Sunday, July 21, 2019

11 years since Nilbog invaded Morgan, Utah


It's been 11 plus years since Nilbog Invasion in Morgan, Utah. It's still my favorite Plan9Crunch experience, covering the fan festival of the cult film "Troll 2." I thought we'd share it on top of the blog again. Why not? Troll 2 remains a cult film.

On June 28, 2008, Plan 9 Crunch was at Nilbog Invasion, a gathering -- courtesy of Original Alamo Productions -- of Troll 2 fans. It was a great, long weekend of films, Nilbog games, chats with actors, the director, Claudio Fragasso, extras, the screenwriter Rossella Drudi, and fans. (For tons of Nilbog Invasion photos, go to Plan 9 Crunch was also there. Below are our reports. The column, "Cult Film Troll 2 returns triumphant to Morgan County," was originally published in the July 1 Standard-Examiner. The rest is original to Plan 9 Crunch, including some observations from Mickie Pace. In Troll 2, she played Betty the Goblin.
Cult film 'Troll 2' returns triumphant to 'Nilbog,' Morgan County
By Doug Gibson
Tuesday, July 1, 2008, Standard-Examiner

"Don't do it!!!!"
"Aaahhh! ... Think about the cholesterol! Think about ... THE TOXINS
-- A vegetarian goblin queen, irate that a little boy is eating a bologna sandwich, in director Claudio Fragasso's 1990 film "Troll 2," filmed in Morgan County.

NILBOG -- Driving in Morgan County through Porterville in the Top of Utah you see beautiful country. One notable site is the ruins of an old church. Not much remains other than parts of walls and the front. The grounds are forbidden to the curious. But if it looks familiar, you've probably seen "Troll 2." I've seen "Troll 2" five times now -- with three viewings in the past week. Enough ink has been spilled on its plot so I'll forego that task quickly: A vacationing family encounters a town, Nilbog, full of shape-shifting, vegetarian goblins adept at turning unlucky humans into green, leafy food. The Goblin Queen of Nilbog lives in that church, but if viewers look closely they see a plaque in the front that says "Porterville Ward ..."

No one likes to see an old, historic church reduced to near rubble, but I'm kinda glad it's a ruin: You see for me, it'll always be the lair of Creedence Leonore Gielgud, the stone-worshiping queen of Nilbog. As she says in the film, "This is myyy houuuuse!"

Actually, a lot of people worship Nilbog. Last weekend, on Morgan's Commercial Street, "Troll 2" fans gathered for a Nilbog celebration with the director Fragasso, screenwriter Rossella Drudi, much of the cast and many Morgan and Top of Utah locals who participated as Nilbog extras and goblins. Hundreds of fans were there, mostly in awe of the actors they've seen dozens of times on screen. A walk down Commercial Street is a kick for a "Troll 2" fan, since much of the movie was filmed there.

What occurred in Morgan is not a rarity. There are "Troll 2" screenings and fan conventions all over the world. It is the new "it" of cult films. Think "Plan 9 From Outer Space" in the '80s and '90s. "Troll 2" fits the definition of a cult film: It's inimitable. Is it a bad film? Yes. But it's unique and watchable. Its blend of inexperienced acting, laughable costumes, freaky dances, synthetic music, very strange dialogue and poor special effects don't hamper the film. It's clearly the only film in the world where vegetarian goblins gather to hear a fundamentalist goblin preacher rant hysterically about the "smelly bladders" meat causes. (OK, I may have once heard the same at a PETA motivational seminar.)

What other film exists that casts vegetarianism as evil? The reason is simple, screenwriter Drudi told the fans. "I was against vegetarianism." So she made the leaf-eating goblins appear like vampires, she explained.

The title "Troll 2" is a farce. The film was supposed to be called "Goblin," an apt choice since there are no trolls. But the filmmakers tried to tag onto an earlier film, "Troll," that was a moneymaker. That is also a weird film, in which a pre-"Seinfeld" Julia Louis-Dreyfus plays a half-naked forest nymph. It didn't work. "Troll 2" went straight to video and pay cable, and languished in obscurity before word of mouth revived it. The fans loved Director Fragasso. A personable, natural showman, he promised to film part or all of a planned "Troll 3" in Morgan. When a representative of the Utah Arts Council mentioned a sizeable rebate if lots of money is spent filming in Utah, Fragasso elaborately hugged the man to cheers and chuckles. The "Troll 2" actors have varying careers. Some only made "Troll 2." Others are veterans of occasional TV and film productions.

The Q&A session with all the creators of "Troll 2" was pure Americana. It occurred in a pink, cavernous ballroom, usually a dance and cheer studio. The fans, many wearing green T-shirts with "NILBOG" printed on the back, circulated through the crowd, chatting with cast members, including George Hardy, the Alabama dentist who played dad Michael Waits in the film. His famous line of dialogue was: "Do you see this writing ... ? Do you know what it means ... ? Hospitality. And you can't (urinate) on hospitality! I WON'T ALLOW IT!"

Top of Utahn Michael Stephenson, who starred as youngster Joshua Waits, is making a documentary film about "Troll 2" called "Best Worst Movie." 

The ballroom was decorated -- Nilbog style -- with green streamers and balloons. Large posters of "Nilbog Invasion" were hawked on tables. The event was videotaped. Fans captured images with cell phones and digital cameras. Robert Ormsby, who played helpful ghost "Grandpa Seth," greeted his director with a big hug. Ormsby, who only made one film, is 80 percent Burl Ives and 20 percent Wilford Brimley. Connie Young, who played high-strung teen Holly Waits, was warmly greeted. Young is best known -- at least in Utah -- as the female lead in the Mormon-genre comedy "The Singles Ward." In "Troll 2," a teenage Young dances bizarrely in front of a mirror. In a fun moment, Fragasso convinced a hesitant Young to recreate her dance. It received a big ovation.

My favorite goblin, actress Deborah Reed, was there. She portrayed Creedence Leonore Gielgud. She is Nilbog. You have to watch Reed to digest her performance in "Troll 2"; think Isadora Duncan on acid. Eyes rolling in sockets, bohemian dress, enunciated screeches. She's a chameleon. One minute she appears to be a deranged aunt, in another a sexy vamp. But I'll say this for Ms. Reed -- she gets better with each viewing. And she nails what makes "Troll 2" so unique. You will never, ever again see a corncob used in such an intimate manner in a PG-13-rated movie.

Wanna learn more? Years later Michael Paul Stephenson made a documentary on Troll 2 called "Best Worst Movie." It included scenes from Nilbog. See it below:

-- Doug Gibson


Steve Stones reviews Troll 2

Ever see a movie so bad that it actually improves with each viewing? If you haven’t, I would highly recommend that you visit your local Blockbuster or Hollywood Video and rent Troll II. If your viewing experience doesn’t get better with each viewing, you may need to increase your dosage of Prozac, or just simply lighten up a little and relax.

After all, Troll II is just a little movie filmed in rural Morgan, Utah where the cows outnumber the local citizens 10 to one. In the case of Troll II, the Goblins outnumbered the local citizens for several weeks of filming during the summer of 1989.

At the time of filming, a street sign was put up, changing the city to: NILBOG. What I wouldn’t give or pay to have this sign in my movie memorabilia collection! I would even trade a double-decker pastrami sandwich with all the works, hold the mayo and mustard please.

The Goblins in the film might not take too kindly to this trade, since they are vegetarians who sweat green and eat anything green. Young Michael Stephenson even saves the day in the film with a cold cut bologna sandwich, which repels the Goblins from eating him. My favorite scene in the film is when Michael Stephenson approaches a mirror to talk to the spirit of his Grandpa Seth, and ask for his protection and guidance against the Goblins that have him and his family trapped in a house.

A Goblin immediately jumps out of the mirror attacking Stephenson. Grandpa Seth appears with an ax, cutting off the left hand of the Goblin. The Goblin then jumps backwards through the broken mirror, and the scene cuts to Creedence Leonore Gielgud, the Goblin Queen, screaming in pain in her Goblin lair of a run down old church. She tries to heal her severed arm by shoving it into the crevice of a glowing magic rock.

The expression on the Goblin Queen’s face, played by Deborah Reed, is priceless, and worth the $3.50 it would cost you to rent the film. A later scene has Reed trying to seduce a teenage boy in a motor home with a cob of corn. She is dressed in a sexy black gown with black nylons and high heels, similar to Elvira, Mistress of The Dark. I don’t know about you, but I have a soft spot for those sexy raven-haired women dressed in black. Come to me Creedence Leonore Gielgud, sexy Goblin Queen!!

Here's a trailer to Troll 2:


Notes on Nilbog Invasion and Troll 2

by Doug Gibson

On Saturday, I had a chance to chat with the very nice and personable Mickie Pace, who played the goblin Betty in Troll 2. Mickie was at Nilbog Invasion with her family and had chatted affably with fans in the hall. To play a goblin in Troll 2 one had to not exceed 4 feet in height. One townsperson extra in Troll 2, Dallin Carter, candidly admitted that his pay had been "hamburgers and beer."

Pace admitted that was about it in recompense for the extras. But she added that she and the other extras were treated well by the Italian film crew while Troll 2 was filming. She said that it could be hot and uncomfortable in the latex masks and potato sacks that were the goblins' garbs, but that everyone did OK.

As in most films for extras, there were long waits during filming. Pace had another assignment while Troll 2 was filming. She picked up some of the extras in her vehicle and took them to the shoot. She was paid for her gas and mileage, she recalled. During our conversation, her sons, proud of their mom's contribution to the much-loved cult film, pointed out sites on Commercial Street that were settings in the film.

At the panel, an elderly woman (whose name I missed) surprised fans by admitting she had never seen the film she had a small part in. Let's hope she saw it that night on the big screen!) Patrick and Paul Gibbs both played goblins in the film. The twins candidly admitted that they fit the needed criteria at the time -- both being under 4 feet tall. Both Gibbs make micro-budget films today.

Darren Ewing, who lives in nearby North Ogden, Utah, was there. He was witty and informative. He plays drums in a band, Skinny Bob and the Blues Dawgs, that reportedly played at Nilbog Invasion. He has several acting credits, including recent stints in the films, "Unaccompanied Minors" and Halloween Town." I also recently have seen Ewing in a commercial urging sensible water use while watering lawns. I spoke briefy to Ewing on Saturday. He gave me directions to see the ruins of the old LDS church that was used as the exterior for the goblin queen's house. Even as a ruin, the old LDS church is still an imposing site in the countryside.

Dentist George Hardy, who plays dad Michael Waits, told the crowd that at least once a month a dental patient will recognize him from Troll 2. Troll 2's star Michael Stephenson, has appeared in several productions, including the TV series Touched by an Angel. Both Connie Young (Holly Waits) and Deborah Reed (Creedence Leonore Gielguid) looked great at the event. Young, besides work in several films, works in infomercials and as a corporate spokesperson, and has worked with Robert Redford at Sundance, according to Lance C. Williams, who played the Goblin house swapper Mr. Presents, has acted in the LDS-themed films Rockwell, Charly and Return with Honor.

At the panel, Young admitted that she still has her original script, with her acting notes. With the state of fandom today, she could likely auction copies at ebay for a nice sum. Several actors recalled the first time they saw the film. A couple of "the boys" were on missions at the time. Young says she saw it on HBO. Her reaction: "I thought I was a better actress than that!" Reed said, "I wept with laughter. I screamed with laughter." Christina Reynolds, who played one of the Presents' goblin kids, first saw Troll 2 just last year. "Naturally, ... I was horrified," she said with tongue in cheek. The actors recalled the film was originally called "Goblin" during shooting.

When Hardy recalled auditioning in Park City in a room full of cigarette smoke, Young nodded, apparently recalling that day. Both said they beat out a lot of other hopefuls to get their roles. Young revealed the secret of her Holly Waits dance: It was a routine from the drill team she was on at high school. It looks odd, she added, because she only had a few feet to dance on the set. Young also added that director Fragasso liked her screaming skills. Stephenson recalled seeing the film with his family and just being appalled at how "bad" it was. Nevertheless, his acting resume lists another film directed by Fragasso, Beyond Darkness. That 1990 film was shown at Nilbog Invasion.

It was fun seeing elderly Robert Ormsby at Nilbog Invasion. "Grandpa Seth" loved the film. It accomplished its task, he said. It "entertained." Director Fragasso called Troll 2 "a family movie without blood." His resume lists a slate of Italian horror films, including "Zombi 3," "Rats," "Evil Dead 5" and "Terminator 2" -- these films have multiple titles to each). Fragasso pledged at Nilbog Invasion to make a Troll 3, at least partially filmed in Morgan. Let's hope he's successful.
-- Doug Gibson

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Strange Confession is our favorite Chaney Inner Sanctum film

By Doug Gibson

For a few brief years in the 1940s, Lon Chaney Jr. was the top monster man at Universal Studios. He even took Dracula away from Bela Lugosi in the vampire sequel. Chaney was a far better actor than many realize; he proved a great capable character actor in western and gritty dramas; think "High Noon" and "The Defiant Ones." But 70 years ago Universal wasn't sure if its star was "Lenny-turned-Monster" or a tortured intellectual, man-about-town.

Hence, Universal's last effort to keep Chaney as a leading man, the Inner Sanctum series, six psychological dramas, based on pulp literature, and early distant cousins of the soon-to-be-flourishing film noir of the late 40s and on. In most of the Inner Sanctum films, five of which were introduced by a floating head, Chaney was miscast as an upper-crust academic or a supposedly suave entertainer, the object of both treachery and adoration by beautiful women.

What played against those high hopes was that Chaney, despite a still-rugged build, had a face that was slowly morphing into folding decay courtesy of a severe alcohol addiction. He was also what you might call a "regular Joe" kind of guy, with passions that included hunting, bending the elbow and practical jokes.

As for the Inner Sanctums, which were B movie material, Chaney gave decent performances despite the casting, "Weird Woman" is pretty good, almost as good is "Calling Dr. Death," "Dead Man's Eyes" ... pretty bad. I had seen four and finally picked up the DVD to see them all.

"Strange Confession" threw me for a loop. The series entry, which for years had been filed away by Universal, away from TV, is a damn good 62-minute programmer. It's about a dedicated researcher, Chaney, who is exploited by his truly evil millionaire boss, an excellent J. Carrol Naish, who lusts after both quick millions marketing a flu medicine (and who cares if it's the medicine that works) and also for Chaney's very shapely wife, played by Brenda Joyce.

Early in the film, Chaney quits Naish's employ, realizing what scum he is. Blacklisted, Chaney's character, Jeff Carter, is working as an assistant pharmacist or something, barely able to plug out a living with his wife and toddler boy. Naish, a visitor to a party at the Carter's humble abode, offers his former scientist wealth if he'll return. Carter says no, but is later persuaded to accept the job by his wife, who is tired of poverty.

Joyce's Mary is a complex character. She clearly loves her husband but plays the traditional "Eve" character, persuading him to follow "Satan," Naish's Roger Graham. Also, rather creepily Mary seems to provide limited encouragement to Graham's slow but persistent efforts to have an affair with her. This was, of course, the Breen era, so we never even have a hint that adultery occurred but that is Graham's goal. He even sends Chaney's Carter off to Brazil, with an assistant played by a young Lloyd Bridges, to find the ingredients to complete the flu medicine. Chaney finds it, but not before a flu epidemic hits the U.S. Graham ignores Chaney's correct formula, and markets an inferior earlier concoction to make a quick buck.

This leads to a particularly heart-wrenching tragedy and a truly gruesome climax that, this again being the Breen era, is not shown in gory detail.

Although Chaney is an academic he's more of a loner, a socially awkward rumpled professor full of obsession and angst and he carries it off, playing a more determined Larry Talbot, Naish is also superb; he's pure evil, without conscience but also gifted with a silver tongue and the art of persuasion. Others who are good in smaller roles are Milburn Stone as a business confederate of Graham's and Mary Gordon as a stereotypical but appealing nanny to the now-prosperous Carter family.

Even as Universal's horror offerings solidified as B films they were still above the quality of Monogram and PRC C films. The chief reason was tight scripts, better supporting actors and lean direction. As with other "Universal Horrors," "Strange Confession," directed by John Hoffman, is a lean-mean offering with a disciplined plot that's over before you know it.

It's one of Chaney's better late-Universal films and his portrayal of a dedicated scientist cheated in many ways by a sociopath boss allows him to retain sympathy despite the revenge he takes. Below is a screen shot of Naish, Chaney and Joyce.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Incredibly Strange Creatures film chaotic, colorful, bizarre

Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies, 1963, director Ray Dennis Steckler, Starring Cash Flagg (Steckler), Carolyn Brandt. Color, 82 minutes. (Also know as The Teenage Psycho Meets Bloody Mary.) Schlock-meter rating: 6 stars out of 10.

By Doug Gibson

I'll say this much: Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies is a GREAT title. And for that the late director/star Steckler gets three stars right off the bat. Unfortunately, the rest of the film is very confusing, and only the carnival scenes somewhat save this semi-boring monster musical with strippers who are very clothed.

A word about the carnival. It is the old Pike in Long Beach, Calif., a wonderful amusement place by the beach that was torn down more than 25 years ago. And a plus for the film is that it's very colorful. Cult director Steckler used color to advantage. The viewer will appreciate that this is a unique film by a cult director.

The plot is very tangled,  but here goes. An ugly gypsy fortune teller (who looks a lot like an old Liz Taylor with a big mole) turns a bunch of hapless fortune seekers into scarred, drugged-out zombies who have an urge to kill. (Why do zombies always have an urge to kill in films? by the way.) No reason is ever given as to why the gypsy wants these zombies around. One night free spirit, cool young guy (Steckler), who looks a bit like a homely Nicholas Cage, goes to the carnival with his rich-girl lady. They have a spat when he eyes a comely dancer, and she stalks off.

Steckler goes after the dancer, and falls into the clutches of the evil fortune teller. He spends the rest of the film wandering around in a daze, occasionally killing and once trying to kill his girl. Later the zombies revolt and wreck havoc around the carnival. Steckler is pursued to the beach, where he meets his fate. Steckler is not a bad actor. He later was very good in a private eye flick he directed, Super Cool. He also made some great C films, including the spoofs Rat Pfink a Boo Boo and The Lemon Grove Kids series, as well as genuinely nervy psycho killer film called The Thrill Killers.

But this film is too undisciplined to take seriously. Several times scenes don't seem to mesh with the plot and often there is no explanation for why anything is occurring. The viewer is never told how the evil gypsy controls minds. She mumbles in dreams and we see a bad imitation of the Twilight Zone spiral (was this film shot originally in 3D?). In theaters ushers were forced to dress up like zombies and run through the theaters. Steckler's then-wife, Carolyn Brandt, who often starred in his films, plays a sexy carny dancer.

It was advertised as a monster musical and as a result, we're forced to watch a lot of bad singing and dancing. The acting is overall poor. The best part of the film is the weird carny world where so much of the action occurs. The film captures the seedy side of small-time carnival life a generation ago. Unfortunately, the limitations of the filmmakers and likely, a very tiny budget, produce an often talky bore. But still a great title! I must mention that the late Steckler, in interviews I have read and watched, seems like a good guy, modest and candid. Other titles for this film included "Teenage Psycho Meets Bloody Mary." 

Steckler was dissatisfied that the original distributor turned it into a second feature to another low-budget film so he regained rights to the film, and according to Wikipedia, bought rights to Beast of Yucca Flats to be Incredibly Strange Creatures ... second feature, and barnstormed the nation showing the film. I imagine it made a profit.

This is the film Steckler is best known for, even if it's not his best. Try "Body Fever" or "The Thrill Killers." It's fun to say Steckler acting in the film. He was a fine thespian. The film was also spoofed in MST3K. Watch the film above!

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Frankenstein Conquers the World through Japan

Frankenstein Conquers the World, 1965, Toho, Color. Director: Ishiro Honda; Cast includes Nick Adams, Kumi Mizuno, Tadao Takashima and Kuji Furuhata. 87 minutes in most prints. Seven out of 10 stars on the Schlock-Meter.

Review by Doug Gibson

This is a fun film that doesn't fail to deliver cheesy thrills with a fast-growing boy Frankenstein (Furuhata) eating everything in sight and battling a monster named Baragon at the end. Scientists (Adams, Mizuno and Takashima) battle to save the boy monster so he "can be studied."

The FXs are cheesy, with the boy Frankenstein looking pretty silly on miniature sets and with overhead camera shots. The battle scenes are fake but fun, with a rubber monster flipping around a lot. The dubbing is as bad as expected. The most campy dubbing involves a German scientist, who sports an accent so bogus that even "Hogan's Heroes" would be ashamed to use it.

The bizarre plot is as follows: Late in World War 2, the heart of the Frankenstein monster is stolen from the lab of Dr. Frankenstein by Axis soldiers. It makes its way to Japan, where it survives the atomic blast in Hiroshima. It then somehow attaches itself to a small boy who survives the Hiroshima blast. He grows and grows and grows. There are a lot of twists on Mary Shelley's legend: Frankenstein can never die, and if you cut off a limb, it grows again!

This film, corny as it is, can be at times compelling. It takes place in Hiroshima and the horror of the Hiroshima bombing hangs over the plot. Star Adams's doctor is an American so horrified by what happened in Hiroshima that he's chosen to travel across the world and treat those still suffering. Frankenstein Conquers the World, while a misleading title, is a silly film, but it's a cut above its genre. The wild plot and classic Toho effects make it worth a rental and a tape if you can catch it on TV. I saw it on American Movie Classics.

Notes: According to an article in Cult Movies magazine, stars Adams and Mizuno had a brief affair; The film was released in the USA by Henry Saperstein's UPA company; There was more than one ending filmed (the ending for this review has the monster sinking into the earth); Toho made one more film with the Frankenstein monster, War of the Gargantuas, starring Russ Tamblyn.

Watch the trailer below: