Best Worst Movie is the populist doc to beat this year, following in the footsteps of last year’s Anvil! The Story of Anvil and summarily outdistancing that self-serving and unchallenging crowd-pleaser. It doesn’t hurt that Best Worst Movie was made two decades after Troll 2, one of the worst Z-grade horror movies you’re likely to see. That amount of time has given actor-turned-director Michael Stephenson and his fellow cast members the luxury of hindsight and made their post-production story all the more funny, tender, and engaging for it.
Best Worst Movie is about what happened when the cast of Claudio Fragasso’s notoriously inept fantasy-cum-kiddie flick discover that their movie has been embraced by a thriving cult audience and celebrated as an experience unto itself. During Best Worst Movie‘s first half, viewers are allowed to bask in the warm glow of diehard fans’ enjoyment of Troll 2. Even without having seen Fragasso’s abomination or its predecessor (Troll 2 has nothing narratively or even thematically to do with Troll), viewers of Best Worst Movie can get vicariously high off of the ebullience of the crazies Stephenson observes eagerly queuing up to see grandpa Seth dispense some more advice from beyond the grave or any of the handful of YouTube-friendly scenes of abysmal acting. After that, Stephenson focuses on the rise and fall of actor-turned-dentist George Hardy’s short-lived ambition to take advantage of his newfound D-grade celebrity. If the way-past-their-prime members of Anvil can move on from their semi-celebrity status with half the grace that Hardy does, they’ll be that much better off for it.
At its best, Best Worst Movie is a sharp celebration of the community that cult movies foster. This isn’t a movie about appreciating Troll 2‘s cult as being exceptional or outstanding in any way but, rather, showing viewers what fans and the actors see when they talk about their fixation of choice. Thankfully, by intercutting talking-head interviews from the crowds that line up to midnight screenings with lowlights from Troll 2, Stephenson invites the viewer to laugh with the film’s fans and not necessarily at their zealotry. This is the cult experience distilled, a process of coming together that cannot be manufactured. It materializes spontaneously for whatever reasons, and if you can get into whatever scene is at hand, the effect approaches cosmic proportions on a very intimate scale. You feel that kind of joyful appreciation firsthand in Best Worst Movie thanks to Stephenson’s thorough and even modestly artful direction and editing.
At the same time, Stephenson’s approach to some of his fellow cast members is more than a little bit exploitative. It’s very funny to watch egomaniac Claudio Fragasso eat his own petty words and be presented as the best Zero Mostel character that Zero Mostel never played. But it’s painful to watch shut-in Margo Prey, also known as the frail mother in Troll 2, callously made to look like as a batty cat lady that sacrificed her meager career to take care of her elderly mother. Equally manipulative is the way Stephenson portrays Robert Ormsby, who is especially memorable as Grandpa Seth, as a projection of what Hardy is afraid of becoming: a never-was that never allowed himself to pursue his dreams of stardom. Ormsby lives alone in Salt Lake City, has no children, and didn’t go on to have much of a career after Troll 2 because he refused to move to L.A. or New York. Comparing Ormsby to Hardy makes for a better story but it’s far from a fair treatment of any of the actors involved, especially not Prey (footage of her rambling incoherently about weird noises in the night is just flat-out ghoulish and verges on character assassination).
And yet, in light of where the story ends up, with all parties content to be remembered and not trying to capitalize any further on their nonexistent reputations (save for Fragasso, who now wants to make a sequel to Troll 2), Stephenson’s more reprehensible creative decisions are almost justifiable. It’s hard to blame Stephenson for doing whatever he thought he needed to in order to position his subjects’ lives into a narrative. He’s molded their post-Troll 2 lives into a very entertaining and almost incisive story about fringe stardom. With a little luck, it too will find its audience.
Best Worst Movie has, on DVD, the look of a scrappy underdog DIY documentary, which is to say the transfer probably isn't of utmost importance to the movie's fans. If anything, it looks more polished than the movie Troll 2 ever did on Hulu. (So too, for that matter, do the few clips of Troll 2 sprinkled throughout the movie.) I detected very little difference between the two audio options, but if the buyer wants to believe the 5.1 remix will place their ears inside the experience of sitting sourly alone inside a horror convention, live the dream.
Many of the deleted scenes and outtakes on this disc feel more like extended versions of scenes that exist in the movie itself. So much so I began to feel like I was watching the movie all over again. Which probably goes to show how limited the ground Best Worst Movie actually covers, or at least demonstrates how oppressively the American Movie-esque air of failure soaks the entire proceedings. (I intend that as a compliment.) Still, there are some hidden gems among the bonus clips, such as Don Packard, a clinically disturbed Troll 2 cast member, admitting that he hated all his co-stars because they were as happy as he wasn't, that he was fired from Macy's for being a pill, and that he intended to turn his colonoscopy pictures into a Christmas card. Or actor Mike Hamill talking about his unique combination of dramatic poetry recitation and bodybuilding (inadvertently drawing comparison to Tommy Wiseau). Or actor-cum-dentist George Hardy hamming his way through a harrowing, scenery-chewing tooth repair with one of his former co-stars. Or "Meat Noam Telnobody 2," which boasts the best version of the age-old "three-year-old boy lays eggs" scene I've ever seen in my life.
Best Worst Movie doesn't actually build much of an argument on behalf of Troll 2 eclipsing the reputations of Mommie Dearest, Xanadu, or even The Room, but it's made with genuine affection.