Back in 2004 myself and forum members Fistfuck and DiscoStu decided it would be a fun thing to deeply analyze, review and chat about movies nobody had heard about. Over the course of a few years we reviewed such random, forgotten titles as Ewe Boll’s Heart of America, Peter Bogdanovich’s At Long Last Love, a Raquel Welch vehicle, Kansas City Bomber, and other such obscurities. Our first movie, though, was the second movie in an MGM DVD double bill, Troll 2. At the time of our analysis (now available here) we were the second or third external review on the IMDb. Nobody had seen the movie, and anyone who did certainly did not want to remember it. We were all in a state of awe that a film could be this inexplicably bizarre. Now there are 61 external reviews, the film has its own theatrical documentary, Best Worst Movie, and revival screenings of the film now play to packed theaters across the world. Troll 2 is huge.
Our review did nothing to contribute to that, but the point is that seemingly out of nowhere Troll 2 enjoyed a grassroots cult movie metamorphosis, going from yet another forgotten B-movie into arguably THE cult movie of our generation. The baby boomers had The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and I guess now we have Troll 2. It’s quite fascinating to see the public perception of a film change so passionately, so quickly, but that’s what’s happening to Troll 2, and we’re all right in the thick of it. John Carl Buechler’s first film is nowhere to be found in high definition, yet here we are in 2010 and Troll 2 is now on Blu-ray. Six years ago, when we marveled how it actually got a DVD release on the bottom half of a flipper, we never would have called this.
Proving that sense is the least of the filmmakers’ worries, Troll 2 beings in the middle of a sentence. Grandpa Seth (Robert Ormsby) is telling a bedtime story to his grandson, Joshua Waits (Michael Stephenson, House 5). In it, a young dude in a forest with an archer’s hat runs into a beautiful woman with freckles drawn on with a brown marker. Enchanted by her beauty, he drinks without question a thick, green bowl of muk. Turns out the book ain’t the cover, and the women ends up being a hideous little goblin (not troll) who uses the “special sauce” to enslave new peons. Not quite Robin Hood, this story ends up scaring the shit out of Joshua. Apparently gramps has left a sizeable impact on Joshua, because when his mother (Margo Prey) interrupts grandpa telling the story, it’s revealed that old Seth isn’t even there. He’s been dead for months, but Joshua pleads “he’s so real!”
As if your dead grandfather telling you scary stories of death and deception by those closest to you wasn’t bad enough, Joshua also gets scared shitless by her sister’s boyfriend and his buddies. They’re climbing up a conveniently placed ladder beside the house to visit Holly (Connie McFarland), but decide to take a pitstop at Joshua’s window along the way. When Elliott (Jason Wright) and his buddies finally surprise Holly, she promptly punches him in the balls (to which he replies “Are you trying to turn me into a homo?”) and tells him that if her father (Dentist by trade George Hardy) found him there he’d “cut off [his] little nuts and eat them”. Believe me, you haven’t even heard the half of it. Turns out the Waits family is going on a house exchange (uh, yeah) with a farm family from the town of Nilbog in the morning, but the residents there aren’t quite your usual country folk.
Before the Waits even make it there, Joshua starts having premonitions. He sees Grandpa Seth on the road, where he warns Joshua about the perils that lie ahead. Moments later, Joshua imagines himself turning into a plant bleeding green blood. After the most awkward trip ever, the group finally make it to Nilbog, and while the rest of the family seems smitten with their hospitality, Joshua aims to piss all over it (literally). He’s convinced the food is contaminated just like Grandpa Seth said in his story, and that everyone in the town, where Joshua at one point has the epiphany that it’s “Goblin spelled backwards”, is actually a goblin in disguise. Whether it’s sublimation via plant or seduction via corn husk, one by one the guests to Nilbog start to learn that Joshua’s fears have come true. Only the power of goodness, a double decker bologna sandwich and a batshit crazy Molotov cocktail throwing grandpa can send many a Troll 2 their graves.
I don’t really feel comfortable reviewing this movie, because really, words cannot do it justice. In my synopsis I’ve in passing summarized several quotes and peculiarities from the film, but unless you see them in action they probably sound like trying humor or forced upon camp. I can guarantee you, they’re neither. The whole movie is on the one hand so logically bonkers but on the other so earnestly sincere, both in performance and direction, that you really kind of get swept up in the total lunacy of the movie. It’s so implausible it has to be a joke, but the crew certainly isn’t laughing. This isn’t self-conscious quirkiness like The Rocky Horror Picture Show or inept, bad movie filmmaking like Manos: Hands of Fate, Troll 2 is a whole green beast all to its own.
So how is Troll 2 the “Best Worst Movie” its cast and all its fans continually dub it? Well, for one, it’s certainly not bad in the technical department. Shot by a seasoned crew of Italian filmmakers (many of whom would go on to lens the visually exciting Lucio Fulci masterpiece, Door into Silence) it has an active, moving camera, a wide variety of shot types and lenses on display and the zooms and focus pulls that have become synonymous with Italian genre filmmaking. It has a rollicking and memorable synth score by Carlo Maria Cordio, who had previously done Fulci’s Aenigma and Zombi 5. And while the masks do take digs for the static immobility, the make-up, costumes, effects and abundance of green slime is actually quite creative (and done, in part, by Black Emanuelle herself, Laura Gemser). The creature design is pretty wild, and the turning to plant sequences do look horrific. So adding up the elements, technically Troll 2 is rather accomplished, and that might be part of the draw. You, me and puddytay can all make a terrible movie in our backyards, but nobody wants to see that. What is interesting is a movie like this, where a number of talented artisans band together to do a great job while making a movie that makes no goddamn sense.
I’m not going to go on about the story, because again, it is so peculiar, quotable and genuinely serious that it’s best left to experience. I will remark, though, that deep down in all the insanity I still think there is some crazy eating disorder rhetoric – like some implicit commentary on the hedonism of 80s America. I know Director Claudio Fragasso (credited as Drago Floyd) certainly intended the film in all seriousness, and at its heart it’s all about food (“think of the cholesterol!” one of the goblins screams in agony). Fragasso was so invested in his story that he made all his actors (themselves mostly just Utah locals with little to no experience) deliver all their outrageous dialogue with utmost seriousness. It’s that language and understanding barrier, coupled by the submissive naivety of several inexperienced actors being led astray that helps make the film such a marvel to watch. Elliott’s buddy, Arnold’s “OH MY GODDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDD!” reaction when he finds out he is next on the goblin’s dinner list has rightfully become an internet meme for its insane theatricality, and Joshua’s mother’s performance being reduced to an almost complete reel of surprised face reactions are only but two examples of the odd abound in the performances of Troll 2. Then there’s Holly’s crazy disco dance, Elliot and his buddies waking up shirtless in bed together, the dad tightening his belt buckle by one loop so he won’t feel hunger pains, the shopkeeper who mock vomits any time a meat is mentioned…everything in this movie is so weird, and there I go again trying to explain it when really all it can be done is seen.
I have to go off on a bit of a tangent, though – Grandpa Seth is seriously the craziest anti-hero I have ever seen. The guy is bar none the worst role model ever for the impressionable young Joshua, over the course of the film getting him to, in no particular order: light a person on fire with a Molotov cocktail, urinate on his family’s dinner, choke feed himself a double decker bologna sandwich, and just generally defy anything any person of authority says to him. It’s almost scary when he smilingly asserts to Joshua, “let’s put some fuel on the fire”. He’s kind of an angel, I guess, but he’s got probably the most bizarre set of abilities. He’s able to stop time – but only for thirty seconds. He can conjure lightning with the flick of a wrist but otherwise is bound by human restraint. He is able to show up wherever and whenever he wants, but memorably mentions that he “still hasn’t learned the layout” to the Waits’ Nilbog residence. Do they have blueprints in heaven? And then, at the end, he just up and mentions that his time on earth is now over and he must disappear. Not because of logic, because the film has nothing of that, but more just because Director Claudio Fragasso just needs it to be that way. Played with a giddy menace by Robert Ormsby, Seth truly is one of cinema’s craziest creatures, and one look at the cover tells you he’s certainly already in good company!
I wanted to not even mention anything about the movie, because again, talking about its quotable inexplicabilities or its shortbus story in no way does it justice the way just sitting through the film fresh would. That’s how I saw it, back in 2005, without any hype or any pre-conceptions. But Troll 2 is one of those movies that’s such a profoundly puzzling experience you can’t help but just ramble off about it. It’s too weird to just keep inside. So stop reading now, just go and buy this movie and read nothing else on it. It’s a cult film like no other; it’s not a bad movie, just an unprecedented one. One where a seasoned team of European film artisans with little understanding of English, and a bunch of English actors with little understanding of film, banding together in the pursuit of making a great film. I honestly think they’ve succeeded, and if the whirlwind reception the film has been receiving as of late is any indication, I doubt I’m alone in that. Troll 2 rightly is, king of the cult movie throne.
Who would have thought that a movie that went direct to video would look wonderfully filmic in 1080p? Scratch that, whoever would have ever thought that Troll 2 would ever even be in HD? The truth is that not only is Troll 2 a marked improvement over the double-feature DVD presentation, but it also looks damn fine on its own. Colors have been clearly re-timed and improved, and they are the first thing that really jump out with this transfer. Considering the copious amounts of green spewed about throughout the movie, color’s a pretty important element, and it really appears sweet and saturated here in this AVC encode. Another major improvement over the DVD is just how much wider the frame is. At times there is as much as 25% more picture detail on all sides, and the widened landscape makes compositions look fuller rather than smaller. After watching this Blu-ray, the original compositions really seemed cramped and unflattering. I think this Blu-ray goes a step further in showing that the mise-en-scene was actually quite accomplished for this beacon of bad movies. The kicker is just how sharp the film often looks. It really looks HD, not like a cheap upconvert that we usually get with budget catalog titles. The sharpness does bring out a pretty prominent grain throughout, but other than a few instances of heavier specking, it’s a texture-building film grain that’s pretty flattering. Rather than just slapping a disc on a bun and packing this one up, Fox/MGM have gone and given us the double-decker bologna sandwich of remasters. Wow!
After the quality of the video upgrade, the DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track certainly does sound like another coup. Unfortunately, this isn’t nearly as pronounced a upgrade. For all intents and purposes, this is just an expanded mono track, with music cues pushed to the front left and right speakers, the dialogue erm, planted, firmly in the middle and the rears getting almost zero workout. The uneven and non-matching sound mix (evident at the start with Grandpa Seth when his dialogue goes from clear in the close-ups to echoed and thin in the two shot with Joshua) is still very much evident here, and dialogue still sometimes gets drowned out by the music, especially since the music plays a more prominent part on isolated speakers. The LFE registers only a few little rumbles, and directionality between any of the channels is virtually non-existent. Does it sound better than the mono mix on the DVD? Yes, and that’s probably all it needs to do, but oh, it could have been so much more.
Speaking of missed opportunities, how about this: we only get the trailer, albeit upgraded for 1080p and the original DVD (this time with a disc label, since the flipper side with the original Troll is not included). You’d think advertising the film as a “20th Anniversary Nilbog” edition would warrant at least an extra or two, but alas it was not meant to be. We don’t even get a green Blu-ray case, that should have been a must! The cover mentions the Best Worst Movie documentary, but you’d think they’d go the next step to actually including it. Considering the film has had a revival run as a double bill with Best Worst Movie, you’d think bundling the two would have been a given on home video. I’m sure a special edition will come in a few years, but we have to remember that this is the first time the film’s even been released on its own in a digital format. It’s also the first time ever that the film has actually had a cover with actual footage on it. The VHS memorably has a boy in pajamas never in the movie, chased by a shadowed troll also never in the film. The double feature DVD used art from Buechler’s Troll. Even the UK DVD used the generic “Dead of Night Collection” packaging without any original art. So this is the first time we actually see characters from the film on the cover, and it’s actually pretty well designed. A step, even if it’s just a tiny little goblin step.
The movie that makes all other cult films green with envy, Troll 2, gets a surprisingly solid upgrade on Blu-ray. The movie itself is certainly one of the most bizarrely enjoyable oddities out there. Joe Spinell would refer to the filming of Maniac as not a film but a “happening”, and that’s about the best way I can summarize Troll 2. You just have to experience it. The experience certainly is flattering this time around with an exceptional 1080p upgrade that really makes the film pop for the first time, well, ever. The sound is good, if not quite the upgrade suggested by the DTS-HD spec. The lack of extras is a shame, but really, the movie is wild and crazy enough that if you count all the multiple viewings it will entice, the disc is still a hospitable bargain. A direct-to-video monstrosity one of the best visual upgrades this year in HD? OH MY GODDDDDDDDDDDDDDDD!
*Because of the quality of the HD format, the clarity, resolution and color depth are inherently a major leap over DVD. Since any Blu-ray will naturally have better characteristics than DVDs, the rating is therefore only in comparison with other Blu-ray titles, rather than home video in general. So while a Blu-ray film may only get a C, it will likely be much better than a DVD with an A.
AWESOME rhett! Great job on posting all of those screen comparisons. This will obviously be the best review of the month hands down. =)
I am SO disappointed that the included DVD isn't the original flipper w/ Troll. That would have made this an instant buy for me. As is, I'll wait to see if I can find it for cheap.
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