Movies The Best Worst Film
The Disaster Artist turned the making of a turkey into award-winning gold. But is The Room really the best worst movie ever made?
on april 11, 2006, george hardy
woke up and discovered he was a cult film star. This was odd for a few reasons: Hardy is a dentist living in Alexander City, Alabama; he has no serious acting experience; and he hadn’t appeared in a movie in over a decade. But that film—an outrageously amateurish horror disaster called Troll 2 (1990), which features Hardy in a starring role— had built up a remarkable cult following on the internet.
He learned this when a reporter from Furman University’s school paper called to ask if he’d be attending the Troll 2 cast reunion that week. Cast reunion? Hardy was bewildered. “If you don’t believe me, go to IMDB,” the writer said.
Hardy did, and he found that the event was scheduled for two days from then, on April 13, in Provo, Utah. “I said to myself, ‘I gotta do this.’ Spent $750 on a flight. Jumped on a plane. And it was the first screening ever of
Troll 2 on the big screen.” “Big screen” is misleading. The film was projected on a brick wall in an abandoned building. And yet, says Hardy, “when the lights came on, I got mobbed for autographs. I thought, What in the world is going on?”
That was more than a decade ago, but it’s a moment he finds himself thinking about a lot, ever since last year’s The Disaster Artist— recounting the tumultuous making of 2003’s amateur classic The Room (famously declared “the Citizen Kane of bad movies”)—brought the glory of so-bad-they’re-good movies to the forefront of mainstream pop culture with two Golden Globe wins and an Academy Award nomination. Once a Hollywood pariah, Room director Tommy Wiseau was making high-profile appearances on late-night TV and at the Globes, where James Franco took home the best actor award for his performance as the bizarro, greasy-haired filmmaker.
Such notoriety has also reawakened the battle for the gold in the Olympics of terrible moviemaking. “I’ve seen a lot of other bad movies, and I don’t think there’s anything within 1,200 miles of the pure awfulness of Troll 2,” says Jason Wright, a novelist and public speaker who played a supporting role in the film. “Maybe we’ll be talking about The
Room in 25 years, but I doubt it.” Even Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959), arguably the granddaddy of all lovably crappy movies, received a publicity boost recently, when one of its actors, Conrad Brooks, died at 86. Plan 9 was directed by prolific low-budget maestro Ed Wood, and critic Michael Medved declared it the “worst film ever made” in 1980. (Wood, like Wiseau, eventually had his own acclaimed film tribute, Tim Burton’s
Ed Wood.) But Plan 9’ s cult popularity surged long before the internet provided a space for bad-movie junkies
to find one another. Troll 2 solidified its oddball fan base in the early 2000s and inadvertently helped establish the blueprint for The Room’s remarkably obsessive followers.
Troll 2 was dreamed up by an eccentric Italian filmmaker, Claudio Fragasso, who wrote the script in broken English and reportedly refused to let his American actors correct the awkward-sounding lines. He shot the film in Utah in 1989, relying largely on local residents like Hardy, who was handed the lead with no prior acting experience. (One “actor” filmed his part while on leave from a nearby psychiatric hospital; he was a patient.)
The plot requires large quantities of weed to comprehend fully, but in brief, Troll 2 is about a young boy whose family relocates to a sinister town overrun by grotesque “vegetarian” goblins who transform humans into plants before devouring them. The boy is aided by visions of his dead grandpa, who warns him about the goblins’ evil intentions. (The movie, by the way, has absolutely nothing to do with 1986’s Troll or
“I don’t think there’s anything that’s within 1,200 miles of the pure awfulness of Troll 2.”
trolls in general; the distributor, MGM, simply titled it Troll 2 as a cheap marketing ploy.)
The resulting train wreck is enormously entertaining thanks to uproariously goofy visual effects, goblins wearing what look to be Halloween costumes and remarkably amateurish overacting that produces unintended comedy. One particular line delivery, in which a terrified teen character shouts, “Oh my God!”— stretching out the word “God” to four agonizing seconds—has become a popular internet meme.
Yet in a lengthy email to Newsweek, Fragasso insists his movie has been misunderstood; it was meant to be a comedy. “I wanted to make people laugh, and I succeeded,” he says. The
Room, he maintains, “has nothing in common with my film.” (Indeed, The
Room is more of a melodrama whose plot revolves around a love triangle. And Wiseau, unlike Fragasso, had a seemingly bottomless budget, thanks to his own mysterious wealth.)
Michael Paul Stephenson, the child star of Troll 2, first saw the finished movie when his parents gave him the VHS tape as a Christmas present. For years, he was deeply embarrassed by it, especially when it began to appear regularly on latenight HBO programming. “Every Sunday, I would pull out my newspaper’s TV guide and hope that I wouldn’t find Troll 2 listed,” he says. Instead of the usual four stars that run under reviews, there would be “a little icon of a turkey,” signifying the worst possible rating.
But as an adult, in the mid-2000s, Stephenson began getting messages from fans on Myspace. “They would send photos of Troll 2 parties they had in a basement or somewhere. My first thought was, Why? This movie should never be spoken about again.”
Eventually, Stephenson embraced his childhood humiliation, and in 2009 he directed the documentary Best Worst Movie, tracing Troll
2’ s meteoric rise from low-budget mess to cult classic. In the film, a pair of hardcore fans describe their response upon meeting a Troll 2 virgin: “No matter what you’re doing, you drop what you’re doing,” they say. “We’re watching it now.”
Hardy acknowledges some sadness in the documentary, in the spectacle of once hopeful actors realizing they have made a cinematic punch line. But there is joy there too, in the reaction of fans and the discovery that pleasure has been provided, as well as history made—even if it’s dubious history. “People will talk about Troll 2 and The Room forever,” Hardy says with genuine pride.