Thousands of films are made each year. Only a couple of hundred might register in theatres or the public consciousness, but if you really dig into what’s released around the world and then further into straight to video/DVD/streaming titles, then scrape right at the bottom of the pile to the depressingly large number of films that never see the light of day, you’ll realise there’s an endless stream of cinema being produced. With this volume, the quality you’d expect from a mainstream release can’t be maintained. Audiences who only ever watch tentpole films find it easy to scoff at big budget titles that have some flaw they can pick at, calling said film “terrible” or “the worst film ever”. They’re way off the mark though. If we’re talking technical quality, the zero budget dregs that have no chance of hitting theatres or a major retailer/streaming platform, are a thousand times worse than films like Fifty Shades of Grey or whatever else the internet trolls are slagging off today.
However, ‘bad films’ have their own following. As much as I enjoy watching the indie and world cinema classics I often review here at Blueprint: Review, I also love the Weekends of Trash I take part in every 6 months or so with my friends. We watch some of the real dregs at these get-togethers (alongside some classier fare to keep us sane) but have a lot of fun in the process. It’s a strange phenomenon that’s been around for a long time. Ever since the concept of the ‘B-picture’, audiences have enjoyed watching a bit of ‘trash’ alongside mainstream cinema.
More often than not though, the fun idea of watching a ‘bad movie’ doesn’t match up to the actual practice. A truly poorly made film is generally dull and the initial enjoyment wears off of watching actors make a fool of themselves or shoddy sets wobble in the background, and you simply count the minutes for the clumsy mess to end.
There are, however, exceptions. Snootier critics may disagree, but I believe there’s an art to making a ‘bad’ or rather ‘B-movie’ and they fall into two categories. Firstly you have the movies that are self-aware and accept their lower-tier status, so play to their strengths. Their makers know they don’t have the time or budget to make anything classy or award-winning, so focus on pace, humour and simple thrills to deliver a good time. Then you’ve got a rarer breed of effective B-movies, the ‘so bad they’re good’ films. This is where they’re so shoddily-made they’re very funny and somehow manage to remain entertaining throughout, rather than grow tedious. Some people like to think most terrible movies are like this, but there really aren’t that many that achieve this perfect balance.
There are a handful of films that have fought over the title of ‘the worst film ever’, or more accurately the ‘best worst movie’. Plan 9 From Outer SpaceManos: The Hands of Fate and Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. In the 21st Century, there’s been a more structured race, where aggregators such as IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes have been used to get a true consensus for the film most worthy of the mantle. Some of the big names include Birdemic: Shock and Terror, The Room and a film released to little fanfare back in 1990, Troll 2.
The films mentioned above have grown in stature from throwaway fare that was doomed to the great dustbin in the bowels of movie hell, to cult classics that draw huge crowds of fans when they’re screened at special events. Troll 2 has such a following that the respectable boutique label Eureka have deemed it worthy of a wonderfully comprehensive Blu-Ray boxset treatment (albeit not part of their Masters of Cinema series), packaging the film together with the (completely unrelated) first Troll film and a feature-length documentary about the phenomenon that has developed around the film, Best Worst Movie, as well as numerous other special features. I must admit, I’m a fan of Troll 2, so I leapt at the chance to review this set, entitled Troll: The Complete Collection.
Director: John Carl Buechler
Screenplay: Ed Naha
Starring: Noah Hathaway, Michael Moriarty, Shelley Hack, Jenny Beck, Phil Fondacaro, June Lockhart, Anne Lockhart, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Sonny Bono
Country: USA, Italy
Running Time: 82 min
As mentioned, Troll has little to do with Troll 2, whose makers believed the first film was successful enough to rip-off to help bring in an audience (despite there being no trolls in theirs – we’ll get to that later). Troll came from the Band family production team, with dad Albert producing and son Charles down as Executive Producer (plus other son Richard providing the music). Together and between them (after Albert died in 2002) they churned out countless genre movies (and still do), specialising in horror comedies and finding reasonable success in the home video market in the 80s and early 90s. Troll was among these successes.
It tells the story of the Potter family (whose dad is called Harry and son Harry Jr!) after they move to a new apartment in San Francisco. The block is home to an assortment of unusual neighbours, from self-proclaimed swinger Peter (Sonny Bono) and the glamorous actress Jeanette, to the dwarf professor Malcolm (Phil Fondacaro) and the mysterious old lady Eunice St. Clair (June Lockhart). There’s someone or something even more unusual living in the basement though, Torok the Troll (also played by Phil Fondacaro). Early in the film, he uses his magic ring on young Wendy Anne Potter (Jenny Beck) and assumes her identity, dispatching the little girl to who-knows-where and morphing his body into her likeness. At first, Torok simply causes havoc in the Potter home, which father Harry and mother Anne (Shelley Hack) put down to their ‘daughter’ settling into the new environment. Harry Jr. (Noah Hathaway) can see something is wrong though and soon Torok begins his evil plan of turning all the inhabitants of the apartment into an army of magical woodland creatures to help him take over the world. The young boy and Eunice (who we discover is actually a good princess-witch) must stop him before it’s too late.
I hadn’t seen Troll before and had low expectations because it’s rarely given more than a passing mention when discussing the now more well-known sequel. I figured it would fall into the just plain bad category of B-movies. However, I enjoyed Troll far more than I expected. In my opinion, it fits into the other category of good B-movie that’s actually well made and makes the most of its limitations. Charles Band has always been good at producing fun, classily made genre movies and this is among his best.
It’s undeniably a wacky story, even by Band standards, but that’s all part of the charm. You can’t always second guess what direction it’s going to take as Torok wreaks havoc around the apartment block. There’s even a bizarre musical number thrown into the mix.
On top of being a silly bit of fun though, the film is actually pretty well made. It looks nice, with a lot of colour and some fairly effective special effects and make-up. Some of the minor creatures look a little naff, but Torok’s mask is not bad at all for the era.
More importantly though, the script is decent. Although the narrative is crazy and you could pick holes in it easily enough, the dialogue is sharp and full of funny zingers. The script also gives a little more depth to some of the characters. In particular, there’s a surprisingly poignant monologue from Malcolm (wonderfully delivered by Fondacaro) where he tells Wendy/Torok that he’s dying and describes his feelings about being a dwarf.
The performances help the script deliver too. It’s a fairly decent cast for a B-movie and, as well as Fondacaro, Michael Moriarty, who plays Harry Potter Sr, is a lot of fun, the two child leads are effective and the assortment of crazy neighbours are suitably over the top.
OK, it’s not going to win any awards, but I enjoyed Troll far more than I expected and probably should have. I do have a soft spot for these type of family-friendly high concept horror-comedies, but with a swift pace, funny dialogue and an anything-goes attitude, it’s a B-movie treat.
Director: Claudio Fragasso (as Drake Floyd)
Screenplay: Rossella Drudi, Claudio Fragasso (as Drake Floyd)
Starring: Michael Paul Stephenson, George Hardy, Margo Prey, Connie McFarland, Deborah Reed, Jason Wright
Country: USA, Italy
Running Time: 95 min
And so we come to Troll 2. Produced by an Italian company called Filmirage, it was originally going to be called Goblins, but US distributors were afraid an independent unknown film like this would flop, so it was renamed Troll 2 to try and cash in on the success of the 1986 film. It still flopped, largely because it was terrible, but over the years has grown into a cult phenomenon.
Troll 2 centres around a different family, the Waits’. They’re heading off on holiday to a house-swap in the country as dad Michael longs to experience life outside the big city. Young Joshua (Michael Paul Stephenson) however, is given a warning by the ghost of his grandad Seth (Robert Ormsby), that he should stop them going on their trip to Nilbog as grave danger awaits them, but he fails and they head on their way.
Indeed, grave danger does await in the small town. You see it’s actually inhabited by shape-shifting vegetarian goblins (not trolls) whose favourite delicacy is the human-vegetable. People are turned into this tasty treat after they consume a strange green substance. Grandpa Seth tells Joshua all about this and asks him to stop his family from tasting anything given to them by the locals. This proves difficult as they’re constantly being offered food (and “you can’t piss on hospitality”), but Joshua perseveres, despite no one believing his wild stories.
Meanwhile, Joshua’s sister Holly (Connie Young) is having boy trouble. Her boyfriend Elliott (Jason Wright) refuses to leave behind his motley crew of friends and despite promising not to, brings them along to Nilbog as he tries to make amends. Staying in a camper van nearby though, his buddies run into the goblins and are picked off one-by-one by the goblin queen Creedence Leonore Gielgud (Deborah Reed). She seems to be in command of the goblins, so Joshua must put an end to her reign whilst preventing his family from being turned into foliage.
In my opinion, Troll 2 truly is the king of the ‘so bad its good’ movies. Plan 9 and The Room are very funny, but I did grow a little tired of them towards the end. Troll 2 on the other hand, is a riot throughout. A lot of ‘bad movies’ ride on a couple of ridiculous scenes, a silly concept or a particularly poor aspect of its production (often the acting), but Troll 2 is loaded with memorably baffling scenes, terrible filmmaking and an absolutely bonkers story.
I could list all the most famously silly moments in the film, but you should experience them for yourselves if you haven’t already. This large spread of memorable scenes are what fans love to quote and keep the pace moving, but instead, I’ll talk about some of the general problems the film has that somehow work in its favour.
Possibly the worst aspect of the film is its script. Not only is the story totally nonsensical, but the dialogue is simply unbelievable at times. Most notably, the husband and wife writing team of Rossella Drudi and Claudio Fragasso (the latter of which directed the film too) have a habit of over-explaining things. I don’t just mean exposition, I mean characters describing what we can clearly see for ourselves on screen. One of the most famous examples is the classic line “They’re eating her… and then they’re going to eat me… OH MY GOD!” This happens throughout the film in often gobsmacking fashion.
The writing is downright bizarre for the most part. Drudi and Fragasso don’t seem to understand how real families or even people speak to each other. This might largely be down to the language barrier. They and most of the Italian crew members didn’t speak much English, so the American cast struggled to understand any of the direction and the dialogue has no native fluidity. A particularly strange interplay of dialogue comes in the infamous “you can’t piss on hospitality” sequence, which must be seen to be believed.
The acting is another big reason the film is classed as such a bad movie. This varies from the horribly wooden (Margo Prey playing Joshua’s mum Diana) to the gleefully hammy (Deborah Reed as Creedence) and some ropey but serviceable performances in between (the odd terrible reading aside, I don’t think the group of lads are that bad and their early scenes together are kind of fun).
I should stop rabbiting on though. There are many other aspects of the film that earn Troll 2 a place as one of the worst films ever made, but somehow they come together to make a hugely enjoyable one. Personally, I think there are far worse films out there. In my opinion, a truly bad film is poorly made but also difficult to sit through. I stand by my choice of The Roller Blade Seven as the worst movie I’ve ever seen, but Troll 2 may well be the best worst movie, as it’s often described. Despite the awful script, cringe-worthy performances, shoddy production design and other elements in a long list of filmmaking embarrassments, the film regularly plasters a huge grin on my face and I’ll happily watch it again and again.
or – depending on your mood or taste
Best Worst Movie
Director: Michael Paul Stephenson
Starring: George Hardy, Lily Hardy, Pita Ray
Running Time: 93 min
Best Worst Movie may seem like just a special feature added to the boxset, but it was released as its own entity in 2009 and in fact presides on its own disc here, where the two Troll movies share one. Directed by Michael Paul Stephenson, the child star of Troll 2, it’s not a ‘making of’, instead it examines the lives of those involved in the shoot and how the late and unexpected cult success of the film affected them. It also lets the fans explain their love of Troll 2 to help Stephenson and the rest of the cast and crew understand why this newfound love came to be.
This personal approach works very well. Stephenson stays largely out of the spotlight in the film, after a little introduction near the beginning, and instead focuses largely on George Hardy, the Alabama dentist who played his dad in the film. Charismatic, bubbly and full of enthusiasm, he’s a great anchor to the film, keeping things largely bright and cheerful.
I say largely bright and cheerful because there are actually some surprisingly sad and poignant aspects to the film. In particular, the Nilbog store owner Don Peckard had mental problems for a long time and confesses to having been stoned during the shoot and harboring an irrational hatred of everyone around him, including young Stephenson. Equally as moving is meeting Margot, who is now housebound, looking after her sick mother. She seems very troubled too and is a bit deluded about the film, but maybe because Stephenson catches her by surprise and interviews here there and then. Robert Ormsby also seems to be maintaining quite a lonely existence in his cluttered and dingy house.
Some of these touching tales are given a happy end though. Peckard comes along to one of the Troll 2 screenings, initially hiding among the crowd, but when he’s brought up on stage to rapturous applause, he lights up and describes it as a ‘golden moment’. Ormsby seems content about his lot in life too, although some deleted scenes suggest otherwise.
One of the most unusual people we meet, as you might expect, is the director Claudio Fragasso. Both he and his wife/co-writer Rossella Drudi take the film way too seriously, talking about its subtext and their lofty intentions behind it (although at one point Drudi admits the film came about partly to piss off her friends who were all becoming vegetarians!) Fragasso appreciates the attention the film is getting and is moved to see how happy it makes people when he goes to a screening in America. However, he’s baffled by them laughing at the scenes that weren’t supposed to be funny. As the film goes on he also gets angry at the actors telling Q&A audiences how they couldn’t understand instructions and weren’t properly prepped for the shoot. He turns into an unlikeable character as he gets more irritable, heckling the actors on stage. I guess it must be tough though, hearing everyone say how bad your film is and have the people working for you bemoan your techniques.
As the film moves on, we get to see some of the downsides of cult fame too. After the initial excitement, George goes to some conventions where no one shows up and realises it’s not as glamorous as he thought, seeing them as places where out of work actors go for money. He’s disturbed by horror fans at some of these too, so gives up promoting the film for a while. An uplifting finale, where the film is given a lavish outdoor screening by Alamo Drafthouse, brings the mood back up though, helping everything end on a heartwarming note.
Overall, the documentary does a great job of delving into the lives of those involved with such a strange phenomenon. With so many involved, it maybe only skims the surface as it races along, but it makes for an enjoyable and surprisingly moving watch. It’s certainly a welcome addition to this Blu-Ray collection.
Troll: The Complete Collection is out on 8th October on Blu-Ray in the UK, released by Eureka as part of their Classics range. The transfer on all films is great with clean, detailed pictures and strong colours, as well as solid audio.
You get plenty of special features too:
– Limited Edition O Card slipcase featuring artwork by Devon Whitehead
– 1080p presentation of Troll, Troll 2 and for the first time ever on Blu-ray, Best Worst Movie.
– DTS-HD MA 2.0 audio on Troll and Best Worst Movie, with LPCM mono audio on Troll 2
– Optional English SDH subtitles for Troll and Troll 2
– The Making of Troll [50 mins]- featuring director John Carl Buechler, producer Charles Band, Writer Ed Naha, composer Richard Band and more
– Feature length audio commentary on Troll 2 with Actors George Hardy and Deborah Reed
– Best Worst Movie – over an hour of deleted scenes and interview footage not included in the final cut of the documentary
– Interview with Troll 2’s Goblin Queen, Deborah Reed
– Screenwriting Q&A with Jeff Goldsmith, Michael Stephenson and George Hardy
– Fan contributions
– “Monstrous” – Music Video by ECOMOG
– A limited edition collector’s booklet featuring rare archival material
The ‘Making of Troll’ is very good, providing a detailed insight into the production, with an impressive number of contributors. The Troll 2 commentary is OK, but a little lighter on funny anecdotes than I’d have liked, instead spending too much time praising the film. Reed’s contribution is sparse and tacked on too – the pair aren’t actually in a room together recording the commentary.
The Q&A, on the other hand, which runs over the film like a commentary, is excellent. Stephenson and Hardy are on top form, with Jeff Goldsmith keeping the conversation moving. There are loads of fun tidbits about the production and enjoyable banter between the trio.
The Best Worst Movie deleted scenes are the gem here though. I often skip extras like these, but the trimmings here are full of gold and offer further insight into the lives of the people involved. There are some very touching comments from Peckard and Ormsby. There’s also a fun sequence where George fixes Deborah’s teeth. George gives more comments on the depressing reality of conventions as we see him tire of one he’s attending. There’s also a lengthy clip of an online talk show. Drudi and Fragasso pop up again too and talk about the huge amount of time they put into researching American habits for the film, which is amusing to hear. A couple of actors are included here who didn’t make the cut of the finished doc too – such as the Nilbog preacher.
Topping off the collection is an interview with Reed which is fun, and a couple of fan films and rap music videos about Troll 2. These are quite amusing, but not valuable additions. The set as a whole though is a must own for anyone who’s a fan of the film or thinks they could be.