I’d heard of ‘Troll 2’. Of course I had. What self-respecting trash fan hasn’t? But until know I hadn’t seen it. Not the opportunity wasn’t there, or even the inclination – after all, I’m always on the qui vive for Winter of Discontent fare. No, it was more the film’s reputation. A reputation so bad, and yet so wrapped up in adoration for its badness, that its decade-and-a-half-later making-of documentary film is titled ‘Best Worst Film’.
Me being me, I’m always suspicious when something is declared the best (or worst) of anything. Is ‘Citizen Kane’ the greatest movie ever made, was Shakespeare the greatest writer who ever lived, is the Beatle’s White Album as good as popular music will ever get? There are those – plenty of them, in fact – who will return a resounding “yes” to each of these, and argue passionately, vehemently, maybe even violently with anyone who dares iconoclasm.
Ditto with critical drubbings. Two of the biggest across-the-board critical takedowns of the last few years were Gore Verbinski’s ‘The Lone Ranger’ and Zack Snyder’s ‘Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice’, both of which I had a lot of fun watching.
In short, I simply didn’t believe that ‘Troll 2’ was the worst film ever made. I’ve seen Nico Mastorakis’s soul-destroying ‘Island of Death’, motherfuckers: I’ve seen Dario Argento’s bargain basement attempt at ‘The Phantom of the Opera’, I’ve seen Lucio Fulci’s vomitous ‘New York Ripper, I’ve seen Enzo Milioni’s jaw-droppingly terrible ‘The Sister of Ursula’. I have seen a hell of a lot of truly fuck awful movies. Damn it, I’ve seen ‘Quantum of Solace’, y’all.
Then I noticed that ‘Troll 2’ was due to be excised from Netflix imminently (by the time you read this review, it will probably have disappeared) and figured it was the universe’s way of telling me that the time had finally come to square up to ‘Troll 2’ and make up my own mind.
Where the fuck do I start?
Title’s a good place. ‘Troll 2’ is a film that features the world’s least scary witch and a bunch of shape-shifting vegetarian goblins and not a single everloving troll. Writer/director Claudio Fragasso – under the pseudonym Drake Floyd – was developing the film under the title ‘Goblin’ (y’know, the title that would have been the logical choice) but for whatever reason decided that an opportunity existed to cash in on John Carl Buechler’s 1986 opus ‘Troll’. Granted, ‘Troll’ had made $5million against its $1million or so budget, but it was neither a huge success nor enough of a brand name – particularly four years later when Fragasso’s effort went before the cameras – that hi-jacking its title makes much sense from a publicity perspective.
And it’s not like ‘Troll 2’ deals in goblins but just presents them as generic creatures that the undiscriminating audience could happily assume were trolls. Quite the opposite: ‘Troll 2’ takes every fucking opportunity to tell you that its antagonists are goblins. The film opens with a young boy, Joshua (Michael Paul Stephenson) being a read a fairy tale by the ghost of his grandfather Seth (Robert Ormsby) from a book with the word ‘GOBLIN’ in huge gaudy letters on the cover. Later, Joshua and his family – dippy well-meaning mother Diana (Margo Prey), grumpy disciplinarian father Michael (George Hardy) and attitudinous sexpot sister Holly (Connie Young, credited as Connie McFarland) – go on holiday to a shithole rural town called Nilbog, and just in case anybody didn’t get it, the town sign is shown in reflection, and just in case anybody didn’t get that, Joshua gasps and states in a flat inflection: “Nilbog – it’s ‘goblin’ spelled backwards!” Later still, when Joshua, with a little bit of help from ghost-grandpa, figures out that there’s something up with the townsfolk, he repeatedly informs his parents, “They’re goblins, they want to eat us.”
Which is only partially accurate: they are goblins, but they first want to transmogrify their human victims into plants because they’re vegetarians. This is actually one of the more logical concepts in Fragasso’s script. But we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves. Let’s skip back to grandpa Seth and that fairy tale.
Sitting behind Seth’s interplay with the narrative as it unfolds, and the degree of corporeality available to him by which he can manifest (sometimes as a floating head, sometimes as an actual being capable of physically utilising objects around him) is what I can only assume is a complex set of metaphysical rules. The script, however, makes no attempt to define them and Seth’s sudden disappearances at crucial moments, not to mention the almost arbitrary time-bound nature of his supernatural powers (he can freeze time for thirty seconds to allow Joshua to figure something out, but no longer), ultimately seem as random and illogical as anything else that happens in the movie.
The fairy tale concerns a young man named Peter (Glenn Gerner) who becomes lost in the woods one day due to a fog that is so heavy he can’t see his way. He meets an enchantress (Michelle Abrams) who feeds him a green gloop that looks like regurgitated pea soup; he’s turned into a plant and becomes a light snack for the girl’s goblin besties. The film dramatises the story as Seth reads it out: the entire sequence is shot under an azure, cloudless sky, every tree and blade of grass in the woods dappled with the most glorious sunlight and occasionally, very occasionally, the special effects dude remembers it’s supposed to be foggy as fuck and a few wisps of dry ice float in front of the camera.
Keep the gloopy green stuff in mind. It’s all there is to eat in Nilbog (goblin backwards, folks!) when the family get there. The holiday is an exchange with a group of gruff, monosyllabic hillbillies, to whom Michael hands over the keys to his own house with nary a flicker of uncertainty. Turns out the hillbillies never even leave town anyway, but again we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves. Let’s put the culinary non-delights of Nilbog on pause for a moment and consider the subplot wherein Holly’s putative boyfriend Elliott (Jason Wright) pursues her to the sticks in his family’s RV, taking some of friends – Brent (David McConnell), Drew (Jason Steadman) and Arnold (Darren Ewing) – with him.
Pop quiz, folks: imagine you’re a horny-as-hell teenager hoping to hook up with an attitudinous sexpot and you have access to an RV that you’re hoping will double as a passion wagon: do you light out on your own or invite three buddies along with you who your girlfriend-in-waiting can’t stand anyway? Yeah, thought so. Same here. Perhaps Elliott’s bros-on-tour decision is a tacit admission that things are doomed to fail with Holly, anyway. Maybe he was picking up on the
And indeed the first thing Holly does when she discovers he’s stalked her, bros in tow, is punch him in the face. (Remarkably, Elliott and Holly seem to end up together: I came away from the film sincerely hoping the lad never spills her drink, let alone looks at another woman!) At this point, the bros get split up: Elliott joins Holly and her family at the exchange house where they hold the most pathetic séance in the history of cinema, pleading for grandpa Seth’s help, while the locals gather outside to lay the most pathetic siege in the history of cinema.
Meanwhile, Arnold goes wandering off and meets a girl in the worlds who is being pursued by goblins. He gives the goblins a stern telling off and gets a javelin in his shoulder by way of response. In short order, he and the girl find themselves the prisoners of goblin queen Creedence Leonore Gielgud* (Deborah Reed); the girl is turned into green goo and eaten, while Arnold finds himself trapped in a plant pot as bark and twigs sprout from him. He’s soon joined by Drew. Drew’s taken a jog into town (evidently forgetting that an RV constitutes vehicular transport) to get provisions and been conned by the locals that his mates are waiting for him at chez Creedence. Notwithstanding that there’s no way on God’s green earth, given the time frame, that the locals could have encountered Elliott, Arnold or Brent, Drew takes this bit of information at face value. There’s a moment of hope as Drew tries to rescue Arnold. But it’s not to be. Creedence returns and deals with them. Mind you, the escape attempt was doomed from the outset on account of Drew trying to drag the flower pot across the floor instead of simply smashing it and encouraging Arnold to walk.
Having dealt with Drew and Arnold, Creedence uses the power of a magic stone (the script doesn’t really expand on “magic stone”, by the way) to transform from grey of pallor and dermatologically challenged to vamp in a low-cut dress and goes sashaying off to where the RV is still parked and seduces Brent with a corn on the cob. This narratively purposeless and utterly bizarre sequence (and I say that in the context of a film whose every single fucking scene could easily be described in just those terms) ends with a visual metaphor whereby popcorn stands in for ejaculation.
Okay, folks, I’ve just coasted past 1,500 words and this review has taken me to a place where I’ve used “popcorn” and “ejaculation” in the same sentence. Time to wrap this motherfucker up, methinks.
Having sat through the 93 minutes of ‘Troll 2’, I genuinely don’t know whether it’s the worst film ever made or not. It’s pretty damn bad – no argument there. The performances range from terrible to so far up the mountain of pantomime that the abyss of tragic anti-talent is visible from the peak. As an assemblage of moving images, it has been put together with an almost dedicated lack of care and attention. As an exercise in what-the-fuckery, it owns its notoriety. From “they’ve eaten her and now they’re going to eat me, oh my Goddddddddddddd” to Holly’s robotic dance, from the meat sermon to Creedence’s hand regenerating, from the hoe-down (where a rendition of ‘Red River Valley’ seems to last as long as ‘In-a-gada-da-vida) to the twist in the tale that can only work if you conveniently forget an earlier scene, you can pick for yourself the enough-to-make-your-head-explode moment that truly epitomises ‘Troll 2’.
For Fragasso has, with ‘Troll 2’, crafted a film in which nothing makes even a modicum of sense – narratively, logically or aesthetically. Things happen and people do things (often not even by way of reaction: in fact, there are umpteen moments where you would expect characters to react to events and they simply don’t) and the camera is pointed at objects and locations and it all probably tied together in some greater whole in the feverish depths of Claudio Fragasso’s mind, but on screen it just sits there. In all honesty, ‘Troll 2’ comes very close to being boring – not least in Deborah Reed’s tendency to turn each sentence of Creedence’s dialogue into several minutes’ worth of syllabic elongation, oddly placed pauses and demented eye-rolling – and it’s only gyrations of the WTF-o-meter that keep you watching.
*I don’t even want to try to unpack how all of those references fit together.