Film tells the story of the cult of 'Troll 2'
By Doug Gibson
By Doug Gibson
This review originally appeared in the Aug. 11, 2009 Standard-Examiner.
There is a scene in "Best Worst Movie," Utah native Michael Stephenson's film homage to "Troll 2," the movie that haunted his youth, where a young Los Angeles woman explains that you can't understand how remarkable "Troll 2" is with only a recap of the plot.
If you tell someone that it's about a family that goes on vacation and battles human-eating vegetarian goblins, they won't get it, she says. They must experience it, she insists.
She nails it. For those who love a cult film, telling others why it's so great can make us feel like a Mormon missionary in West Hollywood -- they give us a hostile, guarded, "no" look. But when we finally find that rare investigator who watches the film, feels what we do, and becomes a convert, it's just like the angels are singing!
"Troll 2," filmed mostly in Morgan County about 20 years ago with an Italian crew and novice actors, created no buzz. Unreleased in the U.S. and quickly shelved to video, its biggest impact was the long-term embarrassment it brought stars Stephenson, who played a young boy, Connie Young, who played his teenage sister, and George Hardy, who played their dad.
Its director was Claudio Fragasso, a gore-helmer more comfortable directing blood 'n guts zombie films in Europe. Its screenwriter, Rossella Drudi, candidly admits her script is a polemic against vegetarianism. Its bizarre, fractured plot, blended with poor acting, silly costumes and jaw-dropping dialogue, make it an '80s big-hair mix of "Rocky Horror Picture Show" and "Plan 9 From Outer Space."
How could this film not find a cult? And sure enough, "line upon line, precept upon precept," "Troll 2" started gaining converts. The film has played to sold-out crowds across the nation. "Nilbog Invasion," last year's pilgrimage to Morgan, was nirvana for fans.
Back to "Best Worst Movie," which plays this weekend at the Salt Lake City Film Festival. It's that rare treatise of a cult film that can appeal both to cultists and the uninitiated. Stephenson's direction is superb. He mixes scenes well. Transitions are smooth and no scene lingers too long. "Best Worst Movie" is not static, a fault that mars documentaries about another great cult film, "Plan 9 From Outer Space."
"Best Worst Movie" belongs to star Hardy. Stephenson centers his film around the Alabama dentist, who for almost two decades regularly fields the question, "Didn't I see you in a movie?" You can't help but like the charismatic Hardy, with his upbeat persona, smile and big laugh. He seems bewildered, yet delighted, with his film's postponed success. The scenes of Hardy's quiet life in Alexander City, Ala., are very interesting. The viewer will enjoy watching Hardy and Stephenson mingle with fans and encourage other "Troll 2" participants to join the screenings and talk about the film and their lives.
And therein lies a reason Stephenson's film appeals to all viewers. Save for director Fragasso, most agree the film is a turkey. They're just grateful that there was some element in its awfulness that turned it into a cult film. Fragasso also fascinates. He's a complex subject. He's a gracious, upbeat showman most of the time, but Stephenson manages to capture his anger and bitterness when he hears the cast mocking the film or audiences laughing at scenes he directed as serious drama.
Cast and crew provide more human interest. Robert Ormsby, "Grandpa Seth" in "Troll 2," freely admits that he's "frittered his life away." There's the semi-disturbing scenes of "Troll 2" star Margo Prey (mom in the film) being visited by Hardy and Stephenson. Prey lives a reclusive life tending to her aged mom. Calling Prey very eccentric is likely an understatement.
"Troll 2" stars Young and Darren Ewing are still working actors. Their reactions to the cult of "Troll 2" provide interesting contrasts. Young, although a good sport, admits she's not a convert and is bewildered by the cult enthusiasm. Ewing, however, embraces the Warholesque "fame" and accompanies Hardy to fan festivals in Europe and Texas.
The festivals are a bust, though, and Hardy admits he's getting tired of the "Troll 2" notoriety. Just before the film ends, he tallies his personal and professional life as far bigger accomplishments than his 15 minutes of "Troll 2" fame.
He's then asked if he would star in a "Troll 2" sequel Fragasso and Drudi are preparing.
If you want to know the answer, go see the movie.
Here is a link to the "Best Worst Movie" Web site: http://bestworstmovie.com/