I am not an expert in troll folklore, but I am fairly certain that your average troll isn’t very domestically inclined. I know that some of them prefer to sleep in the darkest corners of the darkest caves, that others like to spend their time hanging out underneath bridges, and I think some might even inhabit ruined castles. (I can’t prove that last assertion but it you have to admit that it sounds plausible; in my mind magical creatures and castles go together like Mitt Romneys and mansions.) Regardless, it seems like one of the biggest things that makes a troll a troll is that they prefer the cold, the damp, and the rock-covered to the bright, the clean and the feng shui-ed.
Which is why it is so weird that when we first meet the titular critter in the movie Troll he appears to be living in a laundry room. That’s right: this particular pint sized ogre apparently sleeps between the washer and the drier in the basement of a nondescript L.A. apartment complex. It is never explained why he lives in such a non-scary location, but my personal theory is that he has a fetish for using empty Tide bottles as pillows.
I was also under the impression that your average troll was basically nothing but a hungry grump. While faeries can be playful or spiteful or anything in between, trolls almost always seem to be vicious dimwits who are obsessed with treating human beings as if they were hors d'oeuvres. Oh, sure, they might occasionally ask a few riddles, but that is only the pre-dinner foreplay – as soon as you guess wrong they are going to get to gnawin’ on your tender bones.
But that’s another eccentric thing about this movie: this specific sorcererous beast’s main goal is to… turn edible people into non-edible plants? Even though he comes from a notoriously carnivorous species this troll doesn’t seem to be interested in eating at all. No, his only concern is about the environment. You see, he preferred the old days, back when faerie creatures and mankind lived together in harmony on a lush and verdant planet, and now he is hellbent on returning the Earth to its pre-industrialized state...
However, he isn’t trying to do that by encouraging people to participate in Arbor Day, or even by trying to sabotage particularly noxious factories. No, his plan is to move into a random-ass apartment complex and start transforming its random-ass tenants into shrubs one at a time. I’m not sure if he's really come up with the world's greatest scheme – it does seem slightly time consuming – but then again what do I know? I’m not a magical creature who is older than civilization.
As you might have been able to gather, Troll is kind of an idiosyncratic movie. Unfortunately, it is not consistently idiosyncratic - it actually exists in a no-man's land between being incredibly outlandish and blandly generic. Yes, it is a movie where a monster wants to plant-ify his prey (a plot which I've never seen before), but it is also just another movie about a voiceless monster stalking some forgettable kids. If you love weird b-movies its inexplicable details will seem distinctive and endearing; if you are not into that genre then its "family moves into a new home, that home turns out to be beset by a monster, the family fights that monster, the end" plot will be very frustrating and predictable.
Part of the problem is that many of Troll's most distinguishing features were clearly unintentional. For example, the main troll-fighter is a young boy named Harry Potter Jr. Of course, when this movie came out in 1986 there was nothing inherently funny about the phrase “Harry Potter” – back then that was just another unmemorable boy’s name. However, we live in a post-J.K. Rowling world now, and for better or worse the Boy Who Lived currently owns those two words lock stock and barrel. That unfortunate association gives this movie a layer of kitsch it didn't ask for; Ed Naha, who wrote Troll's script, clearly couldn't have predicted that modern viewers would want to yell at the screen “just avada kedavra him, you idiot!” every time our underwhelming hero nearly loses to his bargain basement nemesis.
That said, there are many instances where Troll didn’t need 20/20 hindsight to become ironically funny – it is goofy enough on its own, thank you very much. The Potter’s neighbors – all of whom become Troll bait before the Potters do – are all ridiculous caricatures. One is a right wing nutjob. (He gets ferned early and I was glad to see him go.) One of them is a hippie weirdo who keeps a giant mushroom as a pet. (She ends up being the only person who knows how to defeat the troll.) The young couple that lives upstairs don’t have too many kooky traits right off the bat, but eventually the female half gets transformed into a wood nymph and that has to count for something. (Especially since the woman playing that wood nymph is Julia Louis-Dreyfus; I don’t know who cast this movie, but whoever thought that she would be the perfect person to prance around a fake looking forest set while wearing a green leotards covered in strategically placed leaves was a genius.)
However, while all of those characters have their moments, they all pale in comparison with the king. You see, the best character in this movie is not Harry Potter. It isn’t his son Harry Potter Junior. Nor is it a seemingly senile witchy woman. No, it’s a swinger. That’s right: this cast of characters includes a dude who is exclusively defined by his interest in untethered sexual experimentation. And while that’s kind of funny on its own it becomes hilarious when you consider who they cast in that part: Sonny Bono.
Now, Bono has been dead for long enough that many of you might not know who he is, or you might only know him for being half of the music / comedy duo Sonny and Cher, at which point you have every right to wonder “who cares if a past his prime actor was cast in a silly role in a half-assed monster movie?” Well, I’ll tell you why it’s funny: it is because Bono was elected to represent California’s 44th district in Congress more than once. Seriously, this movie features a scene where a future Congressman literally introduces himself to the audience by announcing – and this is a direct quote - “I’m into swinging.” There are so many layers of intentional and unintentional comedy in that sentence that I don’t think you could create a more dense joke on purpose - but I also don't think that was done on purpose; Bono didn't become a congressman until a decade after this film was released.
In some ways Troll is an easy movie to summarize: it is a semi-cheesy creature feature about a family that is engaged in a life or death fight against a public domain monster. Its characters are one dimensional, there is nary a tense moment in the whole film, and the Troll suit is clearly too cumbersome for the actor in it to be able to walk around comfortably; he spends most of his on-screen time standing still and waiting for his victims to come to him.
In other ways Troll is almost impossible to summarize: it exists in a weird nether-region between being purposefully self-aware and accidentally clueless, and the English language just doesn’t have the ability to dissect that many layers of irony in a succinct and understandable fashion. But while I don't know exactly how I feel about this film I do know this: any troll that's settled for living in a laundry room instead of trying to find a good cave or a ruined castle is clearly not trying hard enough.