Film Torments: Troll 2 (1990)

THIS TIME on Torments, Dan takes a look at an all-time classic.

The badness of Troll 2 is legendary in contemporaneity. Its infamy among the bad-movie-loving community (we’ll call them ‘shitslaves’) is legion. For shitslaves like myself, Troll 2 is one of the maypoles of the entire sub-culture, sharing ignominious space with the likes of The Room and Battlefield Earth as bastions of so-bad-it’s-good. Unlike my peers, however, I never bought in to the cult of the film and its insane Italian director, Claudio Fragasso, who remains convinced he made a masterpiece. Its endless blemishes washed over me like a lime green paste, and I wondered why I was so immune to its ironic charm.

Then I watched it with friends and, suddenly, everything fell into place. As if I’d been struck by a gloopy bullet of veggie milk, the “best worst movie” shone through the terrible effects, (literally) amateurish acting and garbled writing and penetrated my brainstem. Troll 2 is a laugh-a-minute carousel of bad decisions, made by a group of insane Italians trying to communicate their horrifying vision to a group of clueless Americans without a budget to call on. Everything is wrong, to a catastrophic degree, on a constant basis. It is, in a phrase, a perfect storm of good intentions.

It is also, fundamentally, a lie: Troll 2 is a sequel to nothing. It bears no resemblance to its apparent predecessor, nor does it share any of its characters, themes or trappings beyond half-formed creatures being a vague menace. The trolls of Troll 2 are anything but; they’re goblins, who awkwardly hang around in knee-high grass, growling at nearby oxygen and bug-eyed teenagers played by 30 year-olds.

It’s a sequel in the vein of Zombie 5 or Alien 2: On Earth – in name only, Italian-produced knock-offs capitalising on a recognisable brand – that has nothing to do with the original. Troll is a cult, darkish fantasy that has more in common with Labyrinth and Harry Potter than the ‘successor’ it spawned. Its modest success in the Leprechaun style did not lead to Troll: Back to Da Hood, but it did give Fragasso enough leverage to pin his Drake Floyd pseudonym to the intellectual property.

But let’s be fair to uncle Claudio here. The film was originally produced under the title of Goblins – a much more appropriate name – that American distributors balked at. The Troll 2 moniker was attached not by the artistically-minded Fragasso, but by sceptical producers who, not unjustly, dismissed the notion of a film called Goblins succeeding. In actuality, it cemented the ridiculousness at the heart of a mangled production torn apart by language barriers and the realities of low-budget film-making.

The language barrier is perhaps the most immediate issue that leaps out at the viewer. The script was written by Fragasso and his wife, Rosella Drudi, whose core concept was a barbed assault on vegetarianism. “Some of my friends had become vegetarians,” she said, “And that pissed me off.” This explains the final product’s fascination with greens, and the brainwashed denizens of Nilbog’s obsession with wholesome veg, but it doesn’t explain infamous lines like, “You can’t piss on hospitality – I won’t allow it!”

Uttered by local dentist George Hardy – who became a cult sensation in his own right for his enthusiastic bemusement over the film’s ironic success – the line is one of many pieces of dialogue that land with thudding, bewildering hilarity. What makes these lines hit even harder is the talentlessness of the ‘actors’, almost all of whom were amateurs with their own occupations. (One was, no joke, a schizophrenic mental patient who was absolutely not acting at all, providing the one vaguely unnerving moment of the entire film.)

“They’re eating her!” one cries, “And then they’re going to eat me.” Between shots, a fly lands on his head. “Oh my gooooooodddddddddd…” It is so utterly, perfectly bad, that adding or subtracting any single element of the sequence would shatter the ironic appeal. The key, distinguishing feature of Troll 2, however, is not merely the fact it’s a low-budget creature feature; those are dime-a-dozen, and 99% are unwatchable garbage in the purest sense. Its great quality – one that it shares with the likes of The Room and Battlefield Earth – is its high camp appeal.

Fragasso and company – mainly Fragasso – had every intention of making a great movie. Though he had, and still has the conviction he was crafting a masterpiece, he lacked the competence required to fulfil his vision. The combination of overwhelming sincerity mixed with the blatant ineptitude seen onscreen is what birthed the Troll 2 legend. Much like Tommy Wiseau, Fragasso’s earnest effort to make art backfired so spectacularly and with such seismic force that it birthed an entire sub-culture of unintended appreciators.

Much of the focus of Best Worst Movie – the documentary of the film’s aftermath made by its child star Michael Stephenson – pivots on this strange appeal. It’s a fascinating primer of what happens when art misfires, and how the interpretation of that art can differ so dramatically from its original intention. It’s also a heartwarming sit that offers deeply valuable insight into both the movie and the insane Italian director at its heart, doing much to explain (or, at least, interpret) the baffling decisions therein.

I’ve tried to avoid describing Troll 2 in detail because it needs to be experienced first-hand. No amount of wordplay would describe the joy of watching Deborah Reed’s Profion-esque performance as Creedence Leonore Gielgud. Nothing could explain the popcorn scene. Not a single dollop of scathing critique could encompass the magnitude of misguided wrong that is Holly’s dance. It has to be seen to be believed.

It’s very easy to say, “This film is so bad it’s good,” or, “This is the best worst movie ever made,” or, “You have to see this piece of shit.” For shitslaves like me – and I’m glad I can finally say this and mean it – Troll 2 is one of the few motion pictures that truly deserve this kind of label. It’s an engrossing, fascinating disaster-piece that should be pickled in formaldehyde and observed by hipster scientists until the end of time. It is so, so bad, and so, so good.

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