Sunday, December 2, 2012

Troll (1986)

... aka: Torok the Troll
... aka: Troll: Creature of Evil

Directed by:
John Carl Buechler

Troll was one of the earliest films from executive producer Charles Band to show off his strange and obsessive love for evil and destructive little critters; a love that would be responsible for spawning dozens of similar films featuring killer puppets, killer toys, killer gnomes, killer bongs and, of course, killer gingerdead - er, gingerbread - cookies. You could call Troll the seed pod that helped to grow the Great Oak of Empire / Wizard / Shadow / Full Moon. And speaking of seed pods, how'd you like to see Sonny "I Got You Babe" Bono transform into one and then explode into a lush forest? Oh, what irony there! Noah Hathaway (fresh from The Neverending Story) stars as a young teen named Harry Potter Jr. (is J.K. Rowling a fan of this movie?!) who moves into a new San Francisco apartment building with his family. Dad, Harry Sr. (Michael Moriarty), is a book critic who has a huge collection of 3000 records he likes to seizure-dance to. Anna (Shelley Hack, better here than in The Stepfather, thankfully) is your typical cleanin' cookin' stay-at-home wife / mom. And let us not forget Wendy (Jenny Beck), who may look like a cute little blonde-haired, blue-eyed sprite... but looks can be deceiving.

While they're still unloading the moving van, Wendy has the misfortune of crossing paths with a mischievous troll in the downstairs laundry room. The troll immediately takes over her body and sets about causing as many problems as possible for her family and the other tenants in the building. Wendy begins eating like a pig, becomes disobedient and obnoxious, runs around screaming, growls, throws boxes around and bites people. Since she's now a troll, Wendy starts using her magical ring to change her habitat into the perfect stomping grounds for herself and other such creatures. She starts by taking out middle-aged sleazebag Peter Dickinson (Bono). With one touch of the ring, Peter turns into a pod, which explodes into vines and foliage, turning Peter's upstairs bachelor pad into a haven for little rubbery creatures. Wendy does the same thing to Barry Taybor (Gary Sandy), a marine / fitness buff / Ronald Reagan lover. The troll just bounces around from apartment to apartment taking over each space.

Eunice St. Clair (June Lockhart), the eccentric old lady who lives on the top floor, is a former princess who's now a witch / guardian living there to keep the trolls and fairies in check. Friendless and lonely, Harry Jr. befriends her and learns all about what's going on. Eunice has magical staffs and a talking mushroom named Galwin, and explains the origin of the troll causing all of the problems. The troll - named Torok - was banished by humans a long, long time ago and has used Walpurgis Night (the Witch's Sabbath) as a chance to take over the planet with his evil little friends. They're trying to create "the fourth dimension." Meanwhile, Julia Louis-Dreyfus (in her film debut) is transformed into a wood nymph and Wendy / Torok cozies up to Malcolm Mallory (Phil Fondacaro), a dying dwarf English professor, because she / it thinks he's an elf. Fondcaro - a regular in the director's films - also plays Torok.

A decent budget, imaginative (though often hokey) special effects and a few talented actors cannot save this melding of fantasy, horror and comedy elements; which misfires on most levels. It appears the filmmakers were wanting to cash in on the big fantasy film craze of the mid-80s - which resulted in such hits as The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth and Legend (all 1985 releases) - but their attempts at light whimsy are completely at odds with a roster of obnoxious characters. I think they're supposed to be quirky and funny, but they're really just over-the-top and irritating. The story takes far too long to delve into the mythology of the monsters and, after already being beaten into submission by a bunch of pea-brained gags and screaming buffoons, I found myself not really caring. Attempts at tugging at our heartstrings will result in more than a few pairs of eyeballs rolling, as well. There are a lot of variable special effects in this one. The troll itself - which was designed by director Buechler (making his debut here) - is excellent. Most of the rest of the creatures look identical to the cheesy / rubbery demons from the Ghoulies movies. At the end, there's a large bat creature (which doesn't even fly). John Vulich, Everett Burrell and Howard Berger also worked on the makeups.

Moriarty gets to goof off a bit but he's pretty much wasted here. Lockhart steals what there is to steal (not much, sadly). Her daughter Anne Lockhart gets to play a younger version of the same character. Band, along with his wife Debra Dion (the associate producer), father Albert Band (the producer) and mother Jacquelyn Band, all have cameos on TV sets. Parts of Richard Band's score were reused for From Beyond (1986) and posters for the Band films Parasite (1982) and Ragewar (1984) can be seen on the son's bedroom walls.

Irony of all ironies, the popularity of this film (which was shot in Italy and was a big money-maker in theaters and on video) has been completely eclipsed in recent years by the hilariously awful unrelated Italian "sequel" Troll 2 (1990). CRAWLERS (1990), another Italian film, took the title of Troll III at one point. Neither Troll 2 nor Troll III actually featured trolls.


Cosmic Man, The (1959)

... aka: O Monstro da Era Atômica (Monster of the Atomic Era)

Directed by:
Herbert S. Greene

A UFGB (Unidentified Flying Golf Ball) traveling 50 miles a second, which is so fast it can neither be seen nor heard in the skies and so fast that it should disintigrate but doesn't, yet can somehow still be picked up on the military's radar screen, decides to pay a visit to our fine planet. It's neither a bird nor a plane, but whatever it is has decided to go into the mountains. Forest rangers call in to report some "ball-shaped thing" that looks like a satellite. Colonel Matthews (Paul Langton) of the U.S. Air Force decides to head out that way to investigate and calls up Dr. Carl Sorenson (Bruce Bennett), an astrophysicist at the Pacific Institute of Technology, to meet him there. Upon arrival, Matthews and Sorenson discover a large white spherical object levitating a few feet off the ground. It's radioactive. It may look like egg but it's not so easy to crack and cannot even be accessed by a powerful blowtorch reaching temperatures of 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit. And even though it's not that big in size, it's not going anywhere. Not even a the strength of a bulldozer can move it.

Both Matthews and Sorenson come to the conclusion that there couldn't possibly be anything the side the orb, but both are mistaken. Inside is an alien visitor (John Carradine) here to simply study us and then be on his way. And so begins another tale of science and the military butting heads. The military demands they open up the spaceship and try to trap the alien for further study so that we humans can have "space supremacy." They also view the docile alien as being a menace simply because his snooping around has managed to contaminate millions of dollars in valuable resources. The scientists on the other hand would like to study and learn from the alien, just as long as the alien isn't hurt. They opt for a more peaceful approach that may benefit us in the future. After all, you really don't want to piss off beings who are far more advanced in their technologies and thinking, right? Tell that to the military.

Much of this well-intentioned low-budget film is about how we humans are scared of things we do not understand and how we're more apt to destroy those things than challenge our own beliefs. As the Cosmic Man tells the scientist, he respects him because he searches for truth in a society that fears the truth. This film is also about the dangers of scientific advancement; more specifically the misuse of scientific advancement. The Dr. Sorenson character is apprehensive about his involvement with the military because his past research resulted in the development of the atomic bomb, which was in turn used to destroy many lives in Hiroshima. And his apprehensions are well founded since the military's gut instinct when discovering the spaceship is to learn more about its "anti-gravity" and how that can advance their weaponry. Perhaps most importantly, the movie is a plea for rational, reasonable, non-reactionary thought and how new discoveries and knowledge should be applied only to positive endeavors instead of things like war, just as the alien applies his own abilities to cure a terminally-ill young boy (Scotty Morrow) when he could just as easily destroy this planet.

Elements from this were clearly swiped from THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (1951), but its sincere and the moral and ethical dillemas faced by our protagonists still ring true. It's better thought-out than what it's been given credit for (thanks to Arthur C. Pierce's script). One of the great things about many of these older sci-fi films is that they have a message and regardless of how heavy-handed and obvious it's delivered, it's usually something worth listening to. I didn't even find The Cosmic Man to be all that hokey to be quite honest. Even the obligatory love interest, a widowed lodge owner / single mother (played by Angela Greene) serves a purpose. She's representative of the rest of us, simultaneously wooed by a member of the military / government and a member of the science community. When the two are at odds with one another, we use our own judgment and / or moral compass to pick a side just as Greene's character does in this film.

The budget didn't allow for any fancy special effects. The Cosmic Man himself is seen either as a silhouette or Carradine wearing a coat, hat and weird sunglasses. And the script is a little heavy on the science talk (some of which is absurd given what we know now), but it's still interesting to hear characters discussing the possibility of converting solar energy into electricity. The cast also includes Harry Fleer (THE UNEARTHLY) and Lyn Osborn (INVASION OF THE SAUCER MEN).

Multiple DVD and VHS issuings means this is an easy title to find. It's worth watching.

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