Sometimes the least-likely subjects make for the most engrossing documentaries.
Best Worst Movie, directed by Michael Stephenson and opening exclusively today at the Inwood in Dallas (featured interviewee George Hardy will appear for both screenings tonight), is warm, funny, insightful, affectionate, touching, and self-aware. Did I mention insightful? Stephenson, who played the child hero in 1990’s Troll 2, popularly known as ‘the worst movie ever made,’ knows the movie is terrible. What’s more, he realizes now that his dreams of movie stardom were, at best, incredibly uninformed. But, most important, he has a sense of humor about the whole thing, and that’s allowed him to grow up and make one of the best films of the year.
George Hardy, who played Stephenson’s father in Troll 2, is the undeniable star of the picture. That’s owing as much to his magnetic personality as to his willingness to open up to Stephenson about his life before, during, and after the movie. Hardy, a small town dentist, harbored his own dreams of stardom, and felt he was pretty darn good in the movie. The young Stephenson thought he was great! The two formed an intimate friendship, and as Stephenson has grown to adulthood, he has obviously maintained a deep personal respect for Hardy.
Hardy is an engaging personality, a dentist who knows how to put his nervous patients at ease, and a popular figure locally, where everyone knows everyone. But in the 20 years since the release of Troll 2, he has remained ignorant of the film’s growing cult appeal, an ignorance that I shared. I knew that certain friends had insisted that the film must be seen to be believed, but had no idea about the sold-out midnight screenings, regular and repeated gatherings in private homes to talk along with the movie, fan sites, music videos, and more. Stephenson talks with many of the film’s “fans,” including critics, seasoned industry professionals, and ordinary citizens, who have spread the word with glee and great appreciation for the depths of awfulness that show up on screen.
No one intelligent sets out to make a bad movie, of course — and when they do, the results are not worth watching or discussing — and that was true with the people behind Troll 2 as well. Everyone, from the Italian director, who has only a nominal understanding of English, and screenwriter, his paramour, who maybe knows a smidge more English than him, on down to the non-professional day players and oft-bewildered crew, did the very best that they could to make a low-budget horror movie. The fact that they tried and failed is what makes Troll 2 so endearingly funny; it’s awful, but it’s not like they had the resources to do very much better than they did.
That endearing quality is shared by the documentary. Stephenson and Hardy are always ready to laugh at themselves, yet there’s a wistful, what if element in play as well, as in, ‘Gee, what if I had a genuine opportunity to shine in a decent movie that everyone saw and loved?’
‘Twas not to be for Stephenson, Hardy, and the rest of the cast, but they share fond memories as they reunite in Utah, where Troll 2 was filmed, to reminisce about the experience. Then they watch the movie together with a devoted audience, whose laughter at first delights the Italian director, who somehow is under the delusion that he made an unappreciated masterpiece. His delight with the turnout transforms into a bitter sadness when he realizes they are laughing at him and the movie, not with him.
Uproariously funny, Best Worst Movie is not afraid of the more poignant moments that develop unexpectedly. Don’t miss this movie.
[Best Worst Movie opens today exclusively at the Inwood in Dallas. More information is available at the film’s official site.]