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Troll 2

Gentle readers, I know that someday, I will die. Someday, you will die as well. Everything that we know and love in this world will eventually crumble and return to the dust from whence it came. But this clip will live forever. That one miraculous confluence of shitty writing, comical line delivery, and amateurish camerawork will outlive us all. Look upon it and despair.

If that clip didn’t give you an adequate idea of what to expect from Troll 2, consider this: The movie has no trolls in it, and it was never made as a sequel for any previous film. The project was developed under the much more honest title of Goblins, but distributors in the United States doubted that anyone would bother seeing it. In an effort to try and steal some credibility, the film was billed as a sequel to a 1986 film called Troll.

Believe it or not, this has been standard practice in the world of Z-grade cinema for a very long time. Another famous example is Lucio Fulci’s Zombi 2, released in 1979, titled to imply a non-existent connection to the wildly popular Zombi (or Dawn of the Dead, as we Americans know it).

The original Troll, by the way, was critically panned and only managed to gross $5.4 million domestic. However, its production budget was somewhere south of $1 million. With a profit margin like that, it’s rather hard to believe that no one bothered to make an official sequel. In recent years, whole franchises have been built with far less (Saw, Paranormal Activity, etc.). But I digress.

The development and production of Troll 2 isn’t just a bad comedy in itself, it’s a sweet little introductory course to common practices of cheap foreign cinematic knock-offs. For example, the film was directed by an Italian man named Claudio Fragrasso, working under the alias of Drake Floyd. You’d be amazed how many foreign amateur filmmakers try to make cheap imitations of Hollywood blockbusters, and a surprising number of them come from Italy. Sergio Leone is perhaps the most famous example, and probably the only one to actually join the ranks of the Hollywood filmmakers he sought to emulate.

Also, it should be obvious that such foreign filmmakers usually went by American-sounding pseudonyms, the better to appeal to American audiences. Another prime example is Fragrasso’s recurring collaborator, the Italian exploitation filmmaker Bruno Mattei (alias Michael Cardoso, alias Norman Dawn, alias Vincent Dawn, alias David Graham, alias David Hunt, alias Bob Hunter, alias Frank Klox, alias Werner Knox, alias Pierre Le Blanc , alias Jimmy B. Matheus…. you get the idea. Guy made a lot of films you’ve never heard of.).

(Side note: If you’d like a better idea of what foreign Z-grade cinema is like, this is a pretty good place to start. For even more education, I strongly recommend watching The Cinema Snob. His earlier stuff is especially helpful.)

Anyway, Fragrasso wrote the script with his wife, Rossella Drudi. In fact, it was Drudi who first came up with the idea of using vegetarians as the villains in a horror movie. No, seriously. Drudi has stated on record that many of her friends became vegetarian, and it made her so angry that she wanted to make a horror film with vegetarian monsters. Personally, I suspect that she actually saw Leonard Part 6 (which debuted only three years prior to the direct-to-VHS release of Troll 2) and thought that she could do a better job with the concept of evil vegetarians in film.

Why make up that story about her friends? Well, better that than admit to buying a box office ticket for Leonard Part 6.

In any case, Fragrasso and Drudi both co-wrote the English-language version of the script. This despite the fact that they were both Italians who spoke absolutely no English. And during production, Fragrasso insisted that the actors speak their lines verbatim, allowing for absolutely no feedback from anyone who actually spoke the language. But wait, it gets better.

Though the “actors” (note how I use the term indiscreetly) were all English-speaking Americans, and though the film was shot on location in Utah, Fragrasso worked entirely with a production crew that had been flown in from Italy. Of the entire lot, only one of them spoke any English. This de facto translator was none other than Laura Gemser, an actress known for her multiple appearances in pornographic films and sexploitation movies. Hilariously, she was brought on as the movie’s costume designer. This might explain why the costumes in this movie are so laughably bad.

I mean that literally, by the way. When the movie opens to show a horde of little people wearing saggy latex faces and burlap sacks, I could feel a wide grin spreading across my face. A few minutes later, when we meet a pretty blonde girl whose freckles were clearly painted on, I couldn’t help but burst out laughing.

This prologue is part of a story, by the way. The tale is read to us by Grandpa Seth (Robert Ormsby), whose ludicrous exposition is read with stony-faced melodrama. All the while, he’s being interrupted by over-the-top hysteria from his grandson, Joshua Waits (Michael Stephenson). Oh, and did I mention that Grandpa Seth is dead? Yeah, Joshua’s been talking to a ghost this whole time.

Abandon all sanity, ye who enter here.

Before I go any further, I suppose I should dispense with the premise. In the opening prologue, we’re told about evil little goblins that feast on human flesh. The twist, however, is that goblins are vegetarians. To make this peculiar arrangement work, the goblins use various disguises, tricking their unlucky prey into ingesting a magical green potion. Shortly after, the potion turns the foolish humans into goopy vegetable matter, fit for goblin consumption.

Getting back to our protagonist, we meet Joshua and his family as they’re preparing for a vacation. They’ve arranged for a kind of house swap with a family of total strangers from the town of… wait for it… Nilbog. In case that name didn’t quite clue you in, the Waitses have stumbled into a colony of hungry goblins disguised as humans. And Joshua is of course the only one who knows or believes anything about them.

As if the premise wasn’t ludicrous enough, we have the language barrier to contend with. This dialogue is so clumsy that it could only have been written by someone without any grasp of the English language. Granted, Claudio Fragrasso isn’t quite as incompetent as Tommy Wiseau, but they’re certainly in the same league.

The actors are clearly trying their damnedest to make their lines sound natural, and they all fail miserably. It’s sort of like watching a play that was written and directed by a five-year-old kid and acted out by his family. No one is remotely qualified, and it’s obvious that the actors would rather be anywhere else, but they all grin and bear it for the sake of their whiny pre-schooler. The results are adorable, pitiful, hilarious in equal measure.

Strangely enough, the women among our main family seem to get the worst of it. Diana Waits (Margo Prey) is the mother of the group, so she’s mostly responsible for soothing reassurances. Unfortunately, the calming intent of the character clashes terribly with her stilted lines and Prey’s robotic delivery. Big sister Holly (Connie McFarland) has the opposite problem. Her dialogue is atrocious (“Elliott’s not my beau! He’s my boyfriend!”) and McFarland’s performance is godawful, but that feeds into the depiction of this character as a teenage ditz. In this case, however, the “valley girl” angle blends with the outrageous dialogue to make something far more humorous than the filmmakers likely intended.

Moving on, we have George Hardy (DMD) as the Waits family patriarch. Michael is the group’s resident skeptic, constantly oblivious or in denial of all the weird fuckery going on around him. Michael was also crafted to be a stereotypical sitcom dad, which is made even more comical through Fragrasso’s English-illiterate touch. Put the two character types together and you’ve got one guy who’s way too stupid and brash to live.

Ah, but the movie would be over too quickly if we only had the main family for our victim pool. In the interest of providing more meat (or vegetables, in this case) for the grinder, we have Elliott (Jason Wright), Holly’s rock-headed boyfriend. The two have a love/hate relationship, in that Holly loves Elliott and hates his three best friends (Arnold, Drew, and Brent, respectively played by Darren Ewing, Jason Steadman, and David McConnell). Because Elliott and his friends are pretty much joined at the hip, they all go together to the town of Nilbog as Elliott tries to patch things up with Holly. And being a bunch of horny morons, Elliott’s friends are killed off one by one.

Though the cast is clearly made entirely of amateurs, there are three who acquit themselves particularly well. Two of them are Ormsby and Stephenson, both of whom deserve no shortage of admiration for how much they commit to this picture. Their efforts are almost overpowering enough to hide their lack of talent and passable dialogue. In particular, young Stephenson puts enough energy into his performance to carry the whole movie, bless his heart.

With all of that said, the main attraction in this cast has to be Creedence Leonore Gielgud (Deborah Reed). She’s the queen of the goblins, which apparently means that she has the worst human disguise. She looks and acts like something out of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which meshes surprisingly well with all the other batshit insanity going on. It’s so very refreshing to have someone give campy and unnatural deliveries of such campy and unnatural dialogue, especially when everyone else in this film is trying so hard to play it straight. Reed full-on committed to Sparkle Motion for this picture, and I can’t commend her enough for that.

Speaking of which, it should come as no surprise that the goblins are terribly presented as well. In human form, their emotional ranges and speech patterns range from unnatural to nonexistent. The difference, however, is that it feels like this was intentional with the goblins. It adds to the idea that these people are only demons in flimsy disguises.

Unfortunately, it only ends up doing more harm than good. The film tries to pass itself off as a horror movie, but it’s impossible to create suspense when we know exactly where the monsters are and what they plan to do. Furthermore, the mortal characters look impossibly dumb — and therefore unsympathetic — for ignoring all the “I’M EVIL” signs that might as well be tattooed on the goblins’ foreheads. And no, the cheaply synthesized music doesn’t make anything more foreboding either.

Then we have the visuals. The camerawork in this film ranges from passable to godawful. The filmmakers have a nasty habit of abusing close-up shots, zooming in on everything that’s supposed to be scary. This, of course, has the opposite of the intended effect. Also, except for a few rare moments, everything is clearly visible. That’s certainly an upgrade from most Z-grade cinema, but it’s actually a point against this particular movie.

Everything is so brightly lit that there’s precious little sense of atmosphere. There are no shadows where something evil might be lurking. There’s no sense of wonder about what horrors await just around the corner. Come to think of it, dimmer lighting is common practice in low-budget monster movies, precisely because the audience will have a more difficult time seeing how transparently fake the creatures are. If ever a film was in dire need of that approach, it’s this one.

Then again, these monsters would still be terribly lame even if the creature effects were up to par. The goblins get by pretty much entirely on deception, and they’re almost pitifully ineffectual when that fails. They are, after all, only tiny little weaklings whose primary weapons are made of pointy sticks. They don’t even have the standard threat of eating their prey alive, since we know darn well that the goblins are all vegetarian. I’m just saying that if any of our protagonists had a single handgun between them, this movie would have ended very differently. I’ll get back to the ending later on, however.

As for the editing, don’t even get me started. The scene transitions are so choppy and so quick that the film’s pacing is pretty much non-existent. The scenes interrupt each other so frequently that they can never build up to anything. Throw in a ton of blatant continuity errors and the film once again ruins any chance at creating suspense.

Regarding the special effects… well, they’re better here than in Plan 9, I’ll say that much.

It all amounts to a film that tries to be scary and totally fails. Horror requires a surprising amount of subtlety, and Fragrasso shows beyond any doubt that he has none. In the end, the filmmakers fail in such an over-the-top manner that the result is unintentional hilarity. I’ve no doubt that this was a bug upon release, but over twenty years of hindsight have turned it into a feature.

But then comes the ending. The horrible “fuck you” ending that comes completely out of nowhere. For whatever reason, Fragrasso decided to make the characters lose, despite the fact that we had already seen them score a very conclusive win. It’s a mean and downright nasty move, undercutting the very humor that worked as this film’s sole redeeming grace. Instead, the ending only serves to emphasize the film’s attempts at horror. This in turn places an emphasis on the telegraphed scares, the incompetent writing, the disgraceful creature and gore effects, the pitiful score, the laughable camerawork, the inconsistent editing, and so on.

Really, that finale is emblematic of everything that Troll 2 tried to be and failed to accomplish. The film is so utterly devoid of subtlety that any attempts at terror or surprise are DOA. Throw in a cast full of amateurs reading from a worthless script, directed through a thick language barrier, and there was never any chance that this film could possibly have been salvageable.

Then again, the film is so endearingly stupid that it gets by purely on charm. It’s over-the-top in a wide variety of clever ways, which makes it one of the most unintentionally funny movies I’ve seen in quite some time. If you ever wondered how a movie could possibly be considered “so bad it’s good,” completely void of any intellectual merit or worthwhile talent and yet still absolutely worth a look, this is probably the one you should start with.

As for what became of the cast and crew after the film’s release… well, that’s for another blog entry.

One Comment

  1. Ping from Best Worst Movie » Movie Curiosities:

    […] of the most infamous enjoyably bad films known to modern cinema. The line-up naturally included Troll 2, and I did indeed think that it was an adorable kind of batshit clusterfuck. But when I sat down to […]

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