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Troll / Troll 2

Shout Factory // PG-13 // November 17, 2015
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted November 17, 2015 | E-mail the Author
Oh, but I try not to think back to those dark days: back when a DVD release of Troll 2 seemed like some kind of wildly unrealistic fantasy. Even though I was DVD-or-die for everything else under the sun, I'd still rent one of my all-time favorites on VHS like clockwork every few weeks. Here we are, many years later, and we're somehow on our second Blu-ray release of Troll 2. Who says we're not living in a golden age? While MGM gave this cult classic a heck of a spit and polish in high definition back in 2010, that initial release had otherwise been stripped to bare metal. Scream Factory has thankfully picked up the slack, lavishing the original Troll with the special edition treatment, recording a shiny new commentary for Troll 2, and, at least for this initial run, even making this set a triple feature.

Troll (1986)
...and, having shared a great many adventures together, Harry and Ginny embarked on what promised to be their most extraordinary one yet: that of husband and wife. In the blissful years that followed, the Potters waved farewell to England and built a new life for themselves in the distant land of San Francisco. Harry traded in his wand for a stack of LPs thousands deep. His scar soon faded. His hair thinned. For her part, Ginny swapped her ginger locks for a bob of gold and, these days, is going by the name of Anne (Shelley Hack). Soon enough, there were two Harry Potters -- father (Michael Moriarty) and son (Noah Hathaway) -- not to mention wee little Wendy Anne (Jenny Beck). Try as they might to live among the muggles, magic would all too quickly re-enter their lives once again...

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See? Because his name is Harry Potter, plus there's wizardry and stuff.

Troll is remarkable for far more than the coincidental naming of a couple of its characters, though. There's something truly magical about this live-action fairy tale: its wild imagination, the head-on collision of storybook fantasy with our mundane little world, particularly inspired casting, and some of the decade's most memorable creature designs. Why am I telling you, though? If you had a VCR or basic cable in the back half of the '80s, chances are that you already know and love Troll.

She looks like Wendy Anne. She acts (errr...kind of) like Wendy Anne. She even sounds like Wendy Anne. Let me stop you there! No, she's not a pod person from Mars. It's Torok (Phil Fondacaro), an ancient, grotesque troll who's just snatched the littlest Potter from the basement of her new apartment building. After mystically assuming Wendy Anne's form, all sorts of doors open for Torok. C'mon, the kid's adorable! It's just that when the Potters' neighbors let her him it in, Torok mutates 'em into oversized pea pods bursting forth with all manners of little beasts and transforms their homes into otherworldly, magical realms. The clock is ticking until the entire building is under Torok's thrall, and from there, the world...! Only Harry Potter Jr. and his eccentric upstairs neighbor (June Lockhart) have any hope of stopping fairy-kind from snuffing out humanity forever.

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For whatever reason, I wasn't crazy about Troll when I was a kid, but geez, I'm head over heels in love with it now. Practical effects wizard John Carl Buechler takes the director's chair here for the first time, and the work delivered by his creature shop is astonishing. The army of ghoulish creatures -- a few of which, appropriately enough, are carried over from Ghoulies -- look phenomenal and leave a huge impression even though many of them are seen only briefly. I can't say enough good things about the design of the troll either, making for one of the most memorable boxes of the VHS era and continuing to impress today. They're all teeming with personality and, even with just a passing glance, immediately establish the movie's dark yet playful fairy tale tone. There's a presence to them that would just be lacking if these creatures had been realized instead with CGI in the here and now.

There's so much more to the movie than its extensive effects work, though! I can't get over how sleek and efficient its screenplay is, refusing to waste a single moment throughout its lean 82 minute runtime. Within just a couple of minutes, Torok has stepped in as Wendy Anne, he's lost his friggin' mind over fast food "ratburgers", and Troll has introduced nearly every last one of the Potters' neighbors. It's fun and frenetic but coherent enough that any kid tuning in can still easily follow along. Not only is Troll brilliantly cast, but it lobs out characters these actors can really sink their teeth into. C'mon, you have Sonny Bono playing the swinging cat upstairs, the mom from Lost in Space barking "who set off the goddamn fire alarm?" before we learn any of her amazing secrets, none other than Frank Welker -- the once and future Megatron! -- voicing Torok, Julia Louis-Dreyfus making her feature film debut as (eventually!) a forest nymph, Michael Moriarty thrashing to a fuzz-rock cover of "Summertime Blues", and Atreyu from The Neverending Story once again playing hero. Phil Fondacaro deserves to be singled out with particular praise, pulling double duty as the titular troll and as an ailing professor next door. Dr. Malcolm Mallory may be a supporting role, but Fondacaro's terrific performance forms the emotional core of the film.

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Unlike the notorious second half of this double feature, Troll is precisely the movie it sets out to be. It's a fairy tale with teeth: the sort of thing that appeals to pretty much everyone, regardless of age. It's appropriate for kids without pandering to them, but be warned that they'll probably run around screaming "ratburgers!" at the top of their lungs afterwards. Fast, fun, charming, spooky, dementedly imaginative, emotional when it counts, boasting my favorite puppet creature singalong this side of Labyrinth, weaving a great story about good versus evil...about family on both sides of that equation: oooh, I just love Troll to pieces, and I curse my younger self for ever thinking otherwise.

Troll 2 (1990)
"They're eating her, and then they're going to eat me! Oh my Gaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaawd!"

I'm pretty sure it was my junior year in high school -- somewhere in the neighborhood of 1994 -- when a friend of mine stopped me on the stairs. "HBO. 9 o'clock. Four words: double decker bologna sandwich." I was never really the same after that. No, no, not because of a classmate's cryptic message on my way to Journalism; I'm talking about my introduction to Troll 2. I don't believe I've ever thanked you, Hank, but this is as good a time as any to say "you're a genius, big sister!"

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Yeah, yeah, I know it's considered bad form for a reviewer to ramble on and on about himself, but even moreso than usual, I can't help it here. For a whole bunch of people, Troll 2 is an Internet meme. It's a playlist of YouTube videos to fling around and snicker at. Me, though...? Troll 2 has been a terrifyingly significant part of my life for more than twenty years now. I'd watch it on cable whenever it was in rotation in the mid-'90s. I rented it on VHS more than any other movie. It was at the top of my "ack, why isn't this on DVD?" list for ages, and after that shiny five-inch disc finally did come out in 2003, it became a rite of passage for any poor bastard unfortunate enough to step foot into my living room. I'm kind of a Troll 2 evangelist; my love for this movie beams so brightly that I can't possibly keep it to myself. Of course, two Blu-ray releases in, you probably don't need me to stand on a pulpit and preach, but I'm paid by the word, so...

The Waits family? Those folks from the big city? The only Waitses I know around these parts are farmers: at least for this month-long vacation, anyway. Michael (George Hardy) figured dragging his family out to the sleepy little town of Nilbog -- barely a speck on the map -- to live as their ancestors once had would bring them closer together. ...and, hey, it works! Nothing sparks family unity like defending against a siege by an army of ravenous goblins.

Grandpa Seth (Robert Ormsby) does his damndest to warn his family about the horrors that await them, but it's hard to get a word in edgewise when you're six feet under. The Waits' youngest, Joshua (Michael Stephenson), is thankfully still tuned into Dead Grandpa Radio, not that his mom, dad, and sister pay it any mind. Goblins can take human form, after all. Where Joshua sees mortal danger -- cake, pudding, fruit, and curiously colored juices that transform anyone who eats 'em into a bucket of steaming chlorophyll for the goblins to feast upon -- the rest of the Waitses see hospitality, and you can't piss on hospitality. ...though Joshua quite literally does, making for one of the eight trillion jaw-dropping, unforgettable, I-can't-rightly-have-called-my-existence-prior-to-this-life changing moments that make Troll 2 what it is.

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You probably noticed that I didn't toss the word "troll" in there anywhere outside of italicized titles, and, well, that's because Troll 2 is 100% USDA certified troll-free. It wasn't produced as a sequel to anything, but the distributors felt that it'd be a winning idea to cash in on the marquee value (?) of the original Troll anyway. There just...there aren't words. A bunch of Italian filmmakers swarmed on Utah. They had very little money. They barely spoke a lick of English. They drew from a cast with no film experience whatsoever. They translated the script themselves with an Italian-to-English dictionary -- seriously! -- and their insistence on the cast delivering it word-for-word results in "wait, what?" dialogue like this:

"Elliot?!? What kind of idiotic joke is this? You scared the shit out of me!"
"I'm the victim of a nocturnal rapture. I have to release my lowest instincts into a woman."
"::knees him in the groin:: Release your instincts in the bathroom."
"Rrrrrghhh! Are you nuts? Are you trying turn me into a homo?"
"Wouldn't be too hard! If my father discovers you here, he'd cut off your little nuts and eat them. He can't stand you!"
"...and you?"
"I like you, but my family doesn't like you. They say you're good for nothing and spend way too much time with your friends."
"Oh, but I swear, I never see them!"

I mean, lines like that are gonna creak along no matter who's delivering it, and Troll 2 isn't exactly teeming with Juilliard alums. The acting has that big, broad, community theater feel to it: bug-eyed, half-shouted, and playing to the rafters even though the camera's all of four feet away. There wasn't all that much time or money for multiple takes, the sets are cheaply dressed, and...well, you've already seen what the goblins look like with their potato sack costumes and stiff, immobile masks.

There's a reason why Michael Stephenson would one day title his rightly-revered Troll 2 documentary "Best Worst Movie". Troll 2 is inept to the point of being brilliant. Look, a colossal part of my life revolves around terrible movies, and with most of the so-bad-it's-good crowd, you have to wade through twenty or thirty minutes of botched characterization and neverending dialogue to get to the next howlingly batshit-insane part. Something ridiculous happens, you crack up, and then it's back to twiddling your thumbs for another reel or two. Troll 2, meanwhile, never eases up on the throttle. It never has a chance to be boring, and there's something deranged or howlingly bizarre seeping into every last frame. I mean, this is a movie where urine and quadraseptuple-decker bologna sandwiches help save the day. There's the whole homoerotic angle with Big Sister's boyfriend and his pals. An entire town tries to force-feed Joshua a bowl of watery ice cream in a rickety old church. Out of fucking nowhere and having nothing to do with anything is a sex scene where two people screw, and it's so hot that the Lady and the Tramp-style corncob in their mouths fills every square inch of the RV with popcorn. There's a singalong to "Row, Row, Row Your Boat". A ghost gives his grandson a Molotov cocktail and says something like "this oughtta get their attention".

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I could keep going for hours, and that's no good for anyone. Troll 2 is's just such an experience. It's so entrancingly strange. There's no logic or anything the least bit coherent propelling it all along. For scene after scene after scene, I'm equal parts awestruck and baffled. Troll 2 is so earnest and sincere, and I'm completely fascinated by the fact that it's so bizarre and yet everyone on-screen is clearly giving it their all. Internet memes come and go, but Troll 2 has been a constant for more of my life than not by now. There's no hipsterish irony to it: I truly, madly, deeply love this flick. I've devoured thousands and thousands of movies over the course of my life, and I've never experienced anything else that even approaches the accidental brilliance of Troll 2. Your life has no chance of ever being complete until you can say the same.

...and now I'm just gonna post a bunch of screengrabs 'cause words can't really do justice to the tragic majesty of Troll 2.

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This presentation of Troll isn't the sort of thing that translates into achingly gorgeous screenshots, exactly, but it really does look pretty terrific splashed across my HDTV. Those distinctively '80s colors are really nicely saturated, and detail is often striking, especially when the camera's pulled in tightly. The hit in quality during optical effects and the like is more stark than pretty much any other movie I can think of, but all of that obviously dates back to the way Troll was originally produced. It wouldn't surprise me if this master's been sitting around for a while -- Troll was making the rounds in HD on cable and satellite at least as far back as 2004 -- but I'm still very happy with the presentation that's been delivered here.

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I was bowled over by MGM's Blu-ray release of Troll 2 a few years back, and it makes sense that Scream Factory's disc takes advantage of that same phenomenal presentation. If you're not poring over screenshot comparisons, the two discs look identical. If you're still holding onto that DVD from more than a decade ago, meanwhile, this high definition remaster is an absolute revelation. The dull, lifeless colors of years past are now all gleaming and shiny. The sheen of grain is far more distinct. Definition and detail generally rank right up there with the best of 'em. Who would ever have believed that Troll 2 could look this beautiful?

It's comparison time!

MGM DVD (2003)MGM BD (2010)Scream Factory (2015)
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Both movies are presented at their theatrical aspect ratios of 1.85:1. Troll, Troll 2, and a nearly hour-long retrospective all share a BD-50 disc together and have been encoded with AVC.

Troll's lossless stereo audio sounds terrific. I'm floored by how big and wide it sounds, filling the room with sound even without digging into the rear channels. A few lines of dialogue sound a bit shrill, but it's otherwise much more full-bodied than I expected to hear, there's some truly impressive stereo separation up front, and Richard Band's "Cantos Profane" is even more of an earworm when rendered at this quality. No complaints to speak of whatsoever.

MGM's initial release of Troll 2 boasted two soundtracks: a lossy mono track and a lossless 5.1 remix. Scream Factory's release sticks with the original monaural audio -- giving it a DTS-HD Master Audio upgrade, even -- and the movie's better for it. The earlier remix made such meager use of the other channels that it might as well have been mono anyway, and a few lines that were a little tough to make out in 5.1 are reproduced perfectly here. Again, I'm really not left with much of anything to grouse or groan about. There's no clipping or distortion, no intrusive background noise, no pops, clicks, hiss, or anything else on the laundry list of catalog horror headaches to speak of either. A wonderful effort all around.

Both halves of this double feature are presented in 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio, and they also both feature optional English (SDH) subtitles.

  • Best Worst Movie: MGM's 2010 Blu-ray release of Troll 2 didn't bother with any extras beyond a trailer, and I was baffled that Michael Stephenson's Best Worst Movie wasn't a part of it. Scream Factory, thankfully, has righted that wrong. The initial run of this collection includes a second disc: Best Worst Movie on DVD. (The doc was produced in standard definition, so if you're grinding your teeth about it not finding its way onto Blu-ray, then you might want to redirect your fury towards something more productive.) This is the same exact DVD that Docurama released a few years back: same screened art, corporate credits, and everything. It's very much worth noting that Best Worst Movie is a special edition in its own right, complete with several hours of its own extras. I've written a lengthy review of this DVD elsewhere, but I'll try to give you the short version.

    Just to be clear, Best Worst Movie isn't a documentary about Troll 2. I mean, there's obviously an element of that, but this is a film that stands strongly on its own: a story of unlikely stardom, artistic passion, failing in the pursuit of triumph, and triumphing in the wake of failure. Far more than a companion piece, I've even been tempted to show people Best Worst Movie before they ever lay eyes on Troll 2. Sweet, funny, tragic, and fascinating from its first frame to the last, Best Worst Movie is sincerely one of my absolute favorite films about film, with a human element that puts it in a class all its own.

    Although Best Worst Movie won't be a permanent fixture of this Troll double feature, Scream Factory isn't just tacking it on either. The DVD has its own place in the case, and it's even highlighted on the flipside of the cover art. Everything about it has been done the right way.
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  • Audio Commentary: Best Worst Movie is so extraordinary that it renders pretty much any other retrospective moot. Scream Factory isn't the type to shrug and stop there, though, producing a new commentary with actors George Hardy and Deborah Reed. I have to admit to finding it kind of disappointing, though. Hardy is a charmer, as ever, but a lot of his comments are chuckling about how nuts Troll 2 is, pointing out where different members of the cast are from, and noting what they're up to these days. I think Hardy would've benefitted from having someone else in the room to make this more of a conversation. He offers up some great comments here -- how he was paid a hundred bucks a day for his couple of weeks on-set, pointing out an early continuity error with his PJs, and noting how difficult it was wrangling the embarrassed actors into participating in Best Worst Movie -- but his commentary as a whole is kind of a letdown.

    Deborah Reed was recorded separately and edited into this commentary. (You can sometimes hear Hardy muttering in the background as Reed speaks, as if his commentary is running at the same time and someone just dialed down the volume.) Reed is barely glimpsed in Best Worst Movie, with all of her interview footage left in the DVD's extras, so it's especially great for her to have this kind of platform. She's not the dominant presence in this commentary but is responsible for pretty much all of its highlights: she and her son being cast without anyone knowing they were related, drawing from her own collection of heirloom clothing and jewelry to bring Creedence Leonore Gielgud to life, and how she suffered (literally!) for her art. Admittedly, a lot of this territory has already been covered in the extras on Best Worst Movie, though.

    Maybe my hopes were too high in the wake of Best Worst Movie, but I couldn't shake the feeling that I'd heard pretty much all of this before, and it's a little too low-energy to rate as much of an essential listen.

  • Troll Empire: The Making of Troll (50 min.; HD): C'mon, you know that Scream Factory wouldn't forget about the original Troll. The nearly hour long retrospective begins by charting this phase of Empire Pictures' evolution, with producer Charles Band having recently acquired Dino de Laurentiis' sprawling studio in Rome. With 100 acres to play on, the might of the American dollar over the weak lira at the time, and a dream cast available, Band weaves the story of how Troll became one of their biggest theatrical releases. Joined by screenwriter Ed Naha and director John Carl Buechler, there are warm remembraces of the late, great Albert Band, pointing out the deal with Ghoulies that got Troll off the ground, and rightly marveling at the cast they assembled. Richard Band's score ranks among the movie's greatest assets, and he chimes in with some of his thoughts as well. Considering what a visual spectacle Troll really is, it follows that its extensive effects work is lavished with a great deal of attention, featuring interviews with John Vulich, Jim Aupperle, James Belohovek, Linda Drake, Kevin Kutchaver, and Gino Crognale. (When Scream Factory says "and more" when listing the participants in "Troll Empire", they mean it!) I've really loved all of the Empire Pictures retrospectives on Scream Factory's releases, and Troll Empire might be my favorite yet.

  • Photo Gallery (1 min.; HD): A minute and a half montage showcases conceptual art, miniatures, storyboards, and behind the scenes shots from the original Troll.

  • Trailers (5 min.; HD): Last up are high-def trailers for both Troll and its kinda-sorta sequel.

The Final Word
Sure, there's no narrative tissue connecting Troll and Troll 2 -- hell, there's nary a troll to be found in the sequel-in-name-only -- but these movies still play brilliantly as a double feature. They're both dark fairy tales, they're fiercely imaginative, and they're entirely too fun for words. If the two of 'em had been released separately, those individual editions would still have come enthusiastically recommended. All piled together in the same package...? C'mon, that's too good to pass up.

As I write this, anyway, picking up Best Worst Movie and MGM's 2010 Blu-ray release of Troll 2 on Amazon would run you just about as much as Scream Factory's triple feature, making this a hell of a value. Admittedly, if you already have those other two movies and aren't all that interested in the original Troll, this isn't the most essential upgrade, but otherwise...? Very, very Highly Recommended.
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