Best Worst Movie?

Last night R. and I went with a group of friends to see a double-bill of Best Worst Movie and Troll 2.

In case you don’t know the story, Troll 2 is a bizarre horror/fantasy movie from 1989. It’s widely regarded as one of the worst films ever made, but has accumulated something of a cult following. Best Worst Movie is a documentary in which the original cast reunites to try and understand why a new generation of young people has fallen in love with the movie.

The documentary was quite charming and funny. It mostly follows George Hardy, a dentist from rural Alabama who somehow ended up playing the male lead in Troll 2. A beloved figure in his local community, Hardy throws himself into the weird fanboy world of cult movies. He demonstrates an infectious enthusiasm for the project but also a refreshing awareness of the limits of film’s new popularity.

Many members of the original cast haven’t fared so well, however. Margo Prey, a professional actor who played George’s wife in Troll 2, is a reclusive shut-in who takes care of her disabled mother. Robert Ormsby, who plays Grandpa Seth, lives in pretty destitute retirement. Don Packard, a creepy storekeeper in the movie, was on release from a local mental hospital when he appeared in Troll 2 and clearly still lives on the margins of society.

In fact, without George Hardy’s relentless positivity, Best Worst Movie might have been a rather depressing film. Not only are some of the original cast having a pretty hard time of it, but the Italian director Claudio Fragasso clearly still thinks Troll 2 was a good movie and is uncomfortable with its cult status. There are some awkward scenes. Overall, though, the director shies away from any lingering sense of negativity and the tone is fairly upbeat throughout.

Troll 2 itself is of course hilariously bad. The main problem seems to have been the script, which was probably written in Italian and then translated. Some of the dialogue has to be heard to be believed, and the acting is atrocious. The plot makes no sense at all.

I did leave the theater feeling a little peculiar. About a month ago we went to the same place with more or less the same group of friends to see the re-release of Metropolis, Fritz Lang’s classic 1920s parable on the futility of revolution. On that occasion we were in a small screening room, and it was half empty. The group of us–all in our late 20s and 30s–brought the average age of the audience down quite perceptibly.

Last night, Best Worst Movie and Troll 2 played to a packed house in a big theater. We were amongst the oldest folks in the audience.

Probably it would be a mistake to read too much into this. But I couldn’t help wondering what was going on. Plenty has been said elsewhere about the postmodern condition and our generation’s inability to enjoy anything except through the medium of irony. It seemed to me that the real fans of Troll 2 had a couple of things going on: first, they were in love with the sense that they as individuals had discovered this cool underground thing that no one else knows about; second, they reveled in the collective experience of cultishness, the feeling of a shared language and collection of cultural symbols.

It felt a little forced to me. Maybe all cult movies feel like that to the uninitiated. Also, there was a lot of hooting and yelling from the audience during both movies, which I basically hate.

Both movies were a lot of fun. I would recommend them. But I can’t escape the feeling that they say something unflattering about the cultural sensibilities of the current generation.

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