George Hardy is a small town Alabama dentist with a secret past.
Along with other aspiring actors, Hardy starred in the 1989 horror movie "Troll 2" -- a low-budget flick that holds a place in history as perhaps the worst movie ever made.
"I was just having fun. I just thought, 'What the heck, I'll be in a movie for the experience of it. I probably will never get another experience like this again,'" said Hardy, now 55. "We were just trying to make a good movie."
But they failed miserably. And failure doesn't really begin to describe it. "Troll 2" skipped theaters and became a cheesy staple of late night HBO. At one point, it was voted the worst film ever on the website IMDB.com, and the movie review site Rottentomatoes.com gave it a zero -- the lowest score possible.
Then there's the plot, which has nothing to do with 1986's "Troll." In fact, there's not a single troll in the movie. It's about a little boy, Joshua Waits, who is terrorized by vegetarian goblins who want to turn his family into plants and eat them.
"I thought that I was going to be a movie star. I thought that this was the next 'Gremlins' or the next 'Labyrinth,'" said Michael Paul Stephenson, who played Joshua Waits. "We put the VHS in and we all sat around the TV, and seven seconds in, my dad's jaw dropped and he said, 'Oh, Michael, this is a terrible movie.'"
Two decades later, audiences seem to think that "Troll 2" is so terrible, it's actually good. A rabid fan base has formed around the hilarious horror movie and theaters from Austin to Los Angeles are hosting special screenings to sold-out audiences.
"All of a sudden I had just about every major theater in the country contacting me, saying, 'We have all these "Troll 2" fans too,' and it set off all these screenings everywhere," said Stephenson. "And aside from the big screenings there were screenings happening in kids' basements everywhere."
Celebrating Cinematic Failure
From Los Angeles to New York, hundreds have also flocked to screenings of "The Room," an out-of-focus, poorly-edited box office dud described by one reviewer as "so bad... it becomes riveting." Audiences, it seems, love movies that are perfectly awful.
"The biggest reason 'Troll 2' has become this phenomenon is that it's sincere. It's a sincere failure that haunts us," Stephenson said. "With 'Troll 2,' we thought we were making a great horror film, and that's what causes people to smile and to laugh."
Fans today have made their own goblin costumes. Moviegoers shout at the screen, reciting excruciatingly bad lines of dialogue.
Making the 'Best Worst Movie'
Stephenson wanted to find out what happened to the people behind "Troll 2," so he made a documentary, "Best Worst Movie," about the movie's renaissance.
He reunited the cast and traveled to Italy to track down filmmaker Claudio Fragasso, who still calls the movie an "important parable that deals with serious issues."
"I did a very good movie," Fragasso said in the documentary. "For the others, it's their problem, not my problem."
Fragasso is not delusional as Margo Prey, the woman who played mother Diana Waits in "Troll 2." Without a hint of sarcasm she says that "Troll 2" is good enough to be in the same class as "Casablanca."
"After I watched the movie, I just sat back and said, 'Wow. This is great. This is really great,'" Prey said. "You compare our movie to a Katherine Hepburn-Humphrey Bogart movie, and it fits in."
Fans at the Austin Drafthouse theater may actually agree with that. "These people tried so hard to make a good movie -- and they failed so hard that it kind of has more power than movies that are made adequately but not great," said Austin Drafthouse programmer Zack Carlson.
In an ironic twist, "Best Worst Movie," has achieved something "Troll 2" never did: critical acclaim. The award-wining documentary has helped turn George Hardy into a kind of cult celebrity. Now, "Troll 2: Part 2" is in development, giving the actors another chance at becoming a household names.
"I really don't feel like I'm a movie star. Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep...They're movie stars. I just live in a small town, I have a great family and a terrific dental practice. I'm just in this for the ride of it all," Hardy said. "You know I just think life's too short."