Weekly Mishmash II: December 12-18
Troll 2 (1990) and Best Worst Movie (2009). Can one make a film called Troll 2 and not have any trolls in it? After seeing this legendarily awful Utah-made opus for the first time, I can emphatically answer “yes!” The muddled story concerns a boy (Michael Stephenson) who learns through his dead grandpa that the small town his family is staying in is run by a creepy, vaguely defined vegetarian-goblin cult — as if the town’s name of Nilbog wasn’t enough! Although many bad movies are able to get by with one terrible scene, miscast role or stupid piece of dialog, this particular gem is notable for its wall-to-wall awfulness. My first inclination (correct, as it turned out) was that the direction and script came from people who don’t have a firm command of English. How else does one explain “They’re eating her… and then they’re going to eat me”? Anyhow, between the stilted acting, unbelievable villains, and perfectly executed ’80s aesthetics (Garfield/G.I. Joe t-shirts, perky Chess King-cum-Miller’s Outpost ensembles, goblin cakes decorated by a crew member’s mom), this movie is perfect viewing for a large, snickering crowd… with plenty of double decker bologna sandwiches to go around. The misbegotten Troll 2 was destined for obscurity, yet it has grown to become a cult classic — and it’s in this realm that actor Michael Stephenson set out to make his documentary Worst Best Movie. Less a making-of than a “where are they now?” piece, Stephenson’s film revisits most of the Troll 2 participants and details (sometimes uncomfortably) their love/hate relationship with the famous stinker. Many laugh it off, others have a more melancholy slant, and a few have a strangely myopic view when it comes to Troll 2‘s greatness (the actress who played the mom even compares it to Casablanca!). The film is somewhat sloppy and bizarre, but worthwhile all the same. Mostly it winds up being a tribute to George Hardy, who played Stephenson’s dad in the film but has since returned to dentistry and being a pillar of his Alabama community.
Varsity Show (1937). Ta da – the fourth and final film in my Busby Berkeley vol. 2 DVD set! This one might have the slightest storyline, with a group of eager college students enlisting the aid of alumnus Dick Powell (him again?) to put on the swellest varsity show in the history of ever. It’s Glee, 1937 style, and an embryonic version of the wholesome Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland flicks to come. The film opens energetically with a sweetly invigorating number in which the young cast (including Priscilla Lane in her movie debut) introduce themselves. What follows is routine musical comedy fare, directed by the workmanlike William Keighley. Powell seems a bit tired here, and the roles played by Ted Healy and Walter Catlett fail to amuse, but they’re boosted by the cast’s lively youngsters and some cute (if hard to recall) tunes. It’s also very choppy in parts — as when actress Rosemary Lane appears in a crowd, cheering on her own stage act. Berkeley’s contribution is an eye-popping finale in which multitudes of chorus boys and girls arrange themselves to look like various college insignias. Doesn’t sound like much here, but the numbers have the brilliant abstraction of his earlier stuff — minus the gritty, urban edge.