The Bottom Shelf: Troll 2, Phantasm, The Entity

We round up the latest horror-tinged Blu-ray and DVD releases....

So, after a brief hiatus, it turns out a lot’s happened in the few months between these round ups. A snap general election has been called, terror has struck at the heart of Manchester and a scandal approaching Watergate levels has hit the U.S presidency. More importantly, Troll 2 has finally come to UK Netflix and is the cherry on the cake made entirely of a series of kind of wonderful, kind of… not films on DVD and Bluray.

So, 1990’s Troll 2, you may or may not be aware of, is generally regarded as one of the very greatest ‘so bad it’s good’ movies. There are many worse (The Rollerblade Seven or Gary Oldman little person rom-com Tiptoes come to mind), though it’s difficult to think of many other truly awful movies as beautifully goofy as this tale of vegetarian goblins who have the humble goal of turning humans into plants.

Examples of writer/director Claudio Fragasso’s enduring ridiculousness include our hero saving his family by pissing all over their dinner, the revelation that the town Nilbog, where the action takes place, is Goblin spelt backwards (anyone remember Boglin toys by the way?) and a baloney sandwich the significance of which we haven’t seen this side of Muppets From Space. The whole ludicrous display is executed in such a blithely poor manner that you’d have to be a bad-rubber-masked monster to not be charmed.

The earlier discussion of films worse than Troll 2 shamefully neglected to mention Play-Mate Of The Apes (yes!) director John Bacchus’ Easter DVD release The Beaster Bunny, cleverly known in the U.S as Here Comes Peter Cottonhell. All Troma/The Asylum rubbish effects/acting/comedy and endless in-jokes, Bacchus’ film follows dogcatchers fighting a massive killer rabbit, rendered in wonderfully dodgy stop-motion. Sadly not as funny as it thinks it is, The Beaster Bunny manages the feat of making boob close-ups and endless gore seem oddly dull.

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Doing something much more interesting with mammory close-ups (one of the film’s more memorably creepy scenes), May saw Eureka’s release of Sidney J. Furie’s classy 1982 poltergeist horror The Entity on Bluray, featuring a brilliant performance from our lead, Barbara Hershey, as a single mother doing all she can to not lose her marbles, if she hasn’t already lost them. Notable for its disturbingly simple score, great psychological nastiness and Hershey’s psychiatrist’s shocking lack of professional boundaries, Furie’s polished sheen and skilful turning of the screw makes for what one Martin Scorsese (accurately) refers to as one of the scariest horrors ever.

Somewhat less accomplished, though equally brutal (albeit physically rather than the mental torture of The Entity), is writer/director Haylar Garcia’s school-shooter thriller turned torture-porn gorefest, An American Terror on DVD. Three Trenchcoat Mafia style outcast teens plot to take out the jocks and princesses at their school, only to come across someone worse than them, lurking at the local scrapyard. Brian Thompson, the alien bounty hunter from the old X-Files, plays the grunting sociopath our three troubled teens must escape from in this intriguing indie, far more intelligent than its metal-soundtracked also-ran death scenes would suggest.

Surely not lacking in the not-also-ran death scenes department, this leads us to two great horror Blu-ray box sets released by Arrow over the last few months, the first of which is the patchy House quartet. Friday The 13th parts 2 and 3 director Steve Miner’s first film in the series, 1985’s nicely surreal House, stars William Katt as a Stephen King identikit weirdo/annoying author who inherits a definitely-not-haunted house from his definitely-not-driven-to-her-death-by-evil-ghosts aunt. Cue some cool comedy horror moments plus the incongruous inclusion of George Wendt from Cheers and we have a distinctive, tonally really, well, odd minor classic of the era.

House 2: The Second Story (geddit?) ditches the entire original cast along with any pretence at artiness the first movie dabbled in, and instead is a genuinely great out and out comedy. Ethan Wiley, writing and directing, steers the franchise towards more Troll 2 territory, as second time around is a Nutri-bullet’s worth of bonkers buffoonery. By far the most fun/batshit entry in the series, House 2 is perhaps perfect, purely as it allows the line “friendly zombie-prospector grandpa (resembling John Carpenter wearing his They Live alien makeup), along with his cute demon-dog caterpillar puppet thing and sidekick paranormal investigator, Cliff from Cheers, try to track down an ancient Mexican crystal skull” to be written. Lets ignore the sub-Wes Craven’s Shocker third and unedifying return of Katt to the franchise for House IV and revel in the gloriously screwball Second Story.

We finish this round-up with one of the great franchises collected in a complete set on Blu-ray for the first time, Don Coscarelli’s Phantasm series, a pleasure to view, even in its shakier latter instalments. 1979’s Phantasm, introducing Angus Scrimm’s sinister Tall Man funeral director, has it all – brilliantly otherworldly shots of alien abduction, nasty yet spare killings and that immortal synth score, all the while making room for quips from our hero, the chrome-dome-with-a-ponytailed musician and wannabe womaniser Reggie (played by real-life musician Reggie Bannister).

The second instalment has a definite Terminator vibe to proceedings as Reggie and his charge Mike (A. Michael Baldwin) go on the run from mental health authorities, giving Coscarelli an excuse to up the ante in every conceivable way. The surreal imagery is almost arthouse in scope, whilst we get chainsaw duels, Evil Dead soaring cameras and the lovely HD sound of the Tall Man’s little friends yapping to chew on.

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3 and 4 expand the Phantasm universe significantly to include more parallel dimension hijinks, punctuated by ever-more elaborate uses of those floating balls, from Pokemon-style carry-cases through to breast replacements, as the road to apocalypse seems inevitable. Sure enough, by last year’s Phantasm: Ravager, it’s safe to say the Tall Man has well and truly Trumped the world as big things are heroically attempted on a micro-budget and Reggie and Mike are somehow still on the road after all these years. Creator Coscarelli’s literal balls of steel, alongside Scrimm and his Jawa-style assistants are genuine horror icons brought back to vivid life at last in this quality HD set.