The 'Troll' trilogy: Is this really the 'Best Worst' movie franchise of all time?
The first Troll film concerned the magical adventures of a teenager named Harry Potter. The second, according to a new documentary, is the Best Worst Movie ever made. And no one seems sure if there even was a third movie. In this special report EW examines the twisted, crazy, and frequently so-bad-it’s-hilarious world of… Troll!
Next: “I don’t think Troll 2 is the worst movie of all-time. I think Transformers 2 is the worst movie of all time.”
Image Credit: Magic Stone ProductionsOn a beautiful Brooklyn evening last July, Michael Paul Stephenson took part in a question-and-answer session following an outdoor screening of the 1990 horror movie Troll 2. Stephenson, who starred in the film when he was just ten years old, is a Utah-raised Mormon and extremely polite. Less polite, seemingly? A particular question that was put to him that warm New York night. “What does it feel like,” an audience member demanded to know, “to have been in the worst movie of all time?”
The question was not without merit. Troll 2 is, by any traditional movie-making standards, an absolute turkey. The film is set in the fictional small town of Nilbog, which is “goblin” spelt backwards, and which boasts amongst its inhabitants a large number of that mythical race. The goblins of Nilbog trick human visitors into eating bright green poison that turns them into plants, which they then eat. Why? Because, according to Troll 2, goblins are vegetarians. Stephenson plays Joshua, the youngest member of the Waits clan who decide to holiday in Nilbog. Needless to say the Waitses are unaware of the local citizenry’s proclivities—what happens in Nilbog, it seems, stays in Nilbog. Stephenson’s character is wised up to the goblins’ plan by his dead grandfather whose spirit periodically visits the child in ghostly form to dispense advice and help explain to flummoxed viewers just what the blue blazes is going on.
When the Waits family sit down to eat some poisoned food young Joshua takes matters into his own hands, or rather bladder, and urinates on their dinner. This in turn prompts the film’s most famous line—it’s “Don’t ever take sides against the family,” if you will—as the father of Stephenson’s character angrily informs him, “You can’t piss on hospitality!” The line is spoken by George Hardy, who has the blonde, lantern-jawed, good looks of a b-movie action star, but all the acting chops of a dentist which, in real-life, he actually is. Matters don’t get much worse from that point on. However, they don’t get a whole lot better as, for example, the seduction of a young man by a comely witch causes a bizarre explosion of popcorn and Stephenson’s character develops special powers thanks to the consumption of a double-decker bologna sandwich. Poor special effects. Stilted dialog. Laughable acting. All feature heavily in this low budget horror farrago. It is also worth mentioning that Troll 2, which was filmed in Utah by an Italian crew, has no legal nor dramatic connection to the original 1986 Troll. It doesn’t even have any trolls. Not a single one.
Michael Paul Stephenson, whose participation in the film would haunt his teenage years, is fully aware of all the movie’s many faults. Yet he took issue with the logic of the questioner’s inquiry. “I really don’t think Troll 2 is the worst movie of all time,” he replied. “I think Transformers 2 is the worst movie of all time.” Judging by the round of applause his answer prompted from the 100 or so souls who had gathered to watch the movie, Stephenson is not alone in that opinion. Indeed, over the past few years, Troll 2 has attracted a devout following around the world. Fans include members of New York’s UCB comedy troupe, which has hosted packed screenings of the film, and King of Queens actor-comedian Patton Oswalt. “I’m not a big believer in the whole (idea of) it’s-so-bad-it’s-good,” he says. “A lot of stuff is just f—ing bad. But there are movies like Plan 9 From Outer Space and Troll 2 where you’re going, ‘Wow, something really special happened here.’”
Last December, then Tonight Show host Conan O’Brien urged viewers to see the film as part of a bit that found him vying to replace Oprah Winfrey as pop culture’s chief arbiter of taste. “Tonight, I’d like to recommend a towering cinematic achievement: Troll 2!” Coco declared, plumping a DVD copy of the film down on his soon-to-be-vacated desk. “I order you, as your new Oprah, to buy or rent Troll 2 today!” O’Brien’s tongue was firmly in his cheek. But the film’s Tonight Show exposure confirmed its place at the apex of the so-bad-it’s-awesome movie ziggurat. “The lead writer for Conan is huge fan of Troll 2,” says Stephenson. “He was like, ‘We need to get George Hardy on, cleaning Conan’s teeth.’ This was sadly before the whole debacle with Conan’s show.”
No one is more shocked by the Troll 2 revival than its cast. Stephenson first heard of the phenomenon in 2005, by which time he had abandoned his acting dreams to set up an ad agency in Utah. “People got wind of my MySpace account and stuff just started flowing in” he says. “I started getting pictures from kids that were having Troll 2 parties. My first thought was, ‘Is this mean sarcasm?'” It wasn’t. Stephenson teamed up with his onscreen father George Hardy and the pair set out to make a documentary about the film’s cult. The Stephenson-directed result, Best Worst Movie, debuted at the 2009 SXSW film festival and is being given a limited release this spring and summer by Area23a, the company which put out last year’s acclaimed heavy metal documentary, Anvil! The Story of Anvil.
The release of Stephenson’s film is the latest strange chapter in a story that already has no shortage of them. But perhaps the strangest thing about Troll 2 is that it may not even be the strangest film in the franchise.
Next: “I always say my script wasn’t shot so much as strangled.”
Over the past 35 years, Charles Band has directed and/or produced more than 300 films, mostly low budget horror movies with titles like Monsters Gone Wild!, Doll Graveyard, and Skull Heads. He currently oversees a total of seven different franchises through his LA-based company, Full Moon Features. “Right now, we’re getting ready to release Puppet Master: Axis of Evil, which is the ninth Puppet Master,” explains Band, whose many years in the business don’t seem to have lessened his excitement for movie-making. “Recently I created a series called The Gingerdead Man about a crazy, pissed-off cookie starring Gary Busey. It doesn’t get better than that!”
Before Full Moon, Band ran a similar company called Empire Pictures, which he set up in 1983 and under whose banner he made a slate of successful, theatrically released, low budget genre movies. These included 1985’s Re-Animator and the same year’s Ghoulies, which became a minor hit thanks largely to an ad campaign that featured one of the tiny titular monsters emerging a toilet. Many of the Empire films were shot in Italy at a studio Band bought from legendary film producer Dino De Laurentiis (Hannibal, the 1976 King Kong remake). “We were really cranking films out,” says Band, “10 or 12 a year.” The director-producer, who you may recall has unleashed nine Puppet Master movies upon the world, is not a man afraid of repeating himself. Once it became clear Ghoulies was a hit, he began to contemplate some sort of follow-up with John Carl Buechler, who had overseen the special effects on the previous mini-monster extravaganza. “I thought, well, a troll is sort of a cool idea,” Band recalls. “John and I concocted a story, and before you know it, Troll was being shot it in Italy.”
Troll, which was directed by first-time filmmaker Buechler, concerns the magical adventures of a teenage boy named Harry Potter whose sister becomes possessed by a troll shortly after his family move into an apartment in a San Francisco house. Alert readers may at this point be thinking, “Wait a second: Teenage boy? Magical adventures? Harry Potter?” Certainly, it hasn’t escaped Band’s attention that the lead character in Troll shares a name with a certain billion dollar book-and-movie franchise that JK Rowling conceived a decade after the release of his film. “I can’t tell you how many people over the years have said, ‘Charlie, you should sue,’” states Band. “But to spend so much time and energy chasing something like that is just not my thing.” (In 2007 a spokesperson for Rowling told the Britain’s Guardian newspaper that the author had never seen Troll.)
The Harry Potter of Troll, meanwhile, had his roots in the bibliography of Ed Naha, a journalist and science fiction author, who had been recruited to write the Troll screenplay after penning a couple of scripts for Band’s fellow shlockmeister Roger Corman. “The name ‘Harry Potter’ was an homage to me,” explains Naha, who would go on to co-pen 1989’s hugely successful Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. “I had written two science-fiction novels where the main character’s name was ‘Harry Porter’. And when I was doing this, I figured, ‘What the heck.’”
Image Credit: Everett CollectionFor Troll, Band recruited what is, in retrospect, one of the great, all-time, weird casts—a line up that included ex-pop star and future congressman Sonny Bono, onetime Charlie’s Angel Shelley Hack, Lost in Space mom June Lockhart and, in her first movie role, Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Young Harry Potter was portrayed by Neverending Story actor Noah Hathaway while the role of his father—who is also called Harry Potter—was taken by character actor Michael Moriarty, who would go on to be a mainstay of Law & Order. Band is full of praise for his Troll actors. “Julia Louis Dreyfus was great,” he says. “And Michael Moriarty is a wonderful actor. Everyone was terrific. Now at the same time we were making a movie on the lot called Crawlspace that had a wild man as a lead, and that was Klaus Kinski.” The infamously temperamental and difficult German actor proved such a problem on Crawlspace that crew members regularly approached director David Schmoeller and begged him to kill the Fitzcarraldo star. “That’s a whole separate story,” says Band. (For a full account of the tale, check out Schmoeller’s amazing short film Please Kill Mr. Kinski.)
Watching Troll today one can’t help but wonder if Band wasn’t stretching himself a little too thinly. The film has its good points, notably Buechler’s creature effects. But much of the movie is simply bizarre, not least the sequence in which Moriarty performs, for no good reason, a deranged, dance to the tune of “Summertime Blues.” “You didn’t expect to hear the whole song didja?” guffaws scripter Naha. “It was supposed to be just a shot to show that this guy still had that kid in him. I really didn’t expect it to be like a Masterpiece Theatre episode. I always say my script wasn’t shot so much as strangled.”
Naha stayed behind in Los Angeles during the movie’s Rome shoot and first saw the film at a pre-release screening with his parents, who were visiting from New Jersey. “They were thrilled, he says. “But I could have written Anne Frank on Ice and they would have gone, ‘Well, look at that double lutz!’” Naha himself was stunned and disappointed. “I’m not assigning blame to anyone,” he says. “I didn’t write On the Waterfront. It was what it was. But in your head you always think, ‘Well, this is going to be like a James Whale movie, or a Val Lewton.’ And then you sit down and realize they’ve been dead for forty years.” Reviewers mostly agreed with Naha’s downbeat assessment. “The reviews were the kind usually reserved for terminal illnesses,” he says. Despite all this, Naha clearly regards the film with some affection. “It’s like having a really ugly child,” he says. “The kid’s face could stop a clock, but he’s your kid.” Charles Band too says that he has mixed feelings about the film. “I’ve made a number of films that I’m very proud of,” he says. “And then, (there are) pictures like Troll. It was such an odd movie, strangely directed, strangely written, a very eclectic cast. There are little moments that are wonderful, actually. But it’s a bizarre film.”
Yet a financially successful one. Troll opened on 959 screens in January, 1986 and, in its first week of the release, placed ninth on the box office chart with a gross of $2.1million. That represented a nice return for Band who recalls the film’s budget as being in the $700,000-$1.1million range, and who made most of his profits from home video deals.
After Troll, Empire continued to churn out movies at a pace for another half decade. Band productions during this period included Assault of the Killer Bimbos and Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-o-Rama. But, at the end of the ‘80s, the producer departed from the company. “There were partners who wanted to see the company go in other directions,” he says. “Empire was sold and I started Full Moon.”
Band says he kept the sequel and remake rights to the movies he had made at Empire, including Troll. Yep, the producer figured, if anyone was going to make Troll 2, then it would he him.
He figured wrong.
Next: “How can you argue with someone who doesn’t understand what you’re saying?”
Image Credit: Magic Stone ProductionsTroll 2 was actually directed by Drago Floyd and co-penned by Clyde Anderson. Except that none of that sentence is technically true. “Drago Floyd” and “Clyde Anderson” are actually aliases used by a Rome-born auteur named Claudio Fragasso, who never thought his movie would end up being called Troll 2. Confused? Welcome to the Italian film industry. Fragasso made his name—or, rather, his names—with such low budget flicks as 1983’s Lou Ferrigno-starring The Seven Magnificent Gladiators and 1984’s Monster Dog. The latter stars Alice Cooper as a rock star who may also be a werewolf and is every bit as hilariously awful as that description suggests. Troll 2 was originally called Goblins and its script was written by Fragasso with his girlfriend Rossella Drudi—although she would be credited as “Sarah Asproon”—and it is the pair’s vehement dislike for vegetarians that seems to have inspired a good deal of the movie’s baroque plotting. Goblins was only renamed Troll 2 after shooting was over, which explains the total lack of trolls in the movie. “It’s very common with Italian movies that they’ll (make) rip-off sequels,” says Michael Paul Stephenson. “Claudio Fragasso actually made a movie called Terminator II. It’s become clear that the distributor said, ‘Hey, Troll 1 did so well, let’s ride the coattails.”
The-movie-formerly-known-as-Goblins was financed to the tune of around $600,000 by an Italian company called Filmirage. According to Stephenson, the movie’s backers were persuaded to film in his home state for financial reasons. “Utah, at that time, had a really strong film commission” he says. “Claudio took a trip to Utah with the producers and said, ‘This supports our American movie perfectly. There’s mountains, there’s townspeople.’ And there was no union, there was no SAG.”
If the Screen Actors Guild had been involved with the project they might have suggested Fragasso hire some expert translators. But it wasn’t, so it didn’t. And the language barrier appears to have been of the principal reasons why Troll 2 would ultimately ascend into the Bad Movie Hall of Fame. While the crew were from Italy, the cast was made up of local, mostly Mormon, actors. The one notable exception was the Alabama-born George Hardy. Hardy is an immensely jovial, larger-than-life, character who has gained the reputation amongst his patients as being “the Patch Adams of dentistry.” Growing up, Hardy desperately wanted to be an actor. But his father dissuaded him from entering into such a risky profession and steered him towards a more financially stable livelihood. Prior to Troll 2, his dramatic experience was limited to appearing in a high school play and, while at Ann Arbor University, serving as a college cheerleader. “Kind of like George Bush was,” he says.
Hardy never lost the acting itch and after moving to Salt Lake City he got himself an agent. “She called me one day and said, George, there are auditions for a kind of a b-rated movie going on up in Park City” says Hardy. “So I walked into this smoke-filled room – and in Salt Lake no one smokes – and there were hundreds of guys auditioning. I read the part to about nine or ten Italians in this smoke-filled room.” A couple of days later Hardy was told that he had won the role of the Waits paterfamilias. “It was a three week shoot for me,” he recalls. “I would kind of alternate days of going into my dental practice and then going out and shooting on this set, and meeting all these Italians, very few of them spoke English.” According to Hardy, the script was obviously the work of people whose first language was not English. “Michael and myself would sit over in the corner and try to decipher it” he says. “The way it was written was not the way Americans speak. One of us would say, ‘Claudio, this is not the way we relate to each other.’ But they would say, ‘No, no, no, this is the way you do it!’ We just did what we were told. How can you argue with someone who doesn’t understand what you’re saying?”
In addition to Stephenson and Hardy, the cast featured something of a loose cannon in the form of an actor named Don Packard who at the time was staying at a mental hospital following a nervous breakdown. Packard was allowed out to attend his Troll 2 audition and was subsequently cast as Nilbog’s malevolent store owner. “I smoked an enormous amount of pot then to stay sane” he recalls in Best Worst Movie. “When I got on the set I had no idea what it all meant or what I was doing or what I was saying. I was really troubled, I can tell you that. I wasn’t acting. That was a troubled person talking. It was a terrible experience making that movie. It was always cold, it was always remote. And I remember there was a little kid there, a little Mormon kid, who was really a pain the ass. And I wanted to kill him.” Packard’s portrayal of his sinister store manager would—perhaps not surprisingly—be among the film’s more convincing.
George Hardy’s misgivings about the project redoubled when they came to shoot the scene when the Waits family prepare to eat their obviously poisoned repast. “We went up to the table and I see corn on the cob with green icing” he recalls.” I’m thinking ‘Oh, my s—t, what is this going to look like?”’ Stephenson too had doubts about the sequence and, in particular, the urine-oriented part he was asked, at the last minute, to play in it. “In the original script I jump up on the table and I say, ‘I’m possessed, I’m possessed'” he recalls. “Claudio said, ‘Posessed? Bullshit! Boring!’ He’s like, ‘You! You walk around the table, up to the chair and p— on this food.’ I’m thinking, ‘Did I just hear this right?’”
Fragasso has subsequently claimed that he always intended the dialog in Troll 2 to be delivered in an absurdist fashion. Hardy insists that, if this was the case, the director forgot to tell his cast. “We all took it seriously” says Hardy. “We were just trying to be good citizens of Utah, helping this Italian crew make this little movie.” Stephenson describes Fragasso’s contention as “garbage. I can honestly say I worked my a– off on that set. That’s what makes this thing so special. Nobody went in saying, ‘Hey, we’re going to make a bad movie’.” Even by the end of the shoot, Stephenson still hoped the film turn out to be the next Gremlins. “You think, well, maybe movie magic will step in, and all of this will look great” he says. “For me it was like, ‘I’m the star of this movie, and in a few months I’m going to with my family to the local cineplex and we’re going to all celebrate as we watch it.’ Never in my mind, did I say, this is going to be a bad movie.”
Yet a bad movie it was. And a bad movie called Troll 2 to boot. Not that anyone connected with saw fit to alert Stephenson of this fact. The actor only found out about the name change more than a year after he had finished film. “The movie had vanished,” he recalls. “We didn’t know what was going on. In the meantime, without my knowledge, my parents were trying to track it down. On Christmas Day I open up a present and I look at this VHS tape and I was really confused because the movie was called Troll 2. I was, like ‘What is this?’ And my mom said, ‘Michael, it’s your movie, let’s put it in!’ And we popped it in the VCR and we all watched it. I just remember my dad just grabbing his forehead and being, like, ‘Oh Michael, this is a really bad movie. I was, like, ‘Oh boy.’”
George Hardy also received his first bad Troll 2 review from a close family member. “My sister called me from Philadelphia,” recalls the dentist. “She said, ‘George, your movie’s out. I go, ‘What’s it like?’ She goes, ‘Well, I got to tell you something: It’s bad.’ I go, ‘Well, how bad is it?’ She says, ‘Well, it’s really bad.’”
In his dental practice, Hardy had pioneered the use of special glasses on which patients could watch videos while he attended to their teeth, and he used those self-same glasses to watch as much of Troll 2 as he could stand, which was very little. “One of my patients brought me a copy” he says. “I put it in, and looked through the viewing glasses, and watched the very first scene.” Hardy did not like what he saw. “I thought, ‘Oh, s—‘” he says. “I took that thing and put it on the shelf and let it collect dust for almost 16 years.” Actually, that’s not quite true. Although Hardy himself declined to watch his big screen debut even on the most miniature of screens, he was more than happy to subject patients to the film on his viewing glasses. “And while they were watching the movie I would be drilling on their teeth!” he laughs. One might have thought this was merely adding insult to dental injury. But, according to Hardy, many of his patients enjoyed the experience. “I remember one time extracting a tooth once and they were watching Troll 2” he says. “And they wanted to stay after the extraction to watch the rest of the movie.”
While Hardy was able to put his Troll 2 experience to at least one positive use, Stephenson was not. In fact, the film became the bane of his teenage life, particularly after it started to be regularly screened on cable TV. “I would go to the TV schedule in the newspaper and I would pray that I wouldn’t see Troll 2 on it,” he says. “I’d think, ‘Okay, maybe this week it won’t be on.’ And it was constantly on. I had kids at school, at junior high, that would see the movie and they’d scream my lines out at me. I’d be in the hallway and I’d hear: ‘A double-decker baloney sandwich.’ I’d think, god, this movie is never going to go away. If me and my fiends would go into a video store, I remember consciously staying away from the horror aisle, because I did not want to see my video there and have everybody say, ‘Oh, let’s rent Mike’s movie.’”
Of course another person who had ever right to be irked by the poor quality of Troll 2—and, indeed, its very existence—was Charles Band. The producer says he was never tempted to sue over the unauthorized sequel. “It was so not worth my while,” he says. “I was busy making my movies. But then I would hear from people, ‘Oh my god, you’ve got to see this movie, it’s just goddawful.’ I’ve never seen it. Maybe I have to.”
“But here’s the question,” Band continues, “Was it in fact about a troll as well?” No, it was not. “That is funny,” chuckles the producer. “What a story!”
Next: “It’s probably one of the most perfect bad movies ever made.”
Image Credit: Magic Stone ProductionsOne of the prime architects of the Troll 2 revival is a Utah resident named Blair Sterrett. Sterrett is a fan of what he describes as “flash pan culture. Things that don’t often get noticed by the mainstream audience, or get discarded or laughed at when (they) originally come out.” Sterrett collects such items under the banner of the Lost Media Archive. He hopes one days to exhibit his pop culture treasures in an actual museum, but admits that currently the “archive” largely resides in storage. Regardless if you have a yen to discuss, say, Somerset Strings’ 1958 album Music for Washing and Ironing, or Zsa Zsa Gabor’s 1993 workout video It’s Simple Darling, or, for that matter, Troll 2, then Sterrett is a good man to call.
Sterrett, who was raised in the Mormon faith, first came across Fragasso’s film in early 2006 while studying animation at Brigham Young University. Sterrett regularly hosted screenings of oddball movies and one of his fellow students suggested he check out the movie. “I don’t think I ever laughed so hard in my entire life,” he says. “I think it actually is a really good film for how entertaining it is. It’s probably one of the most perfect bad movies ever made.” Sterrett also found something about the film’s acting oddly familiar. “I felt like there was something strangely Mormon about the movie,” he says, “Because the acting was just like what you would see at a church road show or pageant. So we confirmed that it was in fact filmed in Utah. Then, someone came forward and said, ‘I think I go to church with one of those actors.’ So I called him up…”
The actor was Jason Steadman, who plays the character of Drew, one of a posse of teenagers that unwisely follow the Waits family to Nilbog. “I told him about the screening I wanted to have and he was like, ‘Oh yeah, of course I’ll come,'” says Sterrett. “Then I thought, ‘I bet they’re all here!’ I just started going through the phone book, looking up the names I saw on the credits.” One of the first actors Sterrett called was Deborah Reed, who plays the film’s witch. “When she realized I wasn’t an insane person she was really nice and talked to me at length,” he recalls. Sterrett says that the actor he was most frightened of calling was the film’s store keeper, Don Packard: “And he really wanted nothing to do with the screening. He was like, ‘I think it would be a fiasco.'”
Sterrett also posted a message announcing that there would be a cast reunion screening on the film’s Internet Movie Data Base page, after noticing that it had recently been voted the worst film of all-time by the website’s users. The next morning he was awoken by a phone call. Sterrett immediately recognized the caller’s Alabama accent. “It was George Hardy,” he says. “It was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I have been searching for you for so long! I called so many people called George Hardy that weren’t you!’ He was in Alabama, and he agreed to fly out on short notice to this small screening. Once he was onboard, all of these other actors agreed to do it. (Even) the storekeeper gave in.”
Sterrett held the screening at a venue called Starry Night in Provo on April 16, 2006. “It overflowed,” he says. “People said they came all the way from New York to be there. We made little audience participation kits, with popcorn and half a baloney sandwich. It was amazing to see all these baloney sandwiches flying at the screen. I just remember the excitement in the air, the gasp I heard when Deborah walked through the door.” George Hardy recalls walking and, “nearly getting tackled by all these fans. This guy is saying ‘Please sign my t-shirt!’ and I’m just going , ‘You gotta be kidding!’” One actor not present was Michael Paul Stephenson. “I kept saying ‘Where’s Michael? Where’s Michael?’” remembers Hardy. “He wasn’t there. So I called him and I said, ‘Michael, this is unbelievable.’ He said, ‘George you won’t believe all this stuff. Would you be interested joining in with me to do a documentary?”
Next: “I won’t make fun of the s—-tiness of the actors because it’d be like throwing a battery at a dying hobo.”
Image Credit: Magic Stone ProductionsFor the next couple of years, Hardy and Stephenson explored and documented the Troll 2 phenomenon. They interviewed cast members and fans, including the creators of the video game Guitar Hero 2, one level of which takes place at the fictional Nilbog High School. They went to screenings in San Francisco and Toronto and Houston and Boston, where Hardy was treated like a genuine movie icon and at which he would delight his attendees by intoning his most famous line: “You can’t piss on hospitality!” “It’s amazing” says Hardy. “When I meet them they literally are shaking. It’s like they’re meeting this rock star.”
Hardy and Stephenson also traveled to Italy to reunite with director Claudio Fragasso who was completely oblivious to his film’s resurrection as a cult favorite. “I didn’t tell him a lot,” says Stephenson. “I said, ‘There’s something special that’s happening with the movie and people are having a lot of fun with it.” Stephenson convinced the filmmaker to return with them to the US and attend a screenings of the film in Los Angeles and another cast reunion in Utah. “I remember thinking, man, I don’t know what’s going to happen” says Stephenson. “Luckily, Claudio loves attention.”
That may well be true but Fragasso clearly has mixed feelings about his film’s reputation as a piece of hilariously terrible cinema. In Best Worst Movie Fragasso is asked how it feels to be the director of the worst movie ever made. “I did a very good movie” he protests. “If the others say worst movie, them problem, not my problem. My problem is to shoot a lot of movies. I can’t stop.” Fragasso still maintains that he always intended his film to be a comedy. Contacted by this author about the film, Fragasso responded with the following email. The English may be fractured but the message is fairly clear.
“The Troll2 film has been born like crazy comedy horror and not like horror classic, a parody of the life, where the various ones make fear and here the various ones are the fanatical vegetarians us, is a funny accusation to all the fanatismi. The actors of the film recite intentionally badly because all he had to be over the lines, with much irony. E’ a fable of the life, a comic fable for children, a horror demential, the history has been born from the crazy head of my wife Rossella Drudi, writer of novels and cinema. Salutes Claudio Fragasso.”
Whether or not Fragasso set out to make a comedy, Troll 2 has certainly become a favorite of many comedians. Pattos Oswalt first came across the film while visiting a friend in December 2006. By that point MGM Home Entertainment held the DVD rights to both Troll and Troll 2 and in had 2003 released the pair on a single disc. It was that disc which Oswalt’s friend was viewing when the comedian paid him a visit. “He was watching the first Troll movie” says the comedian. “And there’s a scene where Michael Moriarty is lip-synching some song. It was just the dumbest lookest thing I’d ever seen. I said, ‘Wow, this has to be the s—tiest movie I’ve ever seen.’ He said, ‘Oh, you should see the sequel.’ ‘Wait, a minute, there’s a sequel to this thing?’ I ended up sitting there all night watching Troll 2. I just couldn’t believe how f—ing bad that movie was.” Oswalt was so and impressed by the film that he subsequently blogged about it on his MySpace page. “I won’t describe the plot ’cause it doesn’t exist,” he wrote. “I won’t make fun of the s—-tiness of the actors because it’d be like throwing a battery at a dying hobo. But I’ll warn you not to smoke too much pot before you watch it, or you’ll laugh yourself five new a–holes.”
Two other comedians with a fondness for Fragasso’s film are John Gemberling and Curtis Gwinn, members of New York’s United Citizens Brigade improv troupe and co-creators of the TV show Fat Guy Stuck in Internet. “We had spent years becoming connoisseurs of bad movies” says Gwinn. “I mean, we can watch really really bad movies that most people will fall asleep during, or give up on. But this one anybody can sit down, and it’s entertaining.” “We knew it had universal appeal (because) girls would watch it with us” adds Gwynn. “That was the shocker. Most movies that we try to make people watch, only chubby, nerdy, men would enjoy. But girls would actually come over and be thrilled by it. So, it was really the holy grail.”
The pair screened Troll 2 at the UCB Theatre in September, 2006. That event proved so successful they put the film on again at the much larger Sunshine Landmark cinema. “When we put it up at UCB more people knew us than knew the film” says Gwinn. “Then, when we put it on at Sunshine it was like, ‘Oh shit, this like a phenomenon. These people are way more dedicated to it than us.'” Stephenson and Hardy appeared at, and documented, both New York events. They were joined at the UCB screening by Don Packard, who appears to have gained a modicum of personal redemption from the night. “They all applauded when I came out” he recalls in Best Worst Movie. “Somehow I was freed, I wasn’t self-conscious. It was really a golden experience for me. I never felt that good in all my life.”
The cast reunion screening in Utah attended by Fragasso was put on with assistance from Blair Sterrett, who had made it his mission to track down as many of the Troll 2 actors as possible. His quest was made more difficult by the fact that the little people who had portrayed the film’s goblins were not named in the end credits. A desperate Sterrett decided to visit a Salt Lake City neighborhood called Allen Park. The enclave is known locally as “Hobbitville,” partly because of its picturesque nature and partly because of the —incorrect—rumor that many little people live there. “I went looking for some of these actors, and [the residents] were like, ‘We are so offended that you would come here, looking for trolls,” says Sterrett. “I’m like, ‘No, I’m looking for actors!’ But then somebody said, ‘I think there’s a chocolate shop that’s run by some little people.’ And it turned out Steve Hatch, who played one of the goblins, runs this chocolate shop.’ I heard he has a reality show now [Little Chocolatiers, which premiered on TLC last December]. He saw that I genuinely liked the film, so he admitted to being one of the goblins. It turns out his wife was one of the Ewoks in Return of the Jedi.” Sterrett says that he found the cast reunion screenings to be genuinely touching events. “Most actors in films like this don’t get recognition during their lifetime,” he explains. “It’s usually after the fact, years [later], when people say, ‘You know, this is worth preserving.’ That’s something I’m thankful for. These actors are receiving the gratitude and recognition they deserve.”
Next: “This is the original Harry Potter. The facts, speak for themselves.”
Image Credit: Magic Stone ProductionsArea23a is currently rolling out Best Worst Movie to theatres, one city at a time. “We’re focusing on creating special events,” says Stephenson. “On opening night we’re going to have cast members and in every town there will be a party that fans are invited to.” The plan seems to be working. Best Worst Movie debuted theatrically in Austin last month at the Alamo Drafthouse and its run has twice been extended. The film arrives in New York on May 14 and, the following week, Los Angeles.The film’s release could hardly be more timely. This is the best of times for best worst movies. The fanbase of director-writer-actor Tommy Wiseau’s hilariously awful drama The Room continues to grow and the movie recently sold out New York’s 1,200 capacity Ziegfeld Theatre. Over the couple of months the hopelessly incompetent Hitchcock rip-off Birdemic has generated a huge amount of media attention and, like Best Worst Movie, is in the midst of a limited theatrical run. Given all this brouhaha around Fragasso’s movie, and bad movies in general, there has been predictable talk of a third Troll movie being made. Indeed, Stephenson’s documentary concludes with the news that Fragasso has plans for Troll 2: Part 2.
The Italian auteur is not the only person mulling another Troll movie. After making his debut with the first entry in the franchise, John Carl Buechler directed several more movies, including 1988’s Friday the 13th Part VII and 1991’s Ghoulies III. Over the past few years he has been trying to get a Troll remake off the ground, with Charles Band’s blessing. In 2008, Ali Lohan auditioned for a role and last year Buechler told a jounalist, that the project “is now quite financially secure, and I’ve got everything in place, so we’re going to make some major announcements with regard to cast and other specifics.” Those announcements have yet to be made. However, Charles Band says that Buechler remains determined that the film will happen and “has some apparently credible people involved in putting that together.” Buechler, who was unavailable for comment, may have to tread carefully in reviving his Harry Potter. In April 2008, a spokesman for Warner Bros., which produces the big screen adaptations of the Rowling novels, told a journalist that, “If these producers intend to remake Troll they’d better tread carefully not to infringe on our rights.” Band, on the other hand, says that Buechler has every right to “remake a movie called Troll, which we made together years before anyone knew about Harry Potter. And, hey, if I was him, I’d say this is the original Harry Potter. The timeline, the facts, speak for themselves.”
In one final, weird, kink to the Troll saga, it seems possible that both Fragasso and Buechler have been beaten to the punch in terms of making a third movie. In fact, there are two films which various internet sources claim have the alternative title of “Troll 3.” The first, which more commonly goes under the name of Quest for the Mighty Sword, is in fact the fourth film in a series of Italian sword-and-sorcery movies featuring a character named Ator. However, there is evidence to suggest the movie did reuse some of the goblin masks from Troll 2 and that it was released in Germany under the moniker Troll 3: Quest for the Mighty Sword. The second film which may have been rechristened Troll 3 in some territories is best known, at least in the US, as The Crawlers. The movie features neither trolls nor goblins but does boast a fantastically ludicrous plot in which residents of a small town—and a dog—are devoured by irradiated plant vines. The movie was filmed in Utah by an Italian crew at the same time as Troll 2 and is a similarly inept, if less enjoyable, venture. Chelsi Stahr was just 15 when she was cast as “Susan,” a character which the script described as a “busty blonde.” The fact that Stahr is a brunette didn’t deter the film-makers from casting her—but nor did it inspire anyone to make alterations to the dialog. Says Stahr, “There’s actually a time in the film where [a character] walks up to the owner of the gas station and [refers to], ‘Susan, that blond girl that got off the bus.'” The actress was horrified when she saw the finished result, several years later. “I was, like, ‘Wow, this is basically the most horrendous thing that I have ever seen in my life,” she says. “It’s not something I bring up in conversation: ‘Hey, by the way I was in Crawlers, maybe you’ve seen it?’ I think the best actor was the dog.”
Stahr’s reluctance to bring up the subject of The Crawlers echoes the feelings of the teenage Michael Paul Stephenson. These days, of course, the ex-child actor is all about Troll 2, and confirms that he would be happy to appear in a Fragasso-directed sequel. “Five years ago, I hated Troll 2,” he says. “I thought it was garbage. But I’ve been to these screenings and I’ve seen the joy and happiness that people are having. How is 500 people in a theatre having a great time a bad thing?” And, nearly a year on from that outdoor screening in New York, Stephenson remains convinced that it is the work of Michael Bay, rather than Claudio Fragasso, that deserves the tag of the worst movie ever made. “I stand by that,” he says. “People come away from films like Transformers 2 shaking their heads like, ‘Man, I want that two and a half hours of my life back.’ People have a real negative experience. I mean, Troll 2 is not Citizen Kane. But it continues to entertain. Every single day I get emails from fans that are like, ‘I got ten of my friends together and we’re having the best time.’ And I think that’s pretty special.”
Next: Feast your eyes on the trailers for Troll, Troll 2, and Best Worst Movie.