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Thursday, October 14, 2010


It's been so long since I saw the original TROLL, all I remember about it is that it stars Shelley Hack and Sonny Bono, takes place in an apartment building with a troll in it (not Sonny Bono), features John Carl Buechler as both director and makeup effects creator, and, as I was reminded recently, has a kid in it named Harry Potter, Jr.  Oh yeah, and there's a pretty cool performance by a little girl named Jenny Beck who at one point gets to be possessed by the title creature.

The in-name-only sequel, TROLL 2, has none of these things.  It does, however, share one quality with the original--one of the best performances comes from the kid in the lead role, in this case Michael Stephenson as Joshua Waits, a boy who is visited by the ghost of his deceased grandfather, Seth (Robert Ormsby).  Grandpa Seth reads Josh scary bedtime stories about trolls--or, as he calls them, goblins--who assume human form and trick people into eating a gooey substance that turns them into half-human, half-plant hybrids, which is the goblins' favorite food.

Nobody, including Josh's mom (Margo Prey) and step-dad (George Hardy) and his big sister Molly (Connie McFarland), believe him about Grandpa Seth's ghost or his warning that the goblins are real.  So when the family travels to the tiny town of Nilbog (catchy name) on a house-swapping vacation and all the local citizens turn out to be goblins looking for their next meal, it's up to Josh and his ghostly gramps to hold the ravenous little buggers at bay until the rest of the clueless family wises up and takes action.

TROLL 2 may have been made in 1990, but in spirit it's still a product of the 80s.  From the cheesy score, to sister Molly's awful aerobic workout dance, to her horny boyfriend Elliott (Jason Wright) and his chums who are like braindead refugees from a dull edition of "USA's Up All Night", the film is steeped in that golden decade's kitschy goodness.  Not surprisingly, the film known by some as "the best worst movie ever" also glows with the same cheapo charm of a million other junk films of the era that I rented on VHS or watched on late-night cable between used car commercials.

Horror-wise, there's not much on the scary side going on here, with the trolls--sorry, goblins--resembling a bunch of fat little kids in oversized Halloween masks.  These are designed to resemble the ones in the first film but clearly lack John Carl Buechler's artistry.  There's no gore to speak of, since anyone who ingests the tainted goblin-goo instantly starts bleeding green tree sap and literally vegging out. 

The creatures themselves are actually scarier in their mock-human forms, coming off as a cross between the hostile yokels from DELIVERANCE and the pagan farm punks of CHILDREN OF THE CORN.  When they surround the Waits family in their vacation house and start slowly closing in, it's a little like something out of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD.


Technically, TROLL 2 is pretty amateurish, with camerawork, direction, and editing that are definitely not so hot.  Yet it remains well-paced and watchable throughout, the story moving at a pretty snappy clip with few draggy spots and little or no padding.  The smalltown locations in Utah are certainly atmospheric--just being in this crummy little flyspeck burg would seem nightmarish enough even without the trolls (sorry, goblins).

As for the acting, most of the leads seem to have been recruited from grade-school plays, yet they invest their roles with conviction.  I love the awkward, stilted dialogue scenes between Molly and her boyfriend Elliott, who infuriates her by insisting on dragging his buds along on the trip.  While these guys aren't so hot in the acting department either, they do make good plant food.  One of them even ends up as a potted plant in the lair of Miss Creedence Leonore Gielgud, who turns out to be the evil queen of the trolls (sorry, goblins). 

Deborah Reed, whose acting dial is clearly stuck on "eleven", mugs her way through this role with the eye-rolling gusto of a horror-movie hostess.  When she's surrounded by her warty minions in the bowels of her inner sanctum, sporting a Technicolor makeup job and playing to the back row like Margaret Hamilton on PCP, the film resembles a particularly demented Sid and Marty Krofft production.

Also of note is Michael Stephenson as Josh, who makes up for his lack of acting polish with an intense performance that oftens has him emoting his little buns off.  There's a nice nightmare sequence early on in which his family turn into goblins as he begins to bleed chlorophyll and sprout branches through his fingers and chest.  Best of all, though, is when a famished Mom, Dad, and Molly sit down to eat a poisoned dinner and Josh has to act fast in order to stop them.  His solution, which was pretty much the last thing I expected, had me howling.

The Blu-Ray/DVD combo labeled "The 20th Anniversary Nilbog Edition" is from MGM and 20th-Century Fox.  The Blu-Ray is in English 5.1 DTS-HD master audio and English mono.  Features as listed on the box are feature film in high definition, 1080p, lossless audio, smart menu technology, and original theatrical trailer.  I reviewed the DVD only, which contains the feature film in standard definition with English mono sound, plus the trailer.  Both discs are in 1.85:1 widescreen and offer English, Spanish, and French subtitles. 

Like a Halloween spook-house slapped together by a bunch of enthusiastic but drunk neighborhood slobs, TROLL 2 is dumb as a doorknob but engagingly lively and fun right up to its startling conclusion.  (And it's one of the few films I've seen in which bologna plays an integral part in the finale.)  Although the whole thing threatens to fall apart any second, it never does.  In fact, for all its faults, the chewing gum and baling wire ingenuity that holds this creaky creature feature together somehow makes it more entertaining than your usual big-budget bomb.   

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Andrew said...

I hear someone has made a documentary about Troll 2....
I gotta see it!

Porfle Popnecker said...

I only just found out about it a couple of days ago. Now that I've watched TROLL 2 I'd be really interested in seeing it myself.

Max the drunken severed head said...

All I can say is - it's astounding!

Porfle Popnecker said...

And then some!