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ON DVD & BLU-RAY

Troll: The Complete Collection Blu Ray (Eureka!)

Eureka Entertainment’s box set brings together a trio of cult favourites. Firstly, there’s Troll, a cheesy Charles Band production which was a popular video rental title during the 1980s. Secondly, there’s Troll 2, an unrelated Italian cheapie which was retitled to cash in on the former’s success and went on to become a so-bad-it’s-good cult classic. Thirdly, there’s Best Worst Movie, an affectionate feature-length documentary about the latter film.

Watch a trailer:

Troll (1986)

The Potter family - dad Harry (Michael Moriarty), mum Anne (Shelley Hack), son Harry Jr. (Noah Hathaway) and daughter Wendy Anne (Jenny Beck) - move into a new apartment. When Wendy Anne accidentally kicks her ball into the building’s basement, she goes down inside in order to retrieve it. Unfortunately, she gets incapacitated by an evil troll, who then proceeds to disguise itself in her form. While the fake Wendy Anne starts to behave in a strange and uncontrollable manner, her clueless parents think it’s just part of growing up. Harry Jr., on the other hand, is convinced that she has been taken over by an alien being.

Utilising the disguise of an innocent-looking young girl, the troll is able to talk its way into the apartments of the tenement’s motley inhabitants and start transforming them, one-by-one, into forests inhabited by various grotesque mythical creatures (yes, really). Harry Jr., who becomes increasingly concerned at the danger his fake sister poses to himself and others, enlists the help of a mysterious elderly lady who goes by the name of Eunice St. Clair (June Lockhart).

Troll (1986)

Troll is one of the many low-budget genre flicks which were churned out by Charles Band’s company Empire Pictures during the 1980s. While some of these (such as Trancers and a few of Stuart Gordon’s early efforts) are pretty decent, this isn’t one of their better efforts. It’s a curious mix of two particular movie crazes which were doing the rounds during the 1980s - firstly, the semi-comedic PG-13 horror cycle which was kicked off by Gremlins (1984) and secondly, the fairytale fantasy subgenre which included The NeverEnding Story (1984), Legend (1985) and Labyrinth (1986). Indeed, Noah Hathaway, who played the hero in The NeverEnding Story, is cast in a somewhat similar role here. Moreover, he plays a character with the eerily prophetic name of Harry Potter! Thus far, J. K. Rowling has denied any allegations of plagiarism…

The film tries hard, bless it, but its lack of budget really shows. While there are a few good stop-motion effects, and the troll itself is well played by a dwarf actor in a prosthetic suit (the actor in question is Phil Fondacaro, who also pops up in a secondary role as a diminutive professor), most of the other creatures are pitiful rubbery glove poppets that do little apart from wobbling around on the spot. The finale features another man in prosthetics who is filmed from a low angle in a cheap attempt to make him look like a huge monster. This creature is easily defeated via an act of quite breathtaking stupidity. As a supposed horror film, Troll is possibly the most non-threatening in existence.

June Lockhart in Troll

Still, there are some witty lines of dialogue and quirky performances here. Michael Moriarty is amusing as the daffy, air-headed dad who pays more attention to his old record collection than he does to his children. June Lockhart turns in an engaging veteran performance in a sort-of female Obi-Wan Kenobi mentor role to the young hero. The younger incarnation of the same character is played by June’s real-life daughter, Anne Lockhart. Cher’s ex-husband Sonny Bono, playing a swinging neighbour, clearly wasn’t taking his time on set at all seriously.

Make no mistake, however - Troll is a pretty bad movie. It’s not so-bad-it’s-good either; it’s just kind of “meh” bad, albeit just about tolerable to sit through thanks to its game cast.

Runtime: 82 mins

Dir: John Carl Buechler

Script: Ed Naha

Starring: Noah Hathaway, Michael Moriarty, Shelley Hack, Jenny Beck, Sonny Bono, Phil Fondacaro, Brad Hall, Anne Lockhart, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Gary Sandy, June Lockhart

Troll 2 (1990)

Michael Paul Stephenson plays Joshua Waits, a young boy whose grandfather (Robert Ormsby) has died six months ago. However, the latter’s ghost still visits his room and tells him the story of a race of vegetarian goblins who turn human beings into plants by duping them into consuming a green slime-like substance. By changing them into this form, the goblins are able to devour them.

He goes on a family trip with his mother Diana (Margo Prey), father Michael (George Hardy) and older sister Holly (Connie Young) to a rural town called Nilbog. They are followed closely behind by Holly’s boyfriend Elliott (Jason Wright) and his group of best buddies, who are looking to get laid with the local girls. Once the Waits family arrive at their homestay, they find that the creepy locals have left them with a banquet of strange-looking food. Unconcerned by its appearance, all of the family members bar Joshua start to tuck in. However, Joshua’s grandfather makes another of his appearances and tells the child that he has to stop them from eating it or else they will die. With that, the grandfather stops time and Joshua opens his fly to urinate over the less-than-appetising dishes. Needless to say, the rest of them are furious at the prospect of being forced to go hungry.

Unfortunately, the danger remains for all of them; the goblins from grandpa’s dream pop up and start to attack Elliott’s friends, turning them into tasty plants. Can Joshua and his spectral grandfather save the day?

This supposed “sequel” actually started out as an unrelated film entitled Goblins. However, the U.S. distributors (Trans World Entertainment) decided to rename it to Troll 2 in order to boost its financial prospects. Oddly enough, while the film is stylistically very different to the Charles Band-produced original and features no connection to it in terms of characters, certain elements seem similar enough for one to suspect that director Claudio Fragasso and his co-writer Rossella Drudi were at least somewhat inspired by it. Inspired, however, only in the sense that they may have half-remembered the details from watching it some years ago while under the influence of magic mushrooms.

In the original, the troll turned people into forests filled with creatures, whereas here, the goblins turn them into plants and goopy green matter. In the original, the troll disguised itself as a little girl, whereas here, the goblins disguise themselves in a wide variety of human forms. In the original, a boy defeated the troll with the help of a mystical elderly lady. Here, a boy defeats the goblins with the help of his ghostly grandfather.

Deborah Reed in Troll 2

Troll 2 is so insanely campy and nonsensical that it could have been an Airplane-style spoof had it not taken itself so self-evidently seriously. The goblins are all-too-obviously dwarves in Halloween-style masks, with minimal to nonexistent animatronic effects. The acting is laughably over-the-top, most of all from Deborah Reed as the witch-like goblin queen Creedence Leonore Gielgud who cackles and glares in such an exaggerated manner that she makes a silent movie villain look restrained by comparison. Almost every non-villainous character, bar the grandfather and the son, acts as if they were born into the world five minutes ago; who in their right mind would eat cakes and corn cobs covered in a fluorescent green goop, or drink a steaming brew handed to them by a cackling black-toothed witch?

Speaking of the spectral grandfather character, he seems to acquire all sorts of extraordinary powers as and when it’s convenient for the script, be it the ability to freeze time, whip a molotov cocktail out of nowhere, cause a stock footage lightning strike to hit one of the bad guys (the footage in question shows the lightning flash at night, even though the rest of the sequence occurs during a bright, sunny day) and teleport a character to the goblins’ lair so that he can defeat them via the most surreally far-fetched deus ex machina imaginable. It involves eating a baloney sandwich. Honestly, I’m not making it up.

If that all wasn’t ridiculous enough, there’s also a scene involving George Hardy reprimanding his son for urinating on the family dinner by spouting the priceless line “you can't piss on hospitality”. The whole shebang also seems to have an underlying (albeit impossible to take seriously) anti-vegetarian message. In fact, I could go on and on about every misguided and just plain mystifying aspect of this “film” for at least 100 solid paragraphs.

On the other hand, while it’s far worse than the original Troll, it’s immeasurably more enjoyable and certainly moves along at a lively pace. It’s right up there with Plan 9 from Outer Space and The Room as one of the best bad movies ever made.

Runtime: 95 mins

Dir: Claudio Fragasso

Script: Claudio Fragasso, Rossella Drudi

Starring: Michael Paul Stephenson, George Hardy, Margo Prey, Connie Young, Robert Ormsby, Deborah Reed, Jason Wright

Best Worst Movie (2009)

This documentary was directed by Michael Paul Stephenson, who decided to track down Troll 2’s cast members as well as director Claudio Fragasso and co-writer Rossella Drudi. They also revisit the small-town Utah locations for a lighthearted opportunity to relive their experiences working on the film, examine the cult following which it has developed over the years, and chronicle their appearances at both screenings and fan conventions.

While a trifle overstretched at 93 minutes, Best Worst Movie is an enjoyable and affectionate look at a movie which, to the amazement of its own cast members (most of whom were initially devastated at how their supposed “big break” turned out), went on to find its own particular niche fanbase. Moreover, the candid interview footage of the human beings involved in making the film is often quite touching. The main focus here is George Hardy himself - a terrible actor on film but a well-respected dentist and universally-loved local figure in his hometown of Alexander City, Alabama. The most eye-opening revelation here, however, is related to a man who played the smaller role of a sinister shopkeeper in the film - Don Packard. He admits that he was mentally unwell at the time and performed the role while on day release from an institution. He recalls that he felt that the young Michael Paul Stephenson was annoying to work with.

To the surprise of nobody who watched the film with any feel for subtext, Rosella Drudi admits that she came up with the idea because she was pissed off with vegetarians. Meanwhile, her real-life husband, Claudio Fragasso, vehemently disagrees with the overwhelmingly negative critical consensus about Troll 2.

All in all, it’s a satisfying real-life tale on how a bad movie cloud can, in time, generate its own silver lining.

Runtime: 93 mins

Dir: Michael Paul Stephenson

Blu Ray Audio-Visual

While the music sounds a little fuzzy on the original Troll and the picture seems a little dim at times on Troll 2, quality levels are good enough considering the age and low budgets of the films in question.

Extras

Troll Empire: The Making of Troll

This decent 50-minute documentary features interviews with producer Charles Band, writer Ed Naha, director/effects artist John Carl Buechler and others involved in the production. Shortly before making Troll, Band’s Empire Pictures company had bought up the former Dino Di Laurentiis studios in Rome and, since the dollar was strong against the Italian lira, they shot all of the film’s live-action scenes there. After the success of Ghoulies - which made $40 million on a budget of less than $1 million - Band was able to spend more money on his productions. Troll was the first of his films to feature a Hollywood A-list actor in the shape of Noah Hathaway, who was hot off the success of The NeverEnding Story.

The various crew members also discuss the film’s special effects. The titular troll was originally designed as an animatronic puppet but, in the end, they went with actor Phil Fondacaro in a suit. The puppet version ended up being used as one of the background creatures.

Troll II Audio Commentary with George Hardy and Deborah Reed

This commentary seems a few seconds off sync at times, notably when Hardy points out a Tom Cruise poster a few seconds after it appears on screen near the start. That said, it’s generally good fun as Hardy and Reed cheerfully point out the various piece of trivia and notable filmmaking gaffes throughout. Hardy claims that he got paid just $1,300 for his role - $100 for each day of shooting. While filming the scene where he drove his minivan down the dirt track to meet Elliott and his friends, during one of the takes he came mere inches away from crashing into their Winnebago.

Reed’s real-life son pops up briefly as the boy from the creepy family seen during the arrival in Nilbog. Her costume in the film was made up from a collection of her own clothes and jewellery items, most of them heirloom pieces given to her by her grandmother.

Troll II Creative Screenwriting Q & A with Jeff Goldsmith, Michael Paul Stephenson and George Hardy

This interview plays as an audio track over the film. Jeff Goldsmith, editor for Creative Screenwriting Magazine, conducted this on-stage Q & A between screenings of Best Worst Movie and Troll 2. It’s a lively enough affair, with the trio discussing the making of both films. Amusingly, the infamous “piss on hospitality” scene wasn’t in the original script; Michael Paul Stephenson’s character was originally supposed to grab his family’s attention by jumping on the table and yelling that he’s possessed. However, Claudio Fragasso ultimately decided that it would be more interesting if he urinated on the food instead.

Best Worst Movie deleted scenes

A selection of 13 scenes removed from the final version of the documentary, lasting over an hour in total. If you have some time, it’s well worth going through these. Don Packard shows us his house and goes into more detail about his anxiety issues. George Hardy meets ex-Bond Girl Caroline Munro at a fan convention. Actor Mike Hamill (who played the fire-and-brimstone preacher in Troll 2) talks about his passions for both poetry and bodybuilding (!) as well as giving us a preview of a more recent film which he has been working on called Reflections in the Mud. We also get a hilarious public service announcement about texting during screenings presented by George Hardy (who sends up his classic “you don’t piss on hospitality” speech) as well as a rap song homage to Troll 2.

Interview with Goblin Queen Deborah Reed

This delightful interview with the Troll 2 actress begins with a brief delve into her prized wardrobe of ancestral clothing - out of which she pulls her costume from the film. She talks about her varied career, ranging from creating business murals and mock floor surfaces, to modelling and makeup artistry. She also introduces her real-life son who was briefly featured in the film, and talks about her current work with her husband for an advertising video company called On Fire Productions. We get to see one of their humorous commercials for a local business named Duerden’s Appliances.

“Monsterous” music video

A rap music tribute to Troll 2.

Trailers and a collector’s booklet round out this incredible collection of extras.

Overall:

Amongst the two tenuously-connected films here, it feels like the original Troll is an unremarkable appetiser to the spectacularly bad main event that is Troll 2. Best Worst Movie is the dessert - an enjoyable delve into a most unexpected cult phenomenon. There is also enough extra content here to keep fans happy for a long time.

Troll

Movie: ☆☆

Video: ☆☆☆☆

Audio: ☆☆☆

Troll 2

Movie: ☆ (or ☆☆☆☆☆ in the guilty pleasure stakes)

Video: ☆☆☆

Audio: ☆☆☆☆

Best Worst Movie

Movie: ☆☆☆1/2

Video: ☆☆☆☆

Audio: ☆☆☆☆

Extras: ☆☆☆☆☆

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