This ICHF was written by Casey, who you can find at http://riftwitch.tumblr.com/. I may have made a few touch ups and notes here and there, but the bulk of this entry is their work!
Art by Casey
Troll II is one of those movies that tends to be consumed less as a work of art and more as a recreational drug. While bad movies are a dime a dozen, Troll II is held up as THE bad movie. While it has the bad acting, shoddy special effects and incomprehensible writing common to most notorious B-movies, Troll II has something that goes beyond all this. While bad movies may be laughably inept, Troll II has an uncomfortability that’s difficult to describe. Comparisons to drug-induced highs are common to film criticism, but this movie is one of the few works that one can make a clinical, sincere, apt comparison to a childhood fever dream.
While we can pin the blame on its shoddy production value, most of what makes the movie as weirdly upsetting as it is falls on the shoulders of the movie’s not-titular-for-some-weird-reason villains, the goblin people of Nilbog.
The goblins are, in fact, the subject of the very first scene, as a small child named Joshua sits in bed, listening to the ghost of his grandfather tell him a scary story about goblins. Right off the bat, we get a good look at the monsters(Such as they are), and learn how they work: They’re strict vegetarians, for health reasons, but they’re so evil and sadistic that they prefer to turn people into vegetables to eat, rather than grow their own.
Some movies would tease us with a story like this, but treat it as a surprise when it turns out to be true. Troll II opts to clearly establish that it’s true, with the story being related as a warning to Joshua by a genuine ghost – and if you can’t trust the word of a ghost on whether or not goblins exist, what can you trust?
This scene also serves to quickly establish the conflict of the movie: Joshua’s family is arranging a month-long house exchange with another family in another town, so that the father can enjoy the farming community of Nilbog, and the rest of the family can watch him enjoy it, as all nuclear families are meant to. Gramps, however, is somehow aware that Nilbog is a town of goblins, and means to warn the family away before it’s too late.
Part of what makes the goblins stand out is that there’s no mystery to them. Right off the bat, we know they exist, we know what they’re about, we know what they want. The (theoretical)fear is derived from knowing this, and being powerless to stop it. The goblins are, in essence, boogeymen who’ve evolved beyond their dependence on beds and closets. Even when they take on human form, their presentation is laughably off-base. Nilbog could be sitting on a dozen Christopher Walkins, and you’d never even notice.
The goblins, while characters, are very clearly not humans. They talk in a stilted, aggressive manner, they move as though their humanoid bodies are unnatural to them, and they seem to operate less as individuals and more as a hive. You seldom see them outside of a group, they never disagree or argue, they never come into conflict with one another, and on at least one occasion they all speak in unison, referring to Joshua, not as “our little friend”, but as “my little friend.”
These are sapient beings, but they’re nothing like us. In place of human complexity, they’re simply driven to do evil, to trick unsuspecting victims into eating their food, then basking in their torment before ripping into them. They’re established to be excellent cooks, able to prepare all sorts of tasty vegetarian dishes, but prefer live prey. Once again, they are essentially boogeymen, creatures who exist to frighten and torment.
In many mythologies, goblins are considered a type of fair folk, and one of the rules of the fair folk is that one should never eat any food they offer. When one takes fairy food, any number of unpleasant things happen, up to and including being eaten oneself. It seems rational that the cursed food the goblins offer, which turns its eater into a vegetable is a reference to this fact.
Unfortunately, nothing in Troll II is rational, and the vegetarian angle came from the screen writer being put off by her main circle of friends all going vegetarian. Somehow, this feels even more appropriate than if it were simply fairies being fairies.
The monsters of Troll II don’t operate on any kind of reasonable logic as a society or as a species, but they do operate on some logic: That of a nightmare. They present themselves as human, but you see through their disguise. They pull you into an unfamiliar setting, and they corrupt things that should be good(In this case, food and hospitality). They have a silly gimmick(Vegetarianism) that sounds like a bad joke, and yet which is followed through on throughout the entire movie. They can chuck shoddy spears and nibble you with their pointy teeth, but they’re only truly dangerous when they convince you to eat their food, when you follow their rules.
And they do have rules. We eventually find out that the reason goblins’ vegetarian diet is… literally because they’re all on a diet. They have no morals, but they do have likes and dislikes, and it seems that every goblin in Nilbog is just repulsed by the taste of meat and the effects it has on the body. Meat is no fantastical goblin poison, they’re just really, fanatically health conscious.
When children create villains, they tend to make them embody or personify an aspect of their lives that they dislike. In this case, the goblins are clearly, among other things, a strawman against vegetarianism. They preach the benefits of a purely herbivorous lifestyle, but their own diet destroys lives just the same as if they ate human flesh directly.
There are many ridiculous monsters floating around film culture, but Troll II and its vegetarian goblins still manage to stand out. I think the reason for this is, despite every single aspect of its realization going horribly wrong, the goblins still touch upon an insecurity inside us all: The fear of powerlessness, of clueless authorities driving us head-first into our own destruction. We may not be scared, but we are uncomfortable, that inner child deep within us all recognizing how they work and being afraid, even when the rest of us isn’t.
Editor’s Note: I’d rank these guys in the same special category of bad monsters as La Carcagne from The Giant Claw, in that while their execution is, uh, less than great, there’s still a kernel of a good idea in them, and their cheesyness is still pretty endearing.