I will never forget the first time I got TROMATIZED.
When I was about six or seven, I rented the third Toxic Avenger movie. Since I was such a huge fan of the Toxic Crusaders cartoon on Fox Kids, I figured this live action release would be right up my alley. About ten minutes into the movie - around the point where a dude had his hand turned into mulch by a VCR - I was about ready to pass out on the sofa.
Up until I was about fourteen, I was deathly afraid of VCRS because of that ONE scene. Needless to say, Troma made a major impact on my childhood, but the company ended up making an even bigger splash on my adolescence.
For those of you unfamiliar with Troma, they are the oldest, longest running independent film company in the United States (or at least, that is what they want everybody to believe, anyway.) Founded by Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Hertz in the late 1970s, the company has given us some of the greatest (and worst) b-exploitation movies in the history of film. Even if you have never seen such classics as A Nymphoid Barbarian in Dinosaur Hell, Chopper Chicks in Zombie Town or even Fat Guy Goes Nutzoid, odds are, you have at least heard of the Class of Nuke Em High series, and seriously, who DOESNT know who Toxie is?
Even if your only experience with the Troma brand is via that kick ass (yet pretty much forgotten) cartoon program from twenty years ago, you should probably have a good idea of what kind of entertainment they produce. Originally seen as nothing more than sleaze merchants, Troma is now recognized as one of the foremost producers of biting social and political satire in worldwide mass media, skewering polemic and divisive matters like abortion, global warming, animal rights and corporate abuse in their now critically praised motion pictures (and stay tuned, because I hear the next Toxic Avenger flick is supposed to go after recession-causing investment bankers and gay-haters.)
(Broken YouTube Link Removed)
After I was able to forgive Troma for giving me a VCR-phobia for the better part of my childhood, I quickly became a fan of their off-kilter, social commentary-and-gore-soaked offerings, renting awesome homegrown and acquired flicks like Christmas Evil, Redneck Zombies and Surf Nazis Must Dies OVER and OVER as a teenager. By the time I was out of high school, I was pretty much a wholehearted devotee to the Troma cause - at one point, I even thought about moving to New York JUST so I could work as an unpaid stage hand for the company!
Although just about everybody knows what Troma is, I really do not think a lot of people really know what Troma is about. Although it is certainly true that the company peddles exploitative sleaze, shock and schlock, it is also a company that produces and releases films with some pretty heavy subtext about real-life social and political issues. For every goofy sex comedy like Stuck on You or Sizzle Beach, USA, the company releases two or three profound (although usually EXTREMELY graphic) flicks like Suicide, Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead and Special Needs: say what you will about the channel the company makes its messages through, you really cannot say that the company DOESNT have anything worthwhile to say about the world in general.
With Halloween right around the corner, I decided to make a list of what I consider to be the ten absolute must-see Troma offerings. Now, this is not a list of the objectively best or most entertaining Troma films, just the ten that I think BEST exemplifies what the company is about. There are definitely a lot of tremendous films that did not make the countdown that are well worth going out of your way to see, but for those of you looking on a primer on what the company has to offer, I suppose this is about as concise and manageable a list as I could muster.
Here's hoping you have a pad and a number two pencil handy for this one. . .
#010 Blades (1989)
To begin the countdown, we start with this whacked out horror spoof from the late 1980s. Although this movie is rarely considered a Troma classic (and let s face it, for good reason), I think it is nonetheless a good starting point for anyone interested in seeing what the company is all about.
Depending on who you ask, Troma is either at the head of the class when it comes to producing cutting-edge social satire in celluloid form, or they're simply a crass enterprise that spits out trashy, campy, relatively pointless exploitation films. With this flick, you really get to see both sides of the argument, as Blades can be considered a snide commentary on the American upper class culture OR a really, really stupid movie about a killer lawnmower running down golfers with exaggerated yuppie personalities.
I consider this movie to be the litmus test for whether or not Troma films will be your cup of tea. If you enjoy this movie, odds are, you will REALLY like most of the company s other offerings, and if you hate this, you will probably REALLY hate everything else they do. It is definitely NOT the company s best, nor is it the company s worst - truthfully, I really would not call it the most exemplary Troma flick, either. However, if you are looking for a MILD taste of the Troma experience, this is probably the best place to begin your quest without getting TOTALLY TROMA-tized from the get-go.
#009 Sgt. Kabukiman, NYPD (1994)
Believe it or not, this movie was SUPPOSED to be Troma s FIRST mass-marketed, family-friendly motion picture. Seeing as how the company lost a TON of money on Troma s War (not to mention that the Toxic Crusaders program on Fox was really popular at the time), a lot of people expected Troma to play it safe and make a PG-rated superhero comedy with Sgt. Kabukiman, NYPD. Heck, there was even plans for a Saturday morning cartoon program based on the titular character in the works!
However, Lloyd Kaufman decided to make the film a hard R instead, loading the movie with plenty of nudity, cursing, bloodshed and a monster shaped just like a. . .well, you will see.
Sgt. Kabukiman is considered by a lot of Troma fans to be one of the company s most underrated productions. As the film sat on the shelves for almost FOUR years after it was originally filmed, the movie (while not really the best in the Troma pantheon) has a lot of things going for it, including some hilarious dialogue, some pretty funny fight scenes and some of the best stunts you will see in a Troma flick (note that the car explosion in this film has been re-used in practically EVERY major Troma production since!) Pending you have a high tolerance for low-brow humor, this is a movie you might want to consider checking out the next time you have a free afternoon: gross, crude, campy, corny, cheesy, and from start to finish, incredibly entertaining, this movie is vintage Troma, through and through.
#008 Decampitated (1996)
(Broken YouTube Link Removed)
We have all seen slasher parodies before - some are good, like the Sleepaway Camp films, and most are just flat out crappy (like Saturday the 14th and Wacko.) This Troma acquisition, however, is pretty much in a class all its own.
Troma is known for trotting out self-reflexive movies, but this one TOTALLY takes it to the next level by mocking the entire notion of cinematic violence. Alike most dead teenager flicks, the cast of this movie gets dispatched, one by one, in relatively gruesome ways - nothing we have not seen before, of course. However, the movie decides to throw us a MAJOR curveball, as the victims of this movie, well, recover a lot faster than we thought they would.
In most slasher films, when a character gets a major limb, like an arm or a leg, hacked off, you usually do not hear much from them for the rest of the movie. In this flick, however, characters get decapitated AND STILL have dialogue for the remainder of the picture. The death scenes - which, surprisingly, result in very little of what we would consider death - are fantastic, the dialogue is incredibly snappy, and there is definitely more than a few laugh out loud moments here. If you ever wondered what it would be like if Monty Python directed a Friday the 13th movie, this is probably about as close as we would get to seeing such a project.
#007 The Toxic Avenger (1986)
Troma's flagship motion picture remains one of the company s absolute best productions: a whip smart funny gore-soaked comedy that pokes fun at horror movie conventions while making a few (not-so) poignant statements about environmentalism and corporate corruption.
By now, we should all be familiar with the backstory of the film (if not by seeing it, than by recalling the pilot episode of the Toxic Crusaders cartoon). Following a prank gone awry, janitor Melvin Junko is transformed into Toxie, the first superhero - I mean, creature of super human size and strength - from New Jersey. The rest, as they so often say, is history.
There are so many great scenes in this movie, from the bloodbath at the Mexican restaurant to the scene involving the game of vehicular homicide to the grand, guts-laden finale of the picture. It is really easy to see why this is one of the most popular cult films of the 1980s, and even easier to see why a good twenty five years later, this flick is still considered to be the very anchor of the Troma organization. Whether or not you have an interest in Troma as a whole, this is still a movie you need to see at least once - although just to play it safe, probably not on a full stomach.
#006 Terror Firmer (1998)
Troma s last major production of the 20th century is basically a tribute to itself. Tell me if this sounds even REMOTELY familiar: a director with a penchant for abusing cast and crew members attempts to make a sleazy b-horror movie with furtive political and social undertones, while offbeat shenanigans and threats from the police keep the production moving along at a snail s pace.
This movie mirrors the real-life trials and tribulations of director Lloyd Kaufman so much that he even cites his book Everything I Need To Know About Filmmaking I Learned From The Toxic Avenger as the inspiration for the flick. And as you would expect, this motion picture is a bloody, raunchy, mildly-to-extremely offensive hoot from start to finish.
Abortions. Puns about people getting killed by boxes of cereal. A guy having his leg ripped off and beaten to death with the stump. Folks, this is what we see before the title credits EVEN roll on Terror Firmer - needless to say, if you are going to jump into this one, you best have a HIGH tolerance for things like fecal matter, child abuse jokes and the sight of a morbidly obese man running TOTALLY naked down the streets of New York. Alike most of Troma s work, this is not for the squeamish or the mild mannered, but if you are an adventurous sort looking for a wild and wooly horror comedy, this is a flick you need to see PRONTO.
#005 Bloodsucking Freaks (1975)
Although this movie was actually released before Troma was even founded, it was most certainly given a new life when Troma picked up the distribution rights to the film in the early 1980s.
Needless to say, this is one of the most hardcore movies in the Troma library - heck, even Lloyd Kaufman said that he would not have released it today because it is just so damned misogynistic. It is sort of a funny about face for the head of Troma, whom in 1983, showed the film to a women s group with the SOLE intention of getting them to protest the picture so he would have free publicity for the movie.
The gist of the movie is this: There is this guy named Sardu that holds an off-Broadway play where he maims and kills women on stage. . .for real. Oh, and he does even MORE HORRIBLE things to them behind the curtains, in case you were wondering. Sardu slowly kills off the critics of his routine one by one, but as you would expect, he is eventually done in by a slave girl revolt. Without totally giving away the ending (which is one of the all time exploitation film greats, by the way), let s just say that by the time this is over, you will NEVER be able to look at a hot dog the same way again.
#004 Mother's Day (1980)
Are you looking for a tremendous, early 80s slasher movie that actually does something a little different? If so, then Mother s Day is a movie you flat out HAVE TO SEE.
The picture is basically a hybrid between your post-Halloween dead teenager flick and your post I Spit On Your Grave-revenge picture. The movie concerns three girls that go camping out in the woods, only to be abducted by two EXTREMELY icky hillbillies who are commanded to kill by their creepy-to-the-nth-degree mama.
There are scenes in this movie that, to this day, really get my skin crawling. The grand finale is one of the best paint-the-walls red gore fests of the 1980s, and there is one scene in particular - involving a character holding onto a rope for dear life - that I suspect will stay in your head for the rest of your days after viewing it. Depending upon your penchant for cheese, you may deduct or add a few points for the twist ending, but by then, Mother s Day has already made a lasting impression on you: if you think you have seen all of the great, underrated exploitation films of the 80s, you are missing out on one hell of a flick if you have not caught this one.
#003 Tromeo and Juliet (1996)
(Broken YouTube Link Removed)
A lot of people consider this film - written by James Gunn, the director of Slither - to be the crowning achievement of the Troma library. With all of the awesome things going on in this picture, it would be pretty hard to argue otherwise.
Obviously, the film is an homage to Romeo and Juliet, just one that throws in all of the stuff that the Bard MEANT to be in the story to begin with. You know, like guys getting their skulls cracked open by fire hydrants, scenes of ridiculously up-close nipple piercings, and a track or two from Superchunk.
This is really a movie that I cannot do justice to with mere words. There are so many great scenes in this movie that to tell you what you need to know, I would pretty much have to reproduce the entire script for you here. Just take my word for it: this is a downright tremendous film that any filmgoer with a taste for the unorthodox ought to give a try.
#002 Troma's War (1988)
(Broken YouTube Link Removed)
This is the movie Lloyd Kaufman himself considers to be the best Troma picture of them all - and although a lot of people disagree, I would have to say it s definitely worthy of such a lofty title.
Troma s War is the single most expensive Troma film ever made. In fact, it went over budget to such a degree that, to this day, the company is STILL feeling the effects of the money pit this film produced. Although universally panned when originally released - even by a lot of through and through Troma fanatics, no less - today, the film is seen as a retroactive classic, the flick that serves as the proverbial turning point for the company as a whole.
Troma's War is basically a comedic version of Apocalypse Now, a WAY ahead of its time social satire that mercilessly skewers Reaganomics, American expansionism, U.S. militarism and basically, all of the excess of the 1980s taken as a collective. A good twenty years before LOST hit the airwaves, the films concerns an eclectic cast of characters that crash land on a not-so deserted island. Facing a banana republic of strongmen guerillas, the 80s stereotypes decided to turn into civilian commandos, resulting in explosions, sight gags, corny jokes and even a few profound statements about American culture following eight years of the Gipper being in power. Although it is not the kind of film that will please everybody, there is no denying that this movie BLEEDS the Troma mentality in buckets: this movie may or may not be the best the company has to offer, but it is most definitely the most TROMATIC movie the company has yet to produce.
#001 Combat Shock (1984)
(Broken YouTube Link Removed)
When you hear the word Troma, you generally think about a certain kind of picture - typically, a goofy, gory, raunchy exploitation flick loaded with scathing social and political commentary. Despite having a reputation for making some really extreme motion pictures, Troma really is not considered a manufacturer of serious filmmaking - a notion that makes my pick for the best of Troma s library all the more exceptional.
Written and directed by Buddy Giovinazzo, Combat Shock is one of the most visceral and depressing - yet captivating and engaging - motion pictures I have ever seen. Very, very few films capture the grimy realism of unemployment and urban disenchantment that this film manages to convey - far from being a haunting social horror flick, it may be one of the few motion pictures out there that will literally scar your psyche from hereon out.
The film follows a day in the life of an unemployed Vietnam veteran, and the trials and tribulations he suffers through in this movie are more horrifying and disturbing than just about any fantastical horror movie you have ever witnessed. There is a certain realness to this movie that makes it FAR more unnerving than your traditional horror fare - and in today s recession and PTSD-ravaged world, it has a certain significance that rings truer NOW than it probably did when it was originally released. The film unfolds in such a tragic, realistic manner that it may be too uncomfortable for even the most hardened filmgoer - without question, the final ten minutes of this movie is perhaps the most BRUTAL in the history of American cinema. In my humble opinion, not only is this FAR AND AWAY the greatest Troma release of all time, it is one of the most criminally underrated and underappreciated films in the history of independent film. Not only do I consider this film a must-see for anyone interested in film, I would consider it essential viewing for anyone that cares about the sociological impact of war and unemployment. . .once you see this film, I assure you that it will stick with you for the rest of your life.
It is pretty hard to give a company with a legacy and tape library as diverse as Troma a fair shake, but I figure that this humble listing is a good enough starting place for filmgoers both grizzled and new to the party to enjoy what the company has to offer. I think that as long as you have a sense of humor (and an even stronger stomach), you will probably derive at least a little enjoyment out of just about any Troma offering. With Halloween just a few days away, I would strongly advise checking out one or two of the movies listed above: you never know, it may just make you a TROMATIZED individual from here on out!
James Swift is the author of How I Survived Three Years: At a Two-Year Community College: A Junior Memoir of Epic Proportions and Mascara Contra Mascara: A Tale of Two Masks. He is currently a freelance writer living in the metro Atlanta area.
My Twitter: JSwiftMedia My YouTube Channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/JSwiftMedia My Blog: internetisinamerica.blogspot.com