The Troll Collector

A fine new documentary celebrates a really crappy movie

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Best Worse Movie starts off as a low-key profile of an amiable small-town dentist. A bunch of locals from Alexander City, Alabama, talk about what a great guy Dr. George Hardy is. Even his ex-wife thinks he's the nicest person on the planet.

Five minutes later we learn that Hardy was the star of Troll 2, a 1990 crapfest that once ranked No. 1 on the Internet Movie Database's all-time terrible-movie list (it's currently nestled in the Top 70). Even Hardy's mom hated it ("Is that my son?" she asked after seeing the movie for the first time).

In Best Worst Movie — an engaging documentary about Troll 2's expanding fan base made by Michael Paul Stephenson, who played Hardy's son in the film when he was 12 — most of Troll 2's cast of unprofessional actors from Utah reminisce about the filming. And fans from around the world weigh in on a movie that has become a cult classic in the 20 years since it was released.

"I started getting these messages on MySpace from kids: 'Are you Joshua Waits from Troll 2?'" recalls Stephenson. "And none of them knew about each other. They all thought they were the only ones celebrating the movie. Then they started sending me pictures of these Troll 2 parties they had been having for years. I remember thinking, why?"

Stephenson builds Best Worst Movie around Hardy, who affably travels from one Troll 2 screening to another around the country, meeting fans and proudly declaring his starring role in "the worst movie ever made." But there's also plenty of outside perspective — from fans holding massive dress-up gatherings to sold-out revivals to an in-joke in one of the Guitar Hero games.

Troll 2 — about a family terrorized by flesh-craving goblins ... or something like that — was made on a shoestring budget. It was never really released in theaters. It isn't a sequel to 1986's Troll. And there aren't even any trolls in it. "Every Sunday, I used to flip through the TV-guide section of the paper, hoping it wouldn't be listed again," says Stephenson. "And every single week it was listed — like ten Showtimes." (If you want to see just how bad Troll 2 is, the Cedar Lee Theatre is showing it at 9:30 p.m. and midnight on September 4.)

All of the actors are good sports about their roles in Troll 2 — even the professional actress who doesn't list the movie on her résumé. But director Claudio Fragasso — an Italian who couldn't quite break the language barrier when he was shooting Troll 2 — insists he made an "important film." That earnestness is why the movie has become so popular, says Stephenson. At the time, nobody (except for maybe Fragasso and his wife, who wrote the movie) knew what Troll 2 was about — not even the mental patient who was cast in a role.

But to its dedicated fans, Troll 2 is a classic, even if it still doesn't make any sense. "So many movies, like Snakes on a Plane, are designed to find audiences like this," says Stephenson. "Our movie found its audience on its own, all through word of mouth. It really was one friend saying to another, 'I just saw the worst movie ever made, and you have to watch it right now!'"

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