According to Netflix, Mike and Jeffrey agree with each other on movies 84% of the time. In their weekly feature, The Awkward Movie Challenge, they search valiantly for that sweet 16% that results in big arguments and big laughs.
13 year olds don’t have the most discerning taste. After waddling home from Junior High, I vegetated in front of pretty much anything that happened to be on HBO. This means I watched movies like Howard the Duck, The Wraith, Jumping Jack Flash, Regarding Henry, and Troll more times than any human being ever needs to (i.e.: more times than never). Yet, as undeveloped as my tastes were, and as devotedly as I watched and re-watched and re-re-watched these movies, I could still recognize that they were, well, crappy. Really crappy. Take John Carl Buechler’s Troll (1986), which cashed in on the Gremlins craze that included other mini-monster movies like Munchies, Ghoulies, and Look Who’s Talking. Here was a movie about a girl named Wendy who is bitten by a little beastie, which then uses a magical ring to possess her and turn the family apartment into a woodland freak show of singing, havoc-raising trolls. Clearly, not a brilliant premise, but there was also the piss-poor troll puppets, a strangely disturbing sequence in which Wendy’s dad rocks out to Blue Cheer’s “Summertime Blues”, and the presence of Sonny Bono.
A recipe for putridity, for sure, but Troll somehow managed to spawn a couple of sequels. Well, maybe “spawn” is too strong a word. In fact, the first Troll sequel has zip to do with the original. Initially, Claudio Fragasso (aka: “Drago Floyd”!) called his film Goblin, but the title was changed to Troll 2 when released in the U.S. in 1990. To capitalize on the first Troll. Hmm. When your movie needs to be associated with a chicken fart like Troll, chances are it isn’t very good. According to its imdb rating, Troll 2 actually once ranked as “the worst movie of all time.” As such, it has naturally built up something of an ironic cult following and has even inspired a new documentary by Troll 2 star Michael Stephenson called Best Worst Movie. I regard myself as something of a cult movie connoisseur, and though I prefer a really good cult movie like Eraserhead to a “so bad it’s good” one like Plan 9 From Outer Space, I still have to give anything noteworthy enough to be considered “all-time worst” or inspire a documentary a whirl. So, obviously I’m not going to be examining Troll 2 from the same tack I would, say, The Seventh Seal. But a significant question requires answering: does Troll 2 deserve the dubious honor of best worst movie of all time?
Now, making a bad movie is no tough task. Get a bunch of non-actors, kick your budget down the elevator shaft, and ask a three-year old to write your script. There you go: instant bad movie. But anything so contrived isn’t really worthy of evaluation. Rather, a truly noteworthy bad movie is made by a filmmaker who did not set out to make a bad movie. This is why Ed Wood’s films are so charmingly watchable. He thought he was doing good work, or at least, he didn’t think he was doing bad work. As a result, there’s still a whiff of craftsmanship in his movies. Wood managed to score a well-known (if obviously past his prime) star like Bela Lugosi to act in several of his films. He went to the trouble of building actual sets and procuring professional props. And though Ed Wood’s films can be criticized on a multitude of levels, you can’t call them insincere. No one puts their most private secrets on screen, as Wood did in his fascinating transvestite-confessional Glen or Glenda, in the hope that audiences are going to laugh at them. Consequently, there is also an unfortunate element of schadenfreude in watching bad movies: the dull thrill of seeing a film-crew fall on its collective face. But let’s not think about that too much lest we allow our meanness to soil the joy of seeing a filmmaker pour his heart, soul, and dollars into something we enjoy because it’s hilariously shitty.
Troll 2 finds the brain-dead Waits family leaving suburbia for a vacation in the rusticated burg of Nilbog (which is “inept” spelled backwards). At their holiday farm, the Waits are basically grub for Nilbog’s dominant goblin community. The creatures scheme to gorge the Waits family on slimy green gruel before gorging themselves on the Waits family. Only little Joshua Waits (Stephenson) is aware of the grim fate facing his dumb parents (Margo Prey and dentist George Hardy) and dumber older sister, Holly (Connie McFarland). Joshua’s dead grandpa (Robert Ormsby) gives him the skinny about Nilbog and its nefarious nature. Along the way we meet a crazed cult of vegetarians (which sets the stage for some weird anti-veggie propaganda), a Winnebago full of teenage boneheads, and the nutso troll goddess, Creedence Leonore Gielgud (Deborah Reed).
Like its nominal predecessor, Troll 2 has a dumb plot, but it triumphantly trumps the first Troll for sheer incompetence in terms of special effects, make-up, dialogue, and acting. This may be the most dead-eyed cast in cinema history. The one grand exception is Deborah Reed, who overcompensates for her somnambulant cast-mates by gnawing the scenery and rolling her peepers like an escaped mental patient.
So, Troll 2 sounds pretty bad, eh? One to miss? An unwatchable stinker? No, no, no, and no. Michael Stephenson’s claim isn’t far off the mark: if this isn’t the best worst movie (Glen or Glenda and DePalma’s Scarface are top contenders, too), it’s certainly in the running. Why? Well, it is jam-loaded with scenes of such excruciating terribleness, such confounding stupidity, such quotable idiocy, that it never ceases to be utterly entertaining. These scenes include, but are not limited to:
• The Waits’s cacophonous round of “Row Row Row Your Boat” as they drive to Nilbog.
• Joshua pissing on his family’s dinner to prevent them from becoming food for the peckish goblins.
• The sad dance routine Holly performs in her Garfield nightshirt.
• The bonehead who finds himself trapped in a flowerpot, then giggles like a doofus while getting chainsawed to death.
• The insane caveman musical one of the other boneheads watches on TV.
• Creedence’s seduction of that same bonehead using some corn on the cob.
• The dementedly cheerful “la-la-laing” of the vegetarian cult.
• Joshua defeating the goblins by eating a seven-inch-thick boloney sandwich.
And even with its audacious awfulness, Troll 2 is still somewhat recognizable as a movie made with a degree of love and sincerity. The editing and framing are enjoyably inventive at times, and the excessive use of distorted lenses is fun. Ideally, it should be watched in a theater full of like-minded ironists, stoned out of their minds at midnight… although I watched it straight and alone in the afternoon and still had a blast.
Mike gives Troll 2… 12 inches of boloney!
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