Troll 2/Trolli (1990) -***½
Here’s the thing you have to remember: very few people have a single kind word to say about Troll, and that was as true in 1990— or indeed in 1986— as it is today. Somehow, though— somehow— the people who were paying for Claudio Fragasso’s juvenile fantasy horror film, Goblins, got it into their heads that it would do better if they passed it off as a sequel to Charles Band’s juvenile fantasy horror film, which had earned modest profits and fairly negative critical reception four whole years earlier. It’s rather a marvel, honestly. I mean, how obviously, inescapably bad does a movie have to be before the producers say, “Well, maybe we can sell it as a sequel to this other picture that nobody liked, and that didn’t make much money…?” Calling that bottom-feeding creates an altogether too elevated impression of the commercial ambitions behind the project! And yet the amazing truth is that Troll 2 probably did enjoy more favorable prospects as a tick on the ass of a movie that people at least remembered sucking than as a free-standing film sucking even more all by its lonesome. 1990, after all, was not a good year to be making lousy Italian horror movies, even if you were making them in Utah. Whatever other obstacles might have confronted it, faux-sequel status won Troll 2 more or less instant access to the American home-video market; roughly contemporary Italian fright flicks like The Red Monks and After Death would have to wait a decade or more to receive similar transatlantic exposure.
Eleven-ish Joshua Waits (Michael Stephenson, from Beyond Darkness) is being read a bedtime story by his maternal grandfather, Seth (Robert Ormsby). Either the boy’s taste in bedtime stories closely mimics my own, or Grandpa Seth is something of a sadist, for the tale in question is a bleak and horrid affair, in which a youth is chased through a primeval forest by goblins, escaping only to fall into a deadly trap. One of the goblins assumes the form of a beautiful maiden (who is rendered rather less so by the cancerous-looking fake freckles that the makeup people have scattered across her face), and tricks the lad into eating a bowl of horrible green glop that transforms him into a human-plant hybrid. Seth clarifies that human-plant hybrids are the favorite food of goblins, and goes on to emphasize (in stark defiance of modern bedtime story protocol) that the evil fairies really exist, even to this day. That’s when Joshua’s mom, Diana (Margo Prey), sticks her head into the room, triggering an unexpected revelation: goblins may really exist, but apparently Grandpa Seth does not! He died six months ago, and Joshua’s parents have the kid seeing a psychiatrist in order to sort out his evident inability to accept that fact.
Meanwhile, Joshua’s big sister, Holly (Connie McFarland, of Ice Spiders), is receiving a clandestine visit from her boyfriend, Elliott (Jason Wright). In classic horror movie boyfriend style, Elliott effects this by sneaking in through Holly’s bedroom window while her attention is focused on her pre-bedtime exercise routine, and her hearing is disabled by the stereo headphones she wears while working out. We all know how much girls like having guys appear unexpected in their bedrooms while they’ve got 25 pounds of barbell held at arm’s length above their throats, right? After narrowly failing to cause Holly to accidentally crush her own windpipe, Elliot has the nerve to be surprised that his girlfriend is pissed off at him. What is rather surprising is that the ensuing fight between the young lovers has less to do with the aforementioned hare-brained stunt than with Holly’s distaste for Elliott’s friends. Bizarrely, it is explicitly not the character of Arnold (Darren Ewing), Drew (The Deaths of Ian Stone’s Jason Steadman), and Brent (David McConnell, of Bats) that trips Holly’s bitch switch (although they truly are the biggest bunch of chuckleheads this side of an 80’s frat comedy), but rather the mere fact that Elliot has friends in the first place. Evidently Holly expects to be not merely the only woman in her boyfriend’s life, but indeed the only person. Regardless, Holly wants Elliott to accompany the Waits family on a month-long vacation that’s set to begin tomorrow (this despite the fact that Holly’s relatives are unanimous in their loathing of the boy, and would surely not want to spend weeks at a time cooped up with him), but she insists that he come alone. The Waitses hit the road at 8:00 AM; Elliott had better be on time, and there had better be no sign of the Three Stooges when he arrives.
That vacation, by the way, promises to suck like Charybdis no matter who goes on it. The Waits family’s destination is a microscopic farm town called Nilbog, with a total population of 26. They’ll be trading houses for the duration with a family called the Presents, and basically living out Michael Waits’s fantasies of the pre-modern Simple Life. One wonders why anyone but Michael himself (Street Team Massacre’s George Hardy) thinks this sounds like anything other than the complete waste of a summer. Obviously Elliott has no faith in the inherent charms of country living, for he pitches Nilbog to his friends as a vast den of unattached girls, all of them desperate for some sophisticated teenaged man of the world to come and show them what they’ve been missing out there in the sticks. Yes, I agree. Elliott is going to find himself with a hell of a lot of explaining to do, both to the Three Stooges and to Holly, once the boys finally reach Nilbog. There are, of course, no horny, single farmer’s daughters; bringing along his entourage is, of course, the very thing Elliott was directly ordered not to do; and heading to Nilbog separately in a borrowed or rented RV is nothing at all like reporting to the Waits house at 8:00 sharp, even before you factor in the bit about Elliott never calling to inform Holly of the change in plans.
So what in the hell kind of name for a town is Nilbog, anyway? Why, it’s “goblin” spelled backwards, of course! Naturally, that means that all 26 of the village’s inhabitants are goblins in human guise, and if Joshua’s continuing hallucinations of— or perhaps visitations from— Grandpa Seth are to be believed, that means it’s absolutely imperative that neither Joshua nor anyone in his family eat anything they didn’t bring with them into the village. Anything edible in Nilbog surely has Goblin Glop as its active ingredient, and will turn anyone who consumes it into the Swamp Thing. Joshua will just have to keep his parents and sister fasting, even if that means pissing all over the kitchen table at dinner time— which in fact he does in one of Troll 2’s most utterly mind-blowing scenes. Elliott and his boys, unfortunately, do not have any friendly ghosts to keep them apprised of the dangers of Nilbog, and one by one, they fall prey to Credence Leonore Gielgud, the goblin queen (a gothed-up Deborah Reed, whose performance you won’t be able to believe even after you see it). Credence also makes an effort to put on a welcoming front for the Waitses, but she is consistently hindered in getting them where she wants them by Joshua’s antisocial antics. Eventually, the goblins’ high priest (Mark Hamill— but sadly not the Mark Hamill you’re thinking of) takes time out from his busy schedule of preaching hellfire-and-brimstone sermons on the righteousness of the vegan lifestyle to imprison Joshua in Nilbog’s church. Mom, Dad, and Holly continue not to get it, no matter how far awry things go, but luckily for them, Grandpa Seth has the power to come back to life for a limited period of time. Seth knows the secret to defeating the goblins once and for all, and he makes a mean Molotov cocktail.
I feel like I’ve said this before in some other review, but seriously— what the fuck, Claudio? Did you really go and frame the world’s worst rip-off of “The Shadow Over Insmouth” as an allegory about vegans unraveling the fabric of society by forcing children to eat their vegetables?!?! And if that wasn’t the plan, then what the hell were we supposed to make of this movie in which the villains are constantly touting the immorality of carnivorousness, and in which literal baloney figures as prominently in their eventual defeat as the usual figurative variety? In any case, I suppose we have to give props to Fragasso and his constant latter-day collaborator, Rosella Drudi, for inventing a way, no matter how ridiculous, to make the monsters both people-eaters and strict vegetarians. It might have worked a little better, though, if the stuff the goblins feed people to turn them into human vegetables looked even a tiny bit like something anybody might voluntarily eat. When Joshua stands up in his chair to hose down the dinner table, you kind of have to wonder what everyone gets so upset about— from the look of things, an army of dysentery-afflicted babies has already come through and wiped their bums all over the corn on the cob, so what’s a little urine on top of that? Even baked into a cheesecake, the Goblin Glop is some nasty-looking shit, and no extraordinary measures seem necessary to prevent people from putting it into their mouths.
Another noteworthy point about Troll 2 is that Fragasso managed to make a bunch of Americans— native English-speakers, every one— sound like foreigners reciting dialogue memorized phonetically by rote. Part of the trick, unsurprisingly, lay in his casting of amateurs and non-actors almost exclusively. George Hardy, for example, was and remains a dentist by trade, and auditioned on a lark with the expectation that he might land a walk-on, or more likely a gig as an extra in one of the crowd scenes. He certainly never expected to be cast as Joshua’s father, and he’s been open enough in the years since about having nothing like the background or experience demanded by such a large part. There was an even bigger problem than inexperience standing in the way of remotely decent acting, however. The cast, as you’d expect of people recruited locally in a little Utah town, spoke not one word of Italian, and Hardy recollects that among the crew, only wardrobe mistress Laura Gemser spoke English with any useful degree of fluency. (Incidentally, it never ceases to amuse me that Gemser— an actress known primarily for taking off her clothes— would go into costume design after the European sexploitation industry lost interest in her.) The whole shoot was thus one big communication breakdown, and on those occasions when one performer or another attempted to steer Fragasso in the direction of dialogue that an English-speaker might actually utter, they were met with total incomprehension. There are indeed a few rare actors who can authoritatively deliver lines that they clearly realize make no sense whatsoever, but one shouldn’t expect to find a John Carradine drilling molars undiscovered in Porterville, Utah. There’s really no chance of a successful reading when a couple of twenty-year-old first-timers are saddled with an exchange like: “Ow! [reacting to kick in the crotch] Are you trying to turn me into a homo?!” “It wouldn’t be hard. If my dad knew you were here, he’d cut your little nuts off and eat them!”
Then there’s the stuff that almost turns Troll 2 into a piece of outsider art— the shit so weird that watching it makes you feel like you’re communicating directly with the voices in Fragasso’s and Drudi’s heads. Take, for example, the fate that befalls Brent at the hands of Credence Leonore Gielgud. Having just faced a few serious setbacks courtesy of Joshua, Credence goes home to her Evil Altar (it’s supposed to be one of the missing elements of Stonehenge, but I’m pretty sure it’s really the Third Gate of Hell from After Death), and invokes the power of the Goblin God. At the time, I was expecting this to turn her into some huge and powerful monster fit to take on Josh and his phantom grandpa no matter how many Molotov cocktails and baloney sandwiches they might bring to bear. Instead, though, the Goblin God transforms Credence into… what? A hot chick? And she goes off to settle the score with… what? Brent?! The really baffling part doesn’t come until this oddly placed seduce-and-destroy mission is well underway, though, for what clinches the deal with the doomed boy’s libido is… what?!?! Fucking corn on the fucking cob?!?! Even now, we haven’t seen anything yet. Credence and Brent go at it in the RV, and when Brent nears orgasm, the goblin queen pulls the corncob out of her dress once more, with the result that… oh, you’ve got to be fucking kidding me… THE COB ERUPTS INTO ABOUT 50 CUBIC FEET OF POPCORN, AND BURIES BRENT ALIVE!!!! I give up. I give right the fuck up.