In 1989, in a small town in rural Utah, an Ital­ian film com­pany shot a horror film that would even­tu­ally be released under the title Troll 2—I say “even­tu­ally”, because the film was orig­i­nally titled Gob­lins. This ini­tial title made a lot of sense, because the film is in fact about a town full of gob­lins that ter­ror­ize and attempt to devour a vaca­tion­ing middle-​class Amer­i­can family. Hence: Gob­lins. Troll 2 makes com­par­a­tively little sense as a title, largely due to the rather con­spic­u­ous fact that the film does not, in actu­al­ity, fea­ture any trolls what­so­ever.1 And need­less to say, it is not an actual sequel to the orig­i­nal Troll in any mean­ing­ful way.

From even just this scant infor­ma­tion I’ve imparted to you, you should be able to get a good sense of the kind of film Troll 2 is.

But I’m get­ting ahead of myself. Let’s go back to 1989, with the Ital­ians out in Utah film­ing a low-​budget horror movie (with a cor­re­spond­ingly low-​budget cast). And so the thing gets shot, every­one parts ways, the Ital­ians fly back home, a movie gets cut together. Some­where along the way the name changes from Gob­lins to Troll 2. It gets released to VHS. The story of a thou­sand low-​budget flicks, right?

Well, not quite.

By way of expla­na­tion, let me show you a chart. It is rea­son­ably simple chart, plot­ting how good a movie is2 versus how enter­tain­ing it is.

This is what the site would look like if I were in charge of drawing the comic.

As you can see on the right side of the graph, high-​quality films pos­i­tively cor­re­late to highly enter­tain­ing films. Pulp Fic­tion is fun to watch because it is by most rea­son­able mea­sures a fan­tas­tic film. The Fifth Ele­ment: also very good.

Moving left, the films get a bit worse, and are cor­re­spond­ingly less fun to watch. Die Hard 2? Okay, but not great. Most movies fall into this cat­e­gory.

A bit fur­ther down the curve, there’s an inter­est­ing bump. By most objec­tive mea­sures, Armaged­don was a pretty bad film. But much like Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing”, there is also some­thing unde­ni­ably great about it. We are firmly in the realm of guilty plea­sures. On an absolute scale, it’s still nowhere as enter­tain­ing as Pulp Fic­tion; but it is more enter­tain­ing than Over the Hedge, even though the latter is in some sense less of an Affront to the Art of Cinema.3

At some point, though, enough is enough. Case in point: most ratio­nal people simply cannot derive 80 min­utes of enjoy­ment from Look Who’s Talk­ing Too.

So far, I have been using Bruce Willis films as exam­ples. But the inclu­sion of Bruce Willis (if even just as a voice actor) adds some base­line level of qual­ity to a film. This base­line I call the Willis thresh­old; there are many, many films that fall below it.

Occu­py­ing the realm far to the left of the Willis thresh­old are movies like Manos: the Hands of Fate: unre­deemably bad films, the sort you hes­i­tate to call “films” in the first place, nearly-​unwatchable dreck made only barely palat­able by the inclu­sion of mock­ing com­men­tary a la MST3K.

But the most strik­ing part of my chart is the mas­sive spike just to the left of the Willis thresh­old. This is the cat­e­gory of film that I’m most inter­ested in for this post, and it is the cat­e­gory of film that Troll 2 squarely falls into.

Look at that chart! On an absolute level, Troll 2 is com­pa­ra­ble to The Fifth Ele­ment in terms of enter­tain­ment value! It is So Bad It’s Good. I.e., it’s awe­somely bad.

For this sort of film, it’s kind of point­less trying to con­vince some­one of its awe­some­ness by describ­ing the plot. I could tell you that it’s about a family that gets ter­ror­ized by a group of veg­e­tar­ian gob­lins; or that the gob­lins are com­manded by a spas­tic druid; or that the gob­lins keep trying to turn people into plants by hiding con­spic­u­ous green slop in their food; etc., etc., etc. I could try and tell you all these things, but they don’t really convey the genius4 of Troll 2.

Which is all to say: if you haven’t seen it yet, what the hell are you wait­ing for?

I saw Troll 2 for the first time two weeks ago. I had occa­sion to see it because a doc­u­men­tary called Best Worst Film—about Troll 2 and its cult following—was play­ing just around the block from me. The film­mak­ers were per­spi­ca­ciously screen­ing Troll 2 later that night in the very same the­ater, and after catch­ing the doc­u­men­tary I con­vinced my friend Cliff to join me at mid­night to see the cult hit.

I’ve told you about how great Troll 2 is, but I also want to spend some words on Best Worst Movie. It was a lot of fun to watch, and def­i­nitely enter­tain­ing.5 It focuses pri­mar­ily on the charis­matic George Hardy, who played the patri­arch of the ill-​fated vaca­tion­ing family in Troll 2.6 We catch up with him and other former cast and crew mem­bers, dis­cov­er­ing how their film has mor­phed into a cult phe­nom­e­non and how this trans­for­ma­tion has affected their lives. The whole doc­u­men­tary is pretty light­hearted and fun, and it’s really hard to dis­like Mr. George Hardy.

Most every­one seems to be in on the joke—that is, they fully rec­og­nize and have gen­er­ally come to terms with Troll 2’s posi­tion on the curve I charted above. But this isn’t the case for every­one. There are a few awk­ward moments involv­ing the direc­tor (an Ital­ian, type­cast as the eccen­tric for­eign film­maker), who seems unwill­ing to see his film for what it is. Hon­estly, he comes off as a bit of a stooge—a por­trayal that’s prob­a­bly unfair but is admit­tedly amus­ing.

Let me empha­size that the doc­u­men­tary is, essen­tially, fluffy fun. It does a great job at cap­tur­ing the verve and elec­tric­ity you feel at a mid­night movie screen­ing. At heart, it’s a poppy expres­sion of fan­boy­ish enthu­si­asm.

The doc­u­men­tary has are a few more poignant moments, but they really aren’t the focus; they tend to get swept up in the rest of the film. It’s a bit of a shame, really, because at times it feels as though a very human under­cur­rent of sad­ness or regret gets steam­rolled by the ironic joy of this cult phe­nom­e­non. For exam­ple, in one par­tic­u­larly moving scene, the actor who played Grandpa Seth in Troll 2 (now an old man) reflects resignedly upon on his life and asks: “What is there to do with a life besides frit­ter it away?” It’s a rather shock­ing rev­e­la­tion, but it gets swept aside pretty quickly.

Then again, I can under­stand why the film­mak­ers didn’t focus on this stuff more: it’s a total downer. Still, the film prob­a­bly would have felt more robust if these issues had been exam­ined more deeply.

If Best Worst Movie is show­ing near you any­time soon, I’d heartily rec­om­mend you go out and see it with a friend or two. And if they’re show­ing Troll 2 later that same day, I’d highly rec­om­mend you make an evening of it.

  1. I guess you could argue that trolls and gob­lins are kinda-​sorta the same thing. They’re magical-​ish things, with leath­ery skin and ugly faces. Nasty and brutish and gen­er­ally unpleas­ant for human-​folk to be around. But let me be clear: the crea­tures in the film are referred to exclu­sively as “gob­lins”; the word “troll” is never once uttered.
  2. I.e., based on the mea­sures we nor­mally use in cri­tique: Is each con­stituent ele­ment of the film—the acting, writ­ing, cin­e­matog­ra­phy, etc.—executed com­pe­tently? Do these com­po­nents work well together? Ulti­mately, does the film suc­ceed at what it sets out to accom­plish?
  3. I hope my use of Cap­i­tal Let­ters makes it clear that I am being Very Seri­ous about Very Impor­tant Issues here.
  4. Anti-​genius?
  5. In a good way: it falls squarely on the right side of my curve.
  6. Tidbit of cool­ness: George Hardy was tour­ing with the Best Worst Movie the­atri­cal run, and intro­duced the Troll 2 show­ing that me and Cliff were at!

Discussion (6) ¬

  1. Mike says:

    I rec­om­mend you try and find a copy of “It came from Hollywood”, a run­down of some of the best bad films up to its time.

  2. SpandexDoom says:

    Okay…I can agree with most of your post here, but I happen to like Over the Hedge quite a bit….
    I’m not gonna claim its great art or any­thing, but given the choice between Over the Hedge and Armageddon…..I’ll go with OtH every time. I didn’t like Armaged­don very much at all. In fact, its one of the few movies of its ilk that I’ll get up and walk away from, or change the chan­nel to avoid it.
    Can’t say I agree with the assess­ment that Troll 2 is so bad its good. I’ve seen it twice, and won’t be repeat­ing that mis­take.
    Just my two beans worth of opin­ion. 🙂

  3. Greg says:

    Heh, to be per­fectly honest, I’ve never actu­ally seen Over the Hedge—so its place­ment on that chart is com­pletely unfounded. Take it with a grain of salt 🙂

  4. Pomp says:

    Have you ever seen ‘Frequently Asked Ques­tions About Time Travel’?
    It’s qite low budget, but I found it quite funny.

  5. Greg says:

    I’ve heard of it before, and I’d like to see it, but it doesn’t appear to be on Net­flix 🙁

  6. Pomp says:

    Do you happen to get Love­Film in the US? It’s on there if you can get it.