As with any creative endeavour, those involved in Troll 2 – or Goblin, as it was originally, and much more accurately, known – set out to make the best film that they possibly could. Unfortunately, the circumstances weren’t conducive to cinematic greatness, at least not in a conventional sense. Through a combination of budget and time constraints, inexperience and poor execution, it has been labelled the worst film ever made.
A curious low-budget horror that provokes laughter and bafflement rather than fear, Troll 2 defies logic and simple categorisation – a film considered so bad that it’s not just good, but great. Filmed across three weeks in the summer of 1989 in Park City, Utah, with an entirely unknown cast led by a maverick Italian crew, it grew into a cult sensation through late-night showings on cable TV, word of mouth, bad movie nights and meme culture.
Issues with the script, the acting and the production abounded, lending Troll 2 a certain uncanny quality that extends well beyond its unique storyline. The Waits family (son Joshua, daughter Holly, dad Michael and mom Diana) visit Nilbog, a small town they discover is inhabited by vegetarian goblins determined to turn them into plants and eat them. Fortunately, with some guidance from the ghost of Grandpa Seth, they are able to escape home.
Whether deliberate or not, Troll 2 has brought audiences a great deal of joy and endured in pop cultural consciousness for over three decades, despite never receiving a cinema release. As well as spawning such immortal lines as “You can’t piss on hospitality! I won’t allow it!”, and “They’re eating her! And then they’re going to eat me! Oh my god!”, the film has developed a strange subculture all of its own.
Crucially, there’s no side or cynicism to Troll 2, which somehow manages to be both overwrought and undercooked. It’s endlessly sincere, and all the more entertaining for it. Here, members of the cast and crew gladly shared their memories of being on set and behind the scenes while making one of the worst, yet most widely loved, films of all time.
BACKGROUND AND PREMISE
Rossella Drudi (scriptwriter): Our movie was never the sequel to Troll, and it wasn't meant to be. Eduard Sarlui, the real financier and producer of the film, who does not appear in the credits by his own will, showed me a rubber mask of a goblin. He told me he had bought the rights to that mask and he wanted to use it for a movie. He asked me to come up with a horror story – but without blood, because of censorship, so it was also suitable for families.
So, I wrote Goblin – a crazy comic horror about vegan fanaticism, about friendship, about the fear of love, of sex, of growing up and changing, of becoming adults. But also about mother earth, which defends its nature against the devastating man. A little bit of environmentalism, but all in a comic key with a lot of irony. We had a budget of just $100,000 for three weeks of shooting.
HIRING THE CAST AND CREW
Rossella Drudi: Claudio [Fragasso, the director of Troll 2 and Rossella’s husband] didn't want professional actors, but people taken from the street with no experience. They had to behave like the characters in a cartoon or comic. But Claudio didn't tell them why he wanted them to act like that, and he didn’t have to.
Darren Ewing (Actor, Arnold): I showed up for the audition in Park City and it was just this room full of chain-smoking Italians. The smoke in the room was so thick, you almost couldn’t see them. They had a camera set up, and they gave me my sides. It was actually the “Oh my god!” scene and everything leading up to it. I made sure that I knew my lines and I auditioned the hell out of that scene. I still remember, when I left the room, I just thought, ‘I nailed it. I got this. I know I got this.’
George Hardy (Actor, Michael Waits): I’m a practising dentist. I cold-read a script and didn’t have any idea what I was doing, really, as a non-actor. I’d done a bit of acting in college and high school but that was it. I ended up getting the part the next day.
Michael Stephenson (Actor, Joshua Waits): Hundreds of people were there, lined up to audition. I just remember walking into this smoke-filled banquet room that had been commandeered by this Italian gang. They were very friendly and nice. I read for the part. I remember screaming a lot. I walked out and soon after that I found out that I’d got the role. There was a huge celebration like it was a big deal – and it was, as it turns out.
Connie Riet (Actor, Holly Waits): Someone called me and told me that I got the part, and I was beyond thrilled. I was like, ‘This is it. I'm going to be a mega movie star! This is the beginning for me.’
Lindey Crow (Make-up Assistant): The company that came in actually shot two films at the same time. A friend of mine worked on the other one and I worked on Troll 2. The people that came in were all from Italy, so they were just hiring some locals.
Christopher Salmon (Special Effects Make-up Assistant): The other film was called Creepers at the time, but now I think it’s called The Crawlers. It’s about these vines that came alive and attacked people. I interviewed with them and I was shocked when they called me back and said they wanted me to come and work on these two films.
Rossella Drudi: After hearing what Sarlui wanted, I decided to write a comical and zany horror story. But a bloodless horror movie is like pasta without sauce, so I had to use all possible creativity to solve the problem. I couldn’t show blood, so I used plant sap, green like chlorophyll. I invented cannibal vegan goblins with magical powers. They take on human form, but in reality they are monsters. They hate the carnivorous man who destroys the earth.
Michael Stephenson: I don’t think I really processed it as a kid, but looking back at the script now it’s translated very strangely. If I was even a few years older I’d have read it and been like, ‘What on earth? This doesn’t make any sense.’ It’s like auto-Google Translate or something in today’s era. It almost created this new language, like an Italian’s interpretation of what American teenage kids would say.
Darren Ewing: Rossella probably spoke English better than anybody else that was on set, but there were time constraints that didn’t allow for a lot of improv. The script didn’t make a lot of sense to me, but I tried to find ways to make it seem more natural and more flowing. I think that’s part of what makes it so fun to watch.
George Hardy: Whatever was written down, that was the way they wanted us to say it, like “Go away monster!” or “He’d cut off your little nuts and eat them.” Our jaws dropped at some of the language, but Claudio and Rossella just said, ‘That’s the way we want it to be said’, so that’s what we did.
Rossella Drudi: Later on, as the film exploded as a phenomenon, in many interviews the cast have continued to tell lies, always to justify themselves. Lies, which, over the years, have turned into the truth. One of the biggest lies is that the cast didn’t understand what was written in the script. Impossible. The script was translated by a Utah-born American. It is true that some strange English is spoken in Utah, but to say that they didn’t understand it is ridiculous.
Darren Ewing: Honestly, Claudio is one of the most fascinating people I've ever met. I was really afraid of him because he doesn’t mess around. He’s very demonstrative. He knows what he wants.
Michael Stephenson: Claudio would always scream, ‘Bigger! Louder! Bigger!’ That was his direction for just about everything.
Connie Riet: I’d grown up in a very small town. I was only 15, and I was very sheltered, so being directed by Claudio, who was this larger-than-life personality from Italy – he was very loud and he swore on set – was like ‘Oh my gosh!’ I was super intimidated by him.
Darren Ewing: It's not that he hates actors, but actors are an irritant to him. There are directors that just don't like actors. They don't like to coddle them, and they think they're a pain in the ass. And you know what? They can be. He's got a valid point. But Claudio’s passion for it, and the way he told it, just makes the story that much more compelling.
Michael Stephenson: I love Claudio on a number of levels, and I have so much respect for him. He wasn’t just trying to pay the bills, this was his movie. It was a real passion project, and it was a real opportunity for him. You never questioned that this guy really was creatively invested in this movie. That’s why so many of us just got on board, because we believed in Claudio.
LIFE ON SET AND BEHIND THE SCENES
Christopher Salmon: The first person I met was the make-up effects guy, Maurizio Trani. He was a character. He had this very thick accent and he was always smoking a cigarette. It would just hang, like it was glued to his lip. I don’t know how it didn’t fall off. I went in the room that had all this make-up effects stuff and there was this row of masks on the back wall. I was looking at them and I thought, ‘Those must be the background masks’, but no, those are the ones that are front and centre on the poster, the trailer, everything. I could’t believe it.
Lindey Crow: It was extremely low budget. When we were in town filming, we had access to bathrooms and stuff like that, but then when we were filming out in the woods it was like camping. I wasn’t very happy with the fact that they didn’t even bring a bathroom for us. We’d have to go behind bushes.
Connie Riet: I didn’t have any barometer to measure if [production] was normally like this. I think if I’d already made a few films or commercials before, I probably would have gone, ‘Wow, this is really hokey. There's nowhere for us to sit.’ But at the time I was just loving it. I didn't care that I didn't have a trailer. I didn't care that we were out in the middle of nowhere. I was really excited just to be there. We all were.
Michael Stephenson: We ate pizza all the time. It seemed like some of the pizzas were maybe left over from the day before. It’s funny what you remember as a ten-year-old, but for me it was lots of pizza.
George Hardy: There was a lot of cooperation, even though it was a low-budget film. There have been comments that we all ate the same pizza two or three days in a row! The wardrobe was our own clothes from home. I wish now I would have saved the couple of shirts I wore – those were my shirts!
Christopher Salmon: Maurizio wasn’t there most of the time. He’d come in the morning and tell me what to do, and then I’d guess he went to the set but I kept hearing he was at lunch. He’d get after me because I’m a Latter Day Saint – I don’t drink or anything – and he kept wanting me to have some wine with him. He was like, ‘Every day, you must have wine. You must have bread.’
Rossella Drudi: A lot of people where we shot, including the actors, were Mormons. They always said, ‘No smoking, no sex, no alcohol.’ Or even: ‘We are getting married as virgins.’ These things made me smile.
Darren Ewing: It was just fly by the seat of your pants and go with it. I was so green, and I was so anxious to please them that I just put everything into it. I made sure that I was on time, and I knew my lines, and I didn't make a fuss. Even though at one point I almost passed out when I was in make-up.
Lindey Crow: I had no trailer so I had to do all the make-up outside. If we were filming in the interior of that creepy old house there was a place in the back where I could set up my make-up, but it was really hard to keep everything sanitised if we were just working outside.
Christopher Salmon: I was working in their makeshift make-up effects studio in this rented condominium most of the time. I was busy every day. I would sometimes get there super early and stay super late. I cranked out whatever they told me to do, which was usually due the next day. I did work on a mask that I was hoping I could get done. It was a cable-controlled one that they could use for close-ups, but their design had these giant noses. They looked more like evil dwarves.
Connie Riet: I was raised in a very religious household. I was only 15 and my first time kissing anyone was the onscreen kiss [in Troll 2]. That whole weightlifting scene was the most awkward scene I think I've ever done in my entire life. Between being in the tiny outfit, having my first kiss and the line about “cutting off your little balls”… all of that was very awkward and uncomfortable.
George Hardy: The one big ‘Wow, oh my god’ moment for me was when we had to do a scene where we're all frozen at a table. I remember looking down and seeing green icing on corn on the cobs. At that point I went, ‘Okay, this is going to really be something here.’
Darren Ewing: There were a lot of moments where I knew we weren't making Shakespeare in the Park. I still remember the first time I did a scene with Deborah [Reed], who plays Creedence, and she walks up and says, “This is my house!” I remember thinking, ‘Is somebody going to say cut? Is she going to do it like that?’ The whole thing was very bizarre, but I think Deborah, more than anybody else, understood what the tone of that film was.
Christopher Salmon: We had to have a shot of this guy (Darren) standing in a giant plant pot and his feet turning into plant-like roots. They needed an appliance to go on this guy’s legs and make it look like they were transforming. Normally you would take a mould of his feet and have a base to sculpt on, but Maurizio would just say, ‘No, no, no. You just sculpt it very nice. You make it very nice.’ I was like, ‘Okay, how long do I have to make this?’ He said, ‘You make it for tomorrow.’ I was thunderstruck every single day at the way they did things.
Connie Riet: I was on the dance team in high school at the time. One time I was practising the dance on set that I was supposed to do at school, and Claudio saw me and said he wanted me to do the dance in front of the mirror. Before that, there wasn't supposed to be any kind of dancing in that scene. It was this tiny space, maybe one and a half feet, with the camera there too, and it didn’t make sense!
Lindey Crow: When people started turning into trolls, I had to put the tubing on them and squeeze the bladder bag so that sweat would start coming down their face when they needed it. One time, when I was trying to get one of them to sweat, there was a clog or something in the tubing, so I squeezed really hard on the bladder. It burst and I was covered in green slime for the rest of the day.
Christopher Salmon: There was almost this feeling of menace. I’d worked there for a week and when I went to go and get paid, they said, ‘Come with us.’ We walked down this hall and was motioned into the room. I’m not making this up – it was dim, and there was a dude sitting behind a desk with a key, and a cash box and a big guy standing in the corner. They said, ‘How many days have you worked?’ I said, ‘Six. I’ve worked six days this week.’ He pulled out this roll of money, peeled off six hundred-dollar bills and gave them to me.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF THE FILM
Darren Ewing: A couple of years later I was reading this tiny little review in Fangoria magazine for a movie called Troll 2. They said it was directed by Drake Floyd, which is Claudio’s pseudonym. I went, ‘That's it! That's my movie!’ I got in the car with my girlfriend and we drove to Blockbuster. We walked in and the guy behind the counter was watching Troll 2. He turns around and he goes, ‘Dude, that’s you!’ I took the tape back to my parents’ house and the whole family sat and watched it together. We just laughed and laughed. I just thought it was hilarious. Then we rewound it and watched it again.
Rossella Drudi: Unfortunately, for reasons unknown to me, when the film was released on VHS in America it had the title changed to Troll 2. The worst thing was that it was advertised as the sequel to Troll, like a serious classic horror, not a comedy. This created disappointment in the fans of the first Troll, and the film was soon forgotten. Living in Italy, we knew nothing. There were no social networks like today.
Michael Stephenson: One year later, on Christmas morning, I unwrapped a present and it was this VHS copy of Troll 2. Looking at the cover, I was confused. I just remember my mom saying, ‘Turn it over, it’s your movie.’ Sure enough, I turned it over and there was my face screaming on the back of it. We put it in the VCR player and, seconds into it, my dad said, ‘Oh boy, Michael, this is a terrible movie.’
Lindey Crow: When we were filming it, I thought the film was laughable. Then, when I watched it, it was just like, ‘Oh my god, I can’t believe my name is on this.’ It was so bad. It wasn’t something I thought I was going to get an Academy Award for. Basically, I was doing a movie for a paycheque. I was always going to do my best on it, but I wasn’t expecting much from it either.
George Hardy: When I finally got the VHS, I took in the first few scenes and I just couldn't watch the rest of it. It was just disbelief. I didn't want my kids to see it. I was embarrassed by it.
Connie Riet: I remember seeing the movie and thinking, ‘Okay, well that didn't turn out as great as I had thought it would in my head.’ But I went on and continued acting and just kind of thought that it would fade.
Michael Stephenson: A programmer at HBO started putting on Troll 2 late at night. I remember because my uncle saw it listed in the newspaper. Every week or so I would rush to get the TV guide, just hoping that I wouldn’t see Troll 2 listed again. There it was – always listed. They had a rating system of half a star up to four stars. Below the half star was this little black icon of a turkey. That was the lowest mark a movie could have and there was Troll 2, every Sunday it seemed, with a turkey next to it.
Connie Riet: It wasn't until I was married and a young mom – I was probably 20, and AOL internet was just coming into households – that I thought, ‘I'm going to look up my name.’ I looked up my married name and nothing came up. I looked up my maiden name and the IMDb page came up with the reviews of Troll 2. That's the first time I saw ,‘worst movie ever made’, and I was devastated. It had a big effect on me. I didn't have the maturity to just take it for what it was, and still appreciate it, and love being part of a cult classic.
Darren Ewing: My performance is bad. Like, it's really bad, but I was just very enthusiastic about it. A lot of the other actors tended to shy away from it and they saw it as something embarrassing. I'm more like, ‘You know what? This is the gig. This is what you want to do, so stow your pride and put on that chicken suit and cluck louder than the rest of the rest of the kids in the coop’, you know?
Connie Riet: The actors, the crew, Claudio, the writer, we were all making a movie the best that we could. We felt like we were really doing good work, so when it took on the life of being the worst movie ever made, for me, it really stung. I’d always wanted to be an actress and to be told that you are the worst at what you love was really hard. I quit acting for many years because of it. I was just so floored.
George Hardy: I’d pretty much forgotten that I was in the film. I had a family back in Alabama, I was practising dentistry, and I’d just kind of put it to the wayside. Then an interviewer called and he said there was an underground movement around the film. This was pre-Facebook, during the MySpace generation.
Darren Ewing: I wasn't aware of its cult status until about 2003, when I started receiving fan mail at my work. I used to work at The Salt Lake Tribune, which is the big newspaper here in Utah, and I started receiving fan mail from people wanting me to sign posters and autographs and send it back to them. I always knew it would find an audience, but this cult status, where literally not a week passes where Troll 2 doesn't pop up in my life in some way, shape, or form, has been a blast. I love it.
Lindey Crow: When I found out it had this cult following, I thought that was pretty funny. It was like, ‘Oh, great. I’m the make-up artist from the worst film ever made. Gee, that’s my claim to fame!’ I’ve never shied away from it because I figure you learn something from every film you do, and you move on.
Michael Stephenson: It continued to surface in very strange ways. So much so that when I moved to LA with my wife to pursue a film-making career, I started getting messages from kids on MySpace asking if I was Joshua from Troll 2. Then I’d get another message and there’d be photos of them dressed up as goblins, having parties, or pretending to piss on food. Every message that I got, they thought they were the only ones who were watching Troll 2.
Connie Riet: When I re-entered acting, I don't think I even put it on my resume. I was just kind of hoping it would disappear into the abyss of bad movies. But then people would recognise me from it. I was still pushing it under the rug, hoping it would go away. It wasn't until I started getting phone calls from people doing the big Troll 2 parties and wanting to interview me that I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is not going away. This is here to stay.’
Christopher Salmon: Sometimes I’ll do a guest lecture at a college or university around here and whenever the students hear about Troll 2, that’s what they flip out over and want more information on. They just think it’s so cool that you worked on it, and they quote stuff. I can’t believe how many people have seen it, or at least know about it through the memes.
Michael Stephenson: There were so many elements around the movie that had this air of mystery. It’s called Troll 2, but there’s not a single troll in the movie. It’s in English, but it seems like nobody’s speaking English. I’m sure people have seen movies that are less competently made. It’s not like somebody who didn’t know how to make a movie in any sense went out and made this film. There’s still, dare I say, an art behind it all. But it seems so otherworldly.
Rossella Drudi: This forgotten film suddenly exploded on the web, with millions of fans. People who saw it laughed out loud and had fun, but they invented that it was an involuntary comedy. Today, trash is fashionable, and Troll 2 has become the most loved in this sense. The cast suddenly found themselves in the spotlight for a movie they were ashamed of, and so, to justify the criticism of their acting, they made up a lot of things.
Michael Stephenson: There’s no sense of irony in it at all, and that’s refreshing. You can feel the heart of the filmmaker at its core. There’s somebody behind this who was really trying to make a great movie. It’s still an eminently watchable film, but it makes no sense and there are all sorts of logic flaws and the effects are terrible and the acting is weird. It feels like aliens made it on another planet as a representation of what they thought humans acted like.
Connie Riet: I mean, you couldn't even write a movie script about the making of Troll 2. You're going to take an Italian writer and director, and for some reason they choose to film in Utah of all places, and then hire obscure actors who had very little experience. There was no rhyme or reason to any of it. I don't think you could recreate it if you tried.
Rossella Drudi: To say that it was all wrong and absurd fuelled the flame of it being so bad that it’s good. Admitting that this tiny film is a deliberate comedy thought out at the table would have diminished the junk effect that has been so popular and fashionable in recent years. Although I don't agree with that at all, people pretend that that’s the case to create a cult around it.
‘BEST WORST MOVIE’, THE DOCUMENTARY (2009)
Michael Stephenson: The Upright Citizens Brigade theatre in New York contacted me and said, ‘Hey, we’re doing a screening of Troll 2 at our comedy club. Would you think about coming out to be there for it?’
So I went to New York and I met George. We were hours early and there was this huge line wrapped around the theatre. We thought it was for another show or something. We got out of the cab and people erupted into cheering for George because they recognised him. I remember George had this goofy grin. He ran across the street and fans were just embracing him. I was standing there like, ‘What in the world? This guy was in Alabama yesterday drilling cavities, and now he’s in New York being loved for this thing he did years ago.’
Darren Ewing: I didn't know what to expect. I'd never been to New York before and I was really nervous. I thought, ‘Okay, this is either going to be like the most embarrassing Spinal Tap moment of my life – we’ve already booked in and nobody's going to show up – or they're going to be mean.’ I got there, it was pouring with rain, and people had come from all over the country to see this thing. I can't describe the energy that was in that room, and the adulation. They treated us like we were The Beatles. After that, we started doing more and more screenings.
George Hardy: Michael Stephenson and I made the documentary organically with friends and family. It took about four years to make and we went to 28 cities in eight countries. We hunted down fans, we did screenings all over the world and we documented it. I was the social chairman to actually bring the cast back together and it took a while to convince a lot of the old actors to let us interview and film them.
Connie Riet: Michael making Best Worst Movie was when I finally came to grips with just loving it. Owning it. Just saying, ‘Yep, it is what it is. It’s all fun and it’s all good.’ But it took me a long time, for sure.
Darren Ewing: It's hard for me to be objective about Best Worst Movie, because it's very personal to me, but I just think they knocked it out of the park. Roger Ebert listed it as one of the top ten documentaries of 2010. I think they really captured the soul and the essence of it. Failure is such a universal theme. I think it's what makes us more human. It’s what connects us.
Michael Stephenson: Throughout making the film, getting to know the other cast members was like reconnecting with people whose lives had gone different ways. You shared this common experience that was very formative and weird, and all these years later you get to reconnect. It feels like this unbreakable bond that I’ll share with everyone who was in that film forever, and proudly so.
George Hardy: There’s an argument about which one’s the holy grail – whether it’s Troll 2, The Room, Plan 9 from Outer Space. It’s been a surreal experience for me. After 30 years, you realise that this is a real thing that millions of people love. It matures like a good old bottle of red wine! Over my lifespan of practising dentistry, I've been in ten films now – Troll 2 was the first, of course. If you can't be in one of the best films ever made, why not be in one of the worst?
Lindey Crow: I think it’s pretty cool, especially for a film that I thought would go nowhere. I take pride in having been the make-up artist on the worst film ever made.
Darren Ewing: I can't go many places in Utah where someone doesn't know me or recognise me, and I really love that! I'm sorry, I do! There’s so much enthusiasm. I have friends that say they watch it every week. Some of them say, ‘Oh, this movie just changed my life.’ And I'm like, ‘You know what? It changed my life too.’ I've always wanted a piece of film culture and, in a funny, odd way, I got it. I have no regrets about that.
Michael Stephenson: I have an overwhelming sense of gratitude for Troll 2 and all the bizarre, fun, unpredictable ways it’s influenced my life since I was ten-years-old. From the embarrassing part, to the part where Troll 2 sold out all these theatres, to the documentary that I never thought would get finished, to the relationship I now have with George – all of it.
Christopher Salmon: It was just so crazy and weird and funny. After it was all done, you were like, ‘Seriously, did that actually happen? Did that really happen?’ Half of the time I kept thinking, ‘Am I being pranked?’ I just couldn’t believe they were serious, but they were. And then when the movie came out and it became this great big thing, it just continues to be a surreal experience.
Connie Riet: It feels nice now. I mean, who can say they were in a movie that became this cult classic phenomenon, you know? People still get together to watch it, and they're like, ‘Oh, it’s our favourite Halloween movie.’ I feel very fortunate to have been part of something that took on a life of its own. I needed to grow up and not take myself so seriously to see the good that was coming out of it.
Rossella Drudi: Some British and American intellectuals have written that if the comedy of this film was really intentional, then I would be a genius. I don't consider myself a genius – just a storyteller full of fantasy.
Michael Stephenson: Everything that’s come after it has weirdly enriched my life on a number of levels. I’ve gone the whole gamut, from being so embarrassed by this film and thinking it’s the worst thing ever, to loving it and loving what it’s done for people. I love the director and I love my cast members. It’s led me to some of the best experiences I’ve had in my life to date, both personally and professionally. To think that will have all come from a low-budget horror film about vegetarian goblins? That’s the sort of stuff that you never see coming.