March 30, 2011

Citizens of Nilbog!

I have a stack of unwatched DVD's (some of which really deserve to be reviewed) by my flat screen and last night I finally watched one. BEST WORST MOVIE was my choice assuming this must be some new documentary regarding Ed Wood or PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE, maybe even ROBOT MONSTER.

Imagine my surprise to discover this delightfully bittersweet meditation on the nature of celebrity but a film I had never seen. I had, of course, heard of the TROLL films and might even have seen the original TROLL at the American Film Market years ago. Now this film TROLL 2 has absolutely nothing to do with the first film at all. This is the work of an Italian director named Claudio Fragasso who made this film in Utah way back in 1989.

The truly abysmal, "TROLL 2."

For the past two decades this film stayed well under the radar of most horror film geeks until cable got a hold of it and started airing it across the country. Soon fans began interacting within their respective hives creating a buzz that went atomic. There is much wisdom in remembering that a real cult film cannot be made intentionally. We all know Ed Wood truly believed BRIDE OF THE MONSTER was a masterpiece or SHOWGIRLS was an art film. There is no denying this once we are introduced to Claudio Fragasso sitting in a small editing booth in Rome going, "Whadda ya mean worst film? The joy in this documentary is in the details as we follow the trajectory of the first screenings across the country, as these pockets of fan-based devotion start connecting the dots until we are in the heartland of America. The reluctant star of all this is a Walter Mitty type named George Hardy, a dentist by trade who for one brief and shining moment held the screen grinning from ear to ear, mugging his way into the hearts of thousands of horror geeks, perhaps forever.

Having recently written a blog about my days of doing conventions, this film was a revelation, as well as, being very familiar at the same time. At first I thought this was put together by the dentist himself as it is his story we observe first. George Hardy is a local celebrity in his own town, not to mention, a saint to those with tooth decay. I mean, this man will do your dental work for nothing if you are a child in need. We meet his parents, his children and even the Mayor, who tells us, "Everybody likes George. Even his ex-wife likes him." Now the key to understanding all of this is to remember George has a day job and makes a good living at what he does. This is fundamental when we come to the rest of the cast of TROLL 2 that are not as fortunate in what the future held after the film wrapped way back in '89.

TROLL 2 star, George Hardy (holding sign) poses with the film's only known fans.

The best part of this documentary arrives as we follow George on the screening circuit for the film, as we discover together just what fans have created in raising this forgotten programmer out of the void.  At first George handles it all with a his trademark good neighbor Sam approach, which in his case, is genuine. However, as they begin to reassemble the cast and crew, things go down a very different road.

You can see the disbelief turn to confusion and then joy as two decades melt away, giving the director and his cast the recognition they had all abandoned years ago following the devastatingly bad reviews coupled with little or no box office. After several screenings, George, along with his co-star Micheal Paul Stephenson, who produced this film, as well as, having been the child star of it, begin to hunt down the other cast members. For me, the most fascinating character was the woman who played George Hardy's on-screen wife, Margo Prey. The events leading our boys to her front door belong in a "Carnival of Souls-type" film unto itself. Margo lives in a remote village with no trespassing signs in abundance. When she finally comes to the door, she looks much like she did in the film, except much older of course with her hair wildly gray flying about her head. It becomes obvious that she has little or no interest in entertaining her former castmates, but she doesn't say no to the permanently upbeat Hardy who quickly works his magic and the next thing we know Margo is sitting in her living room reenacting a scene from the film. This is the highpoint in the film, as the three of them pretend to be back in 1989. Remember, Michael is not a little kid anymore, yet Margo stares right through him, seeing only what she wants to see. All of this is being observed by her elderly mother who looks like she is very much in pain and unable to make a sentence without her daughter's assistance. We quickly learn that Margo never pursued acting beyond TROLL 2, instead she has apparently devoted her life to caregiving, resulting in one of the most tragic moments in the documentary. Margo is the only cast member to decline any involvement whatsoever in it.

Why TROLL 2, you may ask, well I have no real explanation. The plot seems very similar to GHOULIES or any other Charles Band film of the era, yet something about goblins coming to earth to turn humans into plants
speaks to these horror hounds in the privacy of the abodes, which in turn, permits them to express their pleasure in blogs, websites, video games, and even role playing screenings which are attended by dozens of like-minded fans.

TROLL 2 director and star toast to happier times.

The déjà vu moment for me was watching a now totally stoked George Hardy (who, as it turns out, never really abandoned his dreams of stardom) hop a plane for England where he and his former child star/producer set up a dealers table at the Birmingham Horror and Sci-Fi convention, complete with STAR WARS storm troopers guarding the front gates. Their excitement is quickly diffused as they realize nobody in the UK aspect of fandom cares about TROLL 2. The camera's follow them around the other dealer tables, finally running into John Schneider from THE DUKES OF HAZZARD who politely tells the guys, "Yeah, I've of heard of TROLLS movie." This is all new territory for George, as he was only familiar with screenings packed with mostly male fans who laughed and stood up applauding for every gesture he made in the film. Now faced with the realization of the beast, George does not like what he see at all, exclaiming, "This is sick! I mean, these people don't even floss!" Disgusted by the horror convention, he returns home, vowing never to do one of these horror conventions again. Of course, now he has a shitload of t-shirts, photos and whatnot, made up from the so recent wave of TROLL 2 fever.

The documentary also takes us to Rome where we see the Italian half of the project, as the cast look somewhat amazed by all this belated attention of a film most of them forget they even made. Of course that changes almost immediately, especially with the film's director, who it seems, has been waiting for his moment to lash out with, "Whatta took you guys so long?"

The delusional, Claudio Fragasso.
The funnest moments in all this involve director Claudio Foragasso leering at his former actors as they field questions at a convention saying things like, "They know nothing...they are nothing...these so called actors are all dogs." Claudio also gets an opportunity to re-direct his actors in a few choice moments from the film as they all revisit the film's original locations, including the house in which it was filmed back in 1989.

BEST WORST MOVIE is perhaps the best worst documentary ever done about making one of these bottom feeder horror films which flooded the market back in the 1980s. I came very late to all this since I never watched TROLLS 2 in the first place, never realizing it's power within a certain demographic of the twilight known as "fandom."

At the end of it all, George Hardy was asked if Claudio were to do TROLL 3, would he consider starring in it? "Of course I would, are you kidding?" was his reply.  The last thing we see on the credit crawl is the notice "Claudio Fragasso is currently preparing TROLL 3."

1 comment:

  1. I LOVE this movie. I have yet to see the doc, butthe film is a "classic". "Don't piss on hospitality. I won't allow it!"