Michael Paul Stephenson directs, explaining how landing the lead role in that feature film as a child was incredibly exciting … and then ultimately depressing when he saw the finished product. If you’ve seen it, you know it to be a cinematic abortion — entertainingly so, but a total mess nonetheless. In adulthood, he went from embarrassment over the film to a total embrace of it. That all has to do with the rabid cult that the Internet helped birth over the picture, even if their love for it is ironic, as a work of hysterical, staggering incompetence.
The premise of “Best Worst Movie” is to find out why, and for that, Stephenson enlists small-town dentist George Hardy, who played his onscreen dad, to help him catch up with all the old cast members. Hardy redefines genial, remaining mostly humble as he eagerly slurps up the attention he receives from fans who treat him like the second coming of Bruce Campbell.
It’s fun to watch Hardy slowly learn the limits of his “stardom,” when their appearance at a horror convention goes over about as well as a booth from the Latter-Day Saints would, and realizes that his “famous” line of “You can’t piss on hospitality!” doesn’t enjoy the household recognition as “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”
It’s funny to watch them make contact with “Troll 2″ director/co-writer Claudio Fragasso, and fly him from Italy to the United States to participate in some Q-and-A screenings. Fragasso doesn’t get the joke; he thinks he’s made if not a masterpiece, a solid thriller that adheres to the tenets of craftsman filmmaking. He openly scoffs at fans and even his former cast members who dare even wink at the picture, or question why it bears no actual trolls.
But it’s sad to watch them locate and interact — if that’s the word — with Margo Prey, who played Stephenson’s mom. Living at home with her frail mother, Prey seems … well, let’s say a couple vowels short of a Nilbog. Stephenson’s camera more or less pities her than makes fun of her, and her presence — however short — casts a pallid cloak over the otherwise party-esque proceedings.
Ultimately, “Best Worst Movie” is the feel-good experience it promises. It’s not a celebration of one rotten slice of trash cinema, but the normal, everyday people who worked on it, even if they weren’t sure what the hell they were doing, thanks to a language barrier. It suggests that all of us can be stars of some level of magnitude … even if we have to participate in a popcorn sex scene to get there.
This is one of 2010’s best — not just among documentaries, but films in general. —Rod Lott