Troll 2 is a bad movie. I know, it’s a controversial statement.
The film has come to some prominence as one of the pillars of bad movie watching. So great is its cult that star Michael Paul Stephenson made a documentary about the fanbase called Best Worst Movie. As a group, Yakmala watched Troll 2 a couple of years back at a screening which included Mac and Me and Theodore Rex. Clearly, Troll 2 was the winner.
The movie opens with a story being told to young Joshua Waits (Stephenson) by his grandpa (Robert Ormsby). The bedtime tale is actually a warning about goblins, who turn humans into plants and then eat them.
We soon learn that Joshua is probably crazy because his grandfather died sometime ago and it’s tough on the whole Waits clan, particular Joshua’s mother (Margo Prey), who was Grandpa’s daughter.
Anyway, the family is preparing to go to the town of Nilbog as part of a culture exchange. Joshua’s father Michael (George Hardy in his cult-star-making role) is particularly looking forward to life in a rural area, but daughter Holly (Connie McFarland) wants her boyfriend to come with them. He, of course, wants to bring his pals with him. Meanwhile, Joshua is still being warned by his dead Grandpa about the goblins.
Once on the road, Joshua sees his Grandpa, but it just turns out to be some smelly old drifter. Holly somehow spots her boyfriend and his pals in an motor home.
It’s entirely possible the above synopsis is the most lucid recounting of the film’s first half-hour ever written. I’ll spare you the rest as the movie must be seen to be believed. Also, you must have context for this worst line-reading of all time:
So why is the movie one of the pinnacles of bad cinema? Where to start? For me, it’s the way the movie treats its Goblin mythology as though it were the most commonplace understanding of Goblins. While co-writer Rossella Drudi explained in Best Worst Movie that the vegetarian aspect came about because all her friends were going on plant-only diets, director Claudio Fragasso seems to be unaware of just what a Goblin actually is. In the film, the Goblins hate meat-eaters and turn them into plants more as straight-up sustenance than some sort of ironic revenge. Remember that little story growing up? No? Me neither. But Fragasso seems to believe that this is the American goblin tradition — which, I’m pretty sure we don’t have – and treats all the material as though everyone will get it.
That disconnection trickles down to every other aspect of the film, from the dialogue, the performances, right down to the cheap goblin masks.
So let’s talk dialogue. “You don’t piss on hospitality. I won’t allow it!” has become something of a catchphrase in cult film circles. In fact, everything Michael says in that scene is odd. It appears that Joshua is about to get a whoopin’, but when he asks his father what he’s going to do to him, Michael begins to unfasten his belt, but then says, “Tightening my belt one loop so that I don’t feel hunger pains.” Uh … I guess it’ English. It’s not really an answer to the question, though. Another example: when Holly’s boyfriend sneaks into her room, he tries to get a sexing out of her. When she refuses, he claims she’s trying to turn him into a “homo”. She replies, “Wouldn’t be too hard. If my father discovers you here, he’d cut off your little nuts and eat them. He can’t stand you.” While Drudi and Fragasso are Italian, I think this goes beyond a simple language barrier and into a special tin-ear for conversational speaking. Native English speakers can fail at this, too. Just listen to what is said in “Manos”: The Hands of Fate.
Even before Best Worst Movie, members of the cast went on record revealing that Fragasso was quite proud of the dialogue and his understanding of the American dialect (because there’s only one, right?). He refused to let the actors massage their lines into something more natural-sounding, which lead to hilariously embarrassed performances like this one:
While clearly bad, there’s something charming and endearing in the midst of all the mistakes committed in this film. Like The Room and Birdemic, there’s a special collision of elements that makes for a film that is supremely entertaining while still revealing how not to make a film. Which, like those films I mentioned, leads us back to the director.
Claudio Fragasso is one of the great Italian schlock directors. I may have extremely rose-tinted glasses for the era, but back when exhibition was cheap and there was a market for peculiar, low-budget rip-offs and horror movies, there was a special spirit in that portion of the industry. These movies are schlock, don’t get me wrong, but there’s something so pure in the cynicism that birthed these sorts of films. His 1980s output (mainly as a writer for director Bruno Mattei) is entirely made of shlock with the odd downbeat, world-defeated tone of Troll 2‘s final moments. Despite working in genre pictures, it’s clear that he felt he had something to say about how the world was going and tried to use genre trappings to code his nihilism in a palatable format. Unfortunately for him, he worked in Italian Z-grade cinema, where such high minded ideals are easily tossed aside and a movie gets made because the producer already paid for a sick-looking poster. Passion is surplus to such requirements.
And, as weird as it seems, Troll 2 is a product of passion. Fragasso believed with all his heart that the story made sense and that he had an ear for American dialogue. He believed in his dour ending. If you’ve ever seen Best Worst Movie, it’s clear that he still believes in Troll 2. I wonder how many other Italian directors care about something they made 30 years ago. Could the man behind Ator: The Avenging Eagle be waiting for his day in the cult-cinema sun? Was Antonio Margheriti really happy when I reviewed Yor: The Hunter from the Future? During several moments in Stephenson’s documentary, there is clear joy on Fragasso’s face when he sees people loving his movie, and utter pain when people tell him they love it because it is bad.
Compare this sort of dedication from a shlock filmmaker to the sort we have now. Observe Peter Berg, who blames The Avengers for Battleship‘s lackluster performance. Consider Andrew Stanton’s belly-flop with John Carter and his following radio silence. Hell, look at the C-Level filmmaking that’s so common place now. A film like Green Lantern comes from the same black, cynical place … but it lacks conviction, belief, or dedication. To me, that’s far more deadly than a crappy-looking creature effect.
And, strangely, this is what makes Troll 2 such an effective picture. It is someone putting their heart out for all to see and saying “This is what I am!” Unfortunately for Fragasso, we just don’t understand what language he’s speaking. It’s not even Italian.