Sit down and be silent, my mewling little mollycoddles. Time for me to crowbar some knowledge into your craniums. Your B-Movie education (compliments of the The B-Movies Podcast) begins here, and begins now. You may recall from the last episode of our stellar and earth-shattering show (“That’s My Dybbuk in a Box”) that Troma now has a YouTube Channel wherein they posted dozens and dozens of their prestigious product.
What’s that? You say you don’t know about Troma? What kind of hairless newbie chimp are you? Well zip the lip and quit whining. I’ll tell you all you need to know. Look to Witney Seibold and William “Bibbs” Bibbiani. We have brain. Allow us to guide you through the treacherous woods of Troma Entertainment, and point out to you all the important titles to know about. Here, compliments of us, and free of charge to you, is the golden opportunity to see some of the finest low-budget B-Movies this side of anywhere. Prepare, wee shavers, to have your mind altered by forbidden knowledge, preserved from previous generations, lying in darkened caves, waiting to pounce on you and transform your soft, pink organic brains into massive pulsating electric nerve bundles of glossy awesomeness.
In short, William and I are going to recommend some Troma films to you, all available online, right know, on the Troma YouTube Channel, which can be accessed here.
Troma, for those of you not in the know, is a New Jersey-based independent film studio that has been distributing cheap, schlocky content for nearly 40 years. Heading up the company is the charismatic Lloyd Kaufman, a legend in his own right. Some of their stuff is original and produced in-house, but much of their content is given to them from the outside by enterprising horror fans who need a venue to put their films on the market. Their mascot character, star of his own low-budget series of features, is The Toxic Avenger, a mutated janitor, armed with a mop and sporting a misplaced eyeball, who uses his toxic powers to battle evil. Troma has, rather proudly, been keeping the spirit of B-Moviemaking alive in an era of cynical YouTube videos, and slasher films based entirely around puns. They still realize what is truly trashy, truly fun, truly exploitation. There is none of that misplaced hipster self-awareness in Troma’s product. Troma may often made self-aware comedy/horror films, but their mockery of horror conventions is based, I feel, in a genuine affection for exploitation traditions. Their trashy devotion to films with titles like Rabid Grannies or Monsturd is based on a genuine need to outrage. There’s the kind of stupid that is based in cynicism, and there’s the kind of stupid that is forcefully, proudly unapologetic. Troma is the latter.
Where do you start? Well, let’s look at the menu. Several course meal, this.
Why not start out with Rabid Grannies? Just to get you in the mood a little. The story follows two kindly old ladies who are transformed into homicidal maniacs when they receive a demonic artifact from a nephew. Gore and hijinks ensue. This film was produced in Belgium, and while it’s marked by Troma’s notoriously low-fi approach, it actually resembles a real movie. The joke (kindly grandmothers committing acts of extreme violence) is thin, of course, but doesn’t outlast the film’s 90 minutes. What’s more, the violence is first rate. Consider Rabid Grannies an aperitif.
For a little appetizer nibble before some of the heavier stuff, take a small bite of one of their classic public domain horror films? The 1932 classic White Zombie (yes, where the metal band got their name) stars Bela Lugosi in his prime, playing a character who is actually named Murder. I have a weakness for old horror movies, and White Zombie, with all its racist voodoo and cheap sets, may expose why. These films may be dated in some cases, but they can still be unnerving in their way. If you’re a Rob Zombie fan, you need to see this film. It made him the way he is.
For a first course, watch Mommy starring an adult Patty McCormack, who, if you recall, played the demonic child Rhoda in The Bad Seed, probably the first of the Evil Child genre. Mommy, an abusive parent thriller, is often touted as a sort-of-sequel to The Bad Seed. It’s fun to imagine that Rhoda grew up to be the ghoul we see in this movie. Throw in small roles from Majel Barrett from Star Trek and Jason Miller from The Exorcist, and you’ve got yourself a pretty cheesy and actually pretty strong little flick.
Enough of the lightweight fluff, though. Time for your entrée. It’s time for Killer Condom, a German horror/comedy that, of the ones available on their YouTube channel, seems to be most in the spirit of Troma. The story is indeed about a killer condom, actually a space alien that is shaped like a condom, and likes to feed on human penises. The lead character is a gay cop who fears STDs. Here is a slick and goofy little monster flick that turns sexual responsibility into something that can kill you. Mildly topical, and way better made than a film of this title should be.
To follow your entrée, have a nice espresso shot of demonic fury in the form of Beyond Evil, an Exorcist ripoff from 1980? This film looks like it had been sitting in a dank basement for many years, but it still features one of the best John Saxon performances to date. A couple moves into a haunted house, and the ghost therein possesses the wife. It has a distinctly Euro-schlock feeling to it, and, of the hundreds of Exorcist ripoffs, is only second to 1974’s Beyond the Door.
Dessert means cartoons. The Toxic Avenger was such a popular character, he spawned several sequels, and, yes, an animated TV series called Toxic Crusaders. The premise was similar to that of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: barrels of glowing nuclear ooze splash on some unsuspecting passersby, imbuing them with superpowers. Only The Toxic Avenger was not a slick awesome superhero, but a green-skinned lump of putrefied flesh. In the cartoon show, he’s cleaned up considerably, but the sick premise is still in place. If you started this meal in the evening, it should be dawn by now. Eat some sugary cereals.
Then go to your favorite video store or online streaming service, and search for what Troma has. The glories of Tromeo & Juliet still await you.
From the Desk of William Bibbiani:
For years now I’ve been complaining that the kind of trash filmmaking that used to be exclusive to sleazy companies like Troma has migrated to YouTube. So I’m forced to admit that Troma moving to YouTube is a pretty clever idea. They’ve always been on the cutting edge of new technologies over there. They have to be. That’s how they made their money.
Although Troma made some money in the 1970s and early 1980s with oddball motion pictures, sex comedies like The First Turn On! and genre-bending scuzz like The Toxic Avenger, it wasn’t until the advent of home video – when stores across the country were desperate to stock their shelves – that they found their niche. Going to all the way to a theater to watch Troma’s War may not be too enticing, but scouring your local VHS haunt and experimenting with potential crap is a lot easier to justify. You can watch it whenever you want, turn it off just as easily and take it back that same day if it’s truly as bad as it looks. Or if it’s not bad enough. Both options are possible when you’re dealing with a Troma joint. Shifting Troma’s focus to YouTube, where skimming is easier than ever, makes perfect sense. The hardcore fans are catered to, and the fresh young faces are more likely to give Cyxork 7 a try.
My first experience with Troma was on the old television series “USA Up All Night,” in which Gilbert Gottfried hosted whatever crap the station could find with awkwardly written comedy bits between them. I vaguely remember some movie with a leprechaun in a beer bottle granting wishes, but by God do I remember the Toxic Avenger movies. Here was a film about a superhero who punches into a guy’s stomach, whips out his lower intestine, and jumps rope with it. For a nine-year-old movie geek in training, the juxtaposition of adult violence and immature humor was eye opening. Apparently, I thought, they let little kids make movies. That turned out to be inaccurate, but people with childish mentalities do make their own movies now and then. And if they capture just the right blend of outrageousness and basic competence, they can get their films released by Troma.
If you’re not already a Troma fan, they have tons of movies to sift through, and yes, most of them suck (and suck a lot). I’m not quite dedicated enough to come up with a theme like my ol’ pal Witney, but I can recommend a few flicks that he neglected to cover, because there’s treasure to be found if you’re willing to sift through huge mound of poo.
Sgt. Kabukiman NYPD
One of Troma’s most popular characters, despite having only one film to his credit, Sgt. Kabukiman is exactly what he sounds like. He’s a police sergeant for the NYPD, but he’s also a kabukiman. Like many Troma movies, it often seems like Sgt. Kabukiman NYPD was a clever (or at least silly) title first, and a real movie second. The action’s bigger than the typical Troma release, but the playful superhero tone is sometimes ruined by the injection of awkwardly “adult” humor, and even said debauchery is minimal compared to their more popular Toxic Avenger franchise (also available, and obviously a "must see"). Director Lloyd Kaufman isn’t quite deft enough a director to make the film competitive with even the weak sauce superhero movies with which it competed back in 1990, but you’re not a true resident of Tromaville if you haven’t seen it.
Ah yes, who could forget that Troma classic Patterns, starring Hollywood luminaries Van Heflin and Ed Begley, with a screenplay by “The Twilight Zone’s” Rod Serling? Wait a second… that’s a not a real Troma movie, is it? Maybe not, but Troma got the rights to release this classic melodrama about an aging businessman who can’t be fired, leading his associates to psychologically torture him until he’s forced to retire. They completely underestimate his resolve, and a battle of wills begins. Patterns was based on an Emmy-winning teleplay, and is a legitimate classic. And since it’s a Troma movie, you can now see it for free. Thanks, Troma!
Cannibal! The Musical
Before they were some of the most respected TV writers and cultural satirists in the western world, Trey Parker and Matt Stone spent all their time, energy and money crafting an ultra-low budget comedy musical based on the true story of convicted cannibal Alferd Packer. Cannibal! The Musical is the kind of low-fi tripe Troma is known for, but bears the unmistakable stamp of fledgling comic geniuses coming into their own. Some of the jokes are hilarious, some are just kind of silly, but the real treat is the musical numbers, many of which hold up to their later works, particularly “Shpadoinkle” and “Trapper Song,” which devolves into an argument about Mixolydian scales. When nobody in Hollywood was willing to give the “South Park” boys the time of day, Troma ponied up the dough to release their first movie. You can watch the film for free, but track down the DVD if you can: Parker, Stone and the rest of their crew play a drinking game during the commentary track that turns into a memorably crazy evening.
By the time Terror Firmer was released in 1999, the Troma brand had been cemented and making a movie about making a Troma movie seemed like a pretty good idea. And it really was. A serial killer is attacking the set of Lloyd Kaufman’s latest film (Kaufman basically plays himself), but the show must go on. The level of insanity has rarely been paralleled in a Troma production, including an indescribable enema, a simulated sex scene that spirals out of control and a fat guy running naked through the heavily populated streets of New York City. As with all Troma movies, it’s a total mess and occasionally goes way too far, but that’s all part of the charm. Terror Firmer pushes the envelope further than ever before, but manages to be a sweet love note to Troma’s ethos and dedicate fan base anyway.
Tromeo and Juliet
Arguably the best Troma movie, Tromeo & Juliet boasts a screenplay by James Gunn, the writer/director of Super and Slither, and possibly the director of Marvel’s upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy movie. It began as an oddball comedy about The Toxic Avenger’s and Sgt. Kabukiman’s children falling in love, but Gunn ignored all of that and made a surprisingly solid adaptation of Shakespeare’s classic tragedy in the skuzzy Troma mold. The sex and violence is as insane as you’d expect, but the emotional core of the story is surprisingly intact. If you’ve ever wanted to see Romeo eat popcorn out of Juliet’s open stomach, you may be very disturbed, but this is certainly the film for you.