Best Worst Movie (2009)

(On cable TV, August 2011) A documentary about the revival of Troll 2 as a cult movie favourite by its grown-up child actor Michael Stephenson, Best Worst Movie is most interesting when it touches upon the lives of actors twenty years later.  It wisely focuses on George Hardy, who shelved his acting ambitions to become a dentist and discovers to his surprise that the film has grown in popularity since its financially disastrous release.  Going from his quiet Midwestern life to the film festival circuit, Hardy acts as the audience’s stand-in as he discovers the peculiar nature of cult movie aficionados.  Best Worst Movie eventually ends up speaking to nearly every major contributor to Troll 2, showing us a bittersweet diversity of fates: From a New York Times bestselling author to a self-admitted failure, a reformed mental patient, a bitter delusional director and an actress whose hard life has left her unhinged from reality, the aftermath of a low-budget film proves fascinating to explore.  At a time where film geeks can learn nearly everything about a film after its release on DVD, Best Worst Movie takes the long view and asks where minor actors can be found twenty years after a disreputable low-budget effort.  (Some of them, still working in the industry, conveniently leave Troll 2 out of their resume.)  There’s a dramatic arc of sorts to the film as Hardy briefly flirts with the idea of a revived acting career, then hits a wall at two major conventions and realizes how little he has to regret as a successful member of his community.  A cult movie success doesn’t necessarily translate into broader horizons, and few seem to miss that point as completely as Troll 2 director Claudio Fragasso, who mistakes the trash-movie following for his earlier film as a repudiation of the critics’ savaging. (Admittedly, he may be self-consciously playing an Italian-director archetype here.)  Best Worst Movie is an entertaining, not-always-funny trip through the underworld of cinema; the so-bad-it’s-good upside-down universe of horror cult films, the not-so-triumphant aftermath of lives after “being in a movie” and the unsettling realization that most bad movies never get even an affectionate cult revival, but slink away from mind without a single trace in popular culture.  Despite the occasional laughs in Best Worst Movie, there’s enough in here to inspire sober reflection.  I suppose that a more dispassionate filmmaker may have been able to dig a bit deeper in the issues raised by Troll 2’s cult revival; on the other hand, Michael Stephenson got access to nearly everyone of consequence, and the resulting film is far more affectionate about its subject than you may expect.

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