Llort Is Troll Spelled Backward by Jason N. Fischedick

The first time I saw it, I had been home “sick” from school. My mother and stepfather were at work, my younger sister was in class and my infant brother was at the babysitter’s. I was a thirteen-year- old boy, alone in the apartment with a cable box equipped with an illegal magic chip which opened up all seventy-six channels available, and I did what you’d expect any normal boy in my position to do: searched for a juicy horror movie to watch. It was 1991, and I was living in the pre-Saw, post-Nightmare on Elm Street vacuum that gripped the genre. I had no Netflix to suggest a title, no IMDb to research a plot and no idea what constituted a good, modern scary movie. What I did have was my stepfather’s tomes of VHS tapes, numbered and catalogued, filled with films bootlegged off of the various stolen stations. It was this confluence of circumstances that made me think my best option for my midday matinee was Troll 2.

Now, to clarify, I didn’t just happen upon Troll 2 and decide, “Eh, I’ll just keep this on.” I saw it in the TV Guide, had an hour and half before it came on, and decided to kill the time with syndicated sitcoms in anticipation. In my defense, I was only thirteen, and was basing my expectations off of tape seventeen, movie one, of the ill-begotten catalogue in my living room: Troll. For those who’ve never seen Troll, it’s a horror-fantasy flick about an evil wizard-king who’s turned into a troll, and banished to live in the basement of a modern-day 80’s apartment building, where he kidnaps a little girl and starts recreating his magical forest kingdom, one apartment at a time. It has creepy singing puppets, former congressman Sonny Bono, and the original Harry Potter character (not the little wizard, just another kid with the same name fighting trolls). I thought I was getting into a fun, fantastical romp following the troll once again attempting to take back his power by killing washed-up celebrities. What I got was so much worse and so much better.

For those of you not familiar with the brilliant cinematic abomination that is Troll 2, I will sum it up and hope you immediately go on a quest to find and watch it. The story revolves around the Waits family: a white, middle-class clan with a nice suburban house in middle-of-nowhere America. Bored with the toil of their everyday pampered life, Ma and Pa Waits decide to pack up their teenaged daughter, Holly, and preteen son, Joshua, to participate in a house exchange program with a poor family of farmers they’ve never met. (If you’re asking who would set up such a stupid swap, or how one would go about setting it up, you’re already giving this plot more thought than the writer.) Holly has a boyfriend who’s obsessed with his three friends. (They’re never apart. They sleep together, shirtless. They probably shower together.) Joshua is being haunted by the very powerful spirit of his dead Grandpa Seth who delivers numerous warnings to him to avoid the lair of the goblins. (Yes, goblins, not trolls. There are no trolls even mentioned in the movie.) The family sets out to the tiny, backwater town of Nilbog (Look at it and spell it backwards to figure out what our hero only sees halfway through the movie.), where they’re greeted by townsfolk who look like depression-era migrant workers just given a day-pass from the lunatic asylum they’re kept in. So the ten inhabitants of Nilbog are really shape-shifting goblins, with faces that look like papier-mâché masks intent on turning the Waits family into plants so they can eat them. Why plants, you ask? The goblins are vegetarians and are disgusted by even the mention of meat. Why don’t they just whip up a nice spinach salad with a light drizzle of vinaigrette instead of going through all this needless trapping and trickery? Again, you’re thinking too much about sense.

So after an hour and a half of Joshua pissing on food, Grandpa Seth using god-like powers to do everything but stop the goblins, and the strangest popcorn-fetish sex scene ever put on celluloid, it was over. I was flabbergasted. I knew it was a terrible movie, in every way, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I wanted to make sense of the plot holes, to discuss the ridiculousness of the movie’s existence, and to understand why on some secret level I wanted to watch it again. Since Al Gore had yet to invent the Internet, I was alone in my enjoyment for a few months until it came on again and I forced my friend Peter to watch it. His reaction was the same, and he went so far as to sketch out the plot to a Troll 2 prequel, which chronicled the adventures of Grandpa Seth, a fallen Norse god, sent to spawn and train the eventual hero who would rid the world of the evil goblins. Though we talked endlessly about making this movie, carefully foreshadowing the epic events of the original, we were still alone in our appreciation. My stepfather would’ve mocked me for liking it; my mother would’ve ignored me; I had no other friends in Junior High school. There was no one else to convert. It wasn’t until high school that I found a group of likeminded people, with a whole repertoire of bad movies to discuss, who would call out to me through the halls “Goblin is Nilbog spelled backwards.”

In retrospect, I loved Troll 2 immediately for a number of reasons that only became clear to me when I grew up. First off, it was the genesis of my eventual infatuation with mechanically bad movies. I didn’t find Ed Wood until years later (though once I did, I binged on his work), and didn’t appreciate Mystery Science Theater 3000 until shortly after that. Secondly, it taught me a host of invaluable lessons: like never drink unrefrigerated milk given to you by a wild-eyed stranger, always heed the advice of the spectral incarnations of your elders and when backed into a corner double-decker baloney sandwich is as good a weapon as a .44 Magnum. It also opened up a whole bunch of social circles to me at a time when making friends was difficult due to my crippling shyness. Quoting the bad dialogue became a form of password, allowing me to enter discussions with people I might otherwise have been too afraid to talk to.

It’s been over twenty years since I first caught the adventures of Waits family, and, though I’m no longer the awkward preteen in need of friendship, I still watch and discuss Troll 2 on a regular basis. I hold a bad movie night every time I meet someone who hasn’t seen it, I’ve forced every girlfriend I’ve ever had to endure it with me, and sometimes I pop it in when I’m alone just to revisit my favorite scenes. Though it is undoubtedly a mechanically flawed movie, I would argue against classifying it as a bad one. Much like higher quality cinema, I’ve never walked away from a Troll 2 viewing without noticing something new and interesting; never laughed and bonded more with my friends discussing it; and never failed to thoroughly enjoy every single minute of it.

Troll 2. Dir. Claudio Fragasso. Trans World Entertainment, 1990. Film.