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October 2nd, 2012


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09:42 pm - 31 Days of Halloween: Troll
Much -- amazingly much -- has been written about the infamous Troll 2, an amazing trainwreck of a movie, a perfect storm of ambition and talentlessness so hilariously, incredibly, tragically executed that one spends the whole film trying to find someone -- anyone -- winking at the camera to reassure the audience that it's all in good fun. No one is winking. There is no rational way to explain the existence of Troll 2.

The original Troll, on the other hand, is a different beast entirely. Where Troll 2 is a spectacular failure, Troll is merely mediocre but not entirely unsuccessful. A modest box office success, it came and went in early 1986, probably played a few times on cable, and quietly dissolved into the oblivion of cinematic obscurity, until it was resurrected on DVD and jolted back to life by its disreputable sequel. These days, people who see Troll do so because it comes packaged on the other side of the Troll 2 disc. Well, that, or they grew up with it. Show of hands: who grew up with the movie Troll? Anybody? Anybody? Buechler?

Buechler, by way of a clumsy segue, refers to John Carl Buechler, who directed Troll. Wikipedia says his last name is pronounced "beekler." I've glanced at his resume, and he's the kind of guy who takes whatever kind of work he can get in Hollywood. Director, producer, makeup artist, occasional actor and screenwriter... He'll never get his own coffee table book, but he's got serviceable skills. Directed Friday the 13th Part VII and Ghoulies III. You know, that kind of guy. Unexceptional, but dependable. Lot of work with puppets. I'm not going to talk much about Buechler's direction.

Troll centers around young Harry Potter Jr. (no relation), and his sister Wendy, who have just moved, with their parents, into a new apartment complex. Wendy, who must be in the vicinity of eight years old, goes down into the basement where she is captured by the titular troll who wields a magic, green ring that allows himself to steal her appearance. The troll goes upstairs to rejoin the family, where he runs around biting people, roaring, and generally carrying on like an oversugared four-year-old. Nobody notices but Harry. "Wendy" sets off the fire alarm, and the various tennants of the building begin pouring out of their units: a young Julia Louis-Dreyfus as an aspiring actress, Sonny Bono as a swinging bachelor, and June Lockhart as a fairly foul-mouthed old spinster named Eunice. There's also an English professor played by Phil Fondacaro who you remember as That Guy from Willow.

Harry becomes friends with Eunice who eventually confides in him that she's a witch. Long ago her lover, a powerful wizard named Torok, led the magical world to war against the human world. Torok's forces lost, and he was transformed into a troll as punishment. Now, he is actively transforming the apartment into a self-contained magic world, and turning its tennants into fairies, elves, goblins, and whatnot. And sure enough-- Sonny Bono turns into some kinda seed pod, Julia Louis-Dreyfuss sheds her clothes, strategically places her hair, and becomes a nymph, Phil Fondacaro is transformed into an elf, and their apartments begin to resemble incomplete sets from the movie Legend. Eunice explains that Torok's alternate universe, if left unchecked, will replace the real world, and Harry pledges to defeat Torok and rescue Wendy.

It's pretty silly, and would make a good Saturday matinee for the eight to twelve set, except that it's just a little too adult for children, and it's clearly too childish for grownups. I think that tweens were Troll's target demographic, but it's an uncomfortable fit.

The filmmaking is solid, though, if unoriginal. There's some nice stop-motion and practical effects work, particularly in the troll (who looks to me a little like Peter Boyle) and the puppets that inhabit his world. More interesting are the performers. Julia Louis-Dreyfus is slumming here on her way to bigger, better things. Sonny Bono is in the middle of a long decline from pop star to has-been, and June Lockhart seems not to have grown as an actress since her tenure on Lassie; she's good, but her acting style is decades out of date. Noah Hathaway (Atreyu from The Neverending Story) is good enough as Harry Potter Jr., and Michael Moriarty, as Harry Potter Sr., gets the best lines in the movie. Mr. Moriarty does that, though; his early career is filled with schlocky B-movies where he plays small roles with all the good lines. Oh, and June Lockhart's daughter Anne channels her mother as a younger version of Euniuce.

Troll, as I said, did modestly well at the box office. It made more than double its budget on it's opening weekend, but this was at a time when you could make a movie for less than a million dollars and still get it into theaters. It was "followed" by two sequels, but I have to use quotation marks because they were both stand-alone movies made in Italy which were retitled as Troll 2 and Troll 3 for U.S. distribution.

Does it seem like I'm having a hard time finding the right voice for this review? I am. Troll isn't a bad movie, but it's not good enough to recommend. This would be a good movie to curl up in front of with a bowl of popcorn and a mug of hot chocolate on a Sunday afternoon if you were eleven years old. Everybody else should probably skip directly to Troll 2. No, better yet, go for a much more meta experience, and watch Best Worst Movie, the (actually good) documentary in which Troll 2's child "star" revisits the movie that launched his career. After you see that one, you'll be all hot and bothered to watch Troll 2. Don't.

Here's the trailer.

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31 Days of Halloween: Troll - Garmonbozia for the soul.

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