Louis Wain was an English artist back around 1900 who painted cats. Well, I mean, he didn’t actually go around tagging neighborhood cats …he painted pictures of cats doing people things: wearing clothes, playing golf, litigating, whatever (the proper term for this is anthropomorphic, but my old lady is tired of me flaunting my vocabulary, so I’m trying to tone down the sesquipedalia). Anyway, his paintings were pretty popular in jolly old England, and his work was widely published and he managed to eke out a living for a while. But then things went south for Uncle Lou. There’s some debate over whether he was schizophrenic or just really Aspergery, but either way you slice it, he went nuts. Which is no big deal: artists go nuts all the time, it’s part of the gig. What’s remarkable is that he kept painting cats throughout his decent into madness, and oh boy…you should see what happens to the cats in his paintings when the carnival comes to town and sets up its tent in Louis Wain’s brain. Seriously, go check it out.
Anyway, I mention Mr. Wain here only because until this week he was the artist that I thought most effectively documented how one’s vision of the world warps during nervous breakdowns and psychotic episodes. But then I saw “Troll 2.” Mother of God.
My all-too-typical reaction to watching movies these days is to conclude that I or any of my friends could have come up with something better in about 5 minutes at a bar after a couple of highballs at happy hour. Not so here. Nope. Not even in the depths of my bleakest collapse or hallucinogenic binge could I have ever come up with the plot or the characters that make up the parade of mental illness and dysfunction that is this movie.
There are a few things you should probably know about “Troll 2” before you hit the old Play button. I suppose the most significant and mystifying fact is that “Troll 2” has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the original “Troll.” In all likelihood, you didn’t even know there was a “Troll” (although in all likelihood you also didn’t know there was a “Troll 2” until you started reading this), but it’s true. It is worth noting that nowhere in “Troll 2” are trolls even mentioned. Not once. The antagonistic monsters which bedevil the other characters throughout the movie are specifically and continuously referred to as goblins. In fact, the movie was originally called “Goblins,” but some chuckleheaded jackass in Hollywood decided that no one would see a movie called “Goblins,” and that they could cash in on the huge audience that had lined up to see “Troll” (which is bizarre because exactly nobody actually saw “Troll” when theatrically released) by simply slapping a new title on the thing and marketing it as a sequel. If this seems rather psychotic to you, you are right: this is the sort of unabashed madness that could only come out of a Hollywood coke bar in 1990.
So to the plot: the Waits family, the weirdest family ever (not cool weird, or simply rocking their inherent weirdness, like the Addams Family, but weird in that they are all completely crazy in completely different ways yet also all completely unaware of their own or each other’s blatant craziness), is going on a month-long “vacation,” trading their urban home for a country home they’ve never seen in a town they’ve never been to belonging to some family they’ve never met. The parents are apparently medicated, and the children need to be: the boy (Josh) regularly speaks with his dead grandfather, and big sis Holly occasionally does spontaneous 80s dance numbers for no reason at all. Every single interaction that any of these people has is completely neurotic. To wit: when big sis’s boyfriend, Elliot, makes his first appearance, she screams. His response is to do his best Casa Nova impression, and she kicks him in the nuts. I’m not leaving anything out…that’s exactly what happens. And then it just keeps on going. “Are you trying to turn me into a homo?” Elliot asks. Holly tells him that if her dad knew he was there, daddy would cut off his “little nuts and eat them. He can’t stand you.” Apparently undaunted by any of this, but still gasping for breath after getting kneed in the baguettes, he pushes on: “And you?” She smiles, and says, “I like you,” gives him a kiss, invites him on vacation with the aforementioned nut-eating dad, and he accepts. These sorts of insane exchanges are frequent in this movie, resulting on dialogue that is almost Chekovian, but without artistic intent. Never before has bipolar disorder been so effectively captured on-screen in a troll movie decidedly not about trolls.
Oh yeah, the rural town in the woods where the Waits are going to spend a month is called Nilbog. Yep. ‘Nuff said.
The people of Nilbog are all openly hostile, lack affect, and simply glare at strangers when they are not trying to poison them with the chlorophyll Jell-O to turn them into plants so the goblins can eat them. It turns out that goblins can take human form, and in fact compose the town of Nilbog in that way. Who’d have guessed? Apparently not the Waits family. Confused? Does this sound nonsensical to you? Oh, just wait.
There’s a general store that’s run by a guy who looks like Keith Richards, where nothing is refrigerated, and coffee is referred to as the devil’s drink. Apparently also frowned upon are eggs, and bacon. Keith reveals that the entire town is vegetarian, and the only thing the general store sells is special Nilbog Milk, which is free. And this is when things start getting truly bizarre. There is a lot more plot, including a cult, a sexy witch named Creedence, and the druidic power of Stonehenge, but after a while, even the most open viewer can’t help but start ignoring new developments and asking some pretty hard questions of this movie.
For example, the favorite food of goblins is not little children or even meat at all, but plants. So rather than simply eat you if they catch you, they force or trick you into eating chlorophyll Jell-o, which turns you into a plant so they can eat you. So why in the hell do the goblins put so much effort into devising huge schemes, creating an entire town and ornate charades to get humans to eat chlorophyll Jell-O so they can eat them once they turn into plants. Nilbog is in the woods! It is simply verdant. It’s not as if they shot this piece of shit in the Nevada desert, and the goblins had grown tired of getting their probosces pricked by the needles of saguaro cactuses and thus were seeking another food source. That would make sense. But no. These goblins are repeatedly shown chasing their prey through acres and acres of plants and vegetation. This is tantamount to someone making a shark movie about a shark that dresses up as a surfer and chases other surfers through the Pacific, captures them, blows snot on them, and turns them into water because the shark doesn’t actually eat surfers, just water.
Completely psychotic. Whoever wrote and directed this nightmare actually had to go out of their way to make goblins less scary. Which leads to another obvious question: why doesn’t anybody simply just kick the shit out of the goblins? They are three-foot tall, slow-moving vegetarians armed only with pointy sticks. Even if there are a dozen of them, they pose no more threat than a class of grumpy preschoolers just after a nap.
About halfway through this thing, as these hugely obvious questions go unanswered, one begins desperately searching for meaning and reaching for the Mexican ibuprofen. Is this movie a statement against militant vegetarianism? Don’t laugh…there is merit to this notion: the weapon which ultimately allows Josh to escape certain vegan doom is a double-decker bologna sandwich, while mom, who chooses to eat an apple (you know who else sealed their fate by eating an apple), ends up devoured by the goblins.
There are layers of questions that begin to occur. Perhaps this movie is not just a ludicrous low-budget tripe, but a grossly underappreciated work worthy of Biblical comparisons. Honestly, I’m tempted to write a whole series of exegeses of the myriad fascinating aspects of “Troll 2,” but the fact is that the movie truly defies rational analysis. Which is exactly why you should see it.
Other reasons to watch include Seduction by Corn, popcorn sex in a camper, weaponized lime Jell-O, 80s dancing to royalty-free 80s synth pop, and a child pissing on dinner after his dead grandfather has stopped time. It’s completely nuts. Watch this movie. You’ll feel better about virtually everything, especially your family.
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