Not long enough
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Best Worst Movie (2009)
31st May 11
The story behind the movie you laugh at on a regular basis (N.B. that’s Troll 2, not The English Patient).
In Alexander City, Alabama, George Hardy is a relentlessly upbeat, beloved dentist. He’s so well regarded in his home town that even his ex-wife likes him. If you were stuck with him in a lift, your immediate impulse might be a keen desire to see him beheaded in a freak accident involving wires and trifle…though this impulse would eventually be replaced by wanting to give him a cuddle and share your Jammie Dodgers with the likeable chump. He’s a good natured, inoffensive chap with a disarming smile and impeccable manners. But he has a past endeavour that makes him more iconic than most Alabama-based dentists. His doting mom insists he was genuinely horrible in his one and only movie acting showcase : playing the dad who utters the legendary line “You can’t piss on hospitality” in Troll 2. A more generous soul later featured in Best Worst Movie will refer to his presence in the movie as resembling a “rich man’s Craig T Nelson”, reflective of the movie’s transformation from guilty-pleasure embarrassment into cult item.
The truth is, Troll 2 is far from a genuinely “bad” movie. Movies were created to entertain and amuse, and Troll 2, along with similarly infamous “turkeys” singled out to be mocked, is more entertaining and amusing than most. It in no way deserved its one-time place at the very bottom of the imdb‘s “Worst. Movie. Ever.” list, simply because at least half the Academy Award winners for Best Picture during the 1980’s rank as films that are infinitely more tedious and thus “bad” … have you actually tried to sit through Out of Africa or Driving Miss Fucking Daisy at any point?
Michael Stephenson was the obnoxious juvenile lead in the sublime Troll 2 and was surrounded on the set by a combination of people with no aspirations for an acting career and folks for whom it represented a career-killing folly. He yearned to see his big break on a big screen - but, as luck would have it, received it on VHS at Christmas, its dubiousness as legitimate quality filmmaking ensuring a childhood dream shattered as effectively as if Ma and Pa Stephenson had simply squeezed out their finest brown bowel babies into his festive stocking.
Stephenson has made Best Worst Movie, a wonderfully warm and funny feature documentary that ranks as one of the best of its kind. It was made in response to the cult that has grown out of an adorably whacked movie but refuses to patronise anyone involved either with the movie itself or its fan following. Twenty years ago, Troll 2 became established for a small minority as a perfect Friday night cider-and-weed movie. These days, annual L.A. parties celebrate its surrealistic nuttiness; sell-out screenings unspool at venues like the Alamo Draft house ; Nilbog T-shirts abound ; and die-hard fans have created Troll 2 tattoos, “The Trollympic Games” and Troll 2 videogames. The ever-smiling George Hardy embraces the unlikely popularity of his one shot at movie fame, while British movie journalist M J Simpson modestly nails the whole phenomenon when he notes that Troll 2 was made with a commendable lack of cynicism and isn’t “bad” - just odd.
Stephenson has painstakingly tracked down everybody of significance involved in the making of the 1989 movie, and they all earn their place in this documentary. Don Packard is terrific value as he reflects on how he was literally on day release from the mental hospital when he played the role of the Nilbog store owner who says the line “There’s no coffee here, it’s the Devil’s drink”. He recalls a yearning to kill the young Stephenson, not so fondly recalled as a noteworthy pain in the arse.
Even more fascinating is an equal-parts hilarious / poignant encounter with Margo Prey, Troll 2‘s mom. A trip to her remote house reveals a deluded, haggard recluse clinging on to the hope of a revival of a long-dead acting career and referring to her movie as a “simple, elegant actor-actor movie”(!). At the point where she likens Troll 2 to Casablanca and Bogart-Hepburn movies, it’s clear her sanity not only left town, it took out all the townsfolk with a sawn-off shotgun and rode out on a one-legged bisexual giraffe. Her bizarrely out-of-sync interpretation of the movie is very funny, but in these moments the movie is almost painful in capturing one of the movie business‘ easily forgotten casualties.
Stephenson vividly captures a sense of the madness underlying the movie’s production, discovering that its Italian crew had lofty aspirations for one of our generations’ funniest cult films. The female writer explains that she conceived it while pissed off with vegetarians. The editor suggests it paved the way for the Harry Potter franchise (cough!). And director Claudio Fragasso keeps a straight face as he describes it as an “important film about the union of the family” and a “ferocious analysis of today’s society” (splutter!).
Genuinely believing he made a movie of a particular type, Fragasso is compelling in his sincere confusion at a screening where, having earlier walked the queue excitedly to chat to fans, he finds himself in a room full of people laughing at his work. One extraordinary moment involves an angry Claudio referring to his actors as dogs after heckling them at a convention where they describe the film’s ineptitude.
It is George Hardy who emerges as the charismatic hero of the bittersweet Best Worst Movie. The climax features an evidently freaked out George at various horror conventions, where he interacts with faded Elm Street actors whoring over-priced signatures, fails to make conversation with Neil “Chuckles” Marshall and proves totally out of touch with the entire scene. Hardy’s discomfort in alien territory produces some marvellous moments as his cheery exterior finally slips and he laments all the gingivitis in the room, while registering disbelief at the fans around him : “This is frickin’ weird, this is not Halloween!!”.