In the canon of modern horror films, Troll has become something of a footnote, overshadowed by its infamous pseudo-sequel Troll 2, an eternal member of the Great Bad Movie Pantheon. When Troll enters conversation, it’s usually to set up the joke that Troll 2 has no connection to its successor and was titled as such by greedy Italian filmmakers to cash in on a property with some, albeit limited, audience recognition. Typical Italian filmmaker behavior, in other words.
If that previous paragraph sounds slightly bitter and casually racist, well, that’s because it is. Troll being relegated to a gloomy existence in the shadow of its hilariously awful follow-up is sixteen pounds of frothing, swirling bullshit crammed into a twelve pound sack. As much fun as Troll 2 is (and it’s about as fun as a movie about goblins turning people into vegetables can be), Troll is easily the more entertaining film, a delicious hour and a half of non-sequitor weirdness that has to be seen to be believed. It’s a moderately well made film from a technical standpoint with adequate production values and creature effects that actually hold up to scrutiny, but it’s saddled with a seriously wacky screenplay that feels like the culmination of a narcotic-laced brainstorming session with an ADD-addled six year old and a cast that feels like they were plucked straight from a community theater production of King Lear: they’re acting their hearts out –just badly– and playing to the back row instead of the camera across the room.
Michael Moriarty stars as a man named Harry Potter (I shit you not), who moves his family into a new apartment, unaware that a nasty troll named Torok lives in the basement. He continues to remain unaware when Torok possesses the body of his young daughter Wendy (Jenny Beck), using her form to infiltrate neighboring apartments and transform the inhabitants into forest creatures and their living spaces into mystical fantasy lands. Thankfully, her brother — also named Harry Potter! — catches a science fiction movie on TV, which convinces him that the Potter clan may be experiencing a slight case of body snatching. Thankfully, an ancient witch named Euince St. Clair (June Lockhart) lives on the top floor with an arsenal of magical weapons and her wizard mentor who has been reincarnated as a purring mushroom, so at least the Potters aren’t alone when it comes time to battle their little troll situation. Although the fact that Eunice has been battling this same troll for centuries with limited success should have sent up a red flag or two.
Troll reminds me of the popular web comic Axe Cop, which is drawn by a professional artist and plotted by his five-year old brother. It’s a competent looking film, decently shot and lit, and the troll itself, played by the diminutive Phil Fondacaro (who also plays one of the Potter’s ill-fated neighbors) often looks fantastic. It isn’t a stunning looking film, but it more than gets the job done. But the characters and the story and the acting? Oh my. That’s another story. That’s the “five-year old brother” part of the equation.
However, there’s a great deal of fun to be had with the film’s lunatic story, which would feel like an intentional comedy if the film didn’t take itself so seriously. You get a constantly shifting mythology that adjusts itself at the whims of the plot. You get cartoonish characters meeting brutal ends. You get Sonny Bono turning into a tree and giving birth to a family of bunny goblins. You get an oh-so-young Julia Louis Dreyfus transforming into not one, not two, but three sparkling nymphomanic wood nymphs. You get Michael Moriarty rocking out and air guitar-ing across his living room in an extended sequence that may very well be one of the greatest examples of dorkery committed to the silver screen. And most of all, you get a musical number performed by the troll and his army of forest minions, sung in a fictional fantasy language while creatures of all shape, size and color rock back and forth via limited animatronic technology, an acid-laced hybrid of Disneyland, Sid and Marty Kroft and that Aimee Mann sing-along from Magnolia.
There’s a random grab-bag charm to Troll’s goofiness, off-setting the fact that none of it makes any goddamn sense. It’s unpredictable not because of clever plotting but because it truly feels like it was made up as it was shot. I could make a joke like “Well, it was the 1980s and surely cocaine was involved!” but that’s a really tired and lame joke, so I refuse to make it. But it was the 1980s. And surely cocaine was involved.
Troll is amazing.
It was an oddly subdued crowd considering exactly what was being projected on the screen. For everyone who found the film’s oddness a hilarious warm blanket, there was someone else who was thoroughly put off and annoyed. You can tell the former because they’re rad dudes who ride kick-ass motorbikes, know how to rock the dance floor and write for Horror’s Not Dead. You can tell the latter because they’re big fat jerks.