It just wouldn’t be Halloween without looking at at least one film that’s horrifying not by intent, but simply because of how unwholesomely terrible it is. And so it’s time once again to open the Morbid Curiosity Files, and this time I’m taking a look at a film that is sometimes dubbed the “Best Worst Movie”, and is often in contention when the worst movies of all time are being discussed: Troll 2, released in 1990, direct to video. The film was directed by Italian director Claudio Fragasso, under the pseudonym Drake Floyd. Surprisingly, it’s not his first film, as he had directed several others before it… often under different pseudonyms. This is the sort of thing that should raise suspicions.
The film is notorious among horror movie fans, and fans of pure schlock. The reason can be summed up with a simple question, and the answer. What does Troll 2 have to do with the original Troll? Absolutely nothing. It’s not a continuation of the story, it isn’t from the same director, and it doesn’t feature any trolls. The script was apparently originally entitled Goblins, but it was changed upon its release to try and pick up extra sales from fans of Troll. When your distribution company decides to boost sales by tying into a title that only diehards have ever heard of, that’s a really bad sign.
This, meanwhile, is a really bad slime.
If one looks only at the broad strokes of the plot, it’s actually possible to piece together a coherent plot here. The Waits family are going out to the country for a vacation, trading houses for a few weeks with a family that lives in the town of Nilbog, because trading houses with complete strangers is a completely logical thing to do. Their young son, Joshua (Michael Stephenson), has been having trouble adjusting to the death of his grandfather Seth. Part of the difficulty is that, unknown to the rest of the family, Seth isn’t completely gone. They think Joshua’s just making it up, but Joshua sees the ghost of his grandfather (Robert Ormsby) regularly. And Grandpa Seth is doing his best to get Joshua to warn his family away from their country vacation; he is insistent that they are headed into danger.
There’s something about this sign but I can’t quite put my regnif on it…
For the first half of the film, this could just as easily have been titled Joshua: The Boy With Psychotic Delusions, which might have been a much better film. He runs off to talk with Grandpa Seth alone, he has premonitory nightmares that he screams out loud in the car, and in what is perhaps the film’s most famous scene, he decides that the only way to prevent his parents and sister from eating tainted food is to urinate on it, prompting the immortal line “You can’t piss on hospitality!” But no, eventually the truth is clear to all: Nilbog is inhabited by goblins. And the goblins want to eat the people, but because they are vegetarian (possibly herbivorous, but the film is consistent in saying vegetarian) they have to use magic food to turn the people into plant matter first. How exactly this makes any sense is unclear, as is Grandpa Seth’s varying ability to affect the real world, or the eventual defeat of the goblins by concentrating on goodness while leaning on a magic stone.
It’s magic, we don’t have to explain it.
How does this film fail? Let me count the ways…. First, there’s the acting. I don’t want to bash the actors too hard here, since after viewing Best Worst Movie I’ve gained some sympathy for them, but even the best acting here wouldn’t cut it in a typical feature. The kid, Michael Stephenson, is arguably supposed to act fairly wildly, but he’s so far over-the-top it’s incredible. This isn’t typical actor-kid acting, this is closer to Star Wars vs. Rambo playground acting. Robert Ormsby arguably does the best, as despite the completely ungrounded nature of his character’s abilities, he plays the character of Grandpa Seth in a fairly straightforward manner. George Hardy, playing the father, isn’t necessarily a bad actor… but he’s hobbled with lines that beg to be delivered in a hammy manner, and doesn’t get enough of the other sort to provide a balance. He, Connie Young, and Margo Prey all deliver performances that are filled with dialogue that is so stilted it might as well be dictated by robot.
His mother asks him to sing “that song I like”. The song is “Row, row, row your boat.” Shakespeare this is not.
It is conceivable that with a better director and a better script that these actors may have done a better job. In fact, it’s almost certain. While the delivery of the lines is mediocre at best, it can’t be denied that most of the dialogue is poor in its own right. If the delivery seems unnatural, it is at least partly because there is no natural way to deliver lines such as “They’re eating her… and then they’re going to eat me!” or “The Stonehenge magical stone… the goblins’ magic power!” The script was written by Fragasso and his wife, Rossella Drudi, neither of whom spoke English proficiently. The language barrier was no doubt complicated by the inexperience of the actors; for virtually all of them, it was their first film (and usually their last as well). They would not have been in a position to know the proper way to do things, or how their film was turning out.
The exception being goblin queen Deborah Reed, just as inexperienced but clearly aware of just what sort of movie she was in.
It goes beyond the script, the directing, and the acting as well. The special effects are downright farcical. The green food dye used for the troll slime and magic food never manages to look like it’s anything but the corn syrup it almost certainly is, and the food is sufficiently unappetizing that it’s a wonder that Joshua would even have to try to discourage his family from eating it. There are a few scenes involving lightning-based magic, which is done by cutting away from the characters and showing a rather unconvincing bolt of lightning in the sky. And then, of course, there are the goblins themselves. In their non-human forms, they are appropriately grotesque… but utterly unconvincing. The masks barely animate when they speak, and in some cases not at all. And they are very clearly plastic and rubber instead of flesh. They look as though they were purchased from cheap Halloween close out stores.
And not necessarily all from the same manufacturer.
And yet the film has a certain charm to it, not in spite of its superfluity of flaws, but because of them. It’s almost impossible not to be laughing continuously at a film that is this supremely inept. Somehow it manages to fail in precisely the right ways that it doesn’t produce the negative feelings that watching a terrible movie normally produces. It’s not painful to watch; it’s hilarious. I could never recommend it as a good movie to watch, but for fans of movies that are “so bad they’re good”, this may indeed be the prize-winner. It’s arguably more inept than Plan 9 From Outer Space, but in such a way that it could just as easily be argued that it’s more entertaining. And it never even approaches the cerebellum-killing awfulness that is Manos: the Hands of Fate. It’s not the worst movie. But it might be, as its fans have dubbed it, the best worst movie.
P.S.: This review is part of a Troll 2 double-review. To read the review of Best Worst Movie, the documentary about the film, follow this link.