There’s no denying the pleasures offered by the current wave of so-bad-it’s-good debacles like The Room, Troll 2, and Birdemic: Shock And Terror, each of which has found midnight audiences eager to bask in its singularly bizarre forms of ineptitude. There’s also no denying the sour aftertaste: Cultists demand that their bad movies be played straight—prefab stinkers are too easy to sniff out—but that means the delusional visionaries behind the camera believed they were making something great, not fodder for irony fans wearing “Whoomp! (There It Is)” T-shirts. The filmmakers usually find some way of reconciling themselves to the phenomenon—The Room’s Tommy Wiseau, for his part, has labeled his film a “black comedy” (nice try, buddy) while walling himself into a man-of-mystery persona—but they never set out to fail from the start.
At first, the documentary Best Worst Movie, about the cult surrounding 1990’s Troll 2, plays a little too much like a promotional video. It follows a wacky road show of cast and crewmembers as they travel from packed midnight screenings to horror and comic-book conventions. Best Worst Movie’s director, Michael Stephenson, was Troll 2’s young, freckle-faced star, and his chief subject here— George Hardy, a giddy middle-aged dentist from small-town Alabama—played his father. Troll 2 was ostensibly a sequel to a horror film that was spectacularly terrible in its own right, but it doesn’t contain any trolls, and that’s the least of its problems. Shot over three weeks in Utah with an inexperienced American cast and an Italian director, screenwriter, and crew, it’s less a movie than a colossal failure to communicate.
Stephenson, Hardy, and assorted other Troll 2 luminaries embark on an odyssey that finds them soaking up the approval of midnight audiences in cities across the country, but Best Worst Movie starts getting interesting when they hit bumps in the road. Hardy’s eagerness to celebrate his underground fame starts to curdle after a couple of dead conventions and the umpteenth shouting of his famous line “You can’t piss on hospitality!” And things get worse whenever Claudio Fragasso, Troll 2’s temperamental director, turns up at screenings with an ambivalent (at best) attitude about why everyone’s laughing at his movie. Though it’s a ramshackle piece of filmmaking, Best Worst Movie is an honest one, too, staying open to awkward, humbling moments while still making a solid case for the film’s immortal badness.