Terrible Beauty: 'Troll 2: The 20th Anniversary Nilbog Edition'

October 4, 2010


Is “Troll 2″ really the best worst movie ever made? With a 0 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes and two measly stars on Imdb.com, the 1990 horror flick certainly has all the elements: a forehead slap of a concept, acting that ranges from uncomfortable to hamfisted, dialogue too stiff to be called wooden, effects that strain the term “special” and a complete disregard for any specific audience — except, of course, for fans of bad movies.

Similar to almost every poorly conceived and executed movie, this bellyflop of a film has developed a rabid cult audience who memorize lines, get tattoos, hold mini festivals and chase the actors from convention to midnight screening to convention. Last year, Michael Paul Stephenson — who as a child starred in “Troll 2″ — shed his shame and made a documentary called “Best Worst Movie.”.

And now comes the inevitable Blu-Ray/DVD re-release, which marks the film’s surge in popularity as well as its 20th anniversary. It’s not quite as quotable as “The Room” or as hilarious as “The Apple” or as mind-boggling as “The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies” or even as inexplicable as “Manos: Hands of Fate.” In fact, “Troll 2″ isn’t entirely fun-bad: Sometimes it’s shrill-bad, other times boring bad. And yet, for all its flaws — and for all its lack of the right flaws — “Troll 2″ is endearing in its campy clumsiness.

The film was made by an Italian film crew with American actors, and the script often reads like it was translated from Italian via babelfish … and then translated into Swahili and back into English for maximum incomprehensibility. Originally, it was titled “Goblin,” yet for American audiences, distributors renamed it “Troll 2″ to piggyback the 1986 horror misfire “Troll.” Of course, no one was waiting for a sequel, but that at least explains why there are no trolls in this movie at all. “Troll 2″ is, in fact, full of goblins.

The movie begins as a low-concept crib from “The Princess Bride,” with a grandfather reading a bedtime story to a freckled moppet named Joshua with a pug nose that’s positively goblinesque. The macabre twist: Grandpa’s been dead six months and the boy is perhaps mentally unstable. Hilarity will surely ensue.

Maybe Joshua’s family pushed him to the brink of insanity. They’re certainly a crazy bunch: Dad has an inexplicable Southern accent, Mom conveys emotion by bugging her eyes, Sister is a weightlifter who nonchalantly warns her boyfriend that she’s not into group sex. By the rules of the genre (which genre? Beats me), the dysfunctional family must head deep into the mountains to vacation in a rural farming community called … wait for it… Nilbog.

As you can probably guess, the locals are actually goblins hoping to transform the family members into trees and eat their green, gooey insides, which will make them “one with the vegetable world.” Yes, “Troll 2″ is about militant vegetarians. There’s also a witch who lives in a church and I guess is the mayor of Nilbog (perhaps she’s a Green Party candidate!). As played by Deborah Reed, this municipal official-cum-diety is part Wicked Witch of the West, part Elvira Mistress of the Dark, yet Reed reaches such hammy heights that the character becomes shrill instead of campy, sapping all the fun out of her role. But there’s one great scene in which she uses popcorn as a sexual device. While it must be seen to be believed, it’s impossible to unsee it.

The effects are predictably bad. The trolls—er, goblins are actually dwarves dressed in potato sacks with silly masks draped over their heads. In costumes designed by Laura Gemser, who is better known as an adult film star than as an effects designer, these creates wander the forest with stoic, popeyed expressions, only slightly more menacing than, say, a pack of hungry schnauzers.

This new edition of “Troll 2″ doesn’t have very any special features (unless you think a trailer is special), but it does have the sharpest picture transfer yet, which makes the Utah countryside look beautiful and the human foliage look like plastic leaves bought at a craft store. While some good-bad movies thrive on the grainy picture and incessant whir of VHS, “Troll 2″ looks best when you can see ever shimmy of green pudding, every desperate glance off screen for guidance, every boom mic shadow, every kernel of erotic popcorn. It may not be the best worst movie, but it’s pretty good bad.

Written by Express contributor Stephen M. Deusner

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