Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Completing the Trollogy

I know I did not need to see Troll in order to see Troll 2. The two most famous things about Troll 2 are 1) it doesn't have any trolls in it, and 2) it doesn't have anything to do with the original Troll.

But I thought it would be funny to launch the experience of watching Troll 2 and Best Worst Movie, last year's documentary about the cult phenomenon of Troll 2, by giving the first Troll a whirl. With a few notable exceptions, I like to try to see movies in a "franchise" in the sequence they were released, and besides, seeing Troll would allow me to appreciate just how little it has to do with Troll 2 -- even though "nothing" is as little as one movie can have to do with another.

Boy oh boy.

You can imagine my shock when I thought Troll was easily among the bottom five percent of movies I've seen. How much worse could Troll 2 actually be?

Boy oh boy.

But keeping with my general philosophy, let's tackle these babies in order.

Troll (1985, John Carl Buechler). Watched: Monday, March 7th

I was laughing out loud from the start. Actually, the expulsions of involuntary noise from my mouth alternated between laughter and cries of "What?!"

The story is basically that a family moves into a new apartment, and their daughter, playing in the laundry room, is immediately possessed by a troll. The troll looked so absolutely ridiculous that I couldn't imagine for a moment being "scared" by it. (I believe this was the first time I yelled "What?!") Oh, and the troll has a magic crystal green ring that gives off cheesy sparkles from time to time.

From here the girl begins to act "weird" -- but because the poor little actress is so untalented, her version of "weird" could not help but be absurd. But that's just the beginning of the absurdity. This family (led by paterfamilias Michael Moriarity) lives upstairs from a goofy swinger played by Sonny Bono. Bono gets mad at the family because they make too much noise, and it affects his ability to woo his women. Then Julia Louis Dreyfus is in it as well. I think she is mostly seen in exercise gear.

The girl's brother ends up meeting a woman in the building (June Lockhart) who reveals to him that she's a witch. (A good witch, like in The Wizard of Oz.) Then there's something about the troll world starting to break through into the human world, which involves all the tenants of the building being transformed into mythical creatures, their apartments turning into lush green forests, and a lot of singing and chanting by really cheap-ass-looking trolls. The big finale involves a giant bat creature. The end.

The best thing about Troll is that the main character is named ... wait for it ... Harry Potter. Actually, there's Harry Potter Sr. (Moriarity) and Harry Potter Jr. (Noah Hathaway, the boy). How great is that? There have always been accusations that J.K. Rowling stole the Harry Potter character from someone else, but this is ridiculous.

Troll 2 (1990, Drake Floyd). Watched: Saturday, March 19th

Troll 2 was so bad that I had to start taking notes about ten minutes in, just so I could remember it all. As luck would have it, I forgot those notes at home. That's probably just as well, as I hope that some of you have already seen it, and that those of you who haven't will want to come in with a pristine mind, ready for the awfulness to hit you in a fresh wave.

Then there will be those of you who saw Best Worst Movie but not Troll 2, and will have seen some of the choicest nuggets there. However, I thought Best Worst Movie missed some of the best parts, so I'll mention a couple of those here.

First things first with a little plot synopsis. As we said previously, the movie has nothing to do with trolls. While that's a pretty good single-sentence condemnation of the movie -- "It's called Troll 2, but it doesn't have any trolls!" -- it doesn't represent a complete picture of what was going on here. The makers of Troll 2 -- director Claudio Fragasso (using the "super American" pseudonym "Drake Floyd") and screenwriter Rossella Drudi -- set out to make a movie called Goblin, and there are, indeed, plenty of goblins in the movie. The movie was later associated with Troll merely as an attempt to capitalize on an existing brand (and that explains why the credits look so incredibly shoddy as well).

Okay, so this family goes to do a "house exchange" from "the city" (the city is never named, but it's talked around in hilarious ways) to the country town of Nilbog (It's "goblin" spelled backwards! But I'm getting ahead of myself). When they arrive, it's clear that the townspeople are very strange, starting with the fact that they do a lot of staring and offering of green-colored food. It turns out the town is populated by goblins temporarily assuming human form, who are vegetarians, and want to turn this family (and other humans who stray into the area) into plants in order to eat them. Only the plot is so much more convoluted than that brief description.

What makes Troll 2 so bad is the unique combination of horrible acting, directing, screenwriting, cinematography, special effects, costumes and sets. Everything about this movie is bad and illogical, even down to details that you'd think would be simple. For example, when the family first arrives in town, and there's no one to be found wherever they look, the father surmises that "Everyone must be sleeping at this time of night," or something to that effect. Only it's so bright outside, the actors must actually squint. Night? Indeed.

Think that dialogue is bad? How about when the father (played by George Hardy) continues to try to sell the virtues of "our city" (which is how he refers to it repeatedly), saying that about their house, "It's got a microwave and video, all the other appliances. A refrigerator? Bar?" I may never have taken Real Estate 101, but you don't usually try to promote the fact that a house has a refrigerator to get people interested in it.

A couple other funny bits that I want to mention:

The young boy in the family keeps on being helped out by his dead Grandpa Seth, who appears in mirrors and other locations, as well as sometimes in the flesh. Near the end, Grandpa Seth helps him make a Molotov cocktail to try to use as a weapon against the goblins. Awesome.

At one point, Grandpa Seth tells the boy that he has only 30 seconds to stop his family from eating a bunch of green food that's been laid out for them to eat as a form of hospitality. Time is frozen as each family member has a glass of green juice or a slice of green cake poised just in front of their lips. The 30-second timeframe is entirely blown out of the water when the kid then spends (I kid you not) the next 90 seconds of screen time slowly moving around the dinner table where his family is seated, looking at each one as he supposedly comes up with his idea. It's so ridiculously elongated that you wonder why 30 seconds was given as the timeframe in the first place.

Wait, I found my notes. Sweet. They were in my email.

I'll try to limit myself, but I do want to give you a few more great parts:

The mother discovers what appears to be milk in the refrigerator, but it comes out in gelatinous chunks. She says "It must be a week old!"

"Daddy, they're goblins! Monstrous beings!"

Father, to his daughter's boyfriend: "You give me a bad impression!"

Mother: "Sing that song I love!"
Son: "Row row row your boat, gently down the stream ..."

The father loosens his belt. The son, who has just pissed on the food they were going to eat (his way of preventing them from eating it -- pretty smart actually), naturally feels he is going to be whipped by the belt. Son: "Dad, what're you going to do?" Father: "Tighten my belt one loop so I won't feel hunger pains. And your mother and sister will have to do the same!"

I could go on with the individual moments. But one of the oddest structural things about the movie is that an inordinate amount of time is spent on the adventures of very secondary characters. The daughter in the family has a boyfriend who tags along on the trip in his Winnebago, with three of his friends -- it's a source of constant conflict that he won't make the choice of her over his friends. As it turns out, at least two of these friends go off on long adventures on their own, during which none of the central family is seen for long periods of time. And the one of these friends who stays behind in the Winnebago is seduced by the lead goblin, in the human form of a gothic witch type (the best overacting you've ever seen is by actress Deborah Reed in this role). Her method of seduction? She comes on to him with an ear of corn, and the Winnebago fills with popcorn as they bump and grind. Incidentally, this is the last his character is heard from, even though nothing apparently happens to him during the popcorn incident.

The finale involves a lot of fake -- like, really, really fake -- lightning bolts, a lot of exploding goblins, some kind of magical stone, and a bologna sandwich. I think.

Best Worst Movie (2010, Michael Paul Stephenson). Watched: Sunday, April 24th

We would have watched Best Worst Movie about two weeks earlier if it had still been available on Netflix streaming. In fact, we were all lined up to watch it, then it wasn't there. So we acquired it on DVD and lined it up for this past Sunday night.

Best Worst Movie should be on your radar, but if it isn't, it's a documentary made by the boy who stars in Troll 2, Michael Paul Stephenson. The most featured character in the doc is George Hardy, who played his father, and who has had a successful dental practice in Alabama for 20 years now since the movie came out. The movie is basically about how Hardy and the other actors in the movie (even the bit parts) come to recognize that Troll 2 is considered the worst movie ever made, which means it has legions of devoted fans who love it, throwing watching parties and even putting together sold-out screenings where the cast is revered like rock stars. The movie does a little bit of examining how Troll 2 became such a disaster, and a lot of following of the actors as they negotiate their newfound semi-fame.

There are a lot of interesting things to be gleaned from Best Worst Movie, and if it hadn't existed, I probably would have never known to see Troll 2. However, I have to say that it did not deliver quite the punch I was hoping. For starters, the director, Stephenson, is more a fly-on-the-wall (stealing an observation from the guy who reviewed it for my site) in this movie -- he directs, narrates a bit and appears a number of times, but he doesn't seem to bring that much of himself to the project. In other words, the movie might just as well have been made by someone not associated with Troll 2 as by him, without there being much of a difference.

He's right that the affable dentist is his most colorful character, and it's fun to watch Hardy temporarily trade in small-town dentistry for the cult circuit in which he is cheered and constantly asked to repeat his most famous line from the movie ("You can't piss on hospitality! I won't allow it!"). The movie also contains some interesting info about the life of the movie, which never played in theaters, instead premiering on VHS and HBO -- in fact, many of the actors didn't even know it had been finished. There's also priceless stuff with the crazy Italian director, Claudio Fragasso, who stubbornly insists that Troll 2 is good, not so bad it's good. He appears at many of these Troll 2-related events and shouts down the actors who are trying to go with the commonly accepted narrative about the film, which is that it's only great because it's awful.

Stephenson also gets several third-party observers to make interesting comments about what makes a good or a bad movie. For example, if people want to repeatedly watch Troll 2 -- and the rabid cult following features fans who have watched it dozens of times -- then does it turn our whole idea of what's good and what's bad on its head? Is it really "bad" if it brings so much joy to people? Another interesting observations is that there is no cynicism apparent in the making of Troll 2. One film scholar talks about having seen lots of terrible movies that were thrown together shoddily because the filmmakers were cynical and just didn't care. Only by trying to make a good movie and failing so spectacularly does a film like Troll 2 become possible.

One thing that bummed me out, and I still can't find a satisfactory answer, is why the goblin queen, Deborah Reed, makes no appearance in this movie. Not only does she not appear, but barely any footage of her outrageous acting is sampled in the movie. What's even stranger is that the cast, in trying to reach the recluse Margo Prey (who plays the mother and is arguably the worst actor in the movie), tells her that she (Margo) will be the only cast member who won't be present for a particular screening of the movie, when clearly Reed will also be absent. I would have loved to have heard more about Reed -- even if she had a legal dispute of some sort that led to her not appearing or in fact trying to block footage of herself from the film, I'd have liked the movie to touch on that in some way, instead of just leaving the glaring omission.

Okay, I think I'm all talked out about this Trollogy.

However, I can't leave you without acknowledging that there is, in fact, a Troll 3, which would perhaps make the true third installment in my Trollogy. I just learned about the existence of this movie yesterday. Apparently, it also is directed by Italians, and it also has nothing to do with either Troll or Troll 2. Seeming perfectly true to form, it is also known by other titles -- several, in fact: Creepers, Contamination .7, Troll III: Contamination Point 7 and The Crawlers. I suspect it is not nearly so bad -- so good? -- as Troll or Troll 2, which is why we don't know anything about it. In fact, Best Worst Movie basically does not even acknowledge it exists, as one of the last things Stephenson asks Hardy is if he would star in Troll 3. (He says he would.) In fact, Troll 3, such as it is, was made way back in 1993.

And it's available for instant streaming on Netflix.

Perhaps my troll in the hay isn't complete yet after all.

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