Horror films have always been an important part of my life. Growing up in the ’90s, I was a part of that brief generation that would arrive at Blockbuster Video every weekend and stalk the aisles with friends looking for the latest, greatest movies. It would start with the new releases, but in those days if you didn’t make it early enough you’d find a bunch of empty display boxes and no actual tapes. Sometimes you’d go to the desk and ask them to see if one of those films had recently made its way to the drop box. But more often than not, we’d end up in that corner of Blockbuster filled with horror films.
The methodology was clear in those days: Find the film with the best (read: worst) looking cover, run home, pop it in the VHS player, and enjoy. On bad days you’d be left with a film so bad that it was boring — this was the worst case scenario. On good days you’d accidentally stumble upon greatness. Maybe you’d put on Re-Animator or Evil Dead and realize you were watching something that somehow transcended the genre. But on the most glorious of days you would find that film that was transcendentally bad. The holy grail. The kind of film that screams cult classic. When it comes to horror, that film is Troll 2.
For those of you who have never had the pleasure of watching Troll 2, I should start off with the fact that there is no Troll 1. In fact, the film’s working title was “Goblins,” which makes sense since Troll 2 doesn’t actually have any trolls in it. It turns out that the film’s title was a cheap attempt at trying to market it as a sequel to the completely unrelated, and terrible film Troll from 1986. Directed by Claudio Fragasso, an Italian director known mostly for low-budget exploitations films, the production is nearly as fascinating as the film itself. This includes a crew with extreme language barriers, a lead actor who was a dentist, and another actor who they later learned was a patient at a nearby mental hospital.
Imagine our delight in starting up Troll 2 and being instantly transported to a forest where a man named Peter, dressed like a Keebler elf, walks gingerly through the woods while a narrator tells us that this 20-something actor is actually a boy. We soon find out that this opening tale is being told by the grandfather of one of our protagonists, Joshua. It’s also clear that this opening scene is a complete rip-off of The Princess Bride, which came out three years earlier.
So what is this movie about? I’ll try my best to get the basics down. Michael Waits arranges for his family to go on a home exchange vacation in a rural farming town called Nilbog — more about that later. Little do they know that Nilbog is actually the kingdom of vegetarian goblins who like to turn humans into plants before eating them. They’re led by the druid Creedence Leonore Gielgud, their queen, who starts to collect those unfortunate enough to drink her potion in her greenhouse. Also making an appearance is the ghost of Joshua’s dead grandfather — the one from the opening — who we quickly realize has crossed over from the astral plane in a big way. That is, unless this film is really about Joshua completely and utterly losing his mind. Oh, and Nilbog? “It’s goblin spelled backwards!” Yeah, I know.
But what catapults Troll 2 to cult stardom is its earnestness. Too often when you watch low budget horror films you can tell that some, if not all the people behind it didn’t believe in it — they knew it was terrible. This is what often leads to the boring bad horror films. Not Troll 2. This is a film in which the filmmakers and everyone involved gave it their all. There’s no pretensions of being better than the material. This filmmaking team thought they were making something really good, and it shows. This is a great bad film in the mold of Ed Wood and Plan 9 From Outer Space — of Tommy Wiseau and The Room. All three of these movies succeed in being bad because they were really, really trying. We can feel it and we respect it.
Believe it or not, Troll 2 has actually experienced a resurgence in recent years due in large part to more people discovering it and the internet showcasing all the film’s amazing moments. There is also a great documentary on the film called Best Worst Movie (2010) that is absolutely worth watching even if you don’t intend to see the film. But for anyone who’s a fan of great bad movies, it’s hard to pick a horror train-wreck that’s better. This is a film of legend.
So as Troll 2 reaches its credits in the mid-’90s for my friends and I, we’re so exhausted from laughing that it kind of hurts. We talk about it non-stop. For weeks and months after, the lone VHS tape for Troll 2 gets the kind of wear and tear usually overseen by Forrest Gump. Blockbuster clerks probably think we’re crazy, but we don’t care. All we want to do is go home and yell out, “They’re eating her! Then they’re gonna eat me! Ohhhh myyyyy Godddddddd!”
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