What do you do when you’re the star of the worst movie ever made? Make a documentary about it of course! Okay, it’s not that simple. Troll 2 may be branded as pure garbage by IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes, but there are heaps of fans all over the world that relish in watching vegetarian goblins attempt to turn a little boy and his family into plants suitable for their palates. Back in 1989, Michael Stephenson was that little boy and over two decades later he’s tracked down his former co-stars and tons of Troll 2 diehards to make a piece about this so-called worst movie ever.
After roughly four years Stephenson amassed about 400 hours of footage depicting rabid fans dripping in green slime throwing Troll 2 parties, hundreds lined up to watch a movie that never even made it to theaters and interviews with those responsible for creating this lovable atrocity. No, this isn’t Stephenson’s effort to cope with the mistakes by getting a giggle at his own expense. In fact, Best Worst Movie had the exact opposite effect on him; it brought him to the point at which he finally felt comfortable embracing the film he’d been trying to distance himself from all his life.
During a recent interview, Stephenson told me all about his experience making Troll 2, the day he first realized it’s not as bad as he once thought, the shocking realization that there are people out there who actually adore the film and how he went about creating Best Worst Movie. Check it all out for yourself below.
What was your reaction the very first time you saw Troll 2 in its entirety?
Backing up before then, as I was making Troll 2, like everybody, we thought we were making this really great horror film. We finished the movie and I thought, “Okay, in a couple of months we’ll go to a theater, we’ll watch it as a family.” That never happened. A year and a half later, Christmas morning, unwrapping presents, very last present that I unwrapped is this strange VHS tape that says Troll 2. When we made the movie it was originally titled Goblin and so I looked at the VHS and I just remember hearing my mom, “Oh Michael it’s your movie! Let’s put it in!” I stick the VHS tape in the player and ten seconds into it my dad just kind of puts his head in his hands and said “Oh Michael, this is a terrible movie.” And I remember just looking at the TV and just being like, “What? This isn’t my movie! Oh, no, it is and it’s horrible!” [Laughs]
You never had any seconds thoughts while filming?
Oh, no! Not at all! It’s interesting because I have the original script and I look back and I think of some of the older actors and it’s like, well, man, this script is just unfathomable. There were actors, I learned what I was making a documentary, that went to [director] Claudio [Fragasso] and said, “You know, I don’t know if an American teenager would say this” and Claudio would immediately, [in an Italian accent] “You read the way I write it. I know how American teenagers talk.” And so everybody just kind of marched to the beat of his drum. You film everything out of sequence; it felt like a movie set because the director was, for all we knew, I’ve never been on an actual movie set before, so we had the director that was yelling and screaming, there was the cameraman and the crew, everything was in place. It seemed like a movie, it’s just that what we were making was something that was quite extraordinary I suppose.
When did it hit you that this was no longer just the worst movie ever made, but a twisted cinematic icon?
It was before the phenomenon, even before any of the Troll 2 screenings I had decided to make the documentary. This was five years ago, or maybe just over four years ago, I was in Los Angeles and pursuing a career in the trade. I always wanted to be a filmmaker and was actually continuing to audition and out of nowhere I started getting these messages on MySpace and the first fan, this guy named Blair Starrett, sent me a message and asked me if I was Joshua Waits from Troll 2 and in his message it was like, “Please, say it is so. I’ve watched Troll 2 a thousand times, it’s my favorite movie!” April 2006 I started getting these messages all over the place and none of these people that were sending them knew about each other; they were all happening in different parts of the world. At first it was kind of like, “Oh my gosh, what’s going on here? This movie’s never gong to die.” And the next I know, I started responding and interacting with some of these fans online and soon after that, the same month, they started sending me pictures of these Troll 2 parties that they were having in basements and there would be seven or eight kids crowded around a TV and dressing up as goblins and eating green food and having green slime down their face and I remember just looking at these pictures and thinking, “Why?” And then that kind of changed into a “How?” and then it became one of these feelings where it was like something special is going on with this movie. None of these kids knew about each other, they were all doing something similar and as soon as I started interacting with them, all of a sudden I started saying, “Man, there’s fans all over the place for this film” and it just all happened on it’s own, originally over time. It was all through word of mouth and somebody saying, “Ah, this is the worst movie ever made, you’ve got to watch it!”
This is all within a three-four week span and one morning I woke up and, this sounds kind of ridiculous, kind of like spiritual or whatnot, but I remember just staring at the ceiling and smiling ear to ear and thinking, “Well, wait a minute. I’m the child star of the worst movie ever made. There is a great story here” and immediately I thought, best worst movie and the documentary and I started interacting more with the fans and created a website for all of the fans to come together and it was like fuel on the fire and the next thing I know, it was screening in New York City at the Upright Citizen Brigade Theater and that was the very first thing that I filmed for the documentary. I remember going to that being kind of nervous and thinking, “What do I expect here?” and actually being kind of afraid. You expect the worst; people are going to laugh at us and boo and it’s going to be mean spirited and I kept thinking, “This is for the documentary. This may never happen again.” You have to understand that up until that point, Troll 2 had never played in a theater, so I thought of it as a once in a lifetime thing. And then going to that screening, I’ll never forget it; it was a huge moment for Best Worst Movie. I was with George Hardy, got out of the taxi, line wrapped around the block and we didn’t think it was for Troll 2 and we started going towards the entrance to the theater and the next thing I know the line just erupted and started yelling and shouting for George and just screaming his name and going crazy for this guy because he kind of looks the same more or less. I look at George’s face and he brightened up, had this huge smile and the next thing I know he’s like, “Oh, Michael come on. This is great!” And he elbows me in the ribs and runs over to all the fans and starts signing all these autographs and it was that moment that I thought, “Well, here’s kind of the heart of the story.” Yesterday he was in Alabama drilling cavities and now he’s with 400 fans that love him because of this movie he did 20 years ago.
He really seems like a fantastic guy. I can understand why all of these people fell for him.
He is one of the most genuine people that you will ever meet. I’ve gone to Troll 2 screenings where we’ll get on an airplane and within ten minutes half the airplane are friends with him and then later that night, people from the flight are at our Troll 2 screening to see him.
How’d you organize shooting with all of these fans? Like the guy with the tattoo; did you and George just happen to be there when he decided to do that?
We ended up shooting, I don’t know, over 400 hours of footage over three years and I think the hardest thing in making a film like this is that things were happening everywhere. I remember I would be home working on something and I’d get an e-mail from fans who had just snuck up on one of the skyscrapers in New York and hung a bed sheet and watched Troll 2 together and remember just wanting to smash my head against the wall because I wasn’t there to capture it. That was kind of the nature of this project; things were happening everywhere. Everything in the movie, I was there shooting with exception to Iraq. Iraq actually just completely fell out of nowhere and early on in this process, as I was putting together a teaser for the documentary, a teaser that we played at every Troll 2 screening, I get an email from the solider in Iraq that tells me you know he brought Troll 2 to Iraq and he’s been having these parties and that there’s a package on its way with footage from Iraq. With some documentaries, you have one event or one specific thing, this was very organic and was happening all over the place with all sorts of different types of fans. The fandom part of the story, that was actually the thing that interested me least. I think it’s very special, the story and these sold out screenings, but you can only have so many sold out screenings before they’re all the same and was more interesting to me for this story to really reach a broader audience than just Troll 2 fans, but tell a story that is told through these people that were associated in making the worst movie ever made, but what has been considered the worst movie ever made and not so much experts on bad movies or how do we define this phenomenon. You know, not people on the outside looking in, but here’s the people who were involved in making this.
In the end, what’d you learn from this whole experience? Does Troll 2 hold the secret to making a bad movie a lovable one?
Here’s the deal; my discovery with this whole thing is that I have a sincere appreciation and love for Troll 2 and it’s one these things where growing up I was embarrassed by it and too cool for Troll 2 and went on to do other rolls and I thought, “Okay this will be more notable,” but Troll 2 just continued to surface in my life in this really weird way. To look back on it all now, it’s been this weird catharsis where now I can’t tell you that Troll 2 is a bad movie. There was so much heart that was put into that film by everybody who was associated with it that I can’t help but think that that is one of the main reasons it has been received and enjoyed so well. If somebody tells you how to make a good movie, we did absolutely none of those things, but the level of heart that Claudio and everybody else, the earnestness that was put into Troll 2, that’s something that’s rarely seen in even the best of movies. And then you go one step further and think, look what Troll 2 has done. It brought people together, hundreds of people in theaters to have this communal experience around a movie. I’ve met people who’ve created lasting friendships all from going to Troll 2 parties. I’ve met people that actually got engaged through meeting at a Troll 2 party. It’s one of these things where I look back now and I can’t tell you; there’s definitely worse. Regardless of all the ways that it failed, Claudio did not fail to entertain and for him and his movie, to leave such a lasting impression over years of time says something and I think it’s pretty special.
By Perri Nemiroff