Schlock & Awe: TROLL (the first one)
By Kyle Anderson on October 9, 2013
For years, Troll 2 has been the high (or low) watermark for terrible, awful, inept, and overall shittiness in movies. Being who I am, I sought it out and watched with a mix of awe and revulsion. It’s putrid for sure, but I became increasingly interested to see the film that caused this unrelated sequel to get its name. I finally hunkered down to watch the original Troll from 1986 to see how it compared to what many consider the worst movie ever made…
You guys. I didn’t think it was possible, but Troll might actually, somehow, be WORSE than Troll 2. The latter at least has the excuse of having a cast of nobodies ranging from talentless and inexperienced to certifiably insane; there are actual known people in Troll, and it has at least a passably large budget. It is both terrifying and insipid. Boy howdy.
The first and biggest problem with Troll is that it’s presented like it’s supposed to be a kids’ movie; there’s a cutesy xylophone score and a plot involving a young boy who has to save his sister and, really, the whole world from the eponymous little thing. Hell, look at the trailer! But there’s also a huge amount of murder, dismemberment, horrible hand puppet creatures, and pulsating facial prosthetics. Surely a kind of response to the worldwide phenomenon that was Joe Dante’s Gremlins, Troll was, apparently, rated PG-13, but I don’t know anyone over 13 who’d want to see it, nor anyone under 13 who’d not be traumatized. And, I kid you not: The main character’s name is Harry Potter. Why the hell did I watch this movie?
The movie stars Michael Moriarty, Sonny Bono, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, June Lockhart, and Noah Hathaway, the kid who played Atreyu in The Neverending Story. Okay, what were these people all thinking? It’s not like any of them were major thespians at the time; Moriarty hadn’t shot one scene of Law & Order yet, but come on, dude! What are you doing? This isn’t even a Larry Cohen movie, so he really has no excuse for being in this. There is a scene where Moriarty turns on a shitty hair metal version of “Summertime Blues” and dances around for seemingly no reason. What did this add to the narrative? Why did he agree to do it? Did he think it would be funny? Did he think he was a good dancer and needed to show off his skills? He’s basically dancing the way a giraffe would if it were pogoing while being tranquilized. It’s a thing, that’s for sure.
Okay, so the “plot” of this movie: Harry Potter (Moriarty) moves his family into a new apartment building. It is populated with incredibly irritating people, including a pervy lech (Bono), a hard-nosed John Wayne wannabe, and a weird old lady (Lockhart) who seems overly concerned with medieval folklore. In the very first minute after they’ve moved in, Potter’s daughter, Wendy Anne, gets taken by a troll while playing in the basement. The troll then uses a ring to make himself look like the little girl and terrorize the girl’s older brother, Harry Potter Jr. (Hathaway). She literally runs around like a fucking lunatic and the adults don’t care all that much, and whenever Jr. expresses concern about how frankly psychotic she is, they just laugh it off like he’s the crazy one. Fucking nightmare.
The troll then goes to the various tenants in the building and, still under the guise of being a harmless young girl, turns them into various forms of vegetation in a horrible and disgusting manner. Sonny Bono gets turned into some kind of enormous peapod and is, mercifully, in the film the least. From the plant-people come vines and bushes and a creature of some sort that eventually turn their whole apartment into a shrubbery-filled wonderland… if you find soppy puppets wonderful. These scenes with the little girl before she turns back into the troll are the creepiest things I’ve ever seen. That poor young actress; why would they put her through something like that? She has to say “I know what death looks like. It looks like this!” to one guy and she has to pretend to be infatuated with Julia Louis-Dreyfus before turning her into some kind of a wood nymph. She just won a damn Emmy, people! Is this REALLY supposed to be for kids?
Harry Jr. befriends Lockhart’s character, and this is where we learn that the troll is actually named Torok, who used to be a guy and was cursed. Now he needs to turn the apartment into a fairy land so he can turn the whole world into a fairy land. Or something. She tells Harry Jr. to watch his sister like a hawk, which he takes to mean literally not looking away from her at all times. His parents, who are unequivocally the worst, think he’s acting weird, but don’t even remotely think their insane, rampaging daughter is the least bit odd. Once everyone in the whole apartment except the parents and Lockhart are plantified, the old lady tells Harry Jr. he must go into the magical realm to find his sister, and gives him a spear to drive into the heart of the biggest monster in there, for that surely will dispatch everything. He goes through the door to a forest and finds his sister pretty easily, but a guy in a demon suit attacks and is shot from below to force-perspective us into believing he’s a giant.
Now, this movie is gut-wrenchingly terrible, but I will admit, begrudgingly, that there is one performance that’s actually very good. Phil Fondecaro is the little person actor inside the troll suit. This is not why he’s good in it. He also plays a different character (another tenant in the building) who the girl-troll befriends, thinking him to be an elf. He gives the most grounded and believable performance in the entire film. It must be irritating to have to play tiny monsters all the time, so when he gets the chance to be himself, he totally gives it his all. It really is a shame that a good performance is utterly wasted on this pile of compost. He delivers a speech about how he’s cancer-ridden and likely dying soon that is immediately undercut by the girl-troll “doing him a favor” by turning him into an actual elf. Just the saddest.
Troll 2 is categorically awful, but there’s something intensely watchable about those people doing literally everything wrong, from the writing to the directing to the acting to the effects. I found Troll exponentially more annoying and tougher to sit through. Comedy and children’s films are two things that, if done badly, are twenty times worse than mere bad horror/sci-fi/fantasy. This film cannot figure out what audience it’s aiming for, and the plot is so thin it may as well be a runway model. A person can have a good time in a group of friends watching Troll 2 and mocking its innumerable missteps, but almost zero pleasure can be derived from watching Troll. Don’t watch it. It’s the worse worst movie.