If you thought the subject of last week’s column — 1953’s Invaders from Mars — was a little on the lowbrow side, wait ’till you get a load of Best Worst Movie, a new documentary opening Friday June 4 at the Shattuck Cinemas. It’s the fascinating, hilarious and occasionally bittersweet tale of the production, release, and ancillary afterlife of what’s widely considered to be one of the worst cinema atrocities of all time, Troll 2.
A horror-fantasy film shot by an Italian crew, Troll 2 was produced in Utah with a cast of amateur American up-and-comers. The film takes place in the fictional small town of Nilbog, where the locals have fallen victim to an army of goblins (spelled backwards…) who are turning their human slaves into edible vegetation.
Though never shown theatrically until recently, Troll 2 became a cult classic thanks to repeated airings on cable and a wide home video release. Best Worst Movie explains the phenomenon, with particular focus on star George Hardy, the Alabama dentist who headlines the film as Michael, patriarch of the goblin-threatened Waits family.
Hardy is a perpetually cheery fellow (this film could just as easily be titled World’s Happiest Dentist) who’s now a minor celebrity thanks to Troll 2’s rabid fan-base, and Best Worst Movie follows him as he travels from his small hometown of Alexander City to Austin, Los Angeles, and elsewhere for fan gatherings and screenings. Always smiling and laughing—even during a dispiriting trip to England, where Troll 2 mania has inexplicably failed to take off — Hardy makes it quite clear that he’d sign on the dotted line for Troll 3 in a heartbeat.
But it’s not all sweetness and light in the Troll 2 family. Interviews with director Claudio Fragasso (a frequent collaborator with Italian schlockmeister Bruno Mattei) make it clear that he thinks he made a damn good movie; scenes of him arguing with cast members at fan gatherings make it equally clear he doesn’t appreciate Troll 2 being treated as a joke.
Screenwriter and significant other Rossella Drudi insists she wrote the film as a serious riposte to vegetarianism, bit player Don Packard relates how he shot his scenes while on temporary release from a mental institution, co-star Margo Prey seems to exist on another plane of existence (if not another planet), and professional thespian Connie Young (nee McFarland) still won’t cop to producers that her career began with this film.
Familiarity with Troll 2 (which, by the way, is completely unrelated to its shot-in-Italy predecessor Troll) is helpful but not essential in order to enjoy Best Worst Movie. Chances are if you’ve ever attended a midnight movie you’ll immediately recognize the appeal of this documentary; if not, your sense of camp (or lack thereof) will dictate whether or not this is the film for you.
For those who’d like to meet Dr. Hardy, he’ll be attending select Shattuck Cinema screenings of Best Worst Movie on Saturday June 12 (the film will also be double-billed with Troll 2 at San Francisco’s Lumiere Theatre on Friday June 11).
For everyone else, I promise something a little more highbrow in next week’s column.