This Week in Horror Movie History – Troll (1986)

This week in Horror movie history, back on January 17th, 1986, Empire Pictures released the dark Fantasy/ Horror movie Troll to theaters across USA.  With a cast that included Noah Hathaway (The Neverending Story 1984, Blue Dream 2013), Jenny Beck (Tightrope 1984, The Canterville Ghost 1985), and the legendary June Lockhart (A Christmas Carol 1938, Super Capers 2009), Troll was directed by John Carl Buechler (Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood 1988, Dark Star Hollow 2011) and produced by Albert Band (I Bury the Living 1958, Zarkorr! The Invader 1996) from a script by Ed Naha (Dolls 1987, Spellcaster 1992), and based on the story by Joanna Granillo.  Despite a limited release and negative reviews, the film had returns of upwards of almost eight times the budget, cementing Troll’s cult status for the past thirty years.

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Still from Troll (1986)

Wendy Anne Potter (Jenny Beck) has been acting strange since she, her parents, Anne and Harry Sr. (Shelley Hack: If Ever I See You Again 1978, Me, Myself, & I 1992 and Michael Moriarty: Bang the Drum Slowly 1973, Who’ll Stop the Rain 1978), and her brother, Harry Jr. (Noah Hathaway) moved into the new apartment in San Francisco.  It is up to Harry Jr. to find out what is going on with her, with the help of upstairs, mysterious neighbor Eunice St. Clair (June Lockhart), before it is too late. Phil Fondacaro (Return of the Jedi 1983, Willow 1988) played dual roles as tenant Malcolm Malory and was inside Torok the Troll’s suit while Frank Welker (The Trouble with Girls 1969, The Informant! 2009) lent his voice to Torok.  Sonny Bono (Airplane II: The Sequel 1982, Hairspray 1988) had a bit part as the smarmy tenant Peter Dickinson, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus film debuted as another tenant, Jeanette Cooper.

Setting out to do the project, Buechler’s first choice to produce was his friend Roger Corman, while they working on 1982’s Android, but Corman passed. He turned to Band, intending to use an original story treatment by Buechler in which Torok was a monster who killed off apartment tenants in the vein of the slasher movie. However, he got bogged down doing effects work on other projects and had to pass off the writing to Naha. With Naha writing, Band wanted to make a PG-13 movie, so the story was changed to a Fantasy with only a few sequences of effect transformations that could give younger viewers alarm. Next, Buechler had to find his young lead, which he found in Noah Hathaway, whose performance in The Neverending Story had gotten his attention. Buechler had written the role of Malcolm Mallory specifically for Phil Fondacaro with Torok originally intended to be a fully animatronic puppet, but Buechler scrapped his plan and sculpted a creature costume directly onto Fondacaro’s life cast to make use of him doubly.  Then, the five-week shoot began.

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Still from Troll (1986)

With one of the taglines being, “Apartment for Rent. Inquire Within…,” the premise plays off the unknown.  Given that, the set for the apartment, which was built on the soundstages at the Stabilimenti Cinematografici Pontini (Film Pontini establishments) in Rome, is unassuming, but turns into Pandora’s Box as the innards get transformed to troll land by way of seamless editing in scenes of the Lazio, Italy’s forests. Plot-wise, Troll does have a healthy dose of corn, which is mostly in the dialogue from both the adults and kids, as well as a few scenes. Buechler manages to balance the corn with genuine scares, mainly with the effects work in the transformation sequences of humans to creatures.

Playing on the premise of taking advantage of childhood innocence, Buechler cast age-appropriate kids to make the characters’ reactions believable.  For instance, Hathaway’s turn as Harry Jr. is the driving force behind Troll with the range he has to exhibit at a moment’s notice.  He has the incredulous look down when he is not sure of what he thinks he has seen and he cannot get the parental units to believe while wanting to save the sister he truly loves.  Then, Beck’s Jenny does a fine job melding the human child mischievousness, and ratcheting it up to troll possession.  Their parents, though second fiddle, were annoying as well-meaning, but ignorant parents cannot see the obvious, whose character type was started with 1980’s Friday the 13th.  Finally, Lockhart’s knowing Eunice St. Clair is brilliant starting as just the old lady upstairs, then, turns into a valuable asset.

Still from Troll (1986)

Troll started on the above mentioned date in stated nine-hundred and fifty-nine screens, earning a respectable, approximately $2,595,054 for the weekend. It was on its way to a $5.5 million run on a budget of between $700, 000 and $1.1 million, even though the film received mostly negative reviews. Despite the negative response, the film has popped up in other media such as 1987’s The Garbage Pail Kids Movie with a troll painting on a wall, or 2004’s Silent Hill 4: The Room’s premise of an alternate world within apartments.  Troll even spawned the notoriously awful sequel, Troll 2. It is known as the Best Worst Film, that really had nothing to do with the original.  As far as the orignal film, Producer Albert Band took Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling to task about her bestselling series’ main character’s name. Although, she vehemently claimed she did not steal the famous name.  Finally, a prequel to Troll is to be released in 2017, along with an animated version in 2018, promising Troll’s legacy for generations to come.

Empire Pictures

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