Troll (1986)

Apartment for rent. Acquire within...

Well, I've done it. I've actually done it. I reviewed a Harry Potter movie.

With wizards and magic and everything.

Though it doesn't exactly take place at Hogwarts.

(Though the castle in the title card looks like some branch campus. Or maybe the Hogwarts university hospital.)

Yes, it's the 1986 cult classic Troll. Directed by John Carl Buechler, horror movie makeup man who also made Friday the 13th Part VII.

One of many creature puppet films to emerge from the popularity of Gremlins, in a list that includes Ghoulies, Critters and *cringe* Hobgoblins.

The alleged predecessor to Troll 2, regarded as one of the worst movies ever made and I'm told has about as much to do with this film as Halloween 3 has to do with the rest of the Michael Myers franchise. (You know, that one where that kid witnesses a girl being eaten unaware that a fly has landed on his forehead - OH MY GAWWWWWWWWWWD!)

"Pulls our finger, my precious..."

We begin with the Potter family, who have just moved to a small apartment building somewhere on the streets of San Francisco. Little Wendy Potter, played by Jenny Beck from V: The Final Battle, plays ball by herself when she wanders into the basement and is attacked by some kind of...well, troll who uses a ring on his finger to assume her corporeal form and then proceeds to run around the building annoying everyone inside, screaming and growling and biting and going into conniptions.

The only person who seems to notice something is amiss is the son of the family, a monster movie fanatic named Harry Potter, Jr., played by Noah Hathaway, best known for playing Atreyu in The Neverending Story.

Yes, that is his name. HARRY POTTER, JR. His father, played by Michael Moriarty who spent four seasons on Law & Order, is HARRY POTTER, SR.

Despite what this film's producers might think, I'm fairly certain these names are just a coincidence. There's also a "Harold Potter" in an early Monty Python sketch about blancmanges playing at Wimbledon, and THEY haven't mentioned anything about it, so I would imagine it's more common a name than people think.

Though as Atreyu, Noah Hathaway WAS probably the Daniel Radcliffe of his day.

Speaking of names, Noah isn't the only interesting casting call in this movie. Check out who else lives in this building:

June Lockhart from Lassie and Lost in Space plays Eunice St. Clair, an nice sarcastic old lady who knows more about these creatures than appearances would dictate. As if the living, talking mushroom casually disguised as a table lamp wasn't a tipoff.

Gary Sandy from WKRP in Cincinnati plays Barry Tabor (spelled as shown in the credits and yet with a Y on his doorknocker), an ex-Marine who's always going on about communists and doesn't read books because liberals publish them.

Phil Fondacaro, who played a dead Ewok in Return of the Jedi, plays an English professor who is dying of bone marrow cancer. He also pulls double duty as the troll wreaking havoc around the building.

Seinfeld's Julia Louis-Dreyfus makes her feature film debut as Jeanette, an...actress or something? I wasn't made clear on that.

And finally, future congressman Sonny Bono (yes, the one who was married to Cher) plays a desperate, lonely, perpetually horny gigolo who--

Euugh! Ohhh, he looks like Carl from Aqua Whatever They Call That Show Now! Ugggh, I hate those tyoes of characters!

Oh yeah, and his name is "Peter Dickinson." Cue Beavis-and-Butthead laughter.

It isn't long before every apartment in the building apart from Eunice's and the Potters' are overrun with little magical gardens, its residents transformed into giant turds that sprout mystical vines and grass everywhere (Julia Louis-Dreyfus also turns into a nymph, while the dying English professor wishes he could be reborn into a magical land of unicorns and things and the troll is all too happy to oblige) and are soon crawling with other mystical creatures.

Oh, and they sing too. Here, have a listen:

Are those lyrics Latin? I can't be sure.

Anyway, his younger sibling's erratic behavior coupled with some ideas some bad monster movies put in his head have convinced Harry Jr. that the psychotic little she-demon in her little sister's body is not his little sister. Luckily his new friend Eunice, who is the only one in the building to notice that people are disappearing like rabbits, knows why.

Okay, this is actually a little convoluted...

For those of you who don't like spoilers, here is a picture of a younger Julia Louis-Dreyfus as a nymph to distract you from reading the following paragraph.

Oh. You're above being tempted by sexy nymphs. Okay then...

Long ago, before countries existed, there was a human kingdom and a fairy kingdom, and both of them got along with each other quite well. Torok and some of his fairy friends wanted to overthrow the human kingdom and rule the world, but they ultimately failed and Torok was turned into a troll for his trouble. Eunice has been living in the building for centuries, keeping an eye on Torok. It was he who has been growing little ecosystems throughout the building, and once he's furnished each apartment in magical kudzu, the fairy world will burst forth into the human world and...war will probably be waged, scientists will freak out, Pat Robertson will say the state of California had it coming, and the florist industry will enter a future more prosperous than anyone could imagine. Wendy is still alive somewhere in this mess, soon to be christened by Torok as the "princess of the fairies".

Uhh...did anybody else know about the inter-dimensional gateway in the basement of this seemingly normal apartment building? Maybe Eunice would have WARNED them or something? There were at least four other people living in it. I think one of the first things I'd like to be sure of when moving into a new apartment is that it was rat-, vermin- or fairy-dimension-free, because if I got sucked into some mystical fairyland while I was washing my clothes, I think I'd want my deposit back. I certainly wouldn't let my kids wander down there to get abducted by vengeful goblins or anything.

Okay, who gave the kids sugar?

Eunice sends Harry Jr. deep into Middle Earth with a sword with which to stab the heart of Torok's universe and rescue his sister while she changes into June's daughter Anne Lockhart from Battlestar Galactica, goes off to face Torok, and ends up as a tree stump.

Harry Jr. fares slightly better. He DOES manage to find his sister in a Snow-White-esque glass box and releases her, but he doesn't exactly stab the heart of Torok's universe, which is actually the biggest friggin monster we've seen throughout this film. No, Torok inadvertently does it himself when the monster tries to attack his queen Wendy after tossing Harry Jr. to one side.

Uhh...whoops. Guess you shouldn't have made the heart of the universe something that could be easily killed.

Anyway, to wrap up, brother and sister escape as the magical world collapses, the house stops sprouting weeds everywhere, Eunice is okay, the family moves out of the apartment, the other tenants...I don't know, probably dead, and a policeman goes to investigate the basement exemplifies what I was saying about leaving an inter-dimensional gateway unchecked in an apartment building.

"All right, son. No more Syfy original movies for you."

Troll is a weird movie. Every bit of it. From its characters to its singing goblins to a younger sister who could serve as an inspiration for leash laws for children...even its young hero and his neurotic obsession with movie monsters, even though he's the character whom nobody is expected to believe. We see him in bed watching monster movies, and then he describes his sister's behavior almost word-for-word like the dialogue in the film he was watching. Are their parents completely oblivious to the fact that the other tenants are never seen again after their daughter pays them a visit? Or that she's a good mouth froth away from going completely rabid? Or, for that matter, that their son, even though he's right in this case, is perhaps suffering from quite an overactive imagination for a boy his age? I mean, there is a line spoken by the father--"Honey, did you do a lot of drugs before we met?"--but otherwise they literally suspect nothing.

Also, watch for Michael Moriarty's not very good impression of Tom Cruise from Risky Business. Parents are so unhip.

It's also weird in that it doesn't feel like a horror film, even though it is sometimes billed as one and there is a gruesome scene early in the film in Sonny Bono's on-camera transformation into a giant plant-spewing turd. (Thank you, by the way. I don't like Quagmire characters.) Everybody else's happens off-screen, and there isn't really any blood or anything. The film doesn't take the disappearance of its supporting cast very seriously, and truth be told, it's kinda hard to take ANYTHING seriously when all your monsters take a break from their quest to rule the universe by singing some silly gibberish song.

Even though this film has decent makeup and visual effects, a once- or soon-to-be-famous cast, and something of a cult following, it is not as fondly remembered as the infamous film that was marketed as its sequel. Apparently, nothing can beat out a film with a widely circulated YouTube clip in the popularity department. Still, if you like fantasy movies about singing trolls and don't mind seeing Sonny Bono in an undershirt, then by all means go forth and conquer.

All I know is I've got that song stuck in my head now. What ARE those lyrics?

Lemme try...
"We have heard of this! It's the myriad campaign, ah!
Herbert Herbert wing, Herbert Herbert Herbert wing, dream of us!"
...this movie is weird.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

OK, so the Comet tv station has been playing Troll quite a bit recently. I have to agree on many of the points made above but I have to resoundingly disagree with the opinion about special effects. The fairies, elves and assorted fay creatures are the result of probably the worst sculptors I have EVER seen!! Unbelievably bad, horrible, and did I say bad? The story is actually kind if sweet in many ways, brotherly love saving the day
and all that squishy stuff. I just kept going 'OMG', how did they not get someone who could make a decent monster??" And before you gripe at me, yes, I could do better sculpts with one hand tied behind my back. Well, I usually use two hands . . . it's just a shame they didn't get that part right. Could've been pretty cool.
And to be nice, I won't take on the creatures in Troll 2. Oooof, bad.