Nilbog, Utah is one wacky town. Shunning Mormons in favor of vegetarian midgets who have acquired special powers from a steam-spewing slab of Stonehenge, this quaint little hamlet, through the charisma of a local preacher and a Sheriff named Freak, orchestrates the kidnapping of unsuspecting tourists, force-feeds them green slime, and turns them into trees, all so the little buggers can devour the plant people in a slobber-filled orgy. Thankfully, a Hemingway-esque grandpa, conveniently dead, supplies a deus ex machina in the form of a bologna sandwich to bring credibility to the proceedings. Confused? Undoubtedly, but this is Troll 2, one of the all-time champs of bad cinema that just happens to live up to the billing. Instead of cheeky irony through the route of intentional incompetence, this is the real deal; a piece of crap made by the deadly serious, as well as the seriously damned. Having just seen the documentary Best Worst Movie, a wonderfully reverential revisiting of the cast and crew, as well as a history of the film’s rise from obscurity to cult classic, I was well armed with the particulars, but it took an actual viewing to set it all straight.
Having no connection to the original Troll, nor featuring trolls of any kind, Troll 2 follows the semi-retarded Waits family as they decide to take a vacation to the one town in Utah that has no natural wonders, campsites, or actual things to do. But dear old dad, Michael (played by George Hardy, who, we learn from the documentary, is a dentist in Alabama, but now trades on his inappropriate fame to the exclusion of all else), is convinced that a few ramshackle barns and dilapidated storefronts will be enough to keep his family interested for several weeks. Thankfully, they are exchanging homes with some locals, who greedily accept Michael’s keys without so much as an introduction. The son, a plucky little shit named Joshua, has been warned by his expired pee-paw to avoid the town because of the homicidal goblins, but dad ignores such nonsense with his usual can-do spirit. Greeting a table full of assorted green (and poisonous) beverages, cakes, and donuts upon arrival, dad, mom, and sis are about to dig in when grandpa appears to Joshua, stops time, and commands him to come up with a plan in 30 seconds, or else meet with certain doom. Fulfilling his end of the bargain, Joshua leaps on a chair, pulls down his pants, and urinates on dinner. Tragedy is averted, but only long enough to see Joshua punished by a screaming father: “You can’t piss on hospitality! I won’t allow it!” The line has made Mr. Hardy famous, which he cheerfully recites at midnight screenings, conventions, and yes, even at the film festival I attended, where he was an honored guest.
Needless to say, a full plot summary is both unnecessary and unbearably taxing, as the real show lies in the acting. All are atrocious beyond compare, but no one reaches the dizzying heights of hellishness of one Connie Young (playing the Waits’ daughter, Holly). Check it all off in turn — stilted, teeth-grindingly earnest, painfully emotive — but her finest hour is the impromptu mirror dance, which combines the worst of late ‘80s hair, clothing (a Garfield t-shirt!), and gag-me-with-a-spoon vernacular. The film seems to think she’s a sexy young vixen (she first appears in a leotard lifting weights), which is proven when the town’s hottest stud, Elliott, comes to call. She’s not having it, however, as he spends way too much time with his male friends. It’s an unreasonable ultimatum, though I doubt she’d think so if she were to see the scene where he and his buddies drive a camper to Nilbog and routinely stumble out in various stages of undress. At one point, two of the boys are in bed together, shirtless and unconscious. Fortunately for Holly, most of Elliott’s friends are devoured by the goblins, though one is tortured in a bizarre mating ritual with a local nutjob. In one of the most incomprehensible scenes in movie history, the aging harlot knocks on the camper door, produces an ear of corn, and proceeds to make out with the boy with the cob clenched between her teeth. The heat generated by the kissing produces several pounds of popcorn, much to the delight of the young man, as well as a stupefied audience.
Apparently, it is imperative that victims eat green slop before being slaughtered as plants, as no one is so evil as to murder a human being. All the locals treat eating meat as the gravest of sins, including the strange store keeper, who flies into a fire-eyed rage at the mere mention of bacon. Coffee is also strongly forbidden. Some might interpret all of this hostility as a bizarre subtext, but it’s hard to believe that anyone is supposed to come off sympathetically. Nevertheless, it is important to learn, thanks once again to the documentary, that the director, a humorless Italian named Claudio Fragasso, saw depth and pathos where others saw dwarfs in bad Halloween costumes running around with sticks. Fragasso has, to some extent, signed on for the cultish celebration, but more often than not, he’s brooding while others laugh along with demented crowds. Apparently, he saw spiritual struggle and a parable of survival, but thus is the peril of filming a script in a language he could barely understand. At least Hardy, fame whore that he now is, hasn’t tried to channel his lone role into Shakespeare in the Park. Sure, he gets pissed when he goes unrecognized at horror fests (a booth he mans goes unvisited), but he never loses that toothy grin.
The same cannot be said for Margo Prey, the woman who played the mother, Diana Waits. There isn’t a single convincing moment throughout her shriek-filled performance, but the true tragedy lies in her post-movie life, which has been filled with loneliness, mental illness, and a future that, at best, involves hoarding or a hasty suicide. One would think that she too would ride the gravy train of assorted conventions and the autograph circuit, but apparently she couldn’t survive the film’s finale, in which she is devoured before her son’s eyes, even though the entire family had appeared to escape Nilbog’s wrath. Did they not set the preacher on fire? And what about that aforementioned bologna sandwich, which just happens to set off a chain of events whereby every goblin within earshot vomits green Jell-O, falls to the floor in full seizure, and dies? And what about those crude lightning bolts that run straight from Stonehenge to the goblin’s frail hearts? Nope, not enough. Everyone, it turns out, survived, and followed the Waits family home, perhaps in anticipation of Troll 3. Alas, it was not to be. For now, we’re stuck with a masterpiece of crapola; the one that damn near got away, only to be revived by a new generation of cinematic masochists. Here’s to ‘em.