Troll (1986) poster

Troll (1986)


USA. 1986.


Director/Story/Troll Creatures Created By John Carl Buechler, Screenplay – Ed Naha, Producer – Albert Band, Photography – Romano Albani, Music – Richard Band, Optical Effects – Motion Opticals, Inc., Stop Motion Animation – Jim Aupperle, Makeup Effects – Mechanical and Makeup Imageries, Inc. (Supervisor – John Carl Buechler), Production Design – Giovanni Natalucci. Production Company – Empire/Altar Productions.


Noah Hathaway (Harry Potter Jr), Jenny Beck (Wendy Ann Potter), June Lockhart (Eunice St. Clair), Michael Moriarty (Harry Potter Sr), Shelley Hack (Anne Potter), Phil Fondacaro (Malcolm Malory/Torok), Anne Lockhart (Young Eunice), Sonny Bono (Peter Dickinson), Gary Sandy (Barry Tabor), Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Jeanette Cooper), William Daniels (Brad Hall)


Harry Potter and his wife and two children move into a new apartment in San Francisco. While playing in the basement, the daughter Wendy is abducted by the troll Torok who then transforms into her likeness. Disguised as Wendy, the troll runs through the building, transforming the various tenants into trolls and their apartments into woodland idylls. Wendy’s teenage brother Harry Jr meets Eunice, an aging witch who lives in the apartment above. The elderly Eunice gives Harry a magic spear to destroy the troll before it transforms the entire apartment building and allows the troll universe to permanently spill over into this one.

For a brief time through most of the 1980s, father and son producing team of Albert and Charles Band had great success with their Empire Productions company. The Bands were some of the first filmmakers to exploit the newly arrived video market and began making films directly for video rather than theatrical distribution. Most of Empire’s films were on the cheap and terrible side – TerrorVision (1986), Creepozoids (1987), Sorority Babes at the Slimeball Bowl-a-Rama (1987) – and were often dependant on cheap goo and slime effects. However, there were a number of low-budget gems among their output, including the likes of Trancers/Futurecop (1985), the cult classic splatter film Re-Animator (1985), Eliminators (1986) and Zone Troopers (1986). Empire collapsed in the early 1990s, whereupon the Bands reformed as Full Moon Productions.

John Carl Buechler was responsible for the creature and goo effects on almost every Band production. In the early 1980s, Buechler formed MMI, a makeup effects company that is variously said to stand for Mechanical and Makeup Imageries or Magical Media Industries. Buechler began working for the Bands with The Dungeonmaster/Ragewar: The Challenges of Excalibrate (1984). The Dungeonmaster was an anthology where the Bands commissioned eight different directors to each make a segment of the film, among which they offered Buechler the opportunity to make his directorial debut on one of the segments. Buechler subsequently went on to direct the full-length Troll, Cellar Dweller (1988) and Ghoulies III: Ghoulies Go to College (1991) for the Bands, as well as various other B films including Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988), Watchers Reborn (1998), Curse of the Forty Niner (2002), A Light in the Forest (2002), Deep Freeze (2003), The Eden Formula (2006) and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (2006).

The script for Troll was written by Ed Naha, who also wrote Empire’s Dolls (1987) and other films like C.H.U.D. II: Bud the Chud (1989), Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989), Omega Doom (1996) and produced/created the abysmal The Adventures of Sinbad (1996-8) tv series. In between writing a great many novelizations, Ed Naha was also a freelance writer on Starlog magazine and the founding editor of Fangoria.

Phil Fondacaro as Torok in Troll (1986)
Phil Fondacaro as Torok the troll

Troll is an entertaining ripoff of Joe Dante’s Gremlins (1984), a film about mischievous creatures amok that was one of the big box-office hits of 1984. It inspired a number of low-budget copies. Indeed, the Bands had earlier ripped Gremlins off as Ghoulies (1985), a cheap copycat that became one of their greatest successes and produced a number of sequels.

Troll has largely been construed as being focused around cheap MMI creature effects – the fantasy scenario tying everything together is thinly sketched. While the Ghoulies films are cheap and dreary, Troll is one Empire film that has a peculiar appeal. It is frequently a film that takes itself so silly as to be enjoyable. There is certainly much frenetic silliness to Troll, while Buechler’s attempts to direct comedy are flat, but the bizarre creature effects and eccentric casting make it an undeniably watchable film.

There are times the film verges on the completely surreal. There is an amazing sequence where the troll causes Sonny Bono to undergo a cheap airbladder transformation into a seed pod that then hatches and causes stop-motion animated foliage to crawl all around and cover his apartment, transforming it into a forest filled with trolls. There are various other such transformations throughout. In another scene, Julia Louis-Dreyfus is transformed into a nymph and goes dancing through her forest/apartment with her modesty covered only by artfully placed leaves. Elsewhere, June Lockhart has a pet mushroom with a face that nods in agreement with everything she says, which she hides by covering it with a lampshade when visitors come. Michael Moriarty manages to steal a good portion of the film with his entertaining performance and a dancing scene that has to be seen to be believed.

Harry Potter Sr (Michael Moriarty) and his son Harry Potter Jr (Noah Hathaway) in Troll (1986)
(l to r) Harry Potter Sr (Michael Moriarty) and his son Harry Potter Jr (Noah Hathaway)
Julia Louis-Dreyfus as a woodland nymph in Troll (1986)
Julia Louis-Dreyfus as a woodland nymph

John Carl Buechler and the Bands manage to rope in a truly amazing cast. This include Michael Moriarty, who at the time was appearing in various B movies, most notably for Larry Cohen, and a few years before becoming a regular on Law and Order (1990-2010); former Charlie’s Angel Shelley Hack as the mother; June Lockhart, once the mom on tv’s Lost in Space (1965-8) as the witch (when Lockhart transforms into her younger self, she is played by her own daughter, actress Anne Lockhart); a horrendously mugging Sonny Bono, formerly of Sonny and Cher fame, as a swinger neighbour; and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, a number of years before finding fame on tv’s Seinfeld (1990-8) in her first ever acting role as an actress neighbour. Solid professional performances are obtained from most of the cast, including Shelley Hack, Michael Moriarty and, best of all, from diminutive Phil Fondacaro who succeeds in investing the character of a dwarf English professor with some sympathy and sincerity.

There are all the usual cheap animation effects and tinny music score associated with Empire’s films. It is amusing in retrospect to note that the young hero Noah Hathaway and father Michael Moriarty both have the name of Harry Potter, although it is not known if J.K. Rowling ever saw Troll before she created her eponymous hero. The background of the apartment is also covered with posters for other Empire/Band films such as The Dungeonmaster and Parasite (1982).

The legendarily bad Troll 2 (1990) purports to be a sequel, although this is Italian-made and does not come from the Bands or any of the production personnel or cast of this film. This has become a cult film because of its notorious awfulness.

(Review copy provided courtesy of Ryan Kenner from Movies in the Attic).

Trailer here

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