Thursday, April 16, 2009

SXSW 2009: Best Worst Movie

In 1990, director Claudio Fragrasso and his wife, screenwriter Rosella Drudi, set out to complete a relatively simple task: create a sequel to the 1986 horror film "Troll". Armed with a crew of non-english speaking Italians, a cast of semi-amateur American actors, and a whole lot of heart, the couple unexpectedly created what has been known in many circles as "the worst movie of all time."

A brief rundown of the plot of "Troll 2": an all-American family takes a summer trip to the quaint little town of Nilbog (astute viewers will not that "Nilbog" is, in fact, "Goblin" spelled backwards). Upon arrival, young Jonathan is a bit put off by the strange townspeople. His suspicions that something is rotten in the state of Nilbog are confirmed when the spirit of his dead Grandpa Seth informs him that the town is actually a stronghold of Goblins, who apparently lure unsuspecting families into town and trick them into eating Nilbog food (all of which is vegetarian). Through some sort of Goblin magic, those who feast on Nilbog cuisine are turned into plants and subsequently devoured by the little bastards. It's up to Jonathan to convince his family and stop the monsters once and for all!

Fast forward to 2009: Jonathan (aka Michael Stephenson) is all grown up, living with his wife and child in Hollywood. With some chagrin, Stephenson has been forced to admit that a certain amount of celebrity has followed him throughout his life as the lead in the worst movie of all time. The child actor turned documentarian sets out reconnect with his fellow cast members, and together they examine the world of rampant "Troll 2" fandom, discovering that the horrible little film they made in 1990 has become the stuff of legend. Interviews with fans, cast members, assorted film buffs and movie experts, and even the father of the film himself, Claudio Fragrasso, help shed some light on what is about bad flicks that bring us all together.

The dedication fans show to a D-level horror film from the early 90s is incredible: there are office parties, conventions and midnight screenings (some fans traveling more than 9 hours to get to them), including one at Austin's very own Alamo Drafthouse, with a line stretching around the block. As they delve deeper into the world of cult cinema celebrity, Stephenson and company are at first bewildered, then amused, then downright loving the adulation heaped upon them by adoring fans. With all of the fun they're having, our heroes have to ask one question: what is it about a crappy movie that brings people such joy?

As one talking head in "Best Worst Movie" proclaims: "Bad books are bad. Bad food is bad. Bad movies are not always bad." Speaking as a lifelong fan of bad movies myself, I have to agree. The clips from "Troll 2" showcased in "Best Worst Movie" were enough to make me run out and rent the flick myself, and I was not disappointed. Echoing a theme present throughout the documentary, the reason "Troll 2" succeeds in spite of itself is due in no small part to the film's unfaltering sincerity. While the cast may have been puzzled by some of the choices Fragrasso made, he was not trying to be cheeky, ironic, or silly in making "Troll 2": everything he did came straight from the heart. As the documentary unfolds, Stephenson's conversations with the film's stars all reveal a similar pattern: while "Troll 2" may have been an unquestionably bad movie, they all had fun making it, made lifelong friends, and like it or not, became a part of cinema history.

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