Saturday, August 20, 2005

Review: Troll 2 (1990)


Little Joshua Waits sure loves his Grandpa Seth. Grandpa Seth is wise, knows all about spooky things like Goblins, and stays up into the wee hours telling Joshua stories. Sweet, huh? Only problem is... GRANDPA SETH HAS BEEN DEAD FOR SIX MONTHS!!! (And that's not even the scary part.) Joshua's ghostly grandpa has been visiting him ever since his death, and it's starting to worry Joshua's mom Diana. She thinks it may not be a good sign that Joshua keeps having visions of dead people even after she took him to a psychiatrist, but for the moment she's got other fish to fry.

The whole family - Joshua, mother Diana, father Michael, and big sister Holly - is going on a month-long vacation to the quaint Midwestern town of Nilbog. They're in some sort of vacation exchange program in which they stay in a Nilbogese family's house and that family stays in the Waitses' place. On the way to Nilbog, Grandpa Seth appears to Joshua and gives him a dire warning to keep his family away from that evil place. Nilbog, as it turns out, is Goblin central. (It's also "Goblin" spelled backwards, but you probably already figured that out.)

Goblins are evil forest spirits who love nothing more than feeding strange, enchanted food to humans. The enchanted food turns people into green, globby, Jell-O-like mounds of plant matter which the Goblins then eat. Goblins are also shape-shifters who can make themselves look human to deceive unsuspecting tourists like the Waits family. The Goblins' leader is a wicked old witch named Creedence, who is obviously a 25-year old acting student in bad makeup.

Joshua's teenage sister Holly has a dorky boyfriend named Elliott, and Elliott and three of his dorky friends follow the Waitses down to Nilbog in a camper. Elliott's idiot friends quickly fall victim to Creedence and the Goblins (wasn't that the name of a '60s rock group?) and are dispatched in bizarre and nasty ways. Joshua manages to keep his family from eating any enchanted Goblin food, and soon enough his folks realize that their son isn't schizophrenic after all - Nilbog really IS a terrifying stronghold of the Goblin kingdom!

Thanks to Grandpa Seth's otherworldly help Joshua finds the big stone pillar from which the Goblins get their evil power. He and his family lay hands on the stone and use the "power of good" to cause Creedence and her evil Goblins to explode, shrieking in horrible agony as rivulets of chlorophyll dribble down their twisted faces. The Waits family return to the safety of their own house, but as you might expect the Goblins are waiting in the wings and Joshua has to witness his mother being eaten before the credits roll.


People, listen to what I say. There are bad movies, and there are bad movies. If you want to know what the essence of a truly bad movie is, I strongly recommend that you track down Troll 2. Surviving this film is an accomplishment on a par with swimming the English Channel or scaling Everest. It's the sort of achievement that should go on your resume.

There are bad movies like Hell Squad which just don't care about being good, but Troll 2 falls into the category of bad movies that actually try pretty hard and still get everything wrong. It wants to be a good movie, but nobody involved in its production seems to know what they're doing. It's as though they brought in a group of random people off the street and said, "okay - you direct, you write the script, you do the special effects..."

The acting isn't exactly a strong point either. In general the actors either stumble through their lines like they're reading them for the first time or they over-emote to the point where every sentence is spoken as though it were the most important string of words ever uttered. The extras who portray the Nilbogian townsfolk are an unnerving bunch - sort of like a Midwestern version of Gymkata's Village of the Damned. They appear to have been cast from local yokels and have a tendency to stand around and stare vacantly. Most of them are actually scarier as humans than they are in the Goblin masks.

Troll 2's Midwestern flavor permeates the entire film, and if you peel back the slimy horror-movie surface you will find that it's basically a rant against all the things that conservative Midwesterners find suspicious or evil. The cultural taboos that are proven dangerous include premarital sex, alcohol, witchcraft, homosexuality, and that most disturbing of liberal bugaboos, vegetarianism. That's right - the Goblins are vegetarians, and they often launch into disgusted tirades against the practice of meat-eating. At one point, Joshua even defends himself from Creedence with a bologna sandwich.

I have to admit that I found Creedence the Witch strangely attractive. When she calls on the power of the evil stone of death to remove her witch makeup and restore her youthful looks I actually thought she was pretty foxy - sort of like a low-rent Leslie Ann Warren. She also undertakes one of the most bizarre seductions I've ever seen. She finds one of Elliott's sexually-frustrated friends alone in his camper and brandishes an ear of corn at him like it's some sort of sex toy. She pushes him down on his bed and sticks the corn between their mouths. They start going after that ear of corn like a couple of starving hogs, then it explodes in a shower of popcorn which buries the young geek alive. It's like some ancient Iowan fertility rite.

The final scene of this movie freaked me out more than somewhat. In virtually any horror movie, once the villains are defeated and things are wrapping up, you naturally expect something scary to happen so the movie will end on an unsettling note. I was prepared for that. What got to me about this particular scene was the weird (and possibly unintentional) Freudian undertones. Joshua's mother eats a tainted Goblin apple and then goes upstairs to take a shower. When Joshua discovers the Goblins eating her remains, it's clear that her half-jellified body is naked. Seeing your mother naked is bad enough, but seeing your mother naked and half-jellified and being eaten by a pack of rabid Goblins is enough to scar anyone's psyche. I wanted to wash my brain after viewing that little cinematic nugget of joy.

Final Analysis

Troll 2 should be viewed only by those with crap-cinema training. It should not be viewed within an hour of eating, and should not be combined with alcohol (despite what you might hear about the Troll 2 drinking game). Side effects of Troll 2 may include dizziness, loss of appetite, dry mouth, vegetarianism, homosexuality, and schizophrenia. Consult your physician before viewing Troll 2.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Review: Cool as Ice (1991)


Rapper Johnny (Vanilla Ice) and his three friends are riding their motorcycles through a quaint, idyllic town when one of the bikes breaks down. They stumble onto an eccentric mechanic named Rufus and his wife Mae who live in what looks like a McDonald's Playland, and the couple offer to fix the bike. While Rufus and Mae disassemble the bike down to a pile of tiny nuts and bolts, Johnny flirts with an uptight local girl named Kathy.

Kathy is a straight-laced young lady who has never done anything wild in her life, so Johnny represents an opportunity to break out of her boring suburban existence. Her jackass of a boyfriend Nick is abusive and already well on his way to becoming an alcoholic, so it's not too hard for Kathy to, as Johnny puts it, "drop that zero and get wit' a hero."

Meanwhile, Kathy's father Gordon (Michael Gross) is in trouble up to his powder-blue cardigan. It seems he used to be a cop, and after helping put some corrupt fellow officers behind bars he had to go into witness protection. Two of those corrupt cops have tracked him down and are threatening Gordon and his family. Thanks to a contrived coincidence Gordon gets the mistaken impression that Johnny is somehow connected to the evil cops, and he forbids Kathy from continuing her nauseating make-out sessions with him.

The evil cops kidnap Kathy's little brother Tommy and take him to a construction site where Johnny and Kathy happened to have been making out the day before. The cops send Gordon a cassette tape with Tommy's voice detailing the ransom demands. Using his amazing Sherlock-Holmesian powers of deduction Johnny recognizes the sound of construction equipment in the background of the recording. The same sound he heard when he and Kathy were sucking face not twenty-four hours ago!

Johnny and his homies speed to the scene and throw down on the bad guys. In all the excitement the bad guys forget that they have guns, and are easily defeated. Gordon sees that he was wrong about his daughter's freakish love interest and gives his fatherly consent for Kathy to go riding off to parts unknown on the back of Johnny's Kawasaki.


Yo, check it. The year was 1991. International rap superstar Vanilla Ice was poised to explode onto America's movie screens, expanding his reputation as a musical genius to that of major Hollywood auteur. His breakthrough performance was to be the lead in a gripping drama which puts a modern edge on the classic 1955 film Rebel Without a Cause. The script, written as a collaboration between David Mamet and Francis Ford Coppola, plumbs the deepest levels of the human soul, making Ice's Johnny a character at war not only with the claustrophobic society around him, but with his own inner demons. Stanley Kubrick was secured to direct, and all was in place for Vanilla Ice to become one of the brightest stars of the Hollywood pantheon.

Okay, okay, I'm making it all up. If you really want to know the truth, I'll tell you. Saggy one-hit-wonder Vanilla Ice's star was already beginning to wane by 1991. A cameo appearence in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2 was not enough to buoy up his flaccid record sales. He somehow managed to convince some badly hungover studio executive to allow him to star in his own film. A script was cobbled together from pages found in the studio screenwriters' trash can, a director desperate for money was located, and the rest is history.

Cool as Ice was not destined to be a great film, and a great film it is not. Ice is playing a character who is, essentially, Vanilla Ice, so right there you've got a hurdle that's mighty hard for a film to get over. The sad thing is, Vanilla Ice turns out to be the glue that holds the film together. Without him all you've got is a tired plot, a few ill-defined characters, and some Japanese racing bikes. Love him or hate him, Ice is the star of this movie.

Vanilla Ice is proven to be quite the fashion masochist in Cool as Ice. His outfits make the clothes from Breakin' 2 seem positively dignified by comparison. From the brick design shaved into his hair to his huge puffy leather jacket emblazoned with slogans such as "Down By Law" and "Sex Me Up", Ice's fly attire will have you convulsing with nostalgia for the early '90s. His fellow actors really should have been awarded some sort of collective Oscar for being able to make it through their scenes without cracking up.

Speaking of Ice's fellow actors, it's good to see noted film whore Michael Gross here (most remembered for his role as Michael J. Fox's dad on tv's "Family Ties"). He reaffirms the theory that he will act in ANY FILM. I don't know how much he made for his role in this turkey but it wasn't enough. His comforting blandness and pouty sensitivity are a much-appreciated counterpoint to Vanilla's hammy macho swagger. The scene where he earnestly thanks Mr. Ice for saving his son from the kidnappers earned him my admiration. He must have been thinking of some unutterable, heartbreaking tragedy in order to keep a straight face.

The direction and camera work in Cool as Ice take some unexplained turns into surrealist territory. For no apparent reason, certain scenes use slow-motion or fast-motion, giving the film a strange, nightmarish quality. Perhaps the Director of Photography was just looking for a way to distract himself from the pain and shame he felt each time he focused his lens on Ice's smirking countenance. I don't know if it's a facial tic or what, but I swear Ice had one eyebrow raised for the duration of the movie, which made him look a little bit like a hip-hop version of Mr. Spock.

The biggest disappointment in Cool as Ice are the musical numbers. There aren't very many (thankfully), but those that are present are extremely bad. Even compared to Vanilla's bit hit "Ice Ice Baby," these songs are anemic and boring. His unbearably crappy take on Sly Stone's "Thank You" stands out as particularly awful. I'm not sure how they managed to syphon out every ounce of funk from a classic funk song and turn it into a thin, bass-free background for Ice's rhyming-dictionary lyrics, but they managed to do it. It's really no wonder that this film, along with Vanilla Ice's career, sank quickly into obscurity.

Final Analysis

While Cool as Ice is not a bad film in the same way that, say, Armed and Deadly or Hell Squad are bad films, it's still undeniably rotten. The only entertainment to be found is Vanilla Ice's bizarre appearance and the occasional quotable line. "You don't know me. You don't know me at all," sneers Ice at one point. I wish I could say it were true, but after viewing this cinematic cowflop I feel like I know Vanilla Ice much more than I ever wanted to.