Horror In Our Time: Troll 2 (1990)

Joshua and Seth are the only two people who know of the impending danger facing their family in the form of goblins that transform human flesh into enchanted vegetable matter, and the only ones who can stop their family from blundering head-first into this danger. The problem is, nobody believes them- because Joshua is just a kid, and Seth has already been dead for over a year.

Once again, I take to reviewing a film that is so well known in internet circles that to make a video of it would be a completely pointless venture. Once again, my goal is to find something to say about Troll 2 that hasn’t already been said before.

And I know what that is: this movie is too good to hold the titles it’s been given.

Yeah, that’s right. I have your attention yet?

Our opening credits are encapsulated by a story, told by Grandpa Seth (who sounds suspiciously like Burl Ives, known to you as Sam the Snowman from the Rankin/Bass Christmas specials) to Joshua, our child actor and main character. The theme may be fairly generic, but when you think of the dreary and lackluster score that usually accompanies a “bad” horror film, this can’t be a more positive indicator. It’s not creepy in the least, but it is a score for the “excitement” horror crowd- the people who watch exploitation films and prefer the hard rock tones of Freddy’s Revenge over the creepy warnings of Halloween. Hey, I never said this was something for people who prefer only good movies.

Now’s as good a time as any to talk about “so bad it’s good”, the descriptor that Troll 2 is said to embody. “Good” can refer to one of two things: well made, or enjoyable. “Bad” is more likely to refer to something that’s poorly made than something that is unenjoyable, although it is often used to apply to both at once. “So bad it’s good” usually refers to something that is so poorly made that what would otherwise be crippling flaws become sources of campy amusement. If you’re lost here, maybe Bat Shark Repellant might ring a bell?

Sure, there are plenty of bad- mostly in the poorly made sense, but some simply bad- qualities about this movie. If you’re on the internet, there’s a good chance you know about much of these. Let’s start with the acting. Unless you count Overacting University, which the child actor who plays Joshua seems to have been a child prodigy in, nobody seems to have any knowledge of acting other than Grandpa Seth’s ghost. Then again, after that whole “They can. They CAN!” line, I have to wonder about that as well- although Claudio Fragasso doubtless owns some of the blame. After all, he’s said to be the one who demanded that “Oh my Goooooooooooooooooooooooooooood!” become a future internet meme, with the intention of it being read straight.

Like the bad acting, Troll 2 has plenty of flaws that can be attributed to bad horror. Brown skinned goblins and sap are both compared to the neon green food that people in this movie seem willin to eat as though it were completely normal (I always put green paste on top of my corn on the cob), and the film starts beating you over the head with the spelling of Nilbog and its hidden meaning early on and doesn’t let up.

Before I get into riffing and a closer look, however, I want to prove my point. Many horror movies, particularly in the “cult” category, which are often loved mostly for their novelty, tend to fall apart in Act 2. It’s not that everything goes awry and the movie fails, it’s that all of the effort goes into the strange and bizarre things that make up the first act, leaving nothing to keep anybody’s attention for the rest of the film. The most recent film I’ve watched that fell victim to this was Phantasm, although Evil Dead and even Troll are guilty of this to an extent. You put your crazy premise, everything there is to know about the characters, and your most shocking effects in the beginning of the movie, then you save the rest of your budget for the big effect at the climax, and the middle suffers. Troll 2 does not do this.

I expected it to- I even marked down the point in the film where I believed this was going to happen (right around the “Oh my Goooooooooooood!” scene, if you were wondering). Then, the kid gets put into mortal danger, we lose Arnold- whom I always thought of as the main character- and another of his friends learns more about the town in a failed attempt to rescue him. We get some comedy that actually has relevance later on- Grandpa Seth shows up in the wrong bedroom, which eventually convinces Holly (who is apparently the same weight lifting chick from A Nightmare on Elm Street 4) that the ghost is real.

Speaking of Holly of the shitty romance plot, even that makes some progress during the Second Act. It could make a little more sense, and the “talk” could have occurred on-screen, but Holly punches her boyfriend in the nuts and tells him to stop bringing his friends along and sleeping with them when he’s supposed to be sleeping with her (even though her father can’t stand the kid, but nobody said this family’s logic makes sense) or she’s leaving him. Next time he appears onscreen, Holly is telling her mother that he’s part of the family now. Of course, he’s still a fucking useless tool, but hey- one step at a time!

So yeah, this movie has something Troll didn’t: a body count. Yes, Arnold doesn’t really die- but then, he doesn’t get turned back at the end of the movie like everyone in Troll did, either. Also, the transparently evil witch that everyone seems to trust and hits on twenty one year old teen girls doesn’t appear until Arnold’s moment of glory, and she gets plenty of screen time in Act Two. Her over acting, unlike that of the humans, seems to be intentional, and glorious.

My point is, the fact that this film holds my attention for its whole run time, has an origin and a method of defeating the goblins and has character traits that are discussed and change makes this a better film that some other cult favorites- Rawhead Rex, for instance. In fact, I would go so far as to call Troll 2 the Pieces of monster movies. Is that “so bad it’s good”? Well, yes, for what that means, but it ignores the fact that films that are “less bad” are often nowhere near as well made, never mind as good.

Now, then, is the film entertaining?

Well, there’s several different types of entertaining. There’s the entertainment you get when the mother decides that singing annoying songs- or rather, “that song I like so much”, because she can’t remember the title to “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” is going to make a car full of angry people feel better, or that the father can’t even remember what city he’s supposed to come from when his counterpart tells him “Enjoy your stay in Nilbog”.

Then there’s the entertainment you get from lines such as “Oh, Elliot, it will be wonderful” and Holly asserting that Elliot wouldn’t choose his friends over her, when in reality that’s exactly what he did. This guy skipped out on meeting up with his girlfriend’s family so he can drive up with his three friends that he sleeps in the same bed with. And he has no idea why Holly wouldn’t be a fan of that.

Or then there’s the entertainment you get when a kid pisses all over his family’s meals and his father’s punishment is to undo his belt buckle- and tighten it up. And say that the family is going to have to go without dinner. I guess that’s an example of this “Modern Parenting” these hip new parents do these days. I guess Troll 2, like Troll with its well-characterized midgets (for lack of a superior word), is ahead of its time.

Troll 2 is a crappily made film, there’s no doubt about that, but I don’t think it’s really dipped to the point where its badness is its best quality. It’s actually a pretty solid film, with a complete premise and the ability to keep you watching for the whole movie. Sure, the monsters are defeated through the power of plot convenience, but then, that’s about all you can really expect for a film like this, isn’t it?

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