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When he was 11, Michael Stephenson found a VHS copy of the 1990 horror movie "Troll 2" under the Christmas tree.
Most parents wouldn't give their young children a B-movie about ravenous goblins who turn people into plants and then eat them. But Stephenson wasn't just any kid - he played little Joshua Waits, the lead character, when the movie (then titled "Goblin") was being filmed in Morgan, Utah.
"It was a Christmas unlike any other," Stephenson recalled this week. "I was young, but I was old enough to realize this was a bad movie. It felt uncomfortable watching it."
Uncomfortable? That might be an understatement. After all, the direct-to-video release ranks among the Bottom 100 on the Internet Movie Database. Even Stephenson, growing up in Kaysville, became "dreadfully embarrassed by it," he said. "I couldn't live it down. I had this one uncle who would call me every single time it was on TV."
But something strange happened to this awful movie: It found love from many devoted fans, who have elevated "Troll 2" into a cult favorite with special screenings in cities around the world.
Fan worship of "Troll 2" could hit bizarre levels in Morgan next weekend. The Original Alamo Drafthouse, an independent movie theater in Austin, Texas, is organizing the "Nilbog Invasion," a three-day celebration featuring outdoor screenings, panel discussions with the cast and crew, and a variety of contests inspired by the movie.
"I'm really looking forward to the baloney-sandwich-eating competition," said Zack Carlson, an event organizer for the Alamo Drafthouse, who said the Morgan event is the biggest the theater has ever staged.
Some cast members, such as George Hardy (who played Joshua's father, Michael, and is now a dentist in Alabama), never acted again. Some continued acting. There's Connie Young, who played Joshua's teen sister Holly, who was the romantic lead in the LDS comedy "The Singles Ward," while Darren Ewing, who as Arnold says the immortal line "Oh, my God!!!", appeared in "Unaccompanied Minors." (Ewing also works as a producer for The Salt Lake Tribune's Web site.)
Strangest of all is Jason F. Wright, who plays Holly's moronic boyfriend Elliott: He's now a best-selling author (The Wednesday Letters, Christmas Jars) and founder of the blog PoliticalDerby.com who shows up regularly on Fox News.
Stephenson will be on hand at the event, showing a preview and shooting footage of "Best Worst Movie," a documentary he is making about "Troll 2" and its fans. "When I picked up on the sincerity of these fans," Stephenson said, "I thought, 'Man, this is really something cool.' This is something that a lot of movies strive for and never get."
For years, Stephenson has received personal e-mails about the film. "Four or five kids in the middle of nowhere watching 'Troll 2' in their trailer park, dressing up and eating green food," he said. "And none of them seemed to realize that anyone else was doing it. I realized how genuine this was, and how it was very grassroots, and that these fans were very sincere."
And very elaborate. This week Stephenson was in Vienna, Austria, interviewing a fan who persuaded his town's orchestra to play a symphonic version of a "Troll 2" song.
At special screenings in several cities, fans have worn homemade T-shirts and costumes - the strangest one, Stephenson said, was a guy in Seattle dressed as a potted tree, with a friend dragging him from place to place. And people get interactive, À la "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," shouting dialogue and throwing objects.
"Everybody throws popcorn, everybody sings 'Row, Row, Row Your Boat,' " Stephenson said. "Every screening, there's somebody with baloney sandwiches."
Finding that kind of fan enthusiasm was "an affirmation that I wanted to tell this story," Stephenson said. "Oddly enough, it felt a bit like a calling."
It's all goblins all the time at Nilbog Invasion in Morgan
The Nilbog Invasion will hit Morgan (about 23 miles east of Ogden on
Interstate 84) June 27-29.
Besides "Troll 2," screenings on the
Alamo Drafthouse giant outdoor
screen will include:
* "Troll," which, unlike "Troll 2," has recognizable actors (Michael Moriarty, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Sonny Bono and June Lockhart among them), production values and trolls.
* "Crawlers," aka "Troll 3," an unofficial sequel.
* "Quest for the Mighty Sword," aka "The Hobgoblin," aka "Troll 3: The Sword of Power," an Italian-made movie that includes a sorcerer's costume from "Troll 2."
* "Beyond Darkness," a haunted-mansion thriller directed by Claudio Fragasso, the Italian filmmaker who directed "Troll 2."
Other events on the bill:
* Panels with the filmmakers and the cast.
* A "Nilbog" feast and "Goblin Treats."
* A popcorn-eating competition.
* A costume competition.
* A "Dance and Eat" opening-night party.
* A javelin-toss competition.
* A Molotov cocktail toss.
* A double-decker baloney-sandwich eating contest.
* A "Guitar Hero" competition.
Passes for the event are:
* $15 for admission to all three movies on Saturday night only.
* $40 for a three-day pass, which includes admission to all events ($10 extra for opening-night party).
* $100 for a "mega-almost deluxe pass," which includes VIP seating to the outdoor screenings, a collectible Nilbog Invasion badge and lanyard, an autographed poster and a T-shirt.
* $170 for a Deluxe pass, which includes all of the above, plus a meet-and-greet with cast and crew and a VIP brunch.