Monday, October 09, 2006

HORROR MONTH: Goblins, Trolls and Screams

I was fortunate to enjoy a free Showtime preview this weekend. I had expected to enjoy some quality new releases (just one) and maybe some trademark Showtime T&A (zilch). Never did I expect that I would be introduced to a cinematic landmark and a budding obsession of mine: Troll 2.

Currently occupying the No. 3 spot on IMDB's list of the Bottom 100 movies, 'Troll 2' is not simply a horrible movie, but an experience that words cannot prepare you for. It is not just one of the worst movies ever made, but a level of entertainment that defies categorization and explanation, but I will do my best.

Our Players
One of the reasons 'Troll 2' struck me was that by accident it introduced cinema to a new style of acting. An evolution of Italian Neo-Realism, whereby non-actors are used to portray real life, 'Troll 2' uses what could be called 'Italian Non-Budgetism.' Director Claudio Fragasso is Italian, and to get around the haggles of a budget, he utilized non-actors out of necessity, in many cases people who perhaps had never seen a movie. If you skim the IMDB page for 'Troll 2,' most of the cast have no other film credits to their name. There are many line deliveries in this movie that sound like they're from the first day of auditions for a high school play, when prospective actors are reciting lines from a play they have likely not read. It doesn't help matters that the script often feels like it was hastily written off-camera just before shooting, examples:

HOLLY: 'If my father catches us he'll cut off your little nuts and eat them!' (Talk of a father eating adolescent testicles is always a good way to start a movie)

JOSHUA: 'Did they (the goblins) eat him?'
GRANDPA: 'Yes, with a voracity that has never been seen on Earth.' (Goddamn those goblins were hungry!)

Of course it is difficult to work with actors with little or no experience, or even ones with a limited range of emotiosn. For example, the main character is a little boy named Joshua, who goes the entire running time with his squinted eyes, gritted teeth and never lowers his voice to anything less than the kind of screaming that is usually reserved for extreme bodily harm. Margo Prey (in her only cinematic credit) portrays Joshua's mother, and can be easily described as ugly. It doesn't help her cause that her only acting 'skill' is to leave her mouth and eyes boldly agape for extended periods of time. George Hardy portrays Joshua's father, and was famously simply a dentist from a nearby Utah town.

Our story
The problem with most horrible low-budget horror/scifi movies is that they're boring, mostly because they take a simplistic story that's already been done (big monster/aliens/slasher). In 'Troll 2' this isn't a problem, because it tells a highly original story. It starts with Peter, a clean cut boy in the 1800s walking through the forest with a tri corner hat (that's what they wore back then). The narrator tells us that fear was sticking to him like dew on leaves, and it doesn't help matters when he stumbles upon some goblins wearing burlap sacks. Peter runs, and eventually runs into a beautiful girl with freckles painted (poorly) on her face. She lovingly gives him some disgusting green goo that he eagerly laps, but then everything goes wrong, as green punch starts pouring out of his skin and the girl with freckles painted on her face turns into a goblin.

We soon find out that the narrator was indeed Grandpa Seth (no need to remember this name, as it accounts for nearly half the words in the movie, usually delivered as 'GRANDPA SETH!!!!!!!! HELP US!!!!!!!!'), who was reading bedside to Joshua from a children's book that looks in one shot to be titled 'Davey the Goblin.' As Joshua is shouting questions to Grandpa Seth about the goblins, his mother knocks on the door and we find out that Grandpa has actually been dead for 6 months, but he still comes to Joshua's room to read him stories (among his other abilities: stopping time, materializing as a person, making molotov cocktails and escaping from Hell for a few minutes at a time). Before he disappeared, Grandpa told Joshua that goblins still exist (this is a key plot point), but his mom tells him that the family is off to spend a month in the country to unwind.

You can probably guess what happens from here on out: the family goes to a town called Nilbog, which is populated by country rubes who are actually vegetarian goblins who trick you into eating their magical forest food, so you will melt into green goo to be eaten by them. There are also many interesting subplots (some not involving a sexual encounter involving a boy, a witch named Creedence and an ear of corn), such as a boy who turns into a plant and Nilbog's friendly Sheriff named Gene Freak.

Keen readers will notice that I did not use the word 'troll' once in my description. This is by design, as the word 'troll' is not uttered once and as far as anyone can tell, 'Troll 2' has nothing to do with 'Troll,' a 1986 movie about trolls (not goblins) invading a San Francisco apartment complex.

Trolling for genius
My simple description may make it sound like 'Troll 2' is undeserving of the accolades I've reaped upon it, but consider the following:

--In one remarkable scene, Joshua's family is set to unwittingly eat some of the goblin food (usually shown as cakes with green frosting, english muffins with green frosting and sandwiches with green frosting). Grandpa Seth to the rescue, advising Joshua 'for the love of God, don't let them eat!' Helpfully, Gramps freezes time and gives Joshua 30 seconds to think of a solution. Joshua doesn't let him down, as he thinks of an obvious answer: pissing all over the green-frosted feast. This leads to a pantheon quote from dad: 'These people are letting us stay in their house, and you can't piss on hospitality! I won't allow it!'

--One moving revelation is that Nilbog is actually Goblin spelled backwards. Goblins are a clever bunch, naming your town 'Goblin' would be much too obvious, no?

--When Evil Preacher Goblin goes against Joshua (molotov cocktail) and Grandpa Seth (fire extinguisher -- 'to cause confusion'), the Goblin condemns Grandpa's spirit to hell. Joshua asks if Grandpa really is in hell, to which he replies '
No! But I know a trick that a friend of mine who went there taught me!' Oh.

--The final battle features Joshua's secret weapon (a balogna sandwich) and his family touching a Stonehenge rock and concentrating very hard (helped by Joshua urging them on with 'CONCENTRATE HARDER!!!!!').

The Legacy

Thankfully, I'm not the only one smitten with this movie, check out the official fan web site, which features lots of good information and even some snazzy t-shirts for sale. Last year in New York City, 'Troll 2' was screened at the Upright Citizens Brigade theater, with most of the cast attending for a Q&A session (videos of this event are on YouTube here and here). As you can imagine, college screenings of 'Troll 2' have helped spur its cult status, as well as MGM's Troll/Troll 2 DVD release. As I said earlier, the full brilliance of 'Troll 2' cannot be done justice by words alone, so please enjoy this extensive clip montage on YouTube, as well as this stylish 'Troll 2' music video and faux trailer.


BB said...

I saw Troll 2 on Showtime when I was propbably 9 or 10 and even then I thought, "man, this is bad." Having watched the original Troll at least 10 times before the age of 9, I was excited to see the second one; nothing could have prepared me.

I've been quoted as saying, "Troll 2 is the worst film ever made." I've viewed it multiple times, and done some research on the film, and it was shot in Utah, so my theory is that the majority of actors were Mormon, and had never seen a horror before in their lives (especially the chick who plays the evil queen). I'm a big fan of Grandpa Seth though, and I want to put him in a movie someday, maybe have him play the same character...

If you want to see a movie where the quality of acting matches that of Troll 2, see The Jar ( It rules.

Anonymous said...

I just want to say, I am enjoying Horror Month. Have you ever seen Satan's Little Helper?

Adam Ross said...

Haven't seen Satan's Little Helper, sounds interesting though from IMDB comments, maybe it'll make it into Horror month if I can see it soon.

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