The ‘Best Worst Movie’ Raises the Debatable Question: What Makes a Bad Movie ‘Bad’?

There’s a general consensus among critics and cinephiles about what makes a film great: a classic story, unmatched acting, high emotional stakes, and visionary direction. It’s much trickier, however, to identify what separates your standard bad movie from a one-of-a-kind failure. One of these awful classics was Troll 2, which maintains a zero percent rating on the Tomatometer from critics. Originally released straight to video in 1990, this bizarre horror film has undergone a cult revival in recent years. Groups of devotees hold annual parties to marvel collectively at how any movie could be so ridiculously bad.

Mark Stephenson starred as the young boy Joshua Waits, who travels with his family to the town of Nilbog (Goblin spelled backwards!) for vacation. Predictably, all is not as it seems and the town is infested with vegetarian goblins. Twenty years later, Stephenson has filmed Best Worst Movie, a wonderful documentary that explores the phenomena and depicts where the participants are today. The remarkable story draws sharp emotional truths from the cast and crew’s lives that transcend the original movie. It also includes plenty of hilarious clips from the original film that seem even more outrageous when taken out of the context of the complete story.

This story’s primary figure is George Hardy, who starred as Joshua’s father Michael in the original movie. Now working as a dentist in small-town Alabama, he is both embarrassed and thrilled by the attention. Hardy is a likable normal guy with a strong resemblance to Craig T. Nelson, which makes him an odd choice for dealing with the cult fanatics. However, it’s clear that he enjoys the spotlight and even considers entering the acting ring again based on this experience. Uttering such ridiculous lines as “You can’t piss on hospitality! I won’t allow it!” might not be the ticket to stardom, but Hardy is a good sport when mocking the bizarre dialogue.

On the other hand, Italian director Claudio Fragrasso truly believes he created a work of art, and it’s just taken audiences a long time to realize it. His delusions about his creation are shared by his co-writer and the director of photography, who don’t understand (or just refuse to admit) the material is terrible. Fragrasso grows angry when audiences laugh at the serious parts and blames the actors for any issues. Watching him pace angrily through the audience while the actors discuss the picture in a Q&A is an unsettling experience. Fragrasso means well and is sympathetic but doesn’t realize how ridiculous the dialogue sounds. He knew limited English at the time, and this certainly played a role in the bizarre final product.

Stephenson gives all the actors a chance to recall their experiences making the film and current feelings about the phenomena. Most seem to embrace the cult status, though a few like Connie Young (who’s still acting) are obviously a bit hesitant. They generally seem thrilled to discuss the bewildering production and interactions with the Italians. An exception is Margo Prey, who played Joshua’s mom, Diana. When she’s finally located by Stephenson and Hardy, the experience is very awkward. Wearing loads of makeup and appearing to lack a solid connection with reality, Prey offers a truly sad image. She claims to be returning to acting, but a mental break has occurred sometime in the past.

Best Worst Movie’s second half goes beyond the film’s silly reception and delves into less hopeful territory. The moments at Prey’s house are truly unsettling and contrast sharply from the others’ generally positive situations. Hearing Robert Ornsby (Grandpa Seth) discuss how he’s wasted his life is also a heartbreaking moment. Even the cheerful Hardy has a few moments that reveal the limits of his newfound fame. Speaking at a memorabilia show in London, his audience includes only a few stragglers. Even a popular horror convention — which seems perfect for Troll 2 — brings only a passing interest. Watching Hardy scramble to get attention contrasts sharply with the enthusiastic reception from the screenings. Stephenson doesn’t overdo the effect and lets the scenes play out, which makes them more effective.

This DVD is designed for Troll 2 fans and includes a large amount of extra footage and fan-produced videos. We learn engaging details about the supporting players, which leads to both sad and light-hearted moments. The “body builder poet” Mike Hamill reveals the trailer for his movie Reflections in the Mud, which looks utterly ridiculous. The trailer resembles one of those films you’d hazily catch on cable TV at 3AM and wonder if you’re still awake. The best extra is a one-minute PSA from Hardy reminding theatergoers to turn off their cell phones. Incorporating his famous line while he runs through the backstage area, it’s clever and silly. Another entry shows more from the convention mess, including Hardy encountering wrestler Diamond Dallas Page after he had a tooth accident.

Best Worst Movie ranks among small, classic documentaries like King of Kong that offer both great entertainment and serious heart. I have not seen Troll 2, but that fact did not take away from my interest. If you haven’t watched the original movie, I’d suggest preparing a double feature to learn about the participants after seeing the craziness. Invite a few friends for this event, and they almost certainly won’t lose interest throughout this sharp documentary.

RATING 8 / 10