Retro Review: BEST WORST MOVIE (2009){0}

One of the main (and corniest) reasons I love film festivals is this: We’re (pretty much) all there to acknowledge / admire / adore the art of cinema, and the love for the medium oozes out of every crack in the sidewalk found at Sundance, Toronto, SXSW, etc. But here’s the thing: 99.5% of the time, we’re there to celebrate GOOD cinema: Great performances, challenging stories, well-crafted narratives, powerful music, nifty effects, insightful themes, you name it, we’ll laud it. But then comes a fantastic little documentary called BEST WORST MOVIE, and we’re reminded that not ALL shared and communal film experiences are centered around QUALITY cinema.

Sometimes we just love watching the rottenest flicks imaginable .. but of course they have to be special. Just an average “BAD” film will not do.  Suffice to say that TROLL 2 is, quite literally, one of the most awesomely inept films you’ll ever see; easily bad enough to warrant its very own documentary film.

Michael Stephenson, you see, was ten years old when he appeared in Claudio Fragasso’s Troll 2 back in 1989 — and he spent most of the next two decades trying desperately to forget the experience. (Imagine you’re being HAUNTED by one measly movie you made when you were 10! Seems a little unfair…) One could spend days cataloging everything that’s wonderfully WRONG with Troll 2, but that’s not really what Mr. Stephenson is interested in these days.

What does seem to interest Michael Stephenson is the undeniable fact that, despite its sheer, keening awfulness, Troll 2 has become as bona-fide a cult hit as Xanadu, Plan 9 from Outer Space, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. To watch Troll 2 in a packed theater (which I was lucky enough to do a few years ago) is a singular experience … but Best Worst Movie does a fantastic job of dissecting all the lunacy.

Whether you’re a Troll 2 expert or just a person who enjoys films, there’s no doubt you’ll find a lot to enjoy in Best Worst Movie. Sure, the documentary is peppered with astonishing clips from the film, and it becomes instantly evident how bad the film is, but BWM goes a whole lot farther than simply “Hey, let’s mock a rotten flick for 90 minutes.”

Our main character is the effortlessly charming George Hardy, who is an excellent small-town dentist … who also starred in a hellaciously bad movie a long time back. Stepehenson cannily makes Mr. Hardy our “focal point” for the film, which allows both newcomers and seasoned Troll 2 freaks to enjoy the story from the beginning.

And then it’s off on a colorfully satisfying road trip in which Michael and George bop all over the country, showing Troll 2 to howling crowds and meeting all sorts of unexpected fans. We’re also treated to the “critical” side of the equation: Theater managers, critics, and movie enthusiasts who sponsor and organize their own Troll 2 events. But the best parts of Best Worst Movie are what lay just beneath the surface: Anecdotes about the fleeting nature of fame, the fickle nature of filmmaking, and the undeniable appeal of simply being LIKED. George Hardy, for example, may have given an overripe performance in a very bad film, but he makes for a smoothly engaging documentary subject all the same.

Film fans will most likely appreciate the cinematic subtext: That of course people are always drawn together by movies, but do the movies at hand always have to be GOOD ones? (Clearly the answer is no.) For the enthusiasts who’ve always wondered what happens to those B-movie “one-shot” actors, Best Worst Movie offers several good answers. And (here’s my favorite), the flick works as a fantastic deconstruction of how a film actually EARNS its “cult fave” status. Watch Troll 2 just once and you’ll know WHY certain folks (like me) really love it, but watch Best Worst Movie and you’ll see HOW people love it.

And then you’ll be one of the Nilbog Gang, which is always a good thing to be.
(Oh, and here’s a special disclosure: I actually appear in the film for about 5 seconds. I was interviewed on WHY I think people love crap movies. So if you think my enthusiasm for Best Worst Movie stems from the fact that I’m in it, well that’s just nutty. I love this movie. I barely even LIKE myself.)