October 03, 2013

TROLL 2 And BEST WORST MOVIE Are Just Plain Great

"You can't piss on hospitality!  I won't allow it!"
At the top of this site I have two lists: a top ten and a bottom ten. You might think it's easy to differentiate which list a particular movie belongs to, but on rare occasions I find myself struggling with the choice.  Where do I draw the line when a movie is objectively terrible yet it creates a uniquely entertaining audience experience?  The term "so bad it's good" gets thrown around a lot and usually not in a particularly accurate way.  Snakes On A Plane is neither good nor bad, just depressingly mediocre. Crap like Sharknado is such a cynical attempt to glom onto this zeitgeist that it actually makes me angry.  Anyone who holds these films up as examples of "so bad it's good" clearly have no idea just how far the depths of terrible cinema truly lie. 

Enter Troll 2 and Best Worst Movie.  The former is an ineptly insane monster movie about a family vacationing in the small southern town of Nilbog (give it a second...) who soon find themselves at the mercy of a horde of shape-shifting, vegetarian goblins (the word "troll" is never actually uttered, nor is it in any way a sequel to Troll) who turn their victims into plants before devouring them as a viscous green goo. The latter film is a documentary about Troll 2's late-stage cult resurgence, directed by the guy who played the film's lead character as a child.  Both films are genuinely entertaining and each beg the question: just what is a bad movie?

Let's start with the source material.  My initial description really doesn't make the film seem all that bad.  Surely we've all seen worse, right?  But in order to understand the schlock glory that is Troll 2, you really need to watch it.  I could try to describe the unholy madness of ghost grandpa, the Jiffy Pop sex scene, "The Holly Waits Dance" or the deus ex Oscar Meyer, but that would be a foolhardy endeavor.  It simply has to be seen to be believed.

There's really no question that, on a technical level, the movie is an absolute trainwreck.  The script makes no sense, all the make-up and effects work is beyond laughable, and at times I honestly thought the director was an 11 year old.  But what really puts the whole thing over the top is the acting, and when I say acting I'm using that term very loosely.  Forget the cast's ability to portray characters.  Most of the time they struggle to play believable human people.  But here's where the incredible alchemy of filmmaking transmutes utter shit into cinemagic.  Without this exact and excruciating combination, Troll 2 would have been forgotten long ago.  A decent horror movie with cheap effects?  A talented (or even just mediocre) cast stuck with a bizarre script?  A generic monster flick punctuated by weak performances?  Video store shelves were once littered with such stuff, back when video stores were a thing that existed.  It's not until all of these elements come together in a symphony of terrible that the movie suddenly becomes more than merely the sum of its parts.  And while Troll 2 is certainly entertaining in its own right, watching the movie at midnight on a big screen with a proper audience was something else entirely.  This wasn't a case of people shouting at the screen and riffing on the film; instead we just collectively basked in the hilarious wonder of Claudio Fragasso's inadvertent masterpiece.

Troll 2 was understandably dumped directly onto VHS in 1990 and remained largely unknown to the general public for years.  It wasn't until recently, in the age where consumers can find just about anything on DVD or streaming services, that the movie found new life as the centerpiece of midnight screenings and viewing parties across the country.  What started as groups of friends sitting on their couches escalated to sold out moviehouses and eventually the documentary Best Worst Movie helmed by Michael Stephenson, the onetime child star of Troll 2.  Stephenson talks to some of the film's most ardent supporters, trying to figure out just what it is that they find so damn appealing about the movie that he and most of his castmates had long since buried in their collective past.  At the same time, Stephenson follows his onscreen father, actor-turned-dentist George Hardy, as he attends screenings and events, meets the fans he never knew he had, and gets a taste of the cinematic success of which he always dreamed.

Hardy is largely painted as a friendly guy who gradually gets a little too wrapped up in his own cult success.  He's a big, boisterous ball of smiles and while he enjoys his dentistry practice and his status as a beloved local character in his small Alabama town, it's obvious that he sees himself as a big fish in a small pond and longs for the limelight.  At first it's nice to see him getting a bit of recognition, soaking up the adoration of the crowds who obviously love him.  But it quickly becomes apparent that Hardy has no real idea who is audience truly is, neglecting the "cult" part of "cult success."  He holds a screening in his hometown to support the local school, hassling all of his clients and the locals to get them to attend, only to see them all quietly wander out of the theater in absolute bewilderment as to what the hell they had just watched.  Hardy eventually travels to a memorabilia convention in England full of people who've never heard of Troll 2.  Suddenly the tables are turned; now Hardy is a tiny fish in an ocean that doesn't give a shit.  He hobnobs with supporting cast members from Nightmare On Elm Street 4, tries to make friends with a Duke Of Hazzard and desperately reenacts his signature lines and scenes for apathetic bystanders, but by the time he takes the stage for a sparsely populated Q&A session and then sits at an abandoned table shouting, "Doesn't anyone want my autograph?" you can't help but feel sorry for the guy.

It's worth noting that director Claudio Fragasso also seems to have a stunning lack of perspective about his own film.  He thinks Troll 2 is a brilliant work of art that's absolutely above reproach and he's appalled to discover that audiences think it's a bad film and "laugh in all the wrong places."  But Fragosso misses the point.  Sure, some folks approach the movie from a place of mockery or ironic detachment, but even those assholes have to admit that there's something that sets Troll 2 apart from the glut of low-budget horror films out there.  Even if you can't adequately describe what makes the film special, you connect with it on a visceral, emotional level and it's that connection that elevates the tale of burlap clad goblins and compels people to not only watch it again and again, but to share it with anyone who's willing. Despite all the sarcasm and whether they admit it or not, deep down these people just plain love Troll 2.

So what if Troll 2 will never be a mainstream success and George Hardy will never achieve the kind of fame he so obviously craves?  So what if nearly every aspect of the filmmaking is an object lesson in how not to make a movie?  All that matters is that people keep coming back to theater.  They keep sharing their Blu-ray, DVD and sometimes even VHS copies among friends.  They spread of the legacy of Troll 2 for one simple reason: every time they watch it, they walk away entertained.  And in the words of Zack Carlson (a.k.a. the Alamo Drafthouse programmer who helped resuscitate Miami Connection):

"If a movie entertains us, then it's good."


Title: Troll 2
Director: Claudio Fragasso
Starring: Michael Stephenson, George Hardy, Margo Prey, Connie McFarland, Robert Ormsby, Jason Wright, Deborah Reed
Year Of Release: 1990
Viewing Method: Theatrical - Coolidge Corner

Title: Best Worst Movie
Director: Michael Stephenson
Starring: Michael Stephenson, George Hardy, Margo Prey, Connie McFarland, Robert Ormsby, Claudio Fragasso
Year Of Release: 2009
Viewing Method: Netflix Instant (Laptop)

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