‘Best Worst Movie’: So Bad it’s Good?

“Best Worst Movie” is a new documentary about one of the worst movies ever made: Troll 2. This particular 1990 movie has achieved cult status due in large part to the qualities that cause it to rate as one of the worst films ever produced. The movie review website Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 0% freshness rating (a rating that indicates terrible reviews across the board).

In a recent New York Times article documentary director Michael Paul Stephenson, who was 10 years old when he starred in Troll 2, claims that the cult following of the movie shows that despite the bad reviews the film is valued. Stephenson acknowledges that as a movie it was a complete failure “The acting – we were horrible. The directing, the writing, special effects. But it did not fail to leave an impression.” He also acknowledges that the movie doesn’t live up to its narrative or aesthetic goals. Nevertheless “Twenty years later you have hundreds of kids coming to a theatre to have a shared communal experience. How many films, really, would kill for something like that?”

The director of Troll 2, Claudio Fragasso has a different view of the quality of the movie. Fragasso claims that “In Italy you need to die before people can really admit that your movie was good. In America people can change their mind and then appreciate the movie.”

So how do we make sense of these differing interpretations of the movie? Does its cult following really show (as Fragasso claims) that the movie was really good after all? Fragasso claims that there has been a correction in the audience perception of the film so that they now view it as the great movie that it always has been. The problem with this interpretation is that this is not a view that is shared by anyone else and so is fairly implausible. On nearly all accounts Troll 2 really is a bad movie. There is no evidence that Fragasso intended to create a parody of a horror film so we can only assume that he really did try to create a respectable horror but failed.

So what can we say about the enjoyment of the movie by cult audiences? If audiences were engaged with interpreting the content of the film by the standards of a horror film then they would surely be disappointed because, in Stephenson’s own opinion, the narrative and aesthetic goals for the movie were not realised. It would seem that the real enjoyment of the film is in appreciating the blatant technical failures of the film in terms of the terrible acting, directing, writing and special effects. So in order to enjoy Troll 2 we have to ignore the categorial intentions of the director and instead evaluate the film as an example from the category of really badly made movies. But if we take this approach then doesn’t this mean that we are no longer appreciating the movie for the kind of work that it really is?

See the Best Worst Movie trailer here.

See the Troll 2 trailer here.

Related articles:
Authors, Intentions and Literary Meaning
Sherri Irvin, University of Oklahoma
(Vol. 1, March 2006)
Philosophy Compass

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