An American family move into an apartment block full odd-balls. Within minutes, the 11 year old daughter Wendy (Jenny Beck) is possessed by a mischievous troll that lives in the basement. Older brother Harry (Noah Hathaway) is the only one who notices the change in his sister. Meanwhile, the troll goes on a twisted mutation rampage, transforming the rest of the block’s residents into rubbery “mythical” creatures.
After the box office success of Gremlins, an explosion of mini-monster movies erupted throughout the 1980s, with Ghoulies Critters, Hobgoblins and Munchies all scattering across our home/ cinema screens while nibbling at ankles and retinas. Amongst them was Troll. Produced by Charles Band and Empire Pictures, this lurid mini-creature feature is an amusing splat of fantasy crap blending wildly inventive effects with matchless mutations and creature designs. The boisterous visuals and characters are feebly strung together through a scattershot narrative while the production is crippled by plastic performances and botched editing.
Troll is Fraggle Rock on crack, and is fun in spats if you’re drunk enough or of the right frame of mind. It’s an aggravatingly cluttered yet colourful assault on the senses but has a juvenile vibrancy that makes it often amusing. Michael Moriarty (Q: The Winged Serpent, The Stuff) plays a loveable, blundering chump in the form of Harry Potter (not that one): a book critic/ music fanatic with Homer Simpson, slob qualities. Harry is father to Wendy: a unruly brat whose grating mannerisms worsen once she becomes possessed by the Troll of the title: a renegade imp who could easily double as the offspring of Sid James and an Ewok.
From its big-box origins, on the top shelf in many video rental stores throughout the 1980s, Troll stared down, confusing the minds of children with his comical puppet protagonist, amongst many other colourfully covered titles. The shoddy horror/ fantasy elements are complimented by a chirpy score from the inimitable Richard Band (From Beyond, Re-animator, Birdemic: Shock and Terror) but too many characters cram up what there is of a patchwork plot and, as a result, Troll often feels rasping, mad and over-anarchic. The bland, dial-a-teen performance from Noah Hathaway (who also starred as Atreyu in The NeverEnding Story) as Harry Potter Junior is dead-eyed under an equally stoic hair-do. Shelly Hack is chipper as wife/ mother Anne, while Jenny Beck parades a fitting animal madness as Wendy and, despite her character being hugely annoying, delivers the best performance of the film.
Supporting performances/ characters emerge in the form of Sonny Bono as a gregarious swinger who dribbles dolmades/ liquefied seaweed before sprouting branches and mutating into a garden by way of a Hawaiian shirt wearing turd. TV veteran June Lockhart stars as the witch upstairs Eunice St. Clair, who goes on to train young Harry Potter in the dark arts before sending him off into the fairy-world to defeat the evil troll and its litter of snot-bodied beasties. Meanwhile an aggravating adrenaline junkie/ ex-marine shimmies about in the background, along with a forgettable young couple, serving no purpose to the story whatsoever. Everybody eventually lives happily ever after, even though most of them get turned into farting plastic goblins that now look more rubbish than what you could buy in a toy shop. But that’s part of Troll’s appeal.
Endearingly shoddy special effects and stop-motion animation sequences entertain along with colourful characters and an impromptu musical number that feels like a crack addled stagger down Sesame Street. All of which make Troll a punch of drunk and entertaining fantasy/ horror rubbish that will resonate with those of a certain age and ilk, but probably not many others. As for the Harry Potter comparisons: Charles Band has, apparently, “noted them” while “some of those involved in the film have accused JK Rowling of “borrowing” elements from Troll”. Considering the rich and varied imagination in Rowling’s books this doesn’t seem likely but it’s funny to think of Troll as a shoddy proto-Potter either way.
Words: Dan Goodwin