Thursday, August 3, 2017

you can't piss on hospitality

The question is, what do you want from a movie? Must it challenge your mind, make you contemplate your place in the universe? Must it simply entertain? For that matter, does it have to make sense? And have good acting and a script that sounds like someone actually read it at least once before filming? A bad movie can do all of these things. The problem, really, is when the bad movie makes you hate the people who made it, makes you hate the world for creating a place for it, makes you hate yourself for watching it. Well, a bad bad movie does that. A good bad movie can fail at so much that makes movies watchable--like Margo Prey not bothering to act at all as the mother in Troll 2, just, you know, saying things, or Connie McFarland as the sister yelling like she forgot microphones exist--but still be so watchable in spite of the flaws. Some of what makes a movie like Troll 2 bad can easily be credited to the filmmaker; the director Claudio Fragasso (credited as Drake Floyd because Hollywood racism, of course) supposedly didn't speak much English--

(It's been awhile since I watched Best Worst Movie--the documentary about Troll 2 and its cult following, so I'll admit, I don't remember all the behind-the-scenes details.)

--but the way the central family sings "Row Row Row Your Boat" I wonder if any of them have any grasp on the English language, or songs, or life. Meanwhile, in the real world, Trump wants to limit legal immigration to prioritize those who can speak English; this film could be good fuel for his cause. The Room (609 610 611 1086 1087 1088 1089 1090 1091 1092), as well. Folks trying to tell stories outside the language their comfortable with. (Plus, I'm pretty sure Tommy Wiseau had never interacted with other humans prior to making The Room.)

Anyway, prior to the movie cutting over to Arnold and the random girl running through the woods, this could have been a great metaphor; Joshua is mentally unbalanced, he hallucinates his dead grandpa, and in a world just barely past the end of the Cold War, why shouldn't he imagine goblins that can look human and will sucker you in with dreams of a rural vacation? This is basically an update on the same tropes Romero has been using for years. But then, there's Arnold and that girl and that Druid lady and everything is grounded in reality, and goblins are real, and this is just a fairly basic family-friendly horror film. Without the cleverness of, say, The Gate, or the sheer insane joy of Gremlins or The Lost Boys... What? Don't look at me (or my words) so strangely. The Lost Boys is a joyous romp into the realm of vampires. And, when it came out and I was 11, I loved it. Unfortunately, I never got to see Troll 2 on the big screen. Halloween, sure. A Nightmare on Elm Street, a bit into the second act then my mother made us leave the drive-in because she thought it would give me nightmares. Instead it gave me dreams, and helped cement my interest in horror films. Had I seen Troll 2 in 1990, I probably wouldn't have been too impressed. I would have been 14 and there were far more interesting, and far better made, films in theaters: the likes of Dances with Wolves, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Hunt for Red October, Die Hard 2... Actually, I'm looking at a list of the top box office films for that year and I've got to scroll down to #23 Awakenings before I even find one that I didn't see in the theater. And, I saw that one later on video. The Academy, a cheap second run theater in my hometown of Pasadena was a gift to someone like me. Or a curse to whoever else I might have been.

But, I digress.

My point there was this: had Troll 2 come out when I was a few years younger, like in the mid 80s, I probably would have... I won't say that I will have loved it. But, I would have been entertained to be sure. But today, watching it all these years after its release, it is, oddly, not as bad as it's supposed to be. And, for one very good reason: there is no reason that it should be good. A bigger disappointment would be if it had an actual director, and an actual screenwriter--people who knew how to make movies, and they cast real actors, and had a budget for the goblin effects, and it still turned out lame. Disappointment is far worse than straight badness. Like Valerian a couple weeks back; gone is the charm of The Fifth Element or the subtle depth of character of Leon, like Luc Besson was so enamored with a comic from his childhood that he forgot what film is. Throw in the Indiana Jones problem of the protagonist not actually driving the action (and, if anything, making things worse), and Valerian, watchable at the time, is almost offensive in its inability to be good. But Troll 2 is not supposed to be good. And, not just because 27 years of film history since has declared it one of, if not the, worst movie(s). But because it's a no-budget, amateur film. The Goblin masks and costumes may be cheap and unbelievable, but some of the trees and branches growing out of people effects are pretty good. They make for a silly idea, but the visual actually works as far as body horror goes. Especially Joshua's fantasy in the minivan on the way to Nilbog, with the branches coming out of his fingertips.

And, were I to spend numerous days with this film--

(I haven't quite decided how this month will work, here. I'm taking recommendations for bad movies, but I don't know if I want to spend any real stretch of days with them... Maybe I'll think differently tomorrow.)

--I might spend some time with names. Like just the family names here: Waits for the main family and Presents for the main goblin family, or the Druid being named Creedence, the grandpa being named Seth... There's room for a real exploration into what this movie is trying to be. For another example, consider the story from the perspective of Joshua's parents. Their kid has lost his mind since his grandpa's death, they suffer from hunger and thirst after he ruins their initial meal the first day of the vacation, and some cult leader brings the townspeople to them with food. And then, their son sets that cult leader on fire. That is a whole other level of horror. Of course, then the film has to ruin it by having them see the cult leader's body as a goblin and it goes back to being just a fairly basic family-friendly horror film, with bad monster designs, an over-the-top witch (even if she calls herself a Druid, she fills the role of the bad witch in so many kid-centric horror stories), and a whole bunch of creepy townsfolk.

(Come to think of it, the inability of the townsfolk to act is actually a good thing here. They are supposed to be a little off. Also, for the record, Michael Stephenson is acting the crap out of Joshua. He is trying so hard. Connie McFarland as Holly is trying too, even if her dancing bit and the dialogue afterward in the mirror felt like she was still rehearsing. If only Deborah Reed as Creedence or George Hardy or Margo Prey as Michael and Diana Waits would put some effort in. Like, any, at all.)

Even Creedence seducing Brent is family-friendly. That corn may be phallic and the two of them eating it together might be a little weirdly sexual, but then, hey, popcorn!


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