who sees visions of his dead grandpa warning him to stop his family from vacationing in the scenic hamlet of Nilbog.
Stephenson’s not our main point of entry into the peculiar cult universe that has developed around Troll 2, though — that honor belongs to George Hardy, more specifically Dr. George Hardy, an Alabama-born dentist who was trying to make his mark as a part-time actor in the Salt Lake City area back in the late 80s and early 90s and found himself cast as George Waits, Joshua’s dad.
For George, who now practices dentistry back home in ‘Bama, the Troll 2 phenomenon has given him a chance to be what he always wanted to be — a star, albeit a star known only to a select group of — uhhhmmmm — initiates, I guess we’ll call them.
We follow Dr. George as he goes from convention to convention, screening to screening, reuniting as much of the cast as he can muster up along the way, and it has to be said, this guy never stops smiling. Even as he admits to the severe fatigue and burnout he’s suffering from having watched the one and only film he ever starred in dozens of times over the years, and having recited his famous “you can’t piss on hospitality — I won’t allow it!” line probably thousands of times, Hardy just keeps on smiling. He’s both grateful for him accidental cinematic immortality and sick of it in equal measure. Perhaps the film’s most telling moment is when he admits to his desire to get off the convention circuit treadmill (and Best Worst Movie offers perhaps the most realistic appraisal of the drudgery offered up by that particular “lifestyle” that you can imagine) and then, a split second later, when asked if he would be willing to appear in a Troll 3 if it were ever made (and director Caludio Fragasso and screenwriting/producing partner Rossella Drudi are, in fact, in pre-production on it right now) he answers “absolutely.” Dr. George loves the limelight and genuinely loves entertaining people, and his enthusiasm for his (I use this term loosely) art shows through in every moment he’s on the screen, even at a UK convention where nobody’s heard of his film, or him, and frankly they don’t seem interested in finding out about either. When George talks about how his heart has always been in acting but his father pushed him into dentistry, your heart sort of breaks for the guy even though he’s certainly got a very comfortable life.
For the rest of the Troll 2 cast, life hasn’t been quite so rosy. Don Packard, the genuinely goblin-esque general store owner in the film, has been in and out of mental hospitals his whole life (and was on a supervised leave program of some sort from one when he shot his scenes back in 1990). Robert Ormsby, who played dead Grandpa Seth, lives a quiet and apparently exceedingly lonely life in Salt Lake City. Margo Prey, who portrayed George’s wife, Diana Waits, live with her ailing mother and obviously suffers from some mental health problems herself — she’s essentially a shut-in and is the only member of the cast to have eschewed all public appearances in conjunction with the movie so far — but George keeps trying!
As for the principals behind the camera, Fragasso still swears he made a great film that’s just misunderstood by the public and berates his cast at every turn for failing to deliver their lines accurately enough. The scene were they return to the original Utah filming locations and re-enact memorable moments from the film is absolutely priceless and conveys the sort of madness that can probably only happen when hot-tempered Italians try to shoot a super-low-budget horror flick in the heart of Mormon country. For her part, Drudi just sort of silently agrees with all her partner’s wild-eyed excoriations, probably figuring it’s the best way to avoid arguments.
The cult that’s formed around the film itself is explored pretty thoroughly here, as well — it never played theaters but was a mainstay on HBO’s late-night lineup back in the early 90s, back when they just needed to fill up airtime with movies whose rights didn’t cost much. Then it slowly caught on in VHS rental shops. Then the internet came along and everybody who had seen it and loved it began to realize they weren’t alone — and the rest, of course, is history. Now this product of Bizarro-World is right up there with The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Eraserhead at the top of the midnight movie pantheon.
Finally, for those who might be wondering whether or not you need to have actually seen Troll 2 in order to enjoy Best Worst Movie, I would say the answer is no — all the basics, like how it had nothing to do with the original Troll, how it was originally titled something else, etc. are pretty well-covered. I will say, though, that if you indeed haven’t seen it yet, after watching Stephenson’s film you’re going to want to. Right away. And that’s perhaps the highest compliment about Best Worst Movie that one can give. For my part, I went right from the 9:40 showing of this on a Friday night last weekend at the Lagoon theater here in Minneapolis to the midnight Troll 2 screening at the Uptown, just up the street, and had the best night at the movies I’ve had all summer, if not all year.
Now, if there’s any justice in the world, we’ll be hearing the name of Best Worst Movie announced on Oscar night, not as “best worst” anything, but as Best Documentary Feature. Needless to say I’m not holding my breath waiting for that to happen, but it definitely deserves it.