The Film: Troll 2 (1990)
The Principals: Michael Stephenson, George Hardy, shitty puppets, Claudio Fragasso (director)
The Premise: A young boy named Joshua (Stephenson) has been having conversations with his dead grandfather Seth, who keeps warning him about Goblins. His family decides to go to a town called Nilbog for vacation. Nilbog is goblin spelled backwards. Do the math.
Is It Good: In the words of our foremost poet-laureate “Aw, hell no.”
This is a movie called Troll 2 that features no actual trolls. They’re all goblins. This was made by an Italian (Fragasso) in America at the tail end of the Italian horror renaissance. There’s a horror subculture that regales the Italians, but horror fans are often the most forgiving, and there’s a lot of terrible Italian horror movies. Oh sure, you can call Dario Argento a master, there is a case to be made for Lucio Fulci, and there’s no denying Ruggero Deodato has his moments. I’m not denying the Italians (hello, my name is inspired by Dellamorte Dellamore) but many of the other big names – like Umberto Lenzi and Bruno Mattei – made shitty knock offs that are mostly laughable. That’s also appealing in its way as their films often mimicked something successful in America. It says something about his gifts that Claudio Fragasso worked a lot with Bruno Mattei and co-directed Rats: Night of Terror (if you haven’t seen Rats, it’s totally worth seeing for the surprise ending).
I have not seen Best Worst Movie – though I will – but I was indoctrinated into the Troll 2 cult by old video store coworkers. A number of the girls there (it would be fair to call them hipsters) really got into the “so bad it’s good” type of cinema, and they were obsessed with this movie. And you can see why they were so stoked: It doesn’t take long into the movie to realize that the director’s command of performance and acting was non-existent. All the actors are uniformly terrible, though you build up sympathy for Stephenson’s Joshua because he’s trying and he’s a kid. The girls were obsessed with Stephenson. Side note: as Best Worst Movie was taking off I had dinner with Stephenson through mutual friends, and I had to tell those old coworkers about it. I was star struck, but in that way you might be if you saw someone you recognized from a porn video.
The driving force of the cult of this thing is apparent right away, which is the complete disconnect from good acting and the weird interpretation of standard movie tropes. It’s one thing to be bad, but it’s something way more awesome if you’re crazed. Joshua constantly talks to his dead Grandpa Seth, who acts partly as a Obi-Wan Kenobi figure and partly as a get out of jail free card whenever Joshua needs help. Which leads to a scene where Joshua’s family is about to eat dinner, so grandpa Seth freezes time and Joshua figures the only way to stop people from eating is to pee on their food. This actually happens, by the way. Though the actual score is fun, the poor music choices also help amp up the camp (up). The family sings “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” terribly (which Kirk, Spock and Bones did in Star Trek V, leading me to a new pet theory: any film that uses this song will be bad), and Joshua’s sister doing a workout to music obviously created specifically for the scene.
There is a war going on for the film’s tone, but you can tell there’s something of a fairy tale quality to the movie, as there is an evil witch and fairy tale logic. For example, eating the Goblin’s food turns you into Goblin food, and because the goblins are vegetarians, Joshua is able to ward them off by eating meat. Every once in a while things seem so uniquely terrible that you almost think the film is intentionally doing what it’s doing, but then those thoughts pass as shots linger on terrible actors. This is also – strangely – a dead teenager film, as Joshua has a sister who’s got a boyfriend who wants to go on their vacation, but instead takes an RV with his friends to follow the family, which means additional corpses. One of his friends dies eating corn on the cob that explodes into popcorn as he’s eating it.
And finally, man I love the Goblin costumes. My favorite has always been the one that looks like Edvard Munch’s Scream guy.
Is It Worth a Look: It depends on your tolerance/appetite for good bad movies. There’s no denying the film has a charm because it is so uniquely terrible. I go back and forth on my feelings about liking a film for those reasons. Yes, I own The Room, and Battlefield Earth, but I don’t know how much energy should be spent on appreciating something terrible. Then again, I just bought this film on Blu-ray, so I’m kind of an asshole. Yummy! Mom is so good.
Random Anecdotes: The costume designer for the film was Laura Gemser. Gemser played Emmanuelle, and spent much of the 70’s in films where she was naked, having sex, getting raped (oh, the Italians!) and/or “exploring her sexuality” (read: fooling around with chicks). Sometimes this would start or end with her wearing a nun’s habit. I have no knowledge of what she did in her off hours, though her transition into costume design leads me to think it was knitting, and possibly darning. If I ever see Michael Stephenson again, I’ll have to ask him about her, though that’s possibly mentioned in his movie Best Worst Movie, which comes out on DVD 11/16.