Disclaimer: Elements of the following piece may be sprinkled with sarcasm*. Also, spoilers.
Picture, if you can, a world far from the drudgery of our current time. A realm across time and space, across all known galaxies and beyond all spiritual boundaries (work with me too, atheists). This is the place where the afterlife resides, where all the good and gifted souls judged worthy enough through abiding by some horrifyingly arbitrary rules previously unknown to them, will be able to rest for eternity. And some time in its future, a great debate will be had - one that will define the legacy of human culture for all of its existence: past, present and future.
Of course, this debate will focus on humankind’s greatest artistic exponent - the feature film. And its Big Question will truly be one for all the aeons of history. Just what is the greatest movie of all time? Which single, monumental offering from the hoards of sagas, prequels and sequels will those who have kicked their mortal coil deem to be the best of them all? Which piece of media, capriciously required to be over 60 minutes long, will clarion to the Great Makers of the Universe that its very existence is the fruit of our legacy, irrespective of what has gone, and what is yet to be?
Surely, all the legends of the medium itself will be present to deliberate on this matter, and all of them will convene upon this Dispute of Disputes, and have their own immortal opinions to cast. Steven Spielberg. Alfred Hitchcock. Stanley Kubrick. Quentin Tarantino. Uwe Boll. They will call up each and every one of the cinematic classics, and speak of them with both fervour and love. In turn, each one will be cast back down into the pit by the disagreement of another fellow luminary, deeming it unworthy of such an accolade. Citizen Kane will be suggested, and derided in favour of Apocalypse Now. Another will suggest Schindler’s List, only to be buried under a chorus of screaming lobbyists campaigning for the Lord of the Rings’ 9-hour cut to be put forth. And thus, the argument will rage on across the cosmos, century over century, millennium over millennium, until the Time At The End Of Time comes, and the death of universe begins its slow, painful contractions.
And at this very end of all things, an angel will arise. He… she… its gender is undefinable and unimportant. It will assume the appearances of all humanity’s most treasured actors and actresses.
One minute Al Pacino, the next minute a curious mish-mash of facial features that once belonged to Helen Mirren and Nicolas Cage. And in its hands will be a small golden chest, an inconspicuous casket that no mere person would bother to set eyes upon, if they didn’t know of the obvious, burning secret that lay within.
A hush will fall upon the crowd as the winged, benevolent creature (who now looks a bit like Macauley Culkin) lands with feet softer than air, and lays the box on the ground. With a smile, it will open it wide to the continued stunned silence of the witnesses. And then the crowd, will rush - like frenzied wildebeest - to this most essential of bestowed gifts, the answer to the question they’ve been eternally contesting on, the very apex of human artistry that gives our race its reason.
Each one will look inside, cast their eyes upon the DVD case that lies within - gasp! - and laugh at the folly they’ve partaken in. For there was only ever one true answer to the riddle they had created for themselves, and obsessed over for so long. Only one movie that could stand up to the scrutiny of all.
The angel, with the visage of Steve Buscemi, will grin wider than the universe itself, and the very fabric of existence will collapse into the void of its raptured, gaping mouth as it utters the words: “Troll 2.”
Okay - back to reality. You think this is a mere fantasy, but really, why wouldn’t this happen? Troll 2, a product of 1990, is the masterpiece of all the ages. You may have never heard of it, and no-one can blame you. Like the meaning of life, it has always existed on the boundaries of our rational conscious, an answer to a question we never thought to ask… until it answered itself for us. This mere fantasy horror sequel to a completely unassociated 80s fantasy horror, which this movie steals the name of to drive its own glory (AND WITH GOOD REASON), is both ubiquitous and obscure at the same time. For it is the one movie that perfectly captures the human condition more than any other. A movie that captures all the full range of experiences and emotions that we could ever hope for in life, and it achieves such a feat with a budget far less than the cost of a plastic flamingo.
Witness for yourself, the movie’s wonders!
PVC-masked goblins that look more real than you could ever imagine!
Kid protagonists who pull all sorts of horrible faces!
Inappropriately smiling ghost grandads!
Teenagers getting turned into potted plants!
And plain ol’ regular folks.
The tale of Troll 2 is one that has been handed down in different forms among different cultures for many generations. Basically, it’s about a family who trade houses with another family as a means of a vacation but they don’t know that the town they’re spending the vacation in is home to a bunch of shape-shifting goblins who pretend to be humans but really hate humans and all the burgers they eat and so they decide to prey on unsuspecting visitors by turning them into plants and eating them or something and only the main kid protagonist knows this because his dead ghost grandad keeps appearing to him even though he can’t be seen by anyone else in this stupid family and the grandad tells him about the awful legend surrounding the goblins of the town but the family stupidly go anyway and end up falling into the goblins’ trap along with a bunch of other idiot teenagers who have no reason to be there and in the end they solve the whole problem by banishing the goblins through destroying the Stonehenge Magic Stone that also happens to be in Nilbog and not Stonehenge. *deep breath* Indeed, that story. Such a fable is quite commonly told by many a family storyteller, but here it has been perfectly fine-tuned into a zenith of high drama, and is most certainly a story perfect for humanity to be judged by.
But it goes far deeper than that. The visual experience of this movie is just so emotionally resonant, a tale of hard truths about society that the likes of Scorsese or Spike Lee could only dream of capturing. Take, for example, the intro - where the grandpa of the family (he’s a ghost, remember) tells the young kid hero, Joshua, a bedtime story of an awful group of goblins who prey upon an innocent Authentic Medieval Person and turn him into foliage for dinner. No other movie has managed to create such a foreboding for the events that follow - not even Ridley Scott’s Alien. But then the boy’s mother comes into the room, and of course, like all stories with a sense of longing, Grandpa Seth disappears before she can see him - what a twist! Truly such a thing has never happened in any other film involving the supernatural.
There are other characters in this thunderous juggernaut of an epic as well. Take Joshua’s older sister, Holly - who we’re first introduced to by means of a thoroughly necessary and not at all inappropriate workout scene for a minor made to wear a leotard two sizes too small for her. Being a Feisty Girl of the New Decade (this is 1990, you know!), she has Very Important Things To Say about relationships, and also how a man should be a real man. She explains these things pretty clearly in a dressing-down she gives to her boyfriend, who has the gall to talk about going on a road trip with his friends, instead of with her:
This clip is a particular highlight of all of Holly’s acting range. Turn in your grave, Elizabeth Taylor! This is how a lady acts. And also, you’d better believe that having friends makes you a virgin. And homosexual. Only an individual of such depth, obviously created from the mind of a dude trying to figure out what girls think like, could offer you such a verbal smackdown of truth. Quiet, feminists! Silence your Twitter! Cease your Tumblr! This is the kind of feminine wisdom and female representation that real people demand to be in today’s movies, let alone the 90s!
And then there are the parents of the family. You don’t need to know much about them. Except for that their acting is just as good. Just. As. Good.
In any case, this genetic collective of mouthbreathers go off on their merry house-swapping trip, which naturally involves a long trip in the dad’s van on a road out to nowhere. Joshua, already heeding the words of his dead grandfather (after all, he’s a ghost), is given yet another reminder of the danger his family is entering by that most common of warnings - a dream sequence. He finds himself still in the family van and trip still on-going when something is off. He looks down - he’s turning into a plant! And his family have turned into… goblins!!
In yet another example of this movie’s sense of self-aware intelligence, you’ll be interested to know that only goblins are ever mentioned in Troll 2 - never trolls. And look at them - don’t they look so realistically terrifying? They’re terrifying because they’re visually relatable. Especially that one on the right, carrying an expression of both anger and confusion, the kind of look you’d probably give when you found out you just shat yourself in public. Once again, the film captures the essence of existence!
Joshua awakes to his confused family (especially his mother, who always looks confused) and realizes it was a nightmare, but not before screaming for at least twenty seconds until he wakes up back into the real world. Both this dream and his grandpa’s warnings have put him in the certain mind that his family are heading into a Very Bad Situation, but nothing he can do will convince them to turn around. This is just like real life too - if a kid tells you do something, you should listen to him at once. That, after all, is how we mold such stellar candidates for the U.S Presidency - just ask the Donald.
Anyway, these motherfuckers end up in their destination town of Nilbog (which if you didn’t know, IS ‘GOBLIN’ BACKWARDS), and just about bump into the family they’re trading places with before they themselves are about to head off. If you wonder why the locals wear funny clothes, it’s because the film is incredibly accurate to real life. These are the rural folks, and being of such stock is exactly why they wear such clothing, especially in a farming town in America in the 90s that is connected to civilization via the freeway. And of course, both they and the other locals are naturally suspicious and creepy, which is exactly what you would also expect of such people. The film again relays an important life lesson: urban folks are fine, country folks are inherently dangerous. What, have you never seen Countryfile? Little House on the Prairie? The Waltons?
Anyway, Joshua is still unable to stop his family from settling into this strange, obviously gobliny house. Worse still, when they find a spread of country fare waiting for them on the dining table, the dad starts prattling on about ‘hospitality’ and suggests they start digging into it all. He says this despite being unable to realise that all of the food right in front of them is covered in a mysterious green slime. But the dad, being a Southerner, says it’s ‘hospitality’. Who can argue with a Southerner on such matters?
Luckily, just in time, the spirit of Grandpa Seth reappears to get Joshua’s attention! He does this like all ghosts do - by knocking loudly on the living room window. Even though the family doesn’t hear it (the slime and hospitality clearly being far too much of a sensory experience for them already), Joshua is able to see him - and Seth reveals the cunning track all goblins use to entrap unwitting humans - they give them green things to eat! And the family, who clearly haven’t learned in their lifetimes that eating stuff covered in green shit might be a bad idea, are about to tuck in! What can Joshua do? Well, it turns out that Seth, in yet another plot twist best left to the imagination, can freeze time up to fifteen seconds! With this window of opportunity, Joshua moves around the living room for twenty-five seconds desperately trying to think of an idea to stop his family - whose level of acting prowess demands they pretend to sit perfectly still instead of the producers resorting to a still frame - from eating the cursed goblin meal. Ultimately, and quite succintly for the film’s whole mood, Joshua clearly thinks fast and comes up with the only thing any sane person would do.
He climbs on his chair and he pisses on the food.
Again, art imitating life! Honestly, who hasn’t solved a problem, be it domestic, life-or-death, or both, by urinating on it? I tell you, if Neville Chamberlain had’ve just flown over to Berlin, unzipped his trousers and drained the lizard all over Hitler and his plans for annexing Poland, maybe WW2 would never have happened.
Naturally, when time unfreezes, the family are appalled by this, and are unable to fathom why their son (clearly in the early development stages of a urination fetish) has done this. The dad gets really indignant, yells about having to ‘tighten his belt’ to stave off hunger pains til tomorrow (even though the van is still outside, has gas and can probably still be driven somewhere) and that you don’t ‘piss on hospitality’ (again the film captures the authentic Southerner). Poor, pee-happy Joshua gets grounded, while Grandpa Seth conveniently fucks off again.
Meanwhile, Holly’s boyfriend is off on his road trip with his equally virgin friends, who all talk about girls and stuff even though they have no chance with them because they’re all friends. They too roll into Nilbog, which is the film’s uncanny way of showing how people can still run into each other even when going on separate trips in a country 3.8 million square miles big. One from this sexually revoked group of buddies, Arnold, decides to take a walk by himself outside the town to see what else is around (because you can never be too sure when visiting a rural town miles from nowhere). It is here that he sees a horrifying sight - a girl being chased by Nilbog’s most notorious legend - goblins! (THE TOWN’S NAME IS ‘GOBLIN’ BACKWARDS, REMEMBER)
But anyway, Arnold, though hilariously wounded by a goblin throwing a slow-moving spear, manages to rescue the girl. Together they manage to escape the pursuing horde and flee to what they believe to be a shelter on the woods - which naturally happens to be a chapel (BLASPHEMOUS OVERTONES). Little do they realize this curious safe-house is a church of the obscene - and its owner soon reveals herself to them. You’d be mistaken for thinking this was the local cat lady cosplaying as Helena Bonham-Carter, but no! This evil witch is none other than Creedence Leonore Gielgud, the much-feared Queen of Nilbog’s goblins. She doesn’t quite reveal this straight away, but it’s obvious that she’s despicable because she keeps smiling and staring way too much and elongates all of her ‘s’ and ‘th’ sounds. The third trait is the definitive one - as both life and this film tell us, only wicked people have speech problems.
She’s also very persuasive as well - clever enough to offer her visitors a cup of broth whose contents are unknown, and never expecting them to be suspicious about that. And of course, they’re not! Only such evil can be so veiled and calculated.
They drink the broth and the MOST UNEXPECTED OF ALL PLOT TWISTS happens. It’s a trap! The girl is turned to vegetables, and Arnold is turned into a tree. The goblins have their dinner! It’s worth re-visiting the full horror and fear of Arnold’s realization that he’s soon about to be the food for a lesser fantasy creature:
This, after all, is the perfect reason why this utterly petrifying movie, this pinnacle of all of human creation, never required a ‘scream queen’. It simply didn’t need one. Arnold had it all in him.
And so, Troll 2’s first half defines not only the beginnings of a tale highlighting the real threat of unpaid dwarves in Halloween masks goblins preying on innocent humanity, but also the charms of innocent humanity itself. Young love. Defiant children fighting for their families. A quest to do what’s right in the face of evil.
Inappropriately smiling ghost grandads.
But I’m sure you’re wondering, how does this tale of rubber masks and militant vegetarianism end? Such a story cannot be told in its entirety… not even by the film itself. For the saga of Troll 2 is the saga of the universe itself. It is the teardrop on the eye of a child who hasn’t got any Christmas presents. It is the smile on that same child’s face when Santa arrives just in time. It is the glimmer of hope in the heart of every dreamer. It is the tale of how baloney sandwiches can defy pagan witchcraft, and...