Best Worst Movie: In the Aftermath of the Italian Utah Invasion of ’89

The year is 1989, and “the Italians” have descended upon Utah carrying video recording equipment and brandishing a script entitled “Goblins”. They select some Americans from the general population, hand...

The year is 1989, and “the Italians” have descended upon Utah carrying video recording equipment and brandishing a script entitled “Goblins”. They select some Americans from the general population, hand out their lines, and begin recording. During filming the actors huddle together and puzzle over their lines. What does it all mean? They find it difficult to understand the thick accent and broken English of the Italians and, not having access to a complete script, the actors can only react to the demands and verbal tirades of the director and trust that he knows what he is doing. Ultimately filming is called to an end and the cast and crew disperse.

Then, on Christmas Day, little Michael Stephenson unwraps a present from under the tree and finds himself holding a VHS with the title Troll 2. Somewhat surprised at the gift, Stephenson learns that this is the revised name for the film “Goblins” in which plays a lead role. He slides the tape into the VCR and watches in horror as an awkward teenage boy in a Peter Pan costume is chased across a ferny wilderness by what appears to be rubber masked little people. In just a few minutes little Michael comes to the realization that his career in acting has suddenly and irrevocably collapsed. Quite possibly this is the worst movie that he has ever seen.

Troll 2, it turns out, is awash in flaws. The dialogue is poor, the acting is awful, and the plot makes little sense. There isn’t even one damn troll in the entire movie. To summarize the storyline: A family swaps homes for a week with some rural townsfolk who are in fact goblins, along with the whole town of Nilbog, which, by the way, is Goblin spelled backwards. The family only learns of this too late when little Joshua sees the town name in the mirror, but by that time they are being pursued by vegetarian goblins who attempt to sabotage the family’s food in order to turn them into vegetables so that they can eat them, but the family foils the goblins with the help of a disappearing / reappearing dead grandfather that has the power to stop time, among other things. In one scene a corn wielding witch seduces a young adolescent and the romance becomes so hot that popcorn fills the entire room. It is a testament to how perfectly awful the movie is and how passionate and committed the actors are to the script and the vision of the director that Troll 2 has avoided sinking into inevitable obscurity and has instead risen to the realm of cult.

Twenty years later Stephenson revives his movie career by directing the documentary Best Worst Movie (2010), a charming look into the lives of the people that helped make Troll 2 and the cult following that has grown around it. The documentary centers on George Hardy, who plays Stephenson’s father in Troll 2. We follow Hardy, now a dentist, as he moves from embarrassed Troll 2 critic to revved up Troll 2 advocate once he is exposed to the film’s cult masses. Other actors from the film are also introduced and covered to a lesser extent. Some of them are interesting, most of them are funny, and several of them are just plain crazy. In fact, it seems amazing to me how, in a movie with such a small cast, the director seems to have selected such a relatively high proportion of mental people.

Best Worst Movie is funny as hell, mainly due to the ridiculousness of the movie that it covers and the quirkiness of its cast. People that haven’t seen Troll 2 will still laugh throughout the film (and most likely will rent Troll 2 as soon as they are finished watching the documentary), but it is the people who have watched and rewatched the film throughout the last 20 years that will find the most reward as they get a peek “behind the scenes” into the making of the film. Aside from this, the documentary lacks noticeable depth beyond its voyeuristic quality. Certainly there are parts to the movie that make one think, though these are few in number and are generally passed over by Stephenson when they do come up.

The concept of celebrity is a consistent theme with Hardy, who is all too happy to ham it up for the fans. At times he becomes almost unbearable to watch. In several scenes, while attempting to coax people into watching Troll 2, he blurts out a popular line from the film, “You can’t piss on hospitality, I won’t allow it!”, but without the context of the movie the line comes off flat and the people look visibly confused. The director of Troll 2, Claudio Fragasso, runs through the documentary like a dark force. However unlikely, and against what would amount to almost unanimous opinion, Fragasso apparently views the film as a perfectly constructed masterpiece rather than an epic flop.

Ultimately, like the movie Troll 2, which by the end leaves the audience wondering where all the trolls are, the documentary ends with the audience wondering what it was all for. There’s enough fans out there to raise interest in the documentary, but, as for its lasting value as a film unto itself, Best Worst Movie falls far short and will most likely over time fade into obscurity unlike the film that it documents.

I give Best Worst Movie 3 puppets. It has just the right amount of masked creatures to make it humorous, but lacks much of anything else.

Best Worst Movie

(3 puppets)