By Scott Murphy
If you are reading this article then you are probably aware of Troma. However just in case you are not Troma Entertainment are a film production and distribution company founded in 1974 that specialises in horror and exploitation films. They started out mainly with sex comedies before moving more into horror and, in terms of the one’s they produce themselves, films that can only be described as ‘Troma’ movies as no single genre quite encapsulates the magic formula of gore splatter, self-referential humour, gratuitous nudity, PC-baiting offensiveness and frequently subversive political commentary, so they should almost qualify as a genre unto themselves.
I have been a fan of their productions for a long time as a horror fan and, in fact, was a fan before I was even aware of as, I am sure like many my age (I’m nearly 31), I was introduced to the company as a kid by the cartoon “Toxic Crusaders”. Obviously at the time I had no idea it was connected to a very adult horror-comedy franchise (This doesn’t seem to be unusual in the late 80’s/early 90’s as lots of adult movies had seemingly inappropriate cartoon spin-offs like “Conan”, “Robocop”, “Highlander and “Rambo”!).
I have grown to have a genuine affection for many of their films and will defend them against those who write them off as mere low-grade trash. Sure some films they have made or distributed are all title and no movie such as “A Nymphoid Barbarian in Dinosaur Hell” to take one example, but there is also quite a few I think really stand up in an odd sort of way. The ten below in particular.
In making this list it was hard to know whether to focus on just the ones they produce or ones they distribute as well. In the end I decided to make the top ten from their current catalogue listed on their website. Sadly despite the fact they distributed it “Chopper Chicks in Zombietown” is no longer part of their catalogue so can’t make the list (but if you want a fun horror-comedy and see an early role of Billy Bob Thornton, I’d check it out). Anyway without further ado here is my top 10:
10 Bloodsucking Freaks (1976) (Directed by Joel M Reed)
Also known as “The Incredible Torture Show” this is one of the most controversial horror movies of all time due in large part to campaign by a group called “Women Against Pornography” to have it banned due to its misogynistic violence. Ironically this, of course, led to it having a much higher profile than it probably would have and has led to it being in healthy circulation for the last 40 years. Troma did not initially release it but picked it up for a 1980 re-release, and giving it the title Bloodsucking Freaks, and it has been in their catalogue since.
The film is about a Grand Guignol-type theatre in New York’s Soho district run by the demented sadist Master Surdu (Seamus O’Brien) and his twisted cackling midget assistant Raplhus (Luis de Jesus). They put on performances of torture that are apparently staged but are in fact not (and everyone is very slow to pick up on this). It is relatively plotless in that it is essentially just a series of these torture performances but the bizarreness of the torture methods (including the infamous brain sucked through a straw sequence) and unhinged glee of the actors portraying Master Surdu and Ralphus make this an oddly compelling watch. Also it has a great tagline: “Join The Fun!… Human Dart Boards… “Home Style Brain Surgery”… Dental Hijinks!”
9 Mother’s Day (1980) (directed by Charles Kaufman)
In case you are wondering no this not an early credit for “Being John Malkovich” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” writer Charlie Kaufman (obviously he is a Charlie not a Charles) but yes the director is related to Lloyd Kaufman as they are brothers. Anyway to the movie here is one of Troma’s earlier horror efforts which does have some humour but not the kind of all-out wacky humour that would come to be closely associated with the company as they got further into the 80’s. Most of the humour comes from the redneck sons of the eponymous mother who are both dumbasses but violently unpredictable dumbasses at that. This does give a bit of an odd style as the frequently dumb antics of the boys clashes with the grimmer elements of the film that are reminiscent of such 70’s grindhouse flicks as “Last House on the Left” and “I Spit on your Grave”.
That said despite the tonal mismatch there is good stuff here as the three girls who are kidnapped and tortured are solid and you root for them unlike many slasher characters plus the relationship between the two braindead boy and their completely unhinged mother is developed pretty well. There was also a fairly decent remake made of this with Rebecca De Mornay as the mum, randomly enough.
8 Sgt Kabukiman: N.Y.P.D (1990) (Directed by Michael Herz & Lloyd Kaufman)
Sgt Kabukiman: N.Y.P.D is a superhero spoof and the character Sgt. Kabukiman would go on to become one of Troma’s most iconic characters (behind Troma mascot The Toxic Avenger). Since debuting he has made cameos in several other Troma movies, made short parody public announcements (directed by none other than “Guardian of the Galaxy” director and Troma alum James Gunn) and even had his own Youtube series “Sgt Kabukiman’s Cocktail Corner”.
Some Troma fans find this movie a little too goofy (a fan backlash led to his drunken down-at-heel version of the character in Citizen Toxie: The Toxic Avenger Part IV) but to me it is just great fun I mean don’t how you can resist a character who has heat seeking chopsticks, deadly sushi and bulletproof gale-force fans in his weapons arsenal.
Granted it ain’t very PC, I mean it has a shit-ton of Asian stereotypes and his female sidekick/mentor is called…eh..Lotus! But it is all done with such tongue-in-cheek charm you would have to be amongst the permanently outraged to be really offended. Hopefully one day they will make the much mooted Sgt Kabukiman: L.A.P.D (rumoured since the turn of the millennium.)
7 Combat Shock (1984) (Directed by Buddy Giovinazzo)
All the other movies on this list are at least in some way humourous. Not all of them are out and out funny but they all contain moments of wackiness or satire or something amusing. Not so much with “Combat Shock” which is far and away the grimmest, most depressing, nihilistic watch on this list.
Which is not to say it is bad, in fact it is very good, but be warned this it is not an easy watch. It follows the story of Frank Dunlan (Rick Giovinazzo) a POW in Vietnam struggling to come to terms with normal civilian life and haunted by memories of the Vietnam War. The cast are largely first time actors including Rick Giovinazzo in the lead which shows sometimes although the central performance is good (This remains Giovinazzo’s only acting gig but he has gone onto work in the Music department of many blockbusters including the likes of the Dark Knight Rises). It is the atmosphere that really sells the movie though like “Taxi Driver” or say “Driller Killer” there is a decay and griminess that emanate off the screen. Also it has one of the most starkly brutal climaxes your likely to see. It certainly ain’t pretty but you are also unlikely to forget it once you have watched it.
6 Citizen Toxie: The Toxic Avenger Part IV (2000) (Directed by Lloyd Kaufman)
The Toxic Avenger is Troma’s most iconic character and their official mascot. Something it is hard to envisage the company reaching the cult fandom they have today without. However the first two sequels where not exactly massively popular with fans. So much so that they hilariously skite past them in the narrated intro for this movie made 11 years after Part 3 (To be fair both have their moments and Part 2 gave us this epic theme tune…
Citizen Toxie unlike Part 2 and 3 though is excellent and has several laugh out loud moments. Many including a character called Tito The Retarded Rebel (did I mention Troma aren’t very PC?). The plot is a classic comic book one where Toxie and his new sidekick Lardass (played by the late Joe Fleishaker) have to take on an evil mirror version of Toxie called The Noxious Offender (Noxie) who is from a parallel Tromaville. Talking of offence it would be fair to say there is something to offend everyone here and it is all the more hilarious for it. It is also pretty star-studded as there are decent cameos from the likes of Lemmy, Ron Jeremy, Corey Feldman and Stan Lee (Yes Stan the Man does cameo in everything).
5 Class of Nuke’ Em High (1986) (Directed by Richard Haines & Lloyd Kaufman)
This is Troma’s other big franchise in that there have now been four movies with a fifth one, Return to Nuke ‘Em High: Volume 2, on the way. It all started, obviously, with this film though. The basic premise is the Tromaville high school is parked next to a nuclear power plant which contaminates the school water supply and the schools punk gang The Cretins have a deal with the power plant workers to produce and distribute toxic weed. Just like in a comic book these twin threats causes various mutations, some superhuman abilities and in some cases the students are completely unaffected. This being a Troma production there is really no rhyme nor reason to how people are affected by the toxicity but really ask yourself who comes to a Troma movie looking for such things as logic? You would be a damn fool!
For the rest who are simply able to enjoy the ride the movie is a hoot. The Cretins in particular stand out as they are so fabulously obnoxious but the central couple Warren and Chrissy are quite a winnable pair who you end up rooting for. Also despite budgetary restrictions the monster Chrissy gives birth to is pretty cool.
4 Terror Firmer (1999) (Directed by Lloyd Kaufman)
Some fans of Troma I feel may be surprised at the high position of this particular Troma Team film as it does not seem to have the same numbers of fans as some of the others on the list but it is one of my personal favourites. I mean any film which opens with a man been beaten to death by his own severed leg is a winner in my book. I like the concept too as it crosses a slasher film with a kind behind the scenes of indie filmmaking comedy like a trashy version of “Living in Oblivion” but one where there is a killer roaming the set. It was actually loosely based on or inspired by the book “All I Need to Know about Filmmaking I Learned from the Toxic Avenger” which is Lloyd’s autobiography.
So while clearly the Slasher element is clearly completely fictional, I think a hermaphroditic serial killer bumping people off on a movie set would have made a few headlines, there is a bunch of stuff inspired by real events on Troma sets which you can imagine being a bit mental at the best of times. Like most of the film’s on this list there is little in the way of conventional plot instead we have lots of grotesque imagery, satirical sideswipes at various institutions, self-referential humour and of course as Mr Kaufman’s character, blind director Larry Benjamin, demands lot of “Big Breasts”!
3 Father’s Day (2012) (Directed by Astron 6)
Over the last decade it has become somewhat popular to pay tribute to or do pastiches of Grindhouse cinema. This cycle seems to have been kicked off by the Tarantino/Rodriguez “Grindhouse” double feature (which only screened as originally intended in a limited run in the US before being rolled out as the separate movies “Death Proof” and “Planet Terror”). Since then there has been the likes of “Hobo with a Shotgun”, “Dear God No!”, “Hell Ride”, “Machete” etc. However of these many movies which both parody and pay homage to Grindhouse this is one of my favourites. Firstly because our leather jacketed eye-patched hero Ahab (Adam Brooks) is cool as hell (while also being a goofy airhead). Secondly there is childish amusement in the fact the main villain is called Chris Fuchman. Thirdly it has cool ass retro sounding soundtrack. Fourthly they managed to do a lot practical effects-wise on a tiny budget.
Fifthly, as daft as the film is, there is clearly been genuine thought put into to trying give the film its own mythology which is interesting as many of these type of films are kind of thrown together. Sixthly, and finally, the movie takes you by surprise. You assume that the natural end of the story comes about two thirds through instead the movie veers off for a bat-shit crazy finale that comes out of nowhere but turns out to be a great pay-off.
2 Cannibal! The Musical (1993) (Directed by Trey Parker)
Matt and Trey are known mostly for being the sick and twisted minds behind “South Park”. Most are also aware of the likes of “Team America: World Police”. People may be less familiar with this film which was their cinematic debut and was made while they were still studying at the University of Colorado Boulder (the movie starting as a trailer they had done for one of their classes).
Somewhat remarkably pretty much all the things that would make Matt and Trey famous are in place here from the clever/dumb humour to the film references to the willingness to provoke and offend to the hilariously crude songs, it is impossible to mistake this for anything other than a Trey Parker and Matt Stone production. Talking of the songs many of them are very funny and the likes of “Let’s Build a Snowman” will probably be stuck in your head for days. Somewhat incredibly too it is, kinda, sorta, based on a true story that of Alferd Packer a prospector who confessed to cannibalism and was given a 40 year sentence for it even although there was doubts to his story and no evidence was found. It was just his word and the fact his companions were missing that sealed his fate. Although clearly events did not go down as they do in “Cannibal! The Musical” or did they…(Of course they didn’t you fool!)
1 The Toxic Avenger (1984) (Directed by Michael Herz and Lloyd Kaufman)
When compiling this list I was not sure of the order at all. I like all 10 of the movies on this list. Granted you would not necessarily say they are “good” in the conventional critical sense many of them ignoring such minor thing’s as taste, plot and good acting but I appreciate them none the same. One thing I was sure of though was there could be only one option for No. 1 and that was “The Toxic Avenger”. I mean if you could only pick one film that is truly emblematic of Troma’s DIY, punk rock, Un-PC, tasteless but ultimately lovable style of filmmaking it would surely be this film. It launched a franchise with three sequels (and a fourth much rumoured for a while now) and had a spin-off cartoon (“Toxic Crusader” which you may vaguely remember from the intro). Plus as mentioned Toxie went on to be the official mascot for the company. As you are probably aware the
story concerns a young bullied janitor Melvin Junko (Mark Torgl) who after falling into a barrel of toxic waste turns into New Jersey’s only Superhero The Toxic Avenger (Mitch Cohen). It is actually a great send-up of a comic book origin tale and as you would expect from a Troma film it is gory, gross, self-knowing and lots of fun. Also it must be said the gang who bully Melvin in the beginning are some of the most despicable characters to ever grace the silver screen and it is unlikely you will more pleased to see movie characters eviscerated as you are these clowns (That said Gary Schneider who plays gang leader Bozo puts in one of the all-time great overacting performances, he looks like he is going to explode in every scene he is in!). In summation to me this will always be the ultimate Tromasterpiece.
Words By Scott Murphy