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Revisiting Best Worst Movie & The Cult of Appreciation for Bad Movies

Posted on the 01 February 2018 by Weminoredinfilm.com @WeMinoredInFilm

In the wake of The Disaster Artist, the documentary Best Worst Movie, which was recently added to Amazon Prime, deserves a second look.

Before Birdemic, The Room, and any number of other crimes against cinema, there was Troll 2, a Troll sequel that is neither a real sequel nor does it even feature any trolls. It's a film that has been alternately described as what would happen if aliens tried to make a movie about humanity based on garbled TV signals set out into space and/or the work of semi-competent filmmakers who'd suffered a severe knock to the head right before every scene. Filmed in Utah by an Italian crew that didn't speak any English and featuring a group of amateur actors trying their best despite having no idea what was going on, Troll 2 came out on VHS in 1990 and somehow found its way to a decade of steady rotation on cable and HBO. In 2009, one of the actors (in fact, the main star, Michael Stephenson) from the film made Best Worst Movie, a fascinating/depressing/hilarious documentary about the production of Troll 2 and what's become of everyone in the years since.

At the time Best Worst Movie was made Troll 2 was undergoing a resurgence in popularity, the kind of popularity which would soon transfer to The Room. As such, it remains a vital insight into the so bad, it's good phenomenon, both from a fan and filmmaker's perspective.

Let's back up.

Revisiting Best Worst Movie & The Cult of Appreciation for Bad Movies

In truth, my earliest memory of watching movies just to mock them is [and don't judge me here] from an old Wings episode [okay; you can judge me if you want]. Steven Weber's Brian stages something he calls "Samurai Theater," which mostly entails renting old black & white Samurai movies, turning the sound completely off and improvising dialogue over the images on the screen, like some kind of ancestor to YouTube's current beloved bad lip reading videos.

Revisiting Best Worst Movie & The Cult of Appreciation for Bad Movies
Revisiting Best Worst Movie & The Cult of Appreciation for Bad Movies

Much like a young Bart Simpson once said upon seeing Krusty the Clown for the first time, my reaction to this was mostly, "Brian funny."

Little did I know that in all likelihood whoever wrote that episode was probably a fan of something called Mystery Science Theater 3000, which had been airing for three seasons at that point and took the inkling of Brian's "Samurai Theater" idea and elevated it into a more fully realized art form, cleverly mocking instead of simply substituting dialogue. My MST3K indoctrination didn't come until much later, long after the show had left the air. Even then, I initially struggled to see the artistry or entertainment in watching people watch bad movies to riff over them.

Revisiting Best Worst Movie & The Cult of Appreciation for Bad Movies

Then I saw Best Worst Movie shortly after it came out. Suddenly, I finally understood the so bad, it's good people of the world who take possibly more pleasure in celebrating the trash heaps of cinema than elevating what's more conventionally thought of as "good." Like so much else with film fandom, it comes down to the communal experience and shared sensibilities amongst friends (and sometimes strangers). One by one, the interviewed Troll 2 superfans all recount cherished memories of discovering the film with friends, often times when they were young. It morphed from a bad movie into a childhood touchstone and seeped into their everyday vernacular and created years upon years of in-jokes as well as bonding experiences with new friends along the way, especially into college.

But it's not for everyone. An especially illuminating moment in the documentary comes during an annual Los Angeles watch party as we simply observe as a fast-talking Troll 2 superfan tries to prepare a Troll 2 newbie for just what to expect, only for her to politely replies in a subtly "go away now" kind of voice. To describe a movie as bad as Troll 2 is to, indeed, sound like a crazy person. You kind of have to see it to understand:

As noted bad movie lover Edward Scimia says in his book So Bad, It's Good, "It takes a certain type of person to love a movie that's so bad, it's good. You have to be willing to accept a little bit of pain along with your pleasure. You need to find beauty in terrible line reads, lazy writing, and cheesy special effects."

Best Worst Movie captures this trend in its internet infancy, which is enough on its own to make it fascinating, if already quickly dated (e.g., MySpace is referenced on more than one occasion, Stephenson's 2009 camerawork could have been captured at a higher quality on a simple 2018 iPhone). But what really elevates the documentary into the must-see category is the level of access Stephenson gains to his old castmates and director. Any fan could have made a Troll 2 documentary, but Stephenson's connection to the material clearly opened some doors and led to several deeply fascinating/horribly depressing interviews. Not everyone was in a great place or knew what to do with/fully understood Troll 2 's resurgent popularity. More than once, a cast member at one of the screenings observes, "This is so great and so, so weird."

Revisiting Best Worst Movie & The Cult of Appreciation for Bad Movies
Most notably, George Hardy, a Southern-voiced dentist who played the dad in Troll 2 on a whim, struggles to adjust back to his normal life after touring the world and being greeted like a rockstar at midnight screenings. The people of his Alabama town just don't get what's so special about Troll 2, and his ill-fated attempts to then hit the convention circuit showcases his lack of understanding of just how "cult" his cult classic really was. He goes from hearing thunderous applause to his ever recitation of his famous lines ("You can't piss on hospitality!") to absolute crickets, an early symbol of the limits of being internet famous.

    In the years since Best Worst Movie, Michael Stephenson made a second documentary, The American Scream, and a feature film for Netflix, the rather meh Bob Odenkirk black comedy Girlfriend's Day. George Hardy will actually reprise his Troll 2 character later this year in Goblin 2, a crowd-funded German horror (unofficial?) sequel.

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