not in our stars, but in ourselves
I am going to lose about 95% of whatever piddling street cred I have when I tell you this, dear readers: Troll (1986) is the scariest movie I have ever seen. No! Really! Hear me out.
It is a terrible movie. Please do not misunderstand me. It’s about the Potter family: Harry, Sr. (Michael Moriarty), Anne (Shelley Hack), Harry, Jr. (Noah Hathaway), and Wendy (Jenny Beck). Yes, that’s right: there are two Harry Potters in this mess. I assume J.K. Rowling never saw it, because otherwise she probably would have named her young wizard Marty McFly. Or something. Anyway, the Potters move into a new apartment in San Francisco. Wendy wanders into the basement laundry room while the others are unpacking, and she is attacked BY THIS HORRIFYING CREATURE:
He is a troll named Torok. Once upon a time, he was a wizard, but now he’s a troll. He possesses Wendy and assumes her form, thus allowing him to beat people up and have them dismiss it as the deranged pre-pubescent antics of a little girl. He has some sort of master plan for turning the entire apartment building into a forest kingdom for his fellow trolls (would you like to hear them sing? oh, yes, I think you would), and he attacks all the other tenants – who include Sonny Bono and Julia Louis-Dreyfus (in her first film role). He turns them all into trees or nymphs or mushrooms or something.
Harry, Jr., can tell that something is wrong with his kid sister, and he befriends Eunice (June Lockhart). She’s a witch, because of course, and she realizes that Torok is trying to attack her specifically, because also of course. Harry, Jr., wants to save Wendy; Eunice wants to defeat Torok; and it’s an action-packed 86 minutes, let me tell you.
You are wondering how this could be the scariest movie I’ve ever seen. And it is perhaps true that I am exaggerating slightly. For instance, I made it through about 20 minutes of In My Skin (2002) before I literally fainted. Yes, that happened. Welcome to my life. I have given myself awful insomnia and then nightmares by reading synopses of all the Saw movies, because I’m too chicken to watch them but I wanted to know what all the fuss is about. I was mostly unfazed by The Exorcist (1973), but those split-second shots of Pazuzu still freak me out if I even think about them.
Nevertheless, I insist that the terrifying sight of Torok makes me jump out of my skin every damn time I see him. If you watched the clip above, you’ll see a lot of weird looking puppets. They’re not the kinds of things you’d like to find beside you in bed in the morning, but they’re visibly puppets. Torok, on the other hand, is a person in a puppet suit. Everything about him looks like something out of Jim Henson’s Creature Shop – but he has HUMAN EYES! AHHHH! THE HORROR!
Ahem. It’s an exercise in the uncanny, as I was saying in my typically erudite way, and that’s what terrifies me each time Torok appears onscreen. In fact, it used to be that early psychologists said that the most uncanny (or unheimliche – the opposite of what’s familiar) thing was the automaton: something that seems and acts human, but is in fact a machine. There’s such a thing (well, such a theory, anyway) as an uncanny valley, “which holds that when human replicas look and act almost, but not perfectly, like actual human beings, it causes a response of revulsion among human observers.”
Torok isn’t a human replica, but the horrifying thing about him, the thing that causes my response of revulsion and terror and so on and so forth, is that he is a human – a real human, a human named Phil Fondacaro – inside a seeming doll. All of his face is obscured by the troll costume, except two distinctly human eyes. For all the nonsense and cheesiness of this silly film, that never fails to give me goosebumps.
Yeah, yeah, okay. I’m a wimp and I have bad taste. If you have absolutely nothing else to do, get drunk and watch this. It is rather a lot of fun.