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Troll 2 (1990) Home Video Review

Creamed Corn

Troll 2 is what some people call “critic-proof”.  Usually that term is reserved for summer blockbusters whose star-power, brand recognition and innovative special effects guarantee ridiculous box office numbers, even if critics say it’s garbage.  This movie’s invulnerability comes from the fact that many have called it the worst ever made; star Michael Stephenson even filmed a documentary about its cult fandom called Best Worst Movie.  Having now watched Troll 2, I have to disagree with that designation—which means explaining myself by putting on my critic’s hat.

I can see how this film earned its reputation.  The acting is atrocious, the story is ridiculous and inconsistent, and the tone is all over the place.  Almost every scene in the movie is so poorly executed, so “off” rhythmically, that to watch it is to be in a state of giggling disbelief for nearly an hour and a half—which is a problem, since its ostensibly a horror movie.

It’d be easy to pin all of the problems on the actors—most of whom were non-professionals who answered a cold call, if I remember correctly—but Troll 2 suffers from a script that’s part 80s vacation comedy, part monster movie, and part polemic about the virtues of vegetarianism.  It’s essentially Children of the Corn, except that instead of evil kids, the villains are tater-sack-wearing goblins (not trolls, goblins) who seduce tourists with green food that turns their bodies into an edible, plant-based goo.  The goblins are helped by a crazy witch (Deborah Reed) who uses the power of Stonehenge to make them appear human—and apparently to convince average people that there’s nothing suspicious or unappetizing about green butter.

It’s a silly concept, and the fact that Troll 2 was made by a bunch of crazy Italians really shows.  Even director Claudio Fragasso’s attempt to shield his co-screenwriting credit with the pen-name “Drake Floyd” comes off as broken English—or maybe just a broken understanding of American culture.

How else can one explain teenager Holly’s (Connie McFarland) bizarre thirty-second dancing-in-aerobics-gear scene except as a flawed homage to Bill Murray in Meatballs and Tiffany Helm in Friday the 13: A New Beginning?

Or the low-budget tribute to Swamp Thing’s plantsformation effects, presented here as lime-Kool-Aid perspiration and brown Play-Doh wrapped around actors’ heads and feet to represent tree bark?

Or little Joshua’s (Stephenson) recurring visions of his dead Grandpa Seth (Robert Ormsby), whose ability to help stop the goblins is wildly inconsistent: one minute he can stop time; the next, he’s willed away into the afterlife by a powerful goblin/preacher.  In the end, he saves the day by giving Josh a backpack full of double-decker bologna sandwiches—which are lethal to vegetarian monsters.  What is this, but a love letter to Obi-Wan Kenobi (and, probably, Oscar Mayer)?

These are three of the two-hundred-and-fifty wacky problems that make Troll 2 a blast to watch.  But I still contend that this is not the worst movie ever made; first of all, there are a couple of laugh-lulls throughout, where the film stops being over-the-top crazy and just becomes the kind of generic, Saturday afternoon fluff that UHF channels couldn’t show enough of in the mid-80s.  You know, the ones with moments where someone is exploring a dark cave or scary building for way too long with no payoff, or running for too long with no sign of the pursuer.

The more important factor, though, is that there’s something that actually works in Troll 2, in the way it was intended.  It’s a genuinely surprising and scary scene—which automatically disqualifies it as being a perfectly bad movie.  Had Fragasso trimmed ten seconds out of this bad boy, he could have been the Ed Wood of the Pepsi Generation.  But, no, he had to ruin his camp streak by including a shot where Josh goes to a mirror to seek advice from Grandpa Seth (which he does about fifteen times in ninety minutes); given the events leading up to this moment, I figured either the old man wouldn’t appear—meaning Josh would have to conquer the goblins on his own—or he would, and give Josh the secret to saving his family.

Instead, the witch pops up and crashes through the mirror.  I didn’t expect this at all, mostly because it’s the kind of move I’d expect from—depending on historical context—either a pro filmmaker or a shameless hack.  I didn’t think Fragasso capable of scaring me, but he made me jump, dammit.  The movie loses another half a point in the “Best Worst Movie” race for the scene a few moments later, where the witch is repelled back into the mirror in a pretty impressive rewind shot that returns her to her underground layer.

So, yes, all of the stories you’ve heard about Troll 2 are true.  It is just as silly and just as hilarious as you’ve heard.  But it’s not quite bad enough to live up to the praise (for a serious contender, see my favorite dead horse, The Room; or Pieces, if you’re looking for an amazing horror movie fiasco).  I invite you to check it out for yourself; and if the movie teaches us nothing else, it’s that you don’t piss on hospitality.

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