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Wrong Forgotten: Is Troll 2 Still a Thing?

  Time was when Troll 2 was held up as the worst movie of all time by a bunch of fans of terrible films who found its lunacies perversely entertaining, but it seems just as every dog has its day, that day does not hang around forever. The sequel in name only to John Carl Buechler's Troll from 1986, which had been designed as a makeup showcase, that had at least featured a troll, but with this follow-up the director Claudio Fragasso had bigger fish to fry and preferred to deploy goblins as his menace of choice. It was a typical item of Italian horror trash from around this nineteen-eighties into nineties period, at the point when that nation's industry was facing a downturn in fortunes and the lower budget genre flicks were not getting produced in the same volume as they had been in the heyday of the sixties and seventies.

Thanks to that, what was being released went to extremes, often absurd ones, to try and hold the attention of whatever audience they could hang onto, and Troll 2, almost despite itself, certainly did that. Yet as it was discovered around the turn of the millennium through word of mouth and the burgeoning internet network of fans sharing their disbelief at its preposterous qualities, the market was becoming crowded. Time was when Plan 9 from Outer Space was the go-to title for worst ever movie and everyone was happy with that - it's a mark of Edward D. Wood Jr's masterwork that it continues to keep a grip on the average movie buff's consciousness, but after a while, even as far back as The Golden Turkey Awards in 1980, the jostling to be considered so bad it's good was becoming increasingly competitive.

Troll 2, however, was a legitimate contender, not some blockbuster the average moviegoer found a bit boring, slickly produced but hollow. Nope, here was a piece with an agenda, one that seemed ludicrous, not to mention unnecessary, as Fragasso and his co-screenwriter wife Rossella Drudi were out to take on the might of the vegetarian lobby with a critical reading so scathing the viewer would never be content with a nut roast ever again. Those goblins, who lived in a town called Nilbog, which as the horrified tyke who passed for a protagonist realised, was Goblin backwards, were avowed herbivores, which in the writers' opinion was an abomination: veggies were literally monsters! To underline this, their modus operandi would be to feed people some cakes or other foodstuffs with green goo on them, thereby turning the victims into mushy plants.

The vacationing family of little Joshua, played by Michael Paul Stephenson, had no idea this was planned for them when they showed up in Nilbog on a house swap scheme, so only he could tell there were nefarious deeds going on, mostly thanks to being told by the ghost of his dead grandfather Seth (Robert Ormsby) who pops up every so often to tell him nightmarish bedtime stories or axe goblins to death. This was as nuts as it sounds, but unlike a work like, say, Manos, The Hands of Fate, it was not an exclusive property of a cult of fans who could be bothered to sit through what was an excruciatingly boring experience, for Troll 2 contained a degree of entertainment value obvious even to the most casual viewer. Assuming the casual viewer would want to give this a try, that was, but it must have made a few converts to other terrible but amusing efforts.

Much was made of such scenes as Joshua twigging (hah!) that the only way he can prevent his family from consuming a slap-up feast laid out for them by the goblins (disguised as humans, because magic) was to urinate on said comestibles. The lengths he goes to in stopping them eating anything were remarkable, almost as remarkable as the performance of Deborah Reed as Creedence, the goblins' Queen, whose eye-rolling and lip-smacking were a sight to behold as she turns one young man into a tree (delirious, he laughs when she chops him down with a chainsaw). Leading up to one of those "hooray, the baddies are vanquished - ah, not they're not!" endings that had been a cliché for years in 1990, some claimed Troll 2 was an intentional comedy, but it came across as misguidedly sincere; incredibly stupid, but sincere nevertheless.

There can be something disarming in that sincerity that makes the worst of the worst popular, in however limited a fashion: if the filmmaker is out for cynical gain, exploiting the audience for a fast buck, then it does tend to show. Such was the case with Tommy Wiseau's The Room, which once it made a name for itself swiftly took over as the worst movie ever made in many opinions, especially the customers who lined up to watch it at midnight showings, just like The Rocky Horror Picture Show (only that's recognised as a good movie). Once his personal drama that came across as being conceived of by an insane person began to lay waste to the bad movie landscape, bulldozing all before it (and all after it, for that matter), a niche item like Troll 2 didn't stand a chance. One thing they had in common, however: they both had movies made about them.

The Room had spawned a book written by Greg Sestero, who was one of its stars, and proved to be among the most fascinating reads about a terrible cinematic experience ever written, so when actual movie star James Franco adapted it to the big screen with himself playing Wiseau in The Disaster Artist, it was one of the sleeper successes of 2017, and prompted many more audiences to give its inspiration a try, thus perpetuating its fame. Only Plan 9 from Outer Space was a rival to it now, outside of the titles parroted by Mystery Science Theater 3000 fans, which not coincidentally also made a return that year, attempting to construct a worst evah following for the likes of Avalanche and Carnival Magic (they had a point with that latter example). Yet just as the Moon waxes and wanes, it seemed Troll 2 was being left behind by history.

Still, that documentary about it, 2009's Best Worst Movie, was just as disarming as something as silly but dreadful as Troll 2 was, only Stephenson, now grown up and remaining in the industry for better or worse, created a far more accomplished effort and that was down to a certain clear-eyed honesty about how he was under no illusions that the film he had starred in all those years ago was pitiful, yet had made a lot of people very happy. He interviewed all the leading players in the sorry saga, including Fragasso who was initially enthused to be part of this phenomenon, then when he saw the film projected with its hooting aficionados, and heard the mixed feelings of his cast in Q&As, had mixed feelings of his own. It's all very well if the critics don’t "get" your work, but if your fans don't either, where does that leave you?

Really the star of Best Worst Movie was one of the actors, George Hardy, who had played Stephenson's father. A dentist by trade, he had auditioned for the film which was being made in Utah, nurturing lapsed ambitions to be an actor, and won the role, giving the impression he was always meant to be a star - just not a star of a movie. He was the star of his community, adored by the locals for his gregarious, friendly and positive attitude, and he was patently delighted that this movie had given him a delayed fame, even if it was for being terrible in a terrible project. He turned out to be the heart and soul of Stephenson's documentary, running through his catchphrase ad nauseam (he gets sick of it, too) but cheerleading his screen son tirelessly, to the point of joining him on his journey across not only America, but the Northern Hemisphere.

That's where the tone turned poignant, as some of the performers had not seen their lives turn out too well, one actress retired and reclusive, looking after elderly mother and believing that Troll 2 had immense artistic worth, alongside Casablanca in that respect. It's a sobering sequence after all those talking heads joking about what entertaining garbage it was, and other players have seen fit to leave the film off their C.V. knowing it would harm their chances of employment, while Ormsby admits he has, at this late stage, frittered his life away. This was a reminder there were real individuals behind the best of culture, but also the very worst of it as well, and as Hardy laments that showbiz isn't quite what he anticipated, you are at least thankful that he managed to escape those dreams unscathed - and cheeringly, he was cast in movies afterwards.

Not major movies, and one of them was the Fragasso-scripted Goblin 2, but it was nice he was fondly recalled. Yet if those efforts could have secured the services of Wiseau, would they have jumped at the chance over Hardy? When straight to video turkey Samurai Cop had a belated sequel, there was Tommy in the cast, all very knowing, and once again demonstrating his ability to bestride the bad movie landscape like a Colossus, the intentionally rubbish as well as the unintentionally rubbish. There's a last act sequence in Best Worst Movie where Hardy tries going to conventions, only to find nobody particularly cares about Troll 2, and he doesn't fit in with the likes of John Schneider or someone off A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child, mostly because he is a successful dentist back home and his celebrity is more a hobby. That told you all you needed to know about bad movie cults: even those who were serious about them weren't serious, and while Troll 2 is memorably daft, you're not going to mistake it for great or lasting art.
Author: Graeme Clark.

 

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