[31 Days of Horror: Resurrection] Day 13 – Troll (1986)

Director: John Carl Buechler
Cast: Noah Hathaway, Michael Moriarty, Shelley Hack, Jenny Beck, Sonny Bono, Phil Fondacaro, Brad Hall, Anne Lockhart, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Gary Sandy, June Lockhart
Screenplay: Ed Naha
82 mins. Rated PG-13.

I’ve never seen Troll 2, and I’ve always known that is has no real connection to Troll or the films that were sold as a sequel, but I find that I’m unable to see Troll 2 until I see the “original” which is what we’re doing today. Now, how does a with such a notorious sequel actually fare?

The film follows the Potter family as they adjust to their new home in an apartment complex in San Francisco. As soon as they arrive, strange occurrences begin happening to the residents of the building, and daughter Wendy (Jenny Beck, Tightrope, The Canterville Ghost) begins acting unusually, almost feral. The son, Harry Potter Jr. (Noah Hathaway, The NeverEnding Story, Sushi Girl) strikes up a friendship with the grumpy and sarcastic older resident, Eunice St. Clair (June Lockhart, Meet Me in St. Louis, Lost in Space), who informs him that the building is housing an ancient troll looking for a magical ring that can make him human. Now, Harry and Eunice must stop the wicked troll Torok from getting the ring and endangering everyone in the building.

You read that right in the description. This film features not one, but two, Harry Potters. Family patriarch Harry Potter Sr., played by Michael Moriarty (Q: The Winged Serpent, The Stuff), and the son, played by Hathaway. This film also features a number of magical elements including goblins and trolls and witches. Yep, there was almost a lawsuit filed against J.K. Rowling, but I happen to believe that they weren’t similar enough to warrant such legal matters, especially considering where she took her characters and worldbuilding in the book series. Still, it’s an important foot note, something we might no even notice without this film’s sequel reaching such heights of insanity.

As far as Troll goes, it feels a bit like a film of two directions, which seemed to plague director John Carl Buechler (Ghoulies Go to College, Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood) throughout his career. As mentioned, The New Blood was shot with such grandiose physical effects and graphic content that, when the MPAA completed its attack, it ended up neutered by the end of the editing. Here, he envisioned the film as an R-rated monster slasher, but Charles Band, who produced the film, wanted to aim a bit softer, something along the lines of PG-13, which conflicts with a lot of Buechler’s sensibilities. Seems like Buechler couldn’t have much say in the matter as the idea had already been rejected in a number of places (when Roger Corman says no, you got problems). The film does have a wider appeal to it, which was likely the plan. Perhaps Band wanted a film to rival Gremlins, which had been released just two years prior.

Troll does have a bit of that goofy fantasy with a tinge of horror feeling. I can see this one working really well on me as a child. As an adult, I can still have fun with it, but it also shows a lot of its flaws. First off, the film has some incredibly annoying characters, most notably Wendy, who is somewhat possessed by Torok into helping him claim victims. She does a lot of screaming, almost as if screenwriter Ed Naha (Honey I Shrunk the Kids, Dolls) couldn’t figure out dialogue and just put in yelling as a placeholder. Some of the unlikable characters were by design, like neighbor Peter (Sonny Bono, Moonstruck, Hairspray) as this hipster swinger hoping the new residents don’t harsh his vibe. It’s here that the more friendly and interesting residents, like Eunice or even couple Jeannette (Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Black Widow, Onward) and William (Brad Hall, A Bug’s Life, Must Love Dogs), who seem to like kids but can’t get on the level with them.

I was also left more than a little frustrated by the film’s ending, which seems to come out of nowhere and races to the finish line while leaving too many plot threads dangling. Was this part of setting up a sequel? Did they run out of funds? Did they have a different ending that worked even less impressively? What happened here?

The film’s saving grace comes from some fun and exciting creature effects. If you get John Carl Buechler to direct, you expect some great effects, and Troll certainly wins there. From Torok to the little mushroom creature living in Eunice’s home, there’s some fun to be had in seeing what Buechler could dream up on a budget, and it works pretty well at creating the necessary wonder to make this film work.

Troll is deeply flawed, but with the legacy attributed to its “sequel,” it’s just surprising that the film works as well as it does. With a middling, poorly paced story and some characters that make you pray for a quick death, the film is ultimately saved by Buechler’s stylish creatures and occasionally powerful atmosphere, which just barely earns it a recommendation from me.

3/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

  • For my review of John Carl Buechler’s Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood, click here.

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