When eight-year-old Michael Stephenson went to work on Troll 2 in the summer of 1989, he and the rest of the cast and crew thought they were making something special. Little did they know that Troll 2 would go on to earn a 0% on Rotten Tomatoes and the title of the worst movie ever made. Surprisingly that didn’t stop people throughout the world from dressing up like goblins, munching on green food and turning what most describe as pure garbage into a cult phenomenon. Now, two decades later, Stephenson is revisiting Troll 2 to explore the heaps of fans who idolize what he once considered his biggest mistake in the amusing yet touching documentary Best Worst Movie.
In his mission to accept this mishap-turned-masterpiece and even appreciate its faults, Stephenson stays behind the camera most of the time, ceding the spotlight to his on-screen father George Hardy. Now a charismatic Alabama dentist, Hardy joins Stephenson on his cross-country trip documenting as many Troll 2 screenings, parties and acts of adoration as possible. Hardy is clearly shocked by the attendees’ enthusiasm, but never fails to indulge in their every request whether it’s to sign a Nilbog t-shirt or even recite his character’s hospitality speech.
Hardy is the primary face of the film, but Stephenson makes the film truly introspective by rounding up the entire cast to express their remorse and respond to the film’s unlikely success. Intertwining the gleeful screenings and parties with Troll 2’s cast finally opening up and accepting the film themselves, Stephenson approaches each actor’s situation with a hint of comedy but never belittles their sometimes severe situations. Upon hunting down the Troll 2 mother, Margo Prey, Stephenson and Hardy get a quick giggle out of the harsh "No Trespassing" sign on her lawn, but both are empathetic to the very eccentric Prey and her elderly mother. Then there’s Don Packard who played the Nilbog storeowner, and admits he shot Troll 2 while battling a mental illness and could only film on his days off at a local asylum. Stephenson never lets you forget that, at the time, nobody knew Troll 2 would attain cult status; it was a terrible movie that stained resumes and had the potential to ruin careers.
The most unusually passionate of the bunch is director Claudio Fragasso, the only person involved in the film who refuses to admit it's a bad movie. Fragasso takes his work very seriously and that’s never more evident than when the group returns to an old shooting location and recreates a few scenes. The actors mockingly recreate their past performances, while Fragasso is in the background insisting they take it seriously. He’s easily the most complex subject in the film, trying to laugh along with the others but clearly unable to concede and just make fun of his creation.
Halfway through the film Stephenson and Hardy's road trip expands to more general horror conventions, and the atmosphere changes drastically. Nobody wants a George Hardy T-shirt, an autograph or even to stop at their booth. Of course it’s sad to see Hardy and co. disappointed by the nearly nonexistent turnout, but this is the segment that puts the Troll 2 craze into perspective; it’s an underground phenomenon, not a widespread one and, in a way, that’s what makes it so special.
Whether you’ve never seen Troll 2, hated it or you fell in love with it, Best Worst Movie is a thoroughly entertaining documentary. Every movie has its fans, even the worst of the worst, but to see a film actually labeled the worst of all time do a complete turnaround and sell out theaters is an incredibly rare occurrence. The film delivers a well-rounded look at a remarkable turn of events without ever overdramatizing the actors’ despair or over glamorizing their fame. Most notable of all, Best Worst Movie makes you want to see this so-called worst movie.