Bad movies usually just come and go. I mean, when was the last time you heard anyone bring up Soul Survivors or Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever? We're not talking about a run-of-the-mill, Sunday-at-3-PM-on-TBS sort of schlock, though. Troll 2 plows head-on into bad and keeps on trucking. It's...well, the best worst movie ever made. I would say that I can't put into words how enthrallingly bizarre Troll 2 is, but that'd be a lie seeing as how I've written lots and lots of words about it. If you've never witnessed the awe and wonder of Troll 2 before, here's a quick taste of what you can expect:
This is a movie that inspires some kind of quasi-religious fervor in its fans, and I speak from experience 'cause I've been one for a couple of decades now. We don't meekly, politely watch Troll 2 and then quietly put it back on the shelf afterwards. No, we proselytize the glory of Troll 2 to anyone in earshot, force it on them, and then look on as they start spreading the good word too. What was a tiny cult following in the early '90s grew to be a sizeable, rabid fanbase in the age of YouTube and MySpace. George Hardy...this dentist from Alabama....had no idea that this movie he starred in all the way back in 1989 had made him a cult celebrity.
That's what Best Worst Movie is about, really: coming to grips with finding unexpected success in unparalled failure. It's not really about Troll 2, exactly, and you don't have to have seen the movie beforehand to get anything out it. Anyway, Best Worst Movie is told primarily through two very different perspectives. The first is George Hardy, who's led a pretty charmed life -- very successful dentist, pillar of the community, and all that -- but he wanted to be an actor his entire life. He's in awe of Troll 2's skyrocketing popularity. Revival screenings from one end of the country to the other are sold out, there are standing ovations whenever he takes the stage for Q&As afterwards, the crowd loses it whenever Hardy delivers his most beloved line ("You can't piss on hospitality! I won't allow it!"), he's signing autographs, posing for photos: it took close to twenty years, but Hardy's one and only film credit has made him feel like a real, live movie star.
Oh, sure: Hardy completely understands how ridiculous Troll 2 is. He chuckles at his ham-fisted acting, and he used to be so embarrassed by the flick that he couldn't force himself to watch the movie from start to finish until this fairly recent spat of revival screenings. That's okay; he loves the attention. Way on the other side of the world, though, is the man who directed it. Claudio Fragasso is thrilled to learn that his film has at long last been lavished with the attention he feels it so richly deserves. He doesn't understand why this would be happening seemingly all of a sudden, but he eagerly makes the trip across the Atlantic to attend a couple revival screenings himself. At first, Fragasso basks in the spotlight, the same as George Hardy, but once the lights dim down and the projector starts rolling...well, he's kind of mortified by what he discovers. Sure, the audience is cracking up at the parts that are supposed to be funny, but they never really stop laughing either. In the Q&As, the crowds snicker at how ridiculous and incomprehensible Troll 2 is, and the cast of the film laughs right along with 'em. The actors are good-natured about the experience of working on a movie with an Italian crew that spoke little-to-no English and reading from an indecipherable script, and they don't hesitate to poke fun at themselves either, but Fragasso is insistent that he's made a genuinely terrific film.
So, yeah. This documentary charts how George Hardy and Claudio Fragasso react to being celebrated for their roles in hammering out the best-worst-movie of all time as well as how their attitudes change throughout the course of all these revival screenings...about the way they come to look at their everyday lives and their brush with stardom. This isn't a feature-length DVD extra: it's an honest-to-Gord film, complete with character arcs and everything. Although the focus is primarily on Hardy and Fragasso, Best Worst Movie does aim its cameras elsewhere to flesh out a sense of color -- to get to know some of the people responsible for Troll 2 being a cult smash as well as some of the other, um, personalities behind the movie. The fandom showcased here is pretty amazing, and again, there's a genuine love for the flick. I mean, you don't stage Trollympic games, painstakingly handcraft a latex replica of a troll mask, or write a screenplay for a sequel out of irony. And hey! There are even interviews with a couple of the guys from Harmonix since they snuck a Troll 2 reference into Guitar Hero II that I forgot about.
The cultural divide explored here is particularly intriguing. Again, just about everyone on the American end of things fully recognizes how deliriously goofy Troll 2 is, and most of them admit that they had no clue what was going on when cameras were rolling...working with an awkwardly translated script and a crew that didn't speak a lick of English. The Italians, meanwhile, take Troll 2 exceptionally seriously. Fragasso says with stone-faced seriousness that he's more American a director than anyone on our shores, and that this is a film about life! Death! Family! Editor Vanio Amici makes it sound as if there wouldn't be a Harry Potter franchise were it not for Troll 2. Co-writer Rossella Drudi chats about the screenplay being a critique on modern society...well, and her stuck-up vegetarian friends. Composer Carlo Cordio also whips out the original reel-to-reel tapes and even plays some of the music from Troll 2 live, giving the camera a triumphant "fuck yeah" look afterwards.
Best Worst Movie doesn't get too distracted by those other folks behind the scenes, and the same goes for the rest of the cast. Heck, Michael Paul Stephenson, who directed this documentary and happens to be top-billed in Troll 2, keeps himself on the sidelines most of the time. This is really George Hardy's story, although you do get a chance to catch up with several of the other actors. Most of 'em are likeable, well-adjusted people who look back with a smirk on making such a ridiculous movie twenty years ago. The most compelling interviews, though, are with the people who are the most damaged. Don Packard, who played the shop owner in Troll 2 -- y'know, the one who practically dry-heaves when asked about eggs and coffee, then offers a kid a carton of Nilbog milk off an unrefrigerated shelf -- says he auditioned for the movie while on leave from a mental hospital. If you thought he looked deranged in the movie, well...turns out he kinda was, confessing to wanting to violently attack pretty much everyone on the set. Part of what makes Packard such an intriguing figure is that he owns up to it. He recognizes this dark time in his life, acknowledges his flaws, and shows how he's come to deal with it. He's unapologetically who he is. Robert Ormsby, who played Grandpa Seth in the movie...the ghost who gives his grandson a Molotov cocktail to kill a preacher and freezes time so the kid can pee on the family dinner...is more of a sad, lonely figure. Every square inch of his house is covered with letters and stacks of books like something out of Hoarders, and he feels as if he's squandered his entire life without anything more than Troll 2 and a bunch of clutter to show for it. Margo Prey, the bug-eyed mom from Troll 2, is just about the only actor on these shores that makes it sound as if she were in some kind of immortal Howard Hawks classic or something. Her passion for her craft is admirable, and it's hard to say anything bad about a woman who seems to have given up so much to take care of her mother, but...yikes. Her couple of appearances here are sincerely unsettling to watch, and if I'd been in George Hardy's shoes, I'd be putting on my jacket over and over again and trying to get the hell out of this crazy cat lady's locked-down compound too. Clearly, these aren't just standard issue "where are they now?" pieces. Even though the other actors aren't primary figures in Best Worst Movie, their presence definitely influences George Hardy's perspective on things and how his outlook evolves throughout the course of the film.
Oh, there are way too many highlights to mention here. Turns out that John Schneider -- Bo Duke! -- loves Troll 2. You have a fifty-something-year-old (?) dentist from Alabama looking mortified at the heavily tattooed, pierced-from-head-to-toe crowd at a horror convention. They go from the dizzying highs of all these sold-out screenings where they're treated like A-listers all the way to being completely ignored on the con circuit. Margo Prey's elderly mother looks like she's going to leap out of her wheelchair and go on a killing spree while everyone sings "Row, Row, Row Your Boat"...you know, that song Margo likes so much. I think I can safely say that this is the only documentary where I've heard someone moan "poor Celine Dion!" without a hint of sarcasm, so there's that. The cast also reenacts several scenes from Troll 2, including some shot in the original house from the movie and directed by Claudio Fragasso, even. Be sure to stick around through the end credits for more, including a shocking reveal at what the future may hold for Troll 2.
My Troll 2 obsession is pretty well-documented by this point, so I can't exactly say I went into Best Worst Movie unbiased. I waltzed into this documentary knowing full well that I was gonna love it, but I didn't know I'd fall for it this hard. If you've ever stumbled across Troll 2, no matter what you thought of it, then Best Worst Movie is essential viewing. The documentary stands on its own exceptionally well too; if I were scheduling a double-bill, I'd even put Best Worst Movie on first and save Troll 2 till the end. If you think Troll 2 is ridiculous on its own, grabbing random chunks with little-to-no context as they're shown in Best Worst Movie makes the whole thing even more surreal. The important thing to mention again is that Best Worst Movie isn't a documentary about Troll 2. It's a story about passion, about dreams, about failing when you try to triumph, and triumphing when you wind up failing. This is one of my favorite films-about-films that I've ever come across. You're a genius,
Best Worst Movie was shot natively in standard-def, so if you're holding out for a Blu-ray disc, I guess you're gonna need to ask Professor Peabody if you can borrow his Wayback Machine. The quality of what's offered up here is perfectly fine. The anamorphic widescreen image has a definite prosumer DV look to it: without a doubt professional but not exceptionally polished or glossy. If you demand reference quality visuals, sterling fine detail, and all that, then this might not be for you. Me, though...? I'm completely pleased with the presentation. Best Worst Movie looks professional enough for me to take it seriously as a film, and the limitations of the source material never get in the way of the storytelling. There aren't any flaws with the way the movie looks on DVD that don't date back to the original photography, and really, I don't have any complaints.
Best Worst Movie is served up on a dual-layer DVD and takes advantage of most of the space at its fingertips. The movie's presented at its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1.
Hey! A documentary with 5.1 audio. Best Worst Movie sounds pretty great with this six-channel Dolby Digital soundtrack (384kbps). All of the interviews are consistently clean and discernable, and it kinda goes without saying that that's the most important thing. Use of the surrounds tends to be pretty sparse, as expected, but you do get splashes of color in the streets of Rome, a little reverb in the screening auditoriums, and plenty of reinforcement of the score. Because Best Worst Movie is a conversation-driven documentary, don't keep your fingers crossed for foundation-rattling bass or hyperaggressive split-surrounds. Everything this documentary needs to do, though, it does perfectly well. Again, no complaints at all.
A stereo track has also been included. There aren't any dubs or subs this time around, though.
Right at three hours of extras have been piled onto this DVD, and there's not any filler or heavy-handed promotional stuff crammed in here anywhere. Just about all of it is well-worth taking the time to watch.
Even though Best Worst Movie doesn't include an audio commentary, there's a Q&A on here that's without a doubt the next best thing. Star George Hardy and director Michael Paul Stephenson are the focus of an 82 minute audio-only interview, carried over from a Creative Screenwriting Magazine podcast. You can take it as a commentary track for both Troll 2 and Best Worst Movie, really. Hardy and Stephenson cover just about everything you could hope to hear: auditioning in a hotel conference room for a bunch of chain-smoking Italians, what their salaries were for making the flick, the dodecaquadraseptuple bologna sandwich and rotten yogurt ice cream shoved in front of Stephenson's face, the legendary lunch-pissing deal being dreamt up by Claudio Fragasso on the day it was shot, Fragasso boasting about how he was shooting on the same film stock as Star Wars, the screenplay being translated from Italian to English in a Salt Lake City library...oh, the list of highlights just never eases up. Black Emmanuelle herself, Laura Gemser, isn't mentioned in the documentary but is briefly brought up here. From there, the conversation shifts towards Best Worst Movie, from dreaming up the initial concept to deciding to focus more on the human element. The construction of the film from 400 hours-plus of raw footage and the integral role a few key fans of Troll 2 played are also discussed. Oh, and if you're curious what Claudio Fragasso thought about Best Worst Movie -- and what the status of Troll 2: Part 2 is -- all of that's answered here too. It's such a great, great conversation and shouldn't be missed. By the way, if you don't want to listen to the podcast on this DVD, you can download it and pop it on your iPod or whatever instead.
Hardy and Stephenson also pop up in a segment from "Reel Good Show", complete with a The Room-vs.-Troll 2 battle, mock-doughnut-peeing, and a little ditty.
The reel of deleted scenes is just about feature-length in its own right, with these ten scenes clocking in at 70 minutes in total. I understand why they were trimmed out of Best Worst Movie -- the focus of the film really ought to stay on George Hardy and Claudio Fragasso, and a lot of these veer too far away from that -- but every single one of them is brilliant. Fragasso delivers much more about the backstory of how Troll 2 came together, including why he's credited as Drago Floyd, what Grandpa Seth's appearances in the mirrors are meant to represent, why the film was shot in Utah, and how the movie is a lot like "a delicious, mysterious minestrone". Don Packard speaks a good bit more about the astonishingly colorful life he's led, from directing porn to sending out pictures from his colonoscopy as Christmas cards. Paul and Patrick Gibbs, two little people who played goblins in the film, chat about how they were cast and how the movie they were pitched -- a cross between Lord of the Rings and Willow -- didn't turn out that way so much. Robert "Grandpa Seth" Ormsby also touches on his casting -- auditioning as Father Capulet since they didn't have a script handy -- and how he had no idea what he was aiming at when swinging an axe around on the set.
There's also a lot more footage from the Alamo Drafthouse roadshow where they screened Troll 2 in the sleepy little town in Utah where the movie was originally filmed along with all the festivities associated with that. The misery at the FearFest con is also extended here, including appearances by Caroline Munro (!!!) and Diamond Dallas Page. A few of these deleted scenes catch up with some actors who aren't featured in the documentary at all. Mike Hamill -- the pan-seared preacher in Troll 2 -- talks about being a body-building poet and how he based his performance heavily on Jimmy Swaggart. Deborah Reed is one of the most prominent actors in Troll 2 -- maybe even the single most memorable person in it -- yet is only glimpsed in the background for a couple of seconds in Best Worst Movie. The deleted scenes here make up for that. She lands a thirteen minute interview of her very own, showing off her original wardrobe from the film, some vintage modeling shots, and her son who happened to wind up in Troll 2 as well. In another clip, we even get to see George Hardy, DDS!, reunite with Reed to perform some dentistry...in the same office where he was practicing twenty years ago, to boot.
There's also some fan-made stuff on this DVD, including two music videos and an indescribably bizarre Troll 2-inspired short called "Meat Noam Telnobody 2" about a kid who doesn't want to poop eggs or...something. A PSA with George Hardy about not talking/texting during the movie -- I guess this played before screenings of Troll 2 and/or this doc -- has been included as well. Rounding out the extras are filmmaker bios and a Best Worst Movie trailer...though not the one I remember seeing ages ago with Belle & Sebastian's "We Are the Sleepyheads" on it, unless they swapped out the music or something.
Best Worst Movie comes packaged in a neon green keepcase, and the cover showcases some gorgeous art by Alamo Drafthouse mainstay Tyler Stout.
The Final Word
It's easy to look at Best Worst Movie as that Troll 2 documentary, but this isn't some routine making-of doc...leftovers from a special edition DVD or whatever. This is very much a film in its own right, complete with characters and arcs and everything. It's the story of two men who set out to achieve their dreams -- one who'd wanted to be an actor his entire life and finally scored what looked to be his big break, and the other a director hoping to rebound from some stinging financial disasters -- and wound up making what's widely recognized as the worst movie ever made. Eventually, though, its tiny cult following grows and grows, and George Hardy and Claudio Fragasso are thrust into a spotlight they never thought they'd see. The film is ultimately about how they deal with being adored for making something that's inept on just about every level, and Best Worst Movie shows how this experience changes them. You don't have to have seen Troll 2 beforehand to appreciate Best Worst Movie, and the next time I introduce someone to the awe and wonder of Troll 2, I think I'm going to lead with this documentary first.
Best Worst Movie took a while to find its way to DVD, but...y'know, they needed some time for some things to happen. This release definitely makes it worth the wait, serving up three hours of pretty spectacular extras. Heat up some popcorn, slap together a double-decker bologna sandwich, and bask in the glory. Highly Recommended.