Monday, December 6, 2010

Best Worst Movie

Having finally gotten the chance to see (most of) the films of Ed Wood last week, I can confirm that, while delightfully incompetent, he is hardly deserving of his title of Worst Director of All Time. For just one example of a director that’s proven a consistent ability to make movies much worse than anything Wood could imagine, I can turn to the films of Claudio Fragasso, director of such films as Hell of the Living Dead, Rats: Night of Terror, and Troll 2, the latter of which is the subject of this documentary.

As I write this, Troll 2 is ranked at #59 on IMDB’s Bottom 100 (or the 100 worst movies ever made), though the film managed to capture a screenshot from when it was solidly ranked #1, so its stock has clearly risen due to this documentary. Regardless, it’s an utter mess of a horror movie, featuring vegetarian goblins (no, the monsters in it aren’t actually trolls), a beyond incomprehensible plot, and acting bad enough that one has to assume Fragasso had just grabbed his friends and only let them do one take per scene (possibly the best line of the entire documentary, by the way, was this gem from Fragasso: “Troll 2 is a film that examines many serious and important issues like eating, living, and dying…People want to eat this family”).

While I’ve certainly seen worse, it’s a solid enough choice for people to rally around as the worst of all time (the real worst ones of all time, movies like The Expedition or Sabbath, are better off having never been discovered at all), and Best Worst Movie does a good job at both capturing the cult following that sometimes surrounds films like this and examining the lives of people that made a completely rubbish movie back in 1990. The most held together, and therefore fun to watch, is George Hardy, a charming dentist who played the father in the movie, who recounts how his friends started calling him up after Troll 2 started playing occasionally on HBO, and who teases his teenage daughter about how he just signed up for Myspace and already has more friends and comments than she has on her page. Unfortunately, writer/director (as well as Troll 2 child actor) Michael Stephenson seems to have been a little too charmed by him, so we occasionally get to sit through him laughing and retelling the same stories of the film to various people he meets, and if there’s one thing I’m sure we all love, it’s an old guy telling the same three or four favorite stories of his over and over again (though by the end of the film even he‘s sick of telling them).

Being a documentary about an old movie, it obviously doesn’t have the tightest narrative possible. We get all the interviews with the old cast members (like Connie Young, who played the daughter, who described both how embarrassed she felt when the film first appeared on HBO and she got to watch her performance for the first time, and how much more embarrassed she was when she made the mistake of reading the comments on IMDB and read people trashing her performance), and the various midnight screenings at places like the Alamo Drafthouse complete with cast and crew appearing to bond with their fans, as well as the various convention appearances. It’s a combination of touching and sad, the touching from how many of their fans they get to meet and talk with, and the sad from when Hardy goes to a couple conventions where nobody has heard of the film. At the first he rather embarrassingly tries to drum up business by calling out to people that walk by and demanding to know if they’ve ever seen his film; at the second he’s a bit more sanguine about the problem and decides to attach himself to all the tables devoted to the cast members of the Nightmare on Elm Street films (going by how he can’t once say that name without tripping over it, I can only assume he’s had such a sheltered life that he’s never even heard of the films). Don’t worry, though, the awkwardness of that is soon dissolved when the cast appears at another convention to do a Q & A, only to have Fragasso heckle them all for not respecting how great of a movie he made.

As documentaries go, this is a fairly light and breezy one. It goes for moderate laughs, and moderate moments of tenderness, generally playing things much safer than the movie it’s about. Of course, while that approach means that we don’t get anything truly remarkable in this film, it does help keep it from having any real boring or lousy scenes, so you get a nice, enjoyable experience throughout. That’s more than can be said about Troll 2.

Rating: ***

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