When I was a kid, I discovered horror films and loved them all -- whether they were good or bad, black and white or garishly colored, muddily shot or poorly conceived. No idea was so terrible that I couldn't watch it. Seeing the many ways someone can rethink the familiar tropes whets the interest of the true horror fan.
In 1989, several unwitting Utah actors starred in the almost-undisputed worst movie in genre history: Troll 2. Directed by Claudio Fragasso under the pseudonym Drake Floyd, the 1990 horror film, Troll 2, was known as Goblin during production but, upon its U.S. release, the title was changed in an attempt to cash in on the more established horror flick. Despite the title, no actual trolls appear in this one.
The plot revolves around the Waits family, who are taking a trip to visit a small town called "Nilbog" (goblin spelled backwards), but are plunged into a nightmare as they are relentlessly pursued by vegetarian goblins, who turn people into plants in order to eat them.
Most of the cast, such as George Hardy (as the father), Michael Stephenson (as the son), Margo Prey, Connie Young (credited under McFarland) and Jason F. Wright, subsequently sought anonymity upon its release -- until now.
Two decades later, the film's child star, Stephenson, makes a documentary about the film's improbable revival as a so-bad-it's-great cult fave. The result, Best Worst Movie, unravels the heartfelt tale of the Alabama dentist-turned-underground movie icon Hardy and this Italian filmmaker Fragasso, who has yet to come to terms with his legendarily inept, internationally revered cinematic failure.
Best Worst Movie begs the viewer to wax philosophical on what it means to make a bad horror film -- or a good bad one -- that was created without guile or irony, yet that finds a new audience once the irony-tinted glasses come on.
For a long time, a lot of young filmmaker wanna-bes were lost in the swamp of Hollywood movie hell. But thanks to the down-and-dirty genre of horror, and totally trashy indie flicks like Troll 2, fascinating docs such as Best Worst Movie get made, get their boost and connect with a substantial public.
Q: You realize, this movie is a permutation on a permutation on a permutation...
MS: Yes, I do.
MS: Actors who couldn't act, all [shot] in small-town Utah, around a plot that involves vegetarian goblins attempting to turn my family into plants so they can eat us.
Q: That has to be one of the most outlandish horror film premises. Then, of course, the lead actor is a dentist in real life.
GH: I was a practicing dentist before I was an actor. It takes on this whole weird life of its own for this film. I was actually thinking about going to that event [a screening of the original movie] when it was in New York. I'm a horror fan from word go. So it's like, how do you put it all together? Do you sit there and marvel?
MS: As clichéd as it all sounds, it's just meant to be. It's weird because when I look back four years ago and until I had the idea for the documentary, up until that point, I wanted nothing to do with Troll 2. I was too cool. I was embarrassed by the film. And it never went away.
I actually continued in my life to pursue areas within the industry like everybody else does; writing scripts, auditioning; I was sending out head shots, resumes and all that sort of stuff.
Then, all of a sudden, fans started contacting me on MySpace with these messages out of the blue. This was before the resurgence, and I remember just waking up one morning -- I'll never forget this -- and staring at the ceiling having this crazy kind of warm feeling, just smiling ear to ear and thinking, "Wait a minute, I'm the child star of the worst movie ever made; there's a story here."
All of a sudden it was like, this is perfect for a first film, something that's so personal and accessible to me. It became this compulsion, and I kept thinking, "What does Claudio think about this film being loved because it's awful?"
It also felt like there was this critical mass, like it was building, and I kept thinking about this guy doing dentistry while we were filming the movie.
Q: Oh, you had appointments in the middle of the movie?
GH: Oh yeah.
Q: You didn't take off a week or anything?
GH: No, no, no -- I was practicing and had to go back and forth.
Q: And after the film, did you stay in touch with anyone from it?
GH: No one.
Q: So you get this phone call -- can you recreate the moment that's in the film?
MS: It really started with the fans. There was a fan in Utah -- this wasn't in the film -- who had organized this small cast members' screening in Utah, and George went to that. I didn't actually end up going to that screening. Then a couple of weeks later, we were on the phone for the first time since working together 20 years ago.
For me, it was one of these moments that I'll cherish because from the very first word I could feel the love for life that this guy has, and we were sharing experiences. He had notes on MySpace; I had notes on MySpace; we started talking to other cast members. And then, the next thing I know, there was a New York City screening and that was the very first screening I filmed. And that was the very first screening I went to.
I actually remember going to it and being terrified. I didn't know what to expect. I really thought, "Are people going to laugh at us? Are they going to throw tomatoes at us? Are they going to boo and say, "You guys suck"?
I really thought the worst, and the only reason I went was that I had a camera in hand and was making this film. I thought, "This may never happen again; here's the first time that cast members and fans are going to be in New York."
Q: Do you have big posters or anything on the walls in your office now?
Q: Obviously you aren't apologetic about it, but aren't you exploiting it?
GH: I've thought about that and thought I should be documenting this whole thing that's happening to us now, because I do have in my garage that the theater department at Auburn University did a Troll 2 party.
MS: He's had people drive for hours to go to his dentistry practice.
GH: Just because they're Troll 2 fans.
MS: You can buy Troll 2 in his office.
Q: You should be selling this movie in your office.
GH: Well I will once it comes out. But I thought, I haven't even gotten the movie poster yet, Michael, I need to get the Best Worst Movie poster that's just come out. Have you seen it? It's beautiful. You've got to see the poster.
Q: The other irony of it is of course the trolls, or the goblins, whatever you want to call them, have the worst teeth possible. Has anybody ever pointed this out to you?
GH: Oh yeah, all the time.
Q: Have you had this fantasy moment where you improve their teeth?
GH: Hopefully when the DVD comes out we'll have some incredible outtakes. The bottom line is I think we've even got that documented.
MS: There's a scene that will be a DVD extra, I'm sure, but the witch from Troll 2 ended up having a last-minute dentistry need while we were in Utah for that last event, and she called George and asked to get his advice, and he basically said, "I'll take care of you right now. Let's go down to the office."
He called the dentistry office. He ended up doing dentistry on the witch's tooth in the same office that he practiced in 20 years ago. It was really surreal. And I travel with this guy everywhere and his first impression is, "Man, that guy has got good teeth."
Q: I need work on them.
GH: Come to Alabama.
MS: This is so telling of who he is. At the horror convention, when nobody cares about Troll 2 and there's that down-note in the movie, and George is in his darkest hour, the worst thing he can say about somebody is they don't floss their teeth or that they have gingivitis.
Q: Then you bring in the Italian director, and he really doesn't quite see it for what it is. Is it just language issues?
MS: Have you ever thought that maybe we just don't get Troll 2? It's funny because I'll tell you, this whole experience has messed me up so bad that I can't say that Troll 2 is a bad film. Think of how many films you watch and you're bored to tears, even films that have far greater resources and are forgettable the instant they're made.
You have a film like Troll 2 or even Plan 9 from Outer Space or some of these bad movies that were made with such sincerity and are so genuine. Twenty years later they're still making impressions on people; you can't pay for that.
Even though it fails fundamentally - acting, writing, directing - I mean horribly, abysmally, just awful in every possible way -- it was a cinematic car crash -- but the level of heart that it has!
Q: What happened with the one actress that you had to track down? What has happened with her since?
MS: Margo. Nothing really. She's a shut-in. It's complicated with her. I should say that when I started making this film and as it continued to progress, Troll 2 kept resonating with me, both on this triumphant and tragic level.
As we started seeing some of the other side and who these people were and actually seeing the human element connected with the worst movie ever made, it had its ups and downs.
Q: I'm still not sure if it was the worst movie ever made or not.
MS: No. And I would say it's not. For me I found Margo very likable. Her experience with Troll 2 wasn't that much further from Claudio's, and there was a sense of tragedy to it. But when we showed up it was like the bright spot in her year; she was so happy to talk about Troll 2.
A shut-in, she takes care of her mom, she's very... She doesn't want pity. And even though her experience of Troll 2 is far different than what most people would say is normal, it's still her experience with the film.
Q: What was Claudio doing between the time when he made the film in '89 and when you got back in touch? What's he doing since?
MS: He saw the documentary and wrote in an email, "It's beautiful. I love it." I talked to him just a couple of days ago; I still talk to him. He's written Troll 2 Part 2. It's crazy because he continues to get movies made time and time again.
If you think how difficult that is, just think how difficult it would have been for him to make Troll 2, work with actors who couldn't act in small-town Utah; he got it made and still it's having an impression on people. So he continues to make films.
Q: Darren -- who played Arnold -- is closest to the acting world, how's he doing?
MS: He's good. He's living in Utah.
GH: And works for the Salt Lake City Tribune.
MS: Still going on auditions, a beautiful family; he's happy. He's actually been one of the guys from the beginning that has been really along for the ride and having a lot of fun with it.
Q: How many of the people involved were Mormons?
MS: I'm Mormon. There were a few of us. As far as in Troll 2, I want to say the majority. I am a practicing Mormon, that's my belief. Generally speaking, there are a lot of misconceptions with every religion until you actually understand it. We don't have 10 wives and all that other nonsense.
Though Troll 2 has no direct connection to Mormonism, most of the people that were in the film were Mormons, and with Troll 2 being a horror film there's still a very family-friendly innocence to it.
Q: It's in this area of, If it wasn't made to be art, can it be art in some way? Or if it's art that's made to be bad art; does that make it good art?
MS: When you make art you're never thinking about the end result. It becomes something different than what you started out to make. I know this sounds pretentious, but how many people look at art and one person says "That's amazing. I see so much in it," and another person says "That's crap. I could do that."
It's wild; I've seen Troll 2 in so many environments where people create friendships that will last a lifetime from the singular experience of watching Troll 2 together. And even though it was not meant to be what it is, it doesn't take away from what it's become.
Q: Have you been to horror or science fiction conventions as opposed to these slightly tongue-in-cheek fan events? The fan world that appreciates your film about a bad horror movie is one thing, but of course, we're in a universe where we give support to people making horror films even if they're bad. Independent filmmaking comes out of horror films.
MS: In the film there's the horror convention that we go to and even amongst the horror fans...
Q: Where theoretically they embrace horror film, good, bad or ugly...
MS: They were more interested in Nightmare on Elm Street 5. It takes a very certain type of person to like Troll 2. Even in the UK, that audience wasn't the Troll 2 audience. The Troll 2 audience that might have been the original audience, they like any bad horror film. Then there's the Troll 2 audience which approaches it with that degree of irony that you use maybe when seeing say, The Rocky Horror Show, which actually was a good film.
MS: You have the Troll 2 audience that will go to their graves saying it is not a bad movie. That's the thing; bad is completely relative. What do we go to movies for? To have an experience. So whatever experience that person has with that film is personal, it's theirs.
Who's to say my experience with the movie should be the same as somebody else's? And something I've really learned about guilty pleasures; guilty pleasures I don't know if I believe in. You either enjoy it or you don't, and, if you enjoy it, why are you too scared to admit you enjoy it?
Q: I'm not sure how much I liked Troll 2 itself, but I love the documentary.
GH: It's just all about laughter, that's what it is. It's about relationships and laughter, and that's the way I've looked at this whole thing.
Q: How do you view all of this? You've just been living your normal life, but you're really enjoying it.
GH: Oh I'm enjoying it. What I'm enjoying is the sense of humor; that's what I've enjoyed more than anything else -- and many of the fans and just being around this whole resurgence of Troll 2 and making the documentary, there's just so much laughter. I just find that's what I love about it.
In this time of recession and all this bipartisan, Republican, Democrat, Independent, Tea Party deal or whatever, with the terrorism and real estate prices dropping, and empty buildings here in New York City, people are laughing when they come to see Best Worst Movie.
There are 150 belly-ache laughs in Best Worst Movie and the same thing in Troll 2. I mean my gosh, what's wrong with laughing and having fun? So I've embraced that part about it.
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