A long time ago I reviewed, what is widely considered, the best worst movie of all time. That film was the gloriously awful Troll 2. You may have gathered by the number 2 in the title that Troll 2 was a sequel and that the previous film may have been called Troll. That is a fair assumption and also the truth. Although Troll 3 actually has about 500 different names so it probably wouldn’t have surprised you if Troll 2 was a sequel to Crush Groove. Anyway, I’m here to review Troll. Click the link and I shall begin. Or just scroll down if you happened to already be on the actual review itself and not just The Film Dump’s homepage.
The story to Troll is simple… and maybe a little familiar. It spins the yarn of a young lad named Harry Potter (Noah Hathaway – Atreyu from The Never Ending Story) who finds his world suddenly changed by the appearance of magical goings on which he must stop. I’m not gonna call JK Rowling out on some plagiarism here, that’s going way too far, but really? Harry Potter dealing with magical beings. Odd coincidence. Although I’ll believe it as coincidence before the whole Hunger Games/Battle Royale “coincidence”. Troll’s odd similarity to the Harry Potter franchise is only slight though. The story concerns Harry’s sister, Wendy (Jenny Beck) who has, unbeknownst to everyone else, been replaced by a shape-shifting troll. That intends to turn the inhabitants of the apartment complex Harry’s family have just moved to into various fairytale friends and eventually use it as the spawning point of an inter-dimensional invasion. Pretty standard troll based plot I’d say.
A couple of things will strike you over the course of watching Troll as a little odd. Firstly, it’s cast. Here is a forgettable low budget horror film that has Shelley Hack (of Charlie’s Angels fame), Julia Louise Dreyfuss (of Seinfeld fame) and Sonny Bono (of drunken former husband of Cher). By the way, Julia Louise Dreyfuss runs around in a skimpy little vine costume for one scene. Jus’ sayin’… Another thing that will strike you is how little Troll 2 has to do with this. Here’s a list of things both films have in common: The font used in the title. A child protagonist. People being turned into plants. Is a film. That really is it. Note the lack of trolls because, as we all know, Troll 2 has no trolls in it. There is another odd element but I’d rather not spoil it too much. Let’s just say that Musical numbers aren’t always needed.
Troll is one of those odd little films that got slated back in the 80s, and not without good reason, but when watched today you realise just how poor some similar level films are. I mentioned in my review of Gleaming the Cube that there was more characterisation and depth to it’s plot than most films will even think of doing these days. The same is true of Troll. In amongst the flat attempts at comedy and horror is the occasional interesting character, such as a professor living in the apartment called Malcolm Mallory played by, the 80s version of Peter Dinklage, Phil Fondacaro. His performance is oddly earnest in the middle of this weirdness and also manages to create something of a sympathetic edge tot he film’s villain Torok the Troll, also played by Fondacaro. He has a small monologue about a dream he had as a child which Torok, feeling a kinship with Malcolm, makes come true. It’s only a simple bit of characterisation but it adds a layer to a character that could have been there just for weirdness of laughs and instead adds humanity to two characters, one of which is the villain. Don’t get me wrong, this film is full of pure nonsense, but small touches like this help legitimise it as an actual film made by people that cared.
Effects wise, for 1986, the creatures are fairly well done. Some of the background creatures we see later in the film are basic glove puppets but, in general, the craftsmanship of the creatures is fairly solid. It’s not Jim Henson’s Creature Workshop level but it’s certainly not Troll 2 levels of inanimate. Torok himself manages to emote a little and you can see some real effort was put into making him look a little less like a rubber monstrosity than the average similar puppet effect of the day. A monster Harry Potter must fight at the end is very shoddy though. It’s pretty much a guy in a Gorilla suit with wings stuck on it shot at a low angle, never once appearing in the same shot as the human sized actors. I guess most of their effects budget was spent on Torok and turning Sonny Bono into a vegetable. Something they could have done for free with a handful of the prescription drugs he likely had in his back pocket. What? It’s been 15 years since he died. It’s not too soon.
Troll’s main problem stems from its fairly inept writing, beyond its odd moment of decency mentioned earlier, and its lack of identity. The film tries to be a horror fantasy but then throws in some very poorly thought out comedy. One early scene in particular is made all the more painfully unfunny by the continuous addition of either a fire alarm or children screaming. The scene is meant to introduce us tot eh oddballs living in this apartment block but for the whole scene I was just wanting to see the place burn to the ground so there could be some quiet. The film spends no time letting you get to know the characters before Wendy is replaced with a troll and the film’s lead, Harry, comes across as a full blown wuss for most of the film. Oddly he seems to develop a friendship with a kindly old lady upstairs in what starts to feel only a few steps away from Harold and Maude territory.
In the end Troll is a messy messy film but is no means the incompetent balls up that Troll 2 is. The problem is that it is also nowhere near as charming as it’s sequel. Troll 2 is perfectly, spectacularly bad to the point where by half way in you’ll be rooting for it to get worse. This first Troll film is mostly bland and lacks enough of a hook to keep you interested. I seriously challenge anyone to go in blind after watching the first 10 minutes and tell me you want to watch any more. By 10 minutes into Troll 2 you’ll be in it’s world. Troll has better things to come after that horrendous opening sequence of scenes but you’re still not going to find much of worth. Now to track down a copy of Troll 3 and complete this trilogy of failure.