AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY: NOW, from EUREKA ENTERTAINMENT, in the TROLL: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION Boxset
RUNNING TIME: 82 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Wile the Potter family are moving into a new apartment complex in San Francisco, the young daughter Wendy goes to the laundry room and is attacked and possessed by a grotesque little creature called Torok. Wendy’s behaviour becomes odd and even violent, while Torok turns another resident of the building into a pod from which springs a plant that multiplies and transforms the room into a garden. Wendy’s actions are attributed to the stress of the move except by her brother, Harry Potter Jr., who seeks solace in the company of a mysterious old woman named Eunice St. Clair who lives upstairs. Could Eunice knows more about what’s happening then she’s letting on….
“I just don’t understand any of this” says one character around half way through Troll, and even as I type I still don’t understand half of what went on in this movie. It’s undoubtedly one of the stranger pictures to come from [actually then executive producer as his dad Albert was the actual producer on the films at the time] Charles Band, who during his Empire Pictures phase made films for theatrical release such as Re-animator and From Beyond but did most of his work when in charge of Full Moon Pictures [and in fact is still doing so], churning out loads of cheap and cheerful straight-to-video efforts like Demonic Toys and the Puppet Master series which have become cult favourites of many, especially those who wax nostalgic for the days of handmade special effects – in particular puppets. Probably closest to Ghoulies out of the Band pictures that I’ve seen, and similarly a rather more family-friendly effort from the other titles I’ve mentioned, Troll doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but it’s imaginative, has considerable charm, and features some wonderfully grotesque puppet monsters. It only really suffers from its tiny budget during its final act which also fails to explain or develop some of the weird stuff that goes on earlier in the picture. Until then I liked it a lot. It has the quirkiness in spades that these days me and I’m sure many of the fans of these movies find appealing. But then I’m the kind of guy who’s still hoping that the Subspecies/ Bloodstone series, an under-appreciated vampire franchise if ever there was one, will come out on Blu-ray!
John Carl Buechler, a special effects creator out to direct his first film, first pitched the film to producer Roger Corman while they were working on Android, but Corman passed on it. His original story treatment was more of a slasher movie in which Torok was systematically killing off the inhabitants of the building. When Charles Band agreed to take it on, it was on the proviso that it would be a ‘PG-13’ film, so the story was altered and the fantasy element was expanded upon, though Buechler was initially busy doing the effects on Ghoulies so had to get first time screenwriter Ed Naha to write the full screenplay. The role of Malcolm Mallory was explicitly written for Phil Fondacaro and Buechler had to deal with pressure to cast Billy Barty. A fully animatronic puppet was intended to have been utilized for Torok the Troll, but Buechler scrapped his plan and sculpted a creature costume directly onto Fondacaro’s life cast, knowing that Band wouldn’t want to pay two different actors. The creatures were originally supposed to perform ‘The Troll Song’ as a full-blown production number, but due to limitations in the low-budget puppets they had to just grunt along to the music instead. Despite negative reviews, it did recoup its production costs and became a big video hit and cult movie. Since the release of the Harry Potter books starting in 1997, some of those involved in the film, including Band and Buechler, have accused J. K. Rowling of “borrowing” elements from Troll, and I don’t just mean the name Harry Potter. What do you think?
I loved the opening titles which are clever yet economical in their transitioning from the past to the present, a cut from a castle to a fairy tale illustration in a story book [though this Shrek lover did his best not to laugh] after which the camera pans across some pictures and then alongside a forest to reveal a small apartment block right where the castle once stood. Our family is seen moving into one of the rooms and the son Harry is told to watch over his younger sister Wendy but he would “rather watch Star Trek, phasers on dull”. It’s a little spooky when Wendy throws her ball into the laundry room where we know something is waiting for her, and indeed Torok is a memorably hideous creation whose appearance haunts the film even though he’s rarely seen for very long. He touches Wendy with his ring, and Lo and Behold, she’s possessed by him and proceeds to do things like roar, bite people, push people across rooms, punch people in the groin and visit neighbours to play hide and seek. These neighbours are mostly a bit eccentric and include the lecherous Mr. Dickinson who uses prostitutes and just wants to “score” [I assume women though I wondered if it was drugs considering that other people in this film appear to be on drugs even if they’re not], ex-soldier Bary Taybor who thinks that books are “owned and operated by liberal scum”, and Jeanette Cooper whose boyfriend William Daniels sometimes stays over. Oh, and there’s the elderly and slightly mysterious Eunice St. Clair. The scene in which all these characters are introduced when the fire alarm goes off, beginning with a very poorly staged [but funny] bit when Harry falls over Barry, has a real off-the-wall flavour with odd dialogue and strange acting.
So frankly this film is weird enough even before the bonkers fantasy stuff begins in earnest with Torok turning people into other plants or stranger beings, and rooms first becoming gardens and then actual worlds that can be accessed through a door. Why is he doing this? Eunice eventually offers some explanation during an expository scene made more interesting by pictures which tells of two lovers torn apart, a war between humans and fairies [which include trolls], and Torok having once been a powerful wizard. Now Torok wants the fairy kingdom to invade earth and populate it with mythical creatures related to the personalities of the humans who he transforms into these beings. This is all interesting, but quite a few things occur which aren’t explained at all, such as three Jeanettes appearing in a forest. Naha just crams too much in and then doesn’t leave himself enough space to do much with his material, such as the fact that the transformed creatures rarely interact with those who are still human. On the other hand the usual Band padding, such as Moriarty doing an odd dance, is odder than normal and therefore often feels less like padding. Much time is given to Wendy’s friendship with Malcolm Mallory the little person who saves her from being ran over by a car and is then asked if he’s an elf. To present day eyes it may seem a bit “wrong” when he comes round the Potter’s for dinner at Wendy’s behest, though I doubt any dodginess was intended. And the character is quite sensitively written, Mallory even being given the opportunity to deliver what is a virtual monologue about being unable to grow further after a certain age and he possibly being “magical”. It may slow the pace down drastically, but it’s nice that it’s in there nonetheless.
Despite a few similarities to Poltergeist and some pods right out of Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, Troll never really tries to be scary and cuts away from any nasty stuff though one transformation into a plant is quite gross and may struggle to get into a ‘PG-13’rated film today. In general it’s all fairly light hearted with a nice line in quips like: “what do you do”? “Anything I damn well please”. The character who gives this answer also owns a mushroom with a face who does comical reactions to some of the things she says. The numerous puppets who populate the forests are detailed and quite varied in design though they do all look really hideous, while the Torok mask is very mobile. There’s even some okay stop motion for a few shots of plant vines and a nice matte painting of the Golden Gate Bridge against a red sky behind the apartment building which only looks slightly unconvincing today and certainly looks really good for a low budget feature of the time. Of course there have to be a few of those tacky flashing opticals, while a supposedly large bat-like demon in the finale looks fine in terms of design, but we’re never given an impression of its size because, while we can except that having it and the humans in the same shot would have been too expensive to do, the trees it walks beside don’t seem to be anywhere near small enough.
Moriarty, usually busy acting in Larry Cohen pictures, is more restrained than usual as Harry, but often sports a strange hat for some reason. Noah Hathaway from The Neverending Story and Jenny Beck are both fine child performers and even Sonny Bono shows up. Julia Louis-Dreyfus was embarrassed by her appearance in the film and got angry at Jay Leno for showing a clip from it, though even if her acting isn’t too great yet it’s not that big a deal to be ashamed of. Buechler directs reasonably smoothly while Richard Band’s score sounds a bit more fully orchestral than usual. As he often did, he rather over-scores the film and his work sometimes just consists of random noodling – though in a way this is another ingredient that gives many of these pictures their rather unique flavour. There’s no getting away from the fact that Troll has its considerable flaws, which means that I can’t rate it quite as highly as this mostly positive-sounding review may lead one to expect – but it’s very hard to dislike and is still a particularly notable example of the Band output, a film which deserves to be as well known as the more famous titles from his library.
Eureka Entertainment bring Troll to Blu-ray based on the 2015 Region ‘A’ release from Scream Factory, though have probably done a new encode as usual. As it’s taken from an older master, the transfer is quite soft but rich in detail and the colour palate is vivid and varied. Some of the effects shots contain more grain then some may like, but that’s unavoidable. The mono audio track is quite wide in dynamics and perfectly satisfactory. The documentary Troll Empire has Band, Buechler, Naha and some of the effects crew detail the conception, making and release of the film, with special emphasis on the creation of the special effects. In these days of “we did it all on the computer”, I love even more learning how old fashioned [sadly] effects were created. You also find out why Moriarty is wearing that ridiculous hat. A good, solid ‘making of’.
The sequel has clearly been given the deluxe treatment in this set, so the remainder of its special features are covered in my review for that film.
TROLL: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION SPECIAL FEATURES:
“Troll Empire” making-of [50:05 mins]
*Theatrical Trailer [2:45]
*Troll 2 audio commentary by actors George Hardy and Deborah Reed
*Creative Screenwriting Q&A audio track Track with Jeff Goldsmith, Michael Stephenson, and George Hardy [81.20]
Theatrical Trailer [2:18]
*Best Worst Movie [93:23]
*Monsterous” Music Video [4:11]
*Theatrical Trailer [2:17]
FIRST PRESSING INCLUDES:
*Limited Edition O Card slipcase featuring artwork by Devon Whitehead
*Limited Edition collector’s booklet featuring rare archival material