Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Movie Star, Aerobics Instructor, Dentist

George Hardy travels to screenings around the country. Fans cheer him, mob him for autographs and recite all his lines.

But Hardy is not a movie star.

He is a small town Alabama dentist.

And his movie isn't celebrated because it's that good.

But because it's that bad.

Worst ever. (And the subject of a Fresh Look on Life.)

Hardy came to Utah a few decades ago to do a residency in pediatric dentistry and stayed and joined a practice in Holladay.

He'd always been a ham. He's quick to point out that he was a cheerleader at Auburn University.
And he had a brief stint as a TV aerobics instructor on Hooked on Aerobics, the BYU program that got airplay across the country.

One of his patients suggested that Hardy, no doubt because of his outgoing personality, get an agent and try acting in commercials.

Eighteen years ago he got his first audition. It was for a 'B' rated horror film produced by some visiting Italian filmmakers.

Hardy remembers lots of cigarette smoke. And the fact that the filmmakers didn't speak English.
"All I remember is Claudio, the director, saying 'You have good energy! You have good energy!'"

That's Claudio Fragasso, screenwriter of "Women's Prison Massacre" and "Terminator II" (not the 1991 sequel starring Arnold Schwartzenegger, but the 1990 Italian version) and second unit director of "Zombie Creeping Flesh."

Hardy got the part.

The movie was called "Troll II."

It had nothing to do with "Troll" (I).

And it had no trolls.

Just goblins.

Vegetarian goblins who fed people green Kool-Aid, green yogurt, sour milk and corn on the cob with green icing -- food which apparently turned human prey into vegetable matter -- and then ate them.

Hardy played Michael Waits, whose family goes on a house swapping adventure in the town of of Nilbog. (That’s "Goblin" spelled backwards. Ingenious.)

Direction, because of the language barrier, was non-existent.

Productions values were rock-bottom.

The goblins were little people outfitted with laughable rubber masks and (literally) potato sacks. (The wardrobe was provided by Laura Gemser, sex symbol star of the Emanuelle series -- "Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals," "Emanuelle Reports from a Women's Prison" and "Erotic Nights of the Living Dead" -- turned costume designer.)

The script, written in Italian and translated into English (it apparently lost something in translation), made no sense.

Joshua: A double-decker bologna sandwich!
Creedence: Aaahhh! Think about the cholesterol! Think about... THE TOXINS...!

(In "The Wizard of Oz," Dorothy defeats the witch with a bucket of water. The young lead of "Troll II" has a double-decker bologna sandwich.)

"Some of the older actors mentioned that, when they saw some of the effects, 'Well maybe it'll look better in post-production,'" said Michael Stephenson, who, as a 10-year-old, played the lead in the film.

It didn't.

The film, amazingly enough, never got a theatrical release, but went straight to video.

Hardy got a copy and popped it into his VHS machine.

"I remember trying to get through the first two or three scenes. I was just sick to my stomach."

"I'll be really honest, I just couldn't do it, I just couldn't," Hardy hides his face in his hand.

"That was so bad, that was so bad, so bad."

Hardy got about as far away from Nilbog as he could. He set up a dentistry practice in his hometown in Alabama.

When he got eyeglass video monitors for his dentistry practice, he did show his patients Troll II to distract them from the drill.

"Did it get rid of the pain?" I asked.

"They completely forgot about going to the dentist after watching "Troll II.""

But Hardy, himself, never watched the whole thing through

Not until last year.

Now he's seen it 15 times.

About a year ago, Dr. Hardy got a phone call from a student producing a radio documentary about the film.

"Do you know about the world-wide cult phenomenon around "Troll II?"" the student asked.

Hardy had no clue.

The film had been banished to late night cable TV, and just in the past year or so, it developed a cult following.

Hardy went on line to the Internet Movie Database and saw all the postings on "Troll II" message board.

One, from Blair Sterrett of Provo, invited cast members to a screening in Utah.
Sterrett, of the Lost Media Archive (see the blog entry below), hosted a regular Incredibly Strange Movie Night.

He was looking for films that were bizarre, yet suitable for LDS audiences, and someone suggested "Troll II."

He rented the movie and was dumbfounded.

"I couldn't believe what I had seen," Sterrett said. "I had to keep staring at the case to prove to myself that this film actually existed."

It was just that bad.

He thought there was something strangely Utahn about the movie. The way people dressed, the way they spoke, and the way they acted as if they were performing in a ward road show.

When he found out it was indeed filmed in Utah -- in Morgan, Salt Lake City and on Guardsman's Pass -- and when someone told him one of the actors
was in their ward, it hit him: "I bet they're all here."

Sterrett postponed the screening a couple of weeks and started searching the phone book.

"I thought, how are these people going to react? Are they going to be embarrassed about it. Are they going to deny they were in it?"

A couple of the actors wanted nothing to do with "Troll II."

But several others did.

George Hardy flew out from Alabama.

And in April 2006, the first-ever "Troll II" reunion was held in downtown Provo.

Fans came from out of state.

Since then, there've been screenings and cast Q&A's in New York, Houston and Seattle.

Three hundred people showed up in Boston.

Austin's Alamo Theater sold out. The premiere of "Lord of the Rings" didn't draw as big a crowd there.

(The Tower Theater in Salt Lake City is hosting a screening and Q&A with the actors and the director August 11 at 10:30 pm.)

It's become a Rocky Horror-like picture show.

Audience members recite the lines along with the movie. They sing songs and dance along with the actors. They throw popcorn and, of course,
bologna sandwiches.

"There was a kid that came dressed up as a tree and his friend dragged him in a pot into the theater," Stephenson says.

There are Troll II My Space pages, tattoos, Youtube videos, songs, and Troll II parties.

Six weeks ago, Hardy got a call from Iraq.

"Is this Farmer Waits?"

It was.

Hardy could hear an excited soldier yelling to his friends. "Oh guys, this is Farmer Waits!"

He was holding Troll II parties in Iraq.

"They were showing to the Iraqis and the Iraqis were loving it," Hardy says.
Once Hardy and other cast members ran from Troll II. Now they embrace it.

The dentist sells the video at his practice.

He goes to screenings.

Hardy and his on-screen son, Michael Stephenson, are producing a documentary about Troll II called "Best Worst Movie."

Jason Wright, who played the horny teenage boyfriend of Hardy's on-screen daughter, is now a conservative writer and consultant. The website that includes photos of Wright with Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Andy Card, also proudly highlights his role in "Troll II."

And it was all an accident.

No one was playing it for laughs.

"Everybody on set showed up to make a good horror movie," Stephenson said.
"We all took this seriously. We wanted this to be a good movie"

They failed.


Troll II ranks among the worst movies ever. Among such classics as Plan 9 From Outer Space and Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.

And George Hardy seems pretty happy about it.

"A perfectly done bad movie," Hardy says. "Perfectly done bad. It delivers."

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