Judging by my last two reviews, my Octoberween theme is apparently concerned with the “treat” side of this while “trick or treat” concept. Originally, I was going to do a 180 from my previous reviews and look at a Criterion horror movie like The Innocents, but then when I realized it wasn’t available on Hulu Plus yet, I decided to commit to my theme and watch the horror legend and perennial contender for the coveted prize of Worst Movie Ever: Troll 2.
The plot: The Waits family is leaving their busy suburban life to vacation in the rural village of Nilbog, with the intention of, as father Michael (George Hardy, now a dentist) puts it “living like peasants” because this family apparently doesn’t understand vacations are supposed to be fun. While most of the family is excited to do some grueling peasant-livin’, youngest child Joshua (Michael Stephenson) is less enthused, mainly because his deceased grandfather Seth (Robert Ormsby) has warned him that the town is run by shape shifting Goblins. Goblins, being vegetarians, lure human prey by assuming human shape and feeding their targets poisoned food that turns them into vegetable matter before the Goblins can eat them. Sure enough, there’s more to the town of Nilbog (spell it backwards) than meets the eye. It’s up to Joshua and the ghost-that’s-occasionally-alive-again of his grandfather to prevent his disbelieving family from the clutches of the goblins and their evil leader Creedence Leonore Gielgud. But will Joshua be able to save his family? And more importantly, will Elliot (Jason Wright), the boyfriend of Joshua’s sister Holly (Connie McFarland) finally stop hanging out with his friends long enough to give them some alone time, despite the fact that they followed the family up to town in an RV?
Internet lore did not lie, Troll 2 is an impressively bad movie. The acting is more wooden, the production values are so low they’re subterranean, and the script was literally written by people who could not speak English. By all means, this is a movie that should have been lost to the void of video store VHS and deep-cable channel showings. But like its so-bad-it’s-good ilk Plan 9 From Outer Space and The Room, Troll 2 has been preserved, championed, and cherished by a devoted fanbase worldwide because this is a movie that is compellingly bad. All the forces that conspired against this movie are what end up making it a cherished gem of a certain fashion. The dialogue is rife with weird syncopation and awkward turns of phrase that probably keep this movie a favorite of midnight screenings. The actors were instructed to read the dialogue exactly how it appears on the page, leading to some incredibly quotable moments. Halfway through the film, one of Elliot’s friends who has been brought along in the promise of meeting women whines “where are a the liberated womeeeeen?” which can either be taken, I think, as the gripe of an impetuous teen or an empowering feminist message. I’m not sure.
The plot is equally convoluted. If tricking people into eating food suspiciously covered with green icing before you can eat them seems like an oddly roundabout way of doing things, that’s because it is. There are some serious jumps in logic, the notion of explaining them never entertained. You want to know why Joshua’s dead grandfather can occasionally take physical form and has Goblin fighting lightning powers? Too bad, junior. Now help granddad toss this Molotov cocktail while I prepare this fire extinguisher.
My favorite plot element had nothing to do with goblins, but rather with the relationship drama between Holly and Elliot. You see, despite her parent’s disapproval, Holly loves Elliot. The only thorn in their relationship is his apparent disability to go anywhere without his three friends. For reasons that aren’t entirely clear to me, I found this plot strand delightfully strange. Elliot seems earnestly unaware of why taking his friends with him everywhere he goes might be damaging his relationship, and is bewildered to find Holly is angry when he decides to bring his crew on what she promises will be an isolated romantic getaway. In a way, it’s an enduring message about the powerful bond of friendship and the virtue of staying true to your friends. Except that Elliot lets two of his friends die or turn into a tree. One of them is just kind of forgotten in the woods without their plot being resolved. I take back what I said. You’re a shitty friend, Elliot.
You really can’t harangue the actors too much in this movie. Apparently they were all hoping to be cast as extras and ended up landing lead roles. They honestly give their material their best shot, and can be forgiven for being a little wooden. For an 1 year old with no formal training to speak of, Michael Stephenson gives an appropriately panicked performance. The actors who play the Goblins in human form are perfectly weird. It’s hard not to watch them and not think that these are likely Goblins in human-guise. Deborah Reed, as Goblin leader and evil witch Creedence gives the wildest performance of Helena Bonham Carter’s career, providing the character with levels of crazy and scenery chewing the film’s mis-en-scene calls for*. As for the other performances, chances are you’re one of the million viewers on Youtube who can already tell me what those are like:
It goes without saying that Troll 2 isn’t the gripping horror film it set out to be. That being said, the film has a certain nightmare quality to it that makes the film surprisingly eerie at times. The artifice of the Goblins, weird transformations, and his family’s staunch refusal to be believe Joshua’s warnings make the film feel like a particularly lucid childhood nightmare. Combined with a surprisingly grim ending, the film is never outright scary, but captures a fragment of childhood fear: knowing there’s a monster under the bed when all the grown-ups assure you that monsters aren’t real.
Troll 2 is a movie that thrives on group viewings. This is clearly a film that’s meant to be watched with some friends or a theater of strangers shouting jokes and comments at the screen. And while I’m sure my pug, who slept on my feet while I watched this movie alone appreciated how hilarious my comments were, I can’t help but feel like the experience would have been better in a group setting, especially during the dryer scenes of the film.
Much like the previously mentioned The Room and Plan 9 From Outer Space, part of the charm of Troll 2 is that it’s a movie that was clearly made with complete sincerity and earnestness. The filmmakers clearly did their best, and have had their work honored because of it, though maybe not as they intended (take note, Sharknado). If you need something to watch with your friends on Halloween, Troll 2 is the movie for you.
*My film professors at school would be so proud if they knew the first time I used the phrase mis-en-scene in a review, I applied it to Troll 2.