Hurts So Good: Love and Bad Movies
My boyfriend Joe and I have been together for years—through high school, college at separate universities 120 miles apart, and beyond. Many people find this unusual, even unfathomable, so we’re frequently asked, “How do you do it?” My answer is simple, and three-pronged: Love, unlimited wireless plans and bad movies.These bad movies, mostly low-budget gems scrounged from used CD stores and discount DVD bins, dot the landscape of our relationship like mile markers. Our favorites include Werewolf, Highlander 2: The Quickening and, of course, Ed Wood’s seminally horrid Plan 9 from Outer Space. All are awful—delightfully, gloriously awful—but one stands out as the best of the worst, and perhaps as the defining film of our relationship: Troll 2.
Inaccurately marketed as the follow-up to Troll, a mildly successful 1986 horror flick, Troll 2 is not a proper sequel—it doesn’t even have a single troll in it. Goblins? Sure. But trolls? Nary a one. And that only hints at the badness festering within, spewing from a stock of well-applied B-movie tropes that would make Ed Wood himself proud: listless acting, incompetent special effects, lazy cinematography and an utterly senseless plot.
In brief: The members of the perpetually bickering Waits family retreat to the countryside for a change of scenery, only to find themselves trapped in the mysterious village of Nilbog, populated by nefarious vegetarian goblins masquerading as townies. The goblins derive their nutriment from poisoning humans with their suspiciously green-tinged home cooking, turning unsuspecting out-of-towners into plant matter. But only little Joshua Waits—who’s been communing with the all-knowing, floating head of his dead grandfather—knows that his family is about to become dinner. Along the way, there’s a love scene with a character we like to call “Ol’ Herpes Lips” that involves corn on the cob. Also featured (spoiler alert!) is the most fantastic MacGuffin in cinematic history: a double-decker bologna sandwich.
For Joe and me, the desire to share such a masterpiece of cinema terrible with the world has become unbearable. Over the past few years, we’ve forced the movie upon dozens of friends, many of whom have bought their own copies to pay it forward. And strangely, we aren’t alone. Thanks to legions of bad-movie aesthetes and Internet-fueled word-of-mouth, Troll 2 is currently in the midst of a bizarre renaissance. Thousands of fans have joined BestWorstMovie.com, Troll 2’s de facto home on the web. In response, the movie’s cast and crew—including director Claudio Fragasso—have hosted several national screening tours and fan gatherings, which led to this summer’s three-day Nilbog Invasion festival in Morgan, Utah, where the movie was filmed nearly 20 years ago. And Michael Stephenson, who played whiny boy-hero Joshua, has even produced a forthcoming documentary (Best Worst Movie) about starring in, distancing himself from, and then fully embracing the Troll 2 phenomenon.
For better or worse, Troll 2 has become our movie in the way some couples have a song, a restaurant or a city. It’s an odd comfort to know exactly what scenes Joe will point out, and when we’ll both laugh the hardest. Two times I’ve made him green-iced birthday cakes, both a hit despite his lack of a sweet tooth. And the year my only birthday wish was to have my own copy of Troll 2, he one-upped me with the DVD plus a T-shirt featuring the gob-smacked face of Sheriff Gene Freak, our mutual favorite Nilbog denizen. Be still, my heart.
If the two of us have learned anything from Troll 2, aside from a distrust of strangers bearing green food, it’s the understanding that some things—maybe most things—shouldn’t be taken too seriously. As Stephenson and Fragasso recently proved at the fan festival, openly embracing your own disasterpiece can be truly liberating. This is good advice for anyone, but it’s especially important for us. Some days, under the strain of our long-term, long-distance relationship, very little seems worth a chuckle. But I know we’ll be fine if we keep laughing at ourselves—and if that ever fails, well, we’ll always have Nilbog.
Watch the trailer for Troll 2: