Junkfood Cinema: Troll 2

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Welcome to another hearty serving of Junkfood Cinema: it’s why the terrorists hate us. Our resident junkfood expert is busy chomping on Double Downs and Twizzlers in between medically-mandated cubes of celery in a hospital in Austin as he recently suffered an excitement-induced seizure from all the hooplah surrounding Fantastic Fest which, ironically and tragically enough, means that Mr. Salisbury has been mandated by his doctor to stay at least 100 feet away from Fantastic Fest at all times. Mr. Salisbury is currently on suicide watch, and friends and family are keeping him company around the clock, making sure he doesn’t decide to pull the plug and order Bill Miller BBQ.

So clearly FSR’s resident vegetarian/skinny jeans aficionado/pinko/walking cliché/guy-who-weighs-less-than-150 is the obvious choice to fill in for the ailing Mr. Salisbury until he gets back on his feet. And do so I proudly will, for as the ever-inspiring mantra in FSR headquarters goes, “when one of our men is down…find somebody else to temporarily take his place.” So this week, in a special FDA-unapproved edition of Junkfood Cinema, I’ll be giving some kickass insight into that exponentially popular piece of anti-vegetarian propaganda known as Troll 2 (1990), the film that inspired M. Night Shyamalan to see if he could possibly do any worse (spoiler: he could).

Against the sage advice of their dead grandfather, a totally normal suburban family living in an unspecified location visits a quaint small town called Nilbog that is an unspecified distance away in a “trade vacation” agreement (one family trades houses with another for the week because, y’know, that’s something people do). They find themselves victim to a community of goblins who sometimes pose as humans and sometimes don’t, and it’s up to a kid who uses the power of possessing only a single facial expression that makes him look like he’s taking a shit to save everybody. The kicker? The goblin/townsfolk are strict vegetarians, and instead of eating from anything in the lush forests surrounding them, they make the 2nd most logical decision by feeding their victims green food or warm milk to turn them into vegetables in order to eat them. This diet can be a lot of work.

What Makes it Bad?

As with many bad movies (and Troll 2 is the best worst of ‘em!), the first place for thorough analysis of its badness is the acting. I will say this: the acting in Troll 2 isn’t wooden. In fact, the movie errs in the exact opposite direction. Every actor in Troll 2 seems to be trying really, really hard to give the best performance they can, totally oblivious to how it looks on the other side of the lens. All the way down the line, from George Hardy’s chin-as-big-as-his-heart approach to weird parenting decisions to his chemistry-free performance alongside his wife played by Margo Prey to the ever-wincing Michael Stephenson (poor kid, hope everything turned out okay for him (spoiler: it did)), the cast of Troll 2 brings bad acting to a whole new dimension as it’s so painfully evident throughout how hard they’re trying.

The supporting players are no less difficult to stomach, like Don Packard’s calcium-emphatic store clerk or the group of teenage ‘bros following their friend’s girlfriend who even manage to make homoeroticism come across incompetently. But the real treasure here is Deborah Reed, who plays witch-goblin-lord-something Creedence Leonore Gielgud (free snacks for anybody who convinces me that that’s a woman’s name) with a combination of enthusiasm and a lack of self-awareness that made me nostalgic for my 10th grade drama class. With her overdone makeup (hey, I’m evil, did you know that I’m evil?) somehow entitling her to constant gesturing and hamming, combined with the fact that it takes her three times longer to finish enunciating a single sentence than the normal English-speaker, Reed performs in a way that suggests she would’ve been a great star in German silent film. Too bad she was eighty years too late.

Beyond the acting, Troll 2 is famous for displaying incredible incompetence in nearly every aspect of completing a feature film, from the flimsy, awkward, immobile troll costumes to the unbelievable dialogue throughout. The translation of Troll 2 from Italian to English by “filmmakers” Rossella Drudi and director Claudio Fragasso (aka Drake Floyd) sounds like it was done by one of those free online translators that changes words but has no concept of appropriate syntax or usage, which gives us golden lines like “Joshua is not a little shit, he’s just very sensitive,” “We’ll be forced to kill you VIOLENTLY,” and “You’re a genius, big sister!”

But nowhere is Troll 2’s badness more apparent than in the comprehensive incompetence of its basic concept and delivery, including but not limited to the following: 1) there are, in fact, no trolls in Troll 2, 2) despite having no legal or narrative connections to the 1986 film Troll, the name of this film was changed from Goblins or something Italian like Goblinos to Troll 2 in order to bank of the “success” of that equally junkfood-friendly film, 3) the goblins are vegetarians who go about acquiring food in easily the most troublesome way I can think of, and as vegetarians they also think that means for some reason that they can’t drink coffee (“the devil’s drink!”), and 4) Nilbog is “goblin” spelled backwards! Holy shit!

Why I Love It!

This movie is easily one of the most glorious failures in cinematic history. Sometimes the stars of incompetence align in a way that make for a film this awesomely, soul-shakingly, and – most important – hilariously bad. This is a movie that has a scene where a kid pisses on dinner to save his family, and later a gratuitous sex scene takes place involving popcorn. As far as bad movies go, the incredible badness of Troll 2 works by all means on a genius level. But what’s even more amazing is the subtext that comes out of it. Besides being the Triumph of the Will of vegetarianism, the most potent site of discussion of Troll 2 no doubt lies in the character of Grandpa Seth.

Grandpa Seth’s creepiness is quite clear if you imagine his behavior as a post-mortem apparition to be identical to how he behaved when he was alive: randomly showing up at the window to tell his grandson to piss on his parents’ food to save them, “accidently” appearing in his granddaughter’s bathroom while she practices some sort of seduction dance, and aggressively telling his impressionable grandson the same goblin-centered conspiracy theory ad nauseum. Grandpa Seth is what would happen if Peter Falk in The Princess Bride and Jackie Earle Haley in Little Children had a lovechild. No wonder his mom sounds so heartless when instructing her son to get over Grandpa Seth’s death: they were just glad to get the crazy bastard out of the house.

Grandpa Seth gets to do what any aging actor would want to do in a movie: kicking the ass of somebody in a flimsy costume that’s half his size, attempting to throw a Molotov cocktail into a dinner party that includes his entire family, and having his disembodied head randomly appear in mirrors. I see all the tribulations that the family of Troll 2 goes through as a desperate attempt by a very troubled individual to come to psychological closure after his death. This aspect is illustrated perfectly in one important scene where Grandpa Seth is told by one of the goblin leaders to go back to hell. “Grandpa, are you really in hell?” asks the concerned Joshua. “No,” Grandpa Seth replies, barely audibly, “But I know a trick that a friend of mine who went there taught me.” He’s not fooling anybody, Joshua. Your Grandfather is totally in hell.

This essential and revealing scene provides the only method of interpreting Troll 2 that allows the film to make any sense. “Goblin” was a well-known derogatory term used by American soldiers to address Italians in WWII, so Troll 2 then acts as an allegory for a family overcoming generational racism. Grandpa Seth is clearly of veteran’s age, and his routine tales of “goblins” to his grandson were clearly an attempt at indoctrinating anti-Italian sentiments. (Why else would Fragasso and Drudi be inspired to make a film about an American family?) No grandpa – living or dead, goblin infestation or no goblin infestation – would act so maniacally unless he was exorcising personal demons of his own. Troll 2 is probably the first film to ever address the devastating conditions of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder amongst the dead.

Junkfood Pairing: Fried pickles

Fried pickles represent the reverse of the human-to-food process shown in Troll 2: it takes the green out of the food, thus making it actually something worth eating. Especially when paired with ranch dip, this vegetarian delicatessen can be heart-stoppingly good. Fried pickles correct once and for all the age-old myth that green things possess any nutritional value.