Like Cannon Films, Charles Band’s Empire Pictures was a com­pa­ny whose films were omnipresent at video stores and on cable t.v. through­out the mid-to-late ‘80s. Empire’s out­put could be as diverse as Cannon’s but a lot of it had a dis­tinct in-house style. That style could be defined as incor­po­rat­ing a lot of spe­cial effects, blur­ring lines between gen­res and embrac­ing a vivid pulp fic­tion sen­si­bil­i­ty. Troll was one of the ear­ly Empire pro­duc­tions and shows all the­se char­ac­ter­is­tics. It’s weight­ed a bit more toward the fam­i­ly-friend­ly side of things but deliv­ers all the FX-infused, gen­re-bend­ing pulp an Empire flick requires.

Troll-posTroll focus­es on the Potter fam­i­ly mov­ing into a new apart­ment build­ing: as mom Anne (Shelley Hack) and pop Harry (Michael Moriarty) set­tle in, old­est child Harry Jr. (Noah Hathaway) notices strange changes com­ing over his for­mer­ly sun­ny lit­tle sis­ter Wendy Anne (Jenny Beck). It is soon revealed she has been pos­sessed by the spir­it of a troll, who uses her body as a ves­sel to bump off the oth­er apart­ment ten­ants — an eclec­tic gag­gle that includes every­one from Sonny Bono to Julia Louis-Dreyfus — and use their bod­ies to recre­ate its troll uni­verse. Harry Jr. must team with mag­ic-savvy neigh­bor and tough cook­ie Eunice (June Lockhart) to save his sis­ter and stop the oth­er­world­ly men­ace.

Troll is the kind of quirky b-movie fare that doesn’t get a broad release any­more. On the com­mer­cial side of things, it’s got a lot of sit­com-style broad com­e­dy, a PG-13 take on elves and faeries-style fan­ta­sy and at times has a kind of ersatz “Spielberg pro­duc­tion” feel to it with its the­mat­ic focus on pro­tect­ing the fam­i­ly (there’s more than a bit of Poltergeist baked into the premise).

However, Troll also has a wild side to it: like a lot of Empire pro­duc­tions, it allows the grown-up gen­re kids behind the cam­era to run wild and make the cost-con­scious pulp spec­ta­cle of their child­hood dreams. Screenwriter Ed Naha mix­es hor­ror and fan­ta­sy in an inter­est­ing way, spik­ing it with a bit of com­e­dy here and there. He also achieves some unex­pect­ed poignan­cy, espe­cial­ly in a moment where a ter­mi­nal­ly-ill lit­tle per­son (played by Empire/Full Moon fix­ture Phil Fondacaro) uses fan­ta­sy metaphors to explain to Wendy Anne how he has dealt with ill­ness since Troll-01child­hood.

Director John Buechler comes from a make­up FX back­ground so the film is packed with an array of self-designed crea­tures — the title char­ac­ter is an impres­sive design — as well an array of visu­al effects like stop motion ani­ma­tion and mat­te paint­ings. He some­times allows the com­e­dy to get too broad but the film is too good-natured to deny. More impor­tant­ly, he doesn’t let a reel pass with­out a burst of mon­ster kid-friend­ly spe­cial effects (look out for the famous sequence where a bar­rage of hand-pup­pet trolls sing a kind of Latin mass for the title char­ac­ter).

Finally, Troll has the kind of once-in-a-life­time b-movie cast that wouldn’t be pos­si­ble at today’s film­mak­ing costs. Hack and Moriarty play their parental roles with dead­pan effec­tive­ness: Moriarty doesn’t get to do his usu­al Method actor wild­ness here but a Risky Business-inspired Troll-02moment where he air gui­tars and lip-syncs to “Summertime Blues” is one of his most out-there screen moments. Lockhart brings a sharp wit and hero­ic tough­ness to her men­tor char­ac­ter and fans of The Neverending Story will enjoy see­ing Hathaway in anoth­er kid-friend­ly fan­ta­sy. Elsewhere, if you’ve ever want­ed to see Sonny Bono play a swinger that gets trans­formed into an enchant­ed forest, this film gives you your wish.

Simply put, Troll is a fun flash­back to the mid-80’s glo­ry days of Empire Pictures. It’s cheap thrills roll out at a quick clip as it bounds between gen­res and packs in an array of hand-craft­ed old school spe­cial effects. Genre kids of the ‘80s wouldn’t have it any oth­er way.