Cleansing the doors of cinematic perception until your screens glows infinite

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Creature Double Feature Night 10 (Halloween!): TROLL 2, TOP OF THE FOOD CHAIN (+ THE EVIL)


Surprise! It's a soggy, spring-like Halloween today, and thus the conclusion, Night 10, of our grand Creature Double Feature 10 Day Marathon is best spent couch-ways. Feel free to scroll back and marvel, and maybe gape, at the other nights in previous day's posts (and watch it all on good old Prime). And for now, here's a gem of badness worth always revisiting especially on Prime's A+ HD remastered print. All that green food coloring has never been more appetizing. There's also a second dish on these mankind servings, a droll Canadian sci-fi pastiche made by a zonkers auteur whose films are like if Guy Maddin met Larry Blamire and trounced him pertly on the sconce. What a find! Prime's countless dumpster fires never extinguish!

And since it's a special night, some backing items for the no family. 

TROLL 2
(1990) Dir. Claudio Fragasso
*/**** / Amazon Image - A+
I've only seen this cult-deserving gem three or four times, and though I love it more each time, it's not as addictive to me as Plan NineMesa of Lost Women or Cat Women of the Moon. At least... not yet. Still, as bad movies go, the sort with not a single 'normal' moment, it's a gem to be treasured, and it's never looked better. Written by the (Italian) director's wife as a satire on (American-style) vegetarianism (!) we're left to wonder, does she think so little of us, or is she a witch, or a genius? How can a script have so very little to do with the way real life works, in America or anywhere? And how did we get so blessed to have Troll 2 ever just a click away in beautiful richly-colored HD? We must have ate something wonderful...

The story has four person family (please don't make me tell you their names), deciding to swap houses for a summer vacation with a family way out in the country, to unplug and get some real country living. What they don't know is that the town they'll be staying in, Nilbog, is "Goblin spelled backwards!" The locals are real hospitable and crazy about green food coloring and at the drop of a hat turn into gnarly little goblins (or trolls). On moving into the new house, the fam finds tons of food laid out--real country hospitality-- but it's all green-tinted and the ghost of the young Joshua's grandpa tells him he has to stop everyone from eating any of it! It's dangerous! Freezing time for 30 seconds so he can think of a plan! He doesn't just grab it all and throw it on the floor like a normal person, he stands on the table to pee on it. We don't see the pee but we cut to him being led off to his bedroom to watch his father menacingly un-notch his belt.... then tighten it. Yes, it's that kind of a movie. At that point you're either in for life, or hitting stop like its a red-headed stepchild.

For those of us left, oh so many highlights it's hard to pick even a few, but most of my favorites center around Creedence (Deborah Reed), a kind of witchy mother to the trolls, who lives in a comfortable looking refurbished church, where she turns visiting humans into trees, which she then grows in little pots, to harvest as food for her little goblin charges. As if a graduate of the Fuad Ramses school of acting, Reed milks every line, every syllable, as much as possible - eyes bugged, lips curled back in an obscene smile. Her victims tend to be virile young boys, a gaggle of whom have followed the girlfriend (Joshua's older sister) of one of them to the country in their Winnebago. Nothing gay about them sleeping together with their shirts off. They're there to meet girls! The dim boyfriend promised them. But they're camped in a true nightmare of a town; forget about cool local ladies, they don't even have coffee at the general store! "There's no coffee here in Nilbog," exclaims the general store proprietor. "It's the devil's drink!!"

 Actually, the boyfriend's inability to let go of his boys club coterie proves one of the more interesting arcs of the film, seldom explored in other films (it also lets Creedence have a fine garden this year). Like her troll children, she can change looks instantly, going from a hot babe with a corn cob in her garter to a librarian with bad teeth and Anne Bancroft shades to a wild-haired witch with even worse teeth, and all the time with a 'from-the-diaphragm' acting approach even Toshiro Mifune might find excessive.

My favorite of her many disguises for Creedence is as a seductress (with great teeth) who appears on the last living lunkhead's mobile camper TV screen as he sulks alone, parked way out in the middle of nowhere for no clear reason. It's like any lonesome teenager's fantasy has come true: babes are literally coming right out of the TV screen to 'do it' with him in his trailer. Now all he has to do, he thinks, is keep perfectly still... It's like getting a tattoo or getting a deer to come closer... He just stands there, terrified, motionless, and no doubt aroused, trying not to make eye contact while Creedence musses his hair... and...the cob commences popping... and popping.

See, these goblins, or trolls, can't eat raw human flesh. To digest it they first have to "soak it in vinegar all night!" So to get around that they have to trick humans into eating a special green food coloring substance that will turn their bodies into vegetable matter. We see this illustrated when a victim dissolved into a pool of green slime which the throng then devour, rather clumsily considering how all of it is still left on the floor). Michael Paul Stephenson is Joshua, who though not a good actor, certainly performs with a stalwart earnestness, especially during the foggy alternate reality Stonehenge climax (where the secret weapon turns out to be a balogna sandwich, almost undoing the relatively deadpan mood with deliberate comedy); Grandpa helps Joshua set a preacher on fire, and--eventually--the accumulated weirdness convinces the rest of the family it's time to get the hell out of Nilbog. Too bad... But there's always our next film....

TOP OF THE FOOD CHAIN
(1999) Dir. John Paisz
*** / Amazon Image - A

You might have never heard of this odd but endearingly Canadian sci-fi/horror comedy --I sure didn't. Still not sure how it found me: the Prime thumbnail is just a black box with the words, making it seem like some dreary 30 minute documentary on factory farming. Instead it's an affectionate homage to the sci-fi of the 50s (ala It Came From Outer Space), replete with a patriarchally smug pipe smoking atomic scientist hero, and the hot-to-trot single belle of the small town he finds himself in, a suspicious sheriff who'd rather moon over his lack of luck with said belle and snipe at his new rival (for the belle goes for all that science malarkey), than deal with the problem of an alien presence with possibly sinister motives who's turned a small town into its own nefarious lab, and is.... eating the locals.

It could have gone south a dozen different ways of bad (sometimes bad on purpose can just be boring and indulgent) and parts of it do drag a bit in the beginning (as in a too-long dinner scene early on) but it succeeds largely because of its very dry but consistent Canadian wit (fans of Guy Maddin will be much pleased) and because of a  pinpoint accurate turn by Campbell Scott (Roger Dodger) as the atomic physicist Dr. Carl Lamont and the deeply attractive sacral chakra-blazing erotically awake and sensually hungry performance by Fiona Loewi as Sandy, the motel owner who has a very special kind of 'ahem' bond with her dimwitted brother Guy (Tom Everett Scott). It's all very matter of fact, with no judgment of each other's kinky proclivities; and coolest of all, there's Jesus, waving on a cross, once TV is restored. Gory, erotic, ridiculous, with very little CGI (or none?) and a great monster (at the very end), it's made with a lot of loving care by Paisz and worth a look for anyone who's ever spent lonely teenage summers watching It Came From Outer Space over and over (if you dig it, go onto tackle Paisz' previous labor of love, Crime Wave, which is even stranger). 

Third Option: 

4. THE EVIL 
(1978) Dir. Gus Trikonis
*/***1/2 - Amazon Image - B

An undersung indie (New World-distributed) bad movie gem from 1978, The Evil is clearly meant to ride the late-70s obsession with Jay Anson's 1977 runaway bestseller The Amityville Horror (if the house was bigger and was being renovated by a group of drug counsellors and college teachers as a kind of groovy half-way thought-out teenager runaway shelter so very late-70s, the kind where you didn't seem to need any special qualifications to organize a boarding school summer clinic other than jeans, cowboy boots and a hypocritical contempt for conventional religious dogma). Richard Crenna is the director, and as things go seriously awry he refuses to believe in the supernatural as a factor. The boiler incinerates the drunk caretaker (Ed Bakey); there are malevolent house quakes, freak electrical shocks (pin scratches on the celluloid), attempted ghost assaults, and --once the hatch on the basement floor is opened--wind rushes up, the Satanic laughter echoes, all the doors and windows lock shut, and Crenna has to think fast to explain it all aways as wind gusts and imagination. 

Fan favorite Andrew Prine--that quintessentially 70s laid-back lanky hipster (Grizzly)--is one of the more pro-active counsellors who tries to facilitate an escape over the side of the third floor balcony once it's clear Crenna has led them all into a locked box of doom and the best he can do for leadership is to belittle the ideas of his more spiritually-open girlfriend (Joanna Petit).

As with Troll 2 and Top of the Food Chain it's not a good film but it doesn't try to just be 'good' -it shoots way higher than just a few bumps in the night and maybe flies on the window. It goes for broke like that crazy one-footed kid who tries to run to third on a lucky grounder. It take a few beats too long to get started (old Bakey seems to wander around that old building, taking a gallon of slugs from his half-pint hip flask, all through lengthy opening credits) but-- once that trapdoor opens-- the action just keeps getting faster, wilder and weirder until you're shrieking with agog delight (I refuse to give away the totally out-there ending, so you'll just have to trust me). In other words, it's the best kind of bad there is. 

The Amazon print is fine, if a little faded but hey, aren't we all? (If you want to find more of the 'possessed mansion killing guests one-by-one' movies that were all the rage in 1978, might I be so bold as to recommend The Legacy)?

-- I guess that's it for now! Happy Halloween and I hope you've enjoyed this 30 films on Prime review (via the last 10 posts). Scroll back for the others, and also check out these past lists on Prime. Prime! Prime! Prime! It's like having a Kim's Video store right in your pocket.

Prime Creature Double/Triple Feature Callbacks:

Night 9: PROM NIGHT 2: HELLO MARY LOU; WAXWORK (+ ONE DARK NIGHT)
Night 8: SPIDER BABY, BRAIN THAT WOULDN'T DIE (+ MESA OF LOST WOMAN)
Night 7: ATTACK OF THE CRAB MONSTERS; CALTIKI - THE IMMORTAL MONSTER (+ THE KILLER SHREWS)
Night 6: 7 DEATHS IN A CAT'S EYE, THE GHOUL (1933) + THE RAVEN (1963)

PAST LISTS (some of these may be no longer avail on Prime, but most are-- tread carelessly!):

3 Neo-Jungian Fairie Wave
3 Off the Road
7 Ennio Morricone-scored Giallos (1970-75)
6 Badass Post-ROAD WARRIOR Gang Violence Trips (1982-85)
4 Post-CONAN Barbarian Sagas
6 Dope Analog Sci-fi Nugs (1978-87)
6 Post-JAWS New World Horrors (1978-80)
7 Badass New World Rebel Girl Uprisings (1971-79)
13 for Halloween, Lost Causes and Autumnal Catalepsies
10 Swingin' Monsters of the 70s
15 Cool/Weird Horror/Sci-fi Films
12 Weird/Cool Italian Films
10 Fairly Bad Sci-Fi Gems
13 Best or Weirdest Occult/Witch movies
12 Nifty Vampire Films

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