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 Marathon. It's too yucky to go out, so sit down and gorge yourself on green popcorn as we revisit that gem of 80s badness TROLL 2, and a droll Canadian sci-fi pastiche made by an auteur whose films are like if Guy Maddin met Larry Blamire and Astron-6 at a party and gave them all Xanax. Fun for the whole family, if they're mutants. 

 Prime's countless dumpster fires never extinguish!

(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 personally as Plan NineMesa of Lost Women or Cat Women of the Moon. There's too many oily teens and families in it for my personal adoration, but as bad movies go, the sort with not a single 'normal' moment, it's a gem to be treasured. Written by the (Italian) director Claude Fragasso's wife as a satire on American vegetarianism (!) we're left to wonder to what extent she's really mocking us. How can a script have so very little to do with the way real life works? 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... and it's starting to kick in.

The story has a four-person family (please don't make me tell you their names) deciding to swap houses with a group of perfect strangers for a summer vacation, they head out 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 ghost of grandpa reaches out to the boy through his mirror, telling him not to go. But who listens to a boy who listens to a ghost? Soon they're awash in green food, weird locals, and gnarly little goblins (not trolls). On moving into the new house, the fam finds tons of food laid out--real "country hospitality"-- but it's all green from food coloring and the ghost of the young Joshua's grandpa tells him he has to stop the rest of his family from eating any of it or a fate worse than death awaits. 

It's a key make or break moment: Instead of knocking all the dishes onto the floor, like any normal person would do --our cherubic boy stands on the table and pees over everything! 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 at the last second to show hunger. At that point you're either in or out, FOR KEEPS.

For those of us left in, oh so many highlights it's hard to pick even a few, but most of my favorites center around the lovely Creedence (Deborah Reed). The witchy den mother to the trolls, Melora 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. Such a complicated process! Her eyes bugged, lips curled back in an obscene smile, Reed milks every line, every syllable, soaring over-the-top with Margaret Hamilton-on-acid style menace. Like her troll children, she can change form 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 that one-in-a-million 'from-the-diaphragm' acting approach even Toshiro Mifune might find excessive. She seems to have a preference tend to planting virile young teenage boys, a gaggle of whom have followed them to the country in their closeted Winnebago. Nothing gay about them sleeping together with their shirts off in that cramped trailer bed. The sister's boyfriend, a true wiener in every way, has promised his buds loads of single country girls to choose from if they follow them out to the country, surprise - "There's no coffee here in Nilbog," exclaims the Sam Fuller-esque 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. It's an important step for a lot of teenage boys as they move from hanging out with the boys to being dutifully being dragged to John Hughes movies by their high school girlfriends. (The plethora of fertile teens also lets Creedence have a fine garden this year). 

My favorite sequence is when Creedence appears as a seductress (with great teeth) in the movie the last living boy in the camper is watching as he sulks, alone, parked way out in the middle of nowhere for no clear reason, presuming his buddies are all out getting laid by country girls. Then, he recognizes the seductress is coming right towards his camper! It's like any lonesome teenager's fantasy has come true: babes are meta-literally coming right out of the TV screen to 'do it' with him. Now all he has to do, he thinks, is stand there an keep perfectly still, terrified, motionless, and no doubt aroused, trying not to make eye contact while Creedence musses his hair, runs her fingers down his chest... and...the cob commences popping... and popping. After so much over-the-top hamming and ugly teeth-flashing, this sudden effortless switch to four-alarm babe makes me wish she came back in a sequel: Troll 3: Creedence does Manhattan, or something like that. 

See, these goblins, or trolls, can't eat raw human flesh unless the humans first eating a special green food colored substance that will turn their bodies into vegetable matter. We see this illustrated when a victim dissolves into a pool of green slime which the throng then devour, rather clumsily considering how all of it is still left on the floor. 

As Joshua, the boy with the grandpa in the mirror, Michael Paul Stephenson, though who though not a good actor, certainly performs with a stalwart earnestness, especially during the foggy alternate reality Stonehenge climax. The secret weapon turns out to be a rather campy self-aware bit of comedy, almost undoing the great deadpan WTF vibe of the preceding hour. But it gets a pass since at one point Grandpa helps Joshua set a preacher on fire on the front porch. As Val Garland would say, Ding-dong, darling! Ding-dong!

(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), Bill Wong's dusky pulp magazine cover cinematography, and because of the two leads. Campbell Scott (Roger Dodger) is super on-the-nose deadpan as the atomic physicist Dr. Carl Lamont and the deeply attractive, sensually hungry performance by Fiona Loewi as Sandy, the motel owner love interest. Since she swoons for the newly arrived Dr. Lamont, the whole smitten town resents him, even Guy (Tom Everett Scott) her dimwitted, semi-incestuous brother. It's all very matter of fact, with no judgment of each other's kinky proclivities, this being Canada; 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 their tapes of 50s Jack Arnold sci-fi movies over and over, dreaming of their own Julie Addams or Barbara Rush... or Mara Corday, for that matter. I do believe Loewi outdoes them all. 

Third Option: 

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

A group of drug counsellors and college teachers arrive to start cleaning and sprucing up a big empty building to make it a school for problem kids or something, 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. That refusal to believe will cost a lot of lives in my recent new favorite discovery, THE EVIL, an indie (New World-distributed) bad movie gem from 1978, The Evil is clearly meant to draft behind the late-70s momentum of Jay Anson's 1977 runaway bestseller The Amityville Horror. Richard Crenna is the guy in the jeans and boot who refuses to believe in the supernatural as the cause of all these weird accidents. And there are a lot: the boiler incinerates the drunk caretaker (Ed Bakey); the house quakes (shaking the camera as the actors list to and from on the stairs); freak electrical shocks (pin scratches on the celluloid) zap at any time; ghosts try their hand at sexual assaults (the Corman thumprint), and --once the hatch on the basement floor is opened--wind rushes up, the Satanic laughter echoes, all the doors and windows lock shut. Not even thrown chairs will break the windows. 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 tries to be entertaining, in a way people at a noisy drive-in can still follow. 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 Bakely 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 basement 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 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 on Tubi or YouTube if not- 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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