Film is an inherently collaborative medium that relies on the smooth functioning of a complex array of interconnected artistic and narrative components, which means that there are myriad ways in a which a movie can go bad. It can be saddled with a terrible script, bad dialogue, and lousy plotting. The acting can be atrocious. The cinematography can be a mess. The music can be silly or distracting. The special effects can be unconvincing. And so on and so forth. The worst movies usually fumble in several of these categories simultaneously, but in some very rare, very special cases, everything goes wrong in perfect concert, thus producing a literal sympathy of ineptitude, a movie of such abject badness that its incompetence becomes a virtue, a source of unintended entertainment that transcends its many faults and stumbles into the realm of the sublime. Troll 2, which disappeared quickly after its straight-to-video release in the U.S. in the early 1990s but has since developed a rabid cult following, is such a movie. In fact, it may be the very epitome of the bad movie.
It is hard to know where to begin in discussing Troll 2, since everything about it is so terribly, horribly wrong. We might start with the rudimentary plot, which, despite the title, has no connection with John Carl Buechler's Troll (1986), a silly, but generally charming low-budget horror/fantasy goof that played incessantly on cable TV in the late 1980s. The story takes place in the tiny farming community of Nilbog, whose newest residents are a vacationing family--a father, mother, teenage daughter, and preteen son--seeking to escape the noise and stress of their urban life. The son, Joshua (Michael Stephenson), has been keeping in touch with his recently deceased Grandpa Seth (Robert Ormsby) for no reason other than the fact that the ghostly grandpa provides a convenient source of exposition about the true nature of Nilbog, starting with the fact that--yes, you guessed it!--Nilbog is goblin spelled backward! Thus, in one simple plot element, Troll 2 displays multiple levels of incompetence: First, the obviousness of this revelation, which couldn't possibly be lost on any viewer older than three, and secondly, the disjunction between the movie's actual monsters and the title. Nowhere in the film is a troll to be found, nor is the word itself ever uttered. Instead, we get a clumsy gaggle of diminutive actors clad in padded burlap sacks with their faces hidden in embarrassingly fake, immovable goblin masks. All the low-angle shots and mist machines in the world don't have a prayer of making them anything other than ridiculous.
Joshua, via information from Grandpa Seth, discovers that the town's creepy residents are actually goblins in disguise who want to trick his family into eating the town's homemade food, which will turn them into icky green vegetable matter that is apparently the goblins' favorite food source. This leads to one of the film's most jaw-dropping sequences, in which Joshua, to keep his family from eating a lovely spread of green delights, jumps on a chair and urinates all over the table (thankfully the scene cuts away just after he unzips, but the implied action is all too clear). Joshua's parents (George Hardy and Margo Prey) are appropriately disbelieving, and the teen sister Holly (Connie McFarland) is too distracted by her dim-witted boyfriend Elliott (Jason Wright), who has followed the family to Nilbog with his goofball friends in a mobile home. Everyone eventually figures out what is going on, especially after they run across Creedence Leonore Gielgud (Deborah Reed), the vampy goblin leader who works her dark magic out of a converted church.
Of course, even if the film had a modicum of competence in its narrative or special effects (which it doesn't), it would still collapse under the combined weight of its awful performances. I would be in shock if you could find a movie with worse acting than Troll 2; the movie works as a kind of compendium of bad acting, from wooden understatement to delirious over-the-top campiness. At one end of the spectrum we have Margo Prey as the mother, who looks strangely disassociated throughout the film, as if she is mentally somewhere--anywhere--else but on set. Her line readings sound as if she is reading phonetically off cue cards without any notion of what the words actually mean. As the father, George Hardy (whose actual profession is dentistry), gives it the ol' college try, which means that he consistently comes across like he's trying too hard. The realm of true overacting is dominated by the film's principal female characters: Connie McFarland as the older sister manages to make some of the film's most ludicrous lines (particularly one in which she threatens Elliott with castration) even more ludicrous by pumping them full of misplaced hot air and constant eye rolling, while Deborah Reed enters the stratosphere with her bug-eyed scenery-chewing as the head goblin. And, lest we forget poor Michael Stephenson, it must be noted that he turns in what is quite possibly the worst child performance in the history of the cinema by delivering every line of dialogue in the desperate, grating, curled lip whine of a child who isn't getting his way. The psychological damage of having this film partially define his childhood is such that Stephenson, who at the time thought he was starring in the next Gremlins, not the next Manos: The Hands of Fate, had to exorcise his demons by making a documentary about Troll 2's fascinating and perverse cult film legacy (2009's well received Best Worst Movie).
The underlying cause of the film's badness is likely traceable to the fact that it is an Italian production with amateur American actors, all of whom had never starred in a film before and few of whom went on to do anything else. Thus, it is not hard to imagine a fundamental disconnect between the Italian crew (most of whom did not speak English) and the American actors who had no film experience whatsoever. The film's odd sense of dislocation (it was shot entirely on location in rural Utah) is also attributable to a European crew trying to make an "American" movie on the cheap. Attempts to locate the film in time and place, such as shots of Tom Cruise and Johnny Depp posters in Holly's room and labored references to "country hospitality," do little more than draw attention to how little the filmmakers know about American culture and the way Americans live. The general lack of narrative logic and coherence is also typical of low-budget Italian horror, although the best of these films make up for it with visual style, which Troll 2 studiously lacks.
Filmirage, the film's Rome-based production company, was founded in 1980 by legendary exploitation director Joe D'Amato, hence quality was never really a concern (the company produced more than 40 low-budget horror movies before going out of business in 1994). The film's director, Claudio Fragasso (working under the pseudonym Drake Floyd, which sounds like the name of middle-weight boxer circa 1940), already had a history of making cheap films that follow or blatantly rip off other series, including Zombi 3 (1988) and House 5 (1990), the latter of which was also produced by D'Amato. The Italian film industry, despite helping to revive the horror genre in the 1960s and '70s with the work of Mario Bava and his protg Dario Argento, is notorious for its underbelly of sleazy opportunism and shameless recycling, and one cannot fully appreciate Troll 2 without viewing it in that context.
Ultimately, though, Troll 2 is the kind of cinematic experience that must be experienced firsthand. No description of it can quite contain its misguided ludicrousness or the way its infinite and varied sins against the traits of good cinema combine to produce one of the most uproarious unintentional comedies ever made. From one victim's pathetically banal cry of "Ohhhhhhhhh myyyyy Gooooooooooddddd!" when he realizes that he is about to be eaten by goblins, to the absurd make-out sequence that turns a corncob into a sexual object and replaces fireworks with exploding popcorn, to the climax in which Joshua saves the day by chomping down on a double-decker baloney sandwich, there is not a scene in the movie that doesn't reach some kind of legendary status. It is the kind of movie you never quite forget, with bits and pieces of it lodging in your brain and burrowing to the very center of your nervous system. One can only anticipate with a mixture of fear and excitement the potential truth to the currently circulating rumor that Fragasso is working on a sequel, the title of which is only too appropriate: Troll 2 Part 2.
Copyright 2010 James Kendrick
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All images copyright 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Overall Rating: (1)
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