Irish-American Horror and Fantasy Movies: Troll 2 (1990)

George Hardy battles vegetarian goblins in "Troll 2."

George Hardy battles vegetarian goblins in “Troll 2.”

Troll 2 (1990)

Written by: Rossella Drudi
Directed by: Claudio Fragasso
Starring: Michael Stephenson, George Hardy, Margo Prey
Summary: A legendary bad film about vegetarian goblins, the film seems to borrow largely from Halloween III: Season of the Witch.

There is only one hint of Irishness in “Troll 2,” Claudio Fragasso’s notorious cult travesty from 1990: In the rural farmtown of Nilbog, the eccentric local farmfolk are actually disguised goblins, and their only tell is a scar of a shamrock visible somewhere on their body.

The filmmakers were Italian — Fragasso has a long resume of producing genre oddities in his native country, and the script was by his wife Rosella Drudi, who claims she was irritated by friends who had become vegetarian and so wrote the film to satirize them. Her idea of satire is puzzling: The film’s goblins turn people into plants and then eat them. But there is very little in the film that makes sense, and for a lot of audience members, this fact is delightful.

I have no evidence for the following theory, but I’m going to present it anyway: I suspect that many of the basic story elements in “Troll 2” were lifted from “Halloween III: Season of the Witch,” which had opened almost a decade earlier to generally unfavorable reviews. Italian cult horror has a long history of stealing from America horror, and here are details the films have in common: Both tell of an insular rural cult of Druidic outsiders who take power from a segment of Stonehenge. Further, both cults are represented by a shamrock.

Even if these plot points are a coincidence, both films are examples of folk horror, which is a typically British genre in which interlopers discover a rural location has been taken over by ancient paganism. Neither films are especially good examples of the genre, but, well, between the shamrocks and the Druids I’m going to go ahead and call them Irish anyway.

I do rather like the implication that old world monsters moved to America and became caught up in its more flamboyant traditions, from fad diets to televangelist-style old-time religion.
“Troll 2” is a pretty well-known cult film, so you may already be aware that it’s an in-name-only sequel to 1986’s “Troll,” but was instead originally named “Goblin.” It’s not really a film about historical Druids, either, although the film’s rubber-masked (and genuinely ghastly) goblins do share the Druids’ fascination with trees. The monsters are some sort of cult, however — we witness a Revival tent-style meeting where a bearded preacher rails against the horrors of meat. And in a film that is generally nonsensical, I do rather like the implication that old world monsters moved to America and became caught up in its more flamboyant traditions, from fad diets to televangelist-style old-time religion.

The film’s problems are legion and well-documented: It was mostly cast with local non-actors, including at least two who suffered genuine mental illness. The filmmakers did not speak English, and so the film’s dialogue sounds like something that would come out of a Google translate prototype. (Sample dialogue, from a horny teenager: “I’m the victim of a nocturnal rapture. I have to release my lowest instincts with a woman.”) The story never comes anywhere near making sense, and, if scenes were meant satirically, the satire is invisible.

However, the results are fascinating. The actors provide line-readings that are so far removed from proper acting that they become strangely marvelous, such as one-young man who cries out in terror when he realizes he is about to be devoured, and whose terrified shout has become iconic:

There was a very good documentary about the making of this film, “Best Worst Movie,” directed by Michael Stephenson, who starred in “Troll 2” when he was a child. The documentary looks at the cult audience that has developed for the film, who show a unique mix of ironic appreciation, genuine fascination, and mild nostalgia for the film, which all seem to me to be valid ways to experience the movie.

The documentary also looks at the experiences of the non-actors who starred in it, especially focusing on the endlessly cheerful Alabama dentist, George Hardy, who played Stephenson’s father in the film.
The documentary also looks at the experiences of the non-actors who starred in it, especially focusing on the endlessly cheerful Alabama dentist, George Hardy, who played Stephenson’s father in the film. Hardy genuinely loves that he was in the movie, and basks in the attention that its growing cult audience provides for him. But as the film progresses and he more aggressively pursues his minor status as a celebrity, he realizes how shallow this pursuit is. There’s a marvelous scene at a horror convention, where he has gone to sign photos and sell merchandize, where he looks around at the row of horror movie has-beens and wonders what’s wrong with them, why they cling to roles they had decades before, and then realizes that he’s also talking about himself.

But, then, what’s the harm? We all get a few moments in our life when we do something surprising and extraordinary, and they’re worth revisiting and celebrating. And there is something genuinely extraordinary about “Troll 2” — here it is, a quarter-century after it was made, and I’m writing an essay about it, puzzling about how it fits in with the genre of folk horror, and the fact that it recalls Irish legend, even if only in the most oblique way. (And, in fairness, that’s the only way to approach the film, as everything in it is oblique.)

If George Hardy ever wants to go back to those conventions and sit among the has-beens, I will happily go to him and shake his hand, and I will proudly get his signature. What other dentist gets to battle vegetarian goblins?

None, that’s who.

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Max Sparber

Max Sparber is a playwright, journalist, and history detective in Omaha, Nebraska.