Friday, 12 December 2014


Director: John Carl Buechler
Writer: Ed Naha
Producer: Albert Band
Cast: Noah Hathaway, Michael Moriarty, Jenny Beck, June Lockhart
Year of release: 1985
Country: USA/Italy
Reviewed from: UK rental tape (Entertainment in Video, 1986)

I can’t believe that this incredible movie has been sitting in my to-be-watched pile for years (despite my having interviewed both writer and director back in my SFX days).

SEE! Sonny Bono mutate into a giant maggot! COUNT! The stars from Battlestar Galactica, Lost in Space, Charlie’s Angels and V! HEAR! One of Hollywood’s top short actors recite The Faerie Queen! OGLE! A pre-Seinfeld Julia Louis-Dreyfus running around clad only in a few vine leaves! WATCH! A woman turn into her own daughter! STARE! At a short, fat, ugly, hairy monster reading Fangoria!

And to give it that extra sheen of retrospective surrealism, the young boy who saves the world from the powers of darkness is called... Harry Potter! Extraordinary!

The story starts with the Potter family moving into a San Francisco apartment building. Michael Moriarty (from the superb Q the Winged Serpent, and later in Law and Order and Psi Factor) is book-reviewer dad Harry Sr; sometime Angel Shelley Hack is mum Anne; 14-year-old Noah Hathaway (yes, Boxey from Battlestar) is son Harry Jr; and eleven-year-old Jenny Beck (young Elizabeth in V) is daughter Wendy, who wanders into the building’s basement, where she is zapped by a troll with a magic ring.

The troll is played by little person Phil Fondacaro (who has been in everything - Ghoulies II, Return of the Jedi, Decadent Evil - but whose most memorable role was possibly the tiny Dracula in The Creeps) in a full-body suit with a range of replaceable animatronic heads, each with a basic expression (smile, roar, etc) and a lot of additional movement. This was all created by director (and legendary special effects man) John Carl Buechler (it’s interesting to spot Howard Berger’s name in the credits too, years before he became the B in KNB FX). However, the troll transforms into a clone of Wendy which gives Beck full license to scream, growl, throw stuff around and contrast the mayhem nicely with the sweet, blonde thing she’s supposed to be. (There are many far worse child actors than Beck, who seems to have disappeared after about 1991 - wonder where she is now?)

Also in the building are lounge lizard Peter Dickinson (Sonny Bono: post-singer, pre-mayor), wannabe hunter Barry Taybor (daytime soap star Gary Sandy), actress Jeanette Cooper (Louis-Dreyfus, looking exactly like she did in Seinfeld), bone cancer-suffering literature professor Malcolm Malory (Fondacaro again, out of costume) and spooky old landlady Eunice St Clair (Lost in Space’s Lockhart). The troll, disguised as Wendy, infiltrates their apartments and takes them over: Dickinson becomes a disgusting giant maggot which then cracks open to reveal a dozen or so smaller troll-like beasties (vocalised by voice legend Frank Welker), Cooper becomes a wood-nymph, etc.

Young Harry Potter befriends Miss St Clair, who turns out to be a witch, protecting the world from the global domination plans of the fairies, as led by her former lover Tauroc, transformed into the troll. Unfortunately, the Potters moved into the building on Walpurgis Night, thereby setting Tauroc free. (St Clair has a strange mushroom-with-a-face called Galwyn and a painting of John Carl Buechler on her wall!) Transforming into a younger version of herself (played, in a simple yet brilliant bit of casting, by Lockhart’s daughter Anne), Miss St Clair goes up against Tauroc but is turned into a talking tree-stump. It’s up to Harry Potter to defeat the troll, rescue his sister and return the world to normal.

Troll was an original idea by Buechler, but the script was rewritten by former Fangoria editor Naha who receives sole credit. Harry has a poster for Buechler’s The Dungeonmaster on his wall and the troll/Wendy reads Fango in bed! The movie was made (over five and a half weeks, in Rome) by Empire Pictures, the straight-to-video company run by Albert and Charles Band before Charlie (credited here as executive producer) set up Full Moon. Watch for Band Jr and Sr in a couple of spoof clips from Pod People from the Planet Mars which Harry watches on TV.

This certainly isn’t the terrible picture that some people paint it, and if you’re a fan of prosthetic effects it’s a veritable smorgasbord - the troll costume itself is excellent. It’s good fun for kids, has some nice touches for adults, but mostly, it’s just bizarre, with the story giving the impression of having been pulled in various directions by different hands. It’s also a relic of a bygone era (17 or 18 years ago!) when this sort of movie could get made. If this is in your to-be-watched pile, slap it into your VCR tonight! (But beware the dire Italian rip-off Troll 2 which has no connection with this film.)

MJS rating: B

(This UK rental copy, incidentally, has barnstorming trailers for the utterly bonkers Eliminators, the deeply silly TerrorVision and the gobsmacking Starchaser: The Legend of Orin. Starchaser was of course the only feature-length animation ever released in true 3D - I saw a stereoscopic print at the NFT once and it was great! This trailer quotes a review which calls the film “better than Rainbow Brite and The Black Cauldron combined”!)

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