I like to think of myself as a connoisseur of bad movies (I try to watch the Stephen Boyd Hollywood escapade The Oscar at least once a year), but somehow the whole Troll 2 phenomenon passed me by. I finally caught up with the movie during a recent MGM HD broadcast (arguably the finest presentation the movie has ever received) and yes, it is terrible. Remarkably terrible. But is it the worst movie ever made?
Troll 2 starts off with some unfair advantages over other bad movies. Its director, Claudio Fragasso, barely spoke English, yet he insisted that his cast of mostly amateur actors follow his wife’s English-as-a-second-language screenplay to the letter—and the couple’s funhouse mirror understanding of American culture and vernacular combined with a hoard of incompetent, grotesquely over-the-top performances turns the movie into a circus from its opening scene. Add to that a bunch of paper mache goblin masks (that the movie is about goblins, not trolls, is one of its chief claims to fame) and a plot that casts vegetarians as the devil’s own spawn (and vice versa) and you’ve got a vegan recipe for hilarity.
Best Worst Movie charts the Troll 2 cult phenomenon from a unique angle: that of Michael Stephenson, the appallingly freckle-faced youngster who starred in the 1990 movie as a child who discovers that the residents of a town called Nilbog (it’s “goblin” spelled backwards!) are really vegetarian goblins who want to convert him and his family into plants for their druid ceremonies—or something.
Like the rest of the film’s cast members, Stephenson only became aware after that fact that he was part of an infamously bad movie and that his adolescent attempt at acting was now being howled at by twentysomethings all over the country. Stephenson tracks down his former cast mates, particularly god-fearing dentist George Hardy, a remarkable cross between John Tesh, Craig T. Nelson and fallen televangelist Ted Haggard. Hardy is an almost childlike exhibitionist who initially thrills to his newfound fame as Stephenson follows the dentist to cult screenings in New York and on the convention circuit. While he enthusiastically spreads the gospel about Troll 2’s worst-movie-ever status and eagerly reenacts the most ludicrous moments of his own performance on command (and often unprompted), you get the feeling that Hardy doesn’t quite comprehend that he’s the butt of this joke. But anyone who’s ever seen the thousand yard stare of a former celebrity being ignored at a convention autograph table will squirm at Hardy’s growing, if incomplete realization of the hollowness of his new status.
Best Worst Movie gets increasingly grim and unflinching as it focuses on its cast of misfits who find a mixture of redemption and tragic loss as they’re dragged into the Troll 2 cult maelstrom. First there’s hilariously frank former mental patient Don Packard, who played a wild-eyed drugstore owner in the film while on temporary release from a local mental health facility. Packard hilariously recounts his hateful urge to kill Troll 2’s young star (seemingly unaware the grown-up lad is in the room with him) and the fact that while watching his own performance in retrospect he can see the clear evidence of his mental illness on screen. Packard seems a kind of joyfully embittered lost soul, but even he admits to a fleeting sense of fulfillment when he’s brought onstage at one of Troll 2’s NYC screenings. For Hardy and Packard, this is as good as it’s going to get. Others don’t even make it this far. Glassy-eyed Margo Prey, who plays Troll 2’s weirdly loud-talking mom, is trapped with her own mentally declining mother, and Stephenson’s and Hardy’s visit to her house is the most sobering reality encounter since this year’s docu-chiller Catfish. Almost worse is the cold fatalism of Robert “Grandpa Seth” Ormsby, who sits in the middle of a house straight out of Hoarders and quietly owns up to the fact that his life has amounted to nothing.
In the face of this unexpected glimpse into the human condition, the legitimately funny uber-fans and Troll 2 extras reminiscing about their adventures can’t help but come off as a little facile and cruel. Stephenson’s rundowns with Fragasso are more fun simply because the Italian auteur refuses to allow the documentarian, or Troll 2’s groupies, to take him down. Glowering and snarling thickly-accented comebacks (“You don’t know what you’re talking about!”), Fragasso is a great comic figure. Like his actors, he basks willingly in the limelight of screenings and cast reunions, but he seems convinced that neither his cast nor his movie’s new fans understand or appreciate his vision. And Fragasso is dead on in one respect—he knows that Troll 2 has made a mark that very few movies achieve, even if the accomplishment derives from sheer incompetence.
The Docurama DVD of the film adds a ton of fascinating, often depressing extras and redresses at least one major omission of the film: the failure to include Troll 2’s “Troll Queen,” vampy Deborah Reed, who gives the movie’s most outrageous performance. In a 13-minute interview Reed comes off as flamboyant and every bit as crazy as anyone else in the cast. Further interview material with Packard and Ormsby fleshes out their weirdly compelling characters, with Packard’s checkered employment history and Ormsby’s sad acknowledgement that his eventual death will likely be neither mourned nor even noted. It’s moments like this that will likely bring the party to a halt for fans who’ve had such a great time laughing Troll 2 off the screen.