Friday 11th May 2012 saw the Prince Charles Cinema in Soho, London stage a triple bill of movies from the American independent production company, Troma Entertainment. The event was attended by the enigmatic co-founder of Troma, Lloyd Kaufman. Kaufman was a striking character, as I wandered through the Prince Charles lobby towards the bar, almost tripping over him. My double take reaction made me think I had just stumbled past Mel Brooks, but I was soon to learn more about Troma’s history, as the bow-tied Kaufman headed to stage front to welcome us to the Troma Event. The triple bill was to mark the release of the latest Troma movie, ‘Father’s Day’. The film was to be shown, sandwiched between the two classic Troma releases. Troma, as an independent company, have operated since 1974 on a shoestring budget, but the sense of humour, present in all of their exploitational movie output, more than makes up for the restrictive production values. And so, Troma have gathered an enthusiastic cult following, whilst never making a huge impact on the mainstream.
Class Of Nuke’Em High (1986)
The fictional generic US small-town, Tromaville is the setting for this movie that questions society’s relationship with nuclear power. A commonly visited topic in sci-fi media! (link) The plot focuses on a high school couple, Wayne and Crissy. The proximity of a badly managed nuclear power station to the school results in weird goings-on at Tromaville High School, as a bunch of straight-A students become a bunch of punky denerate bikers, and we get to witness further manifestations of the problem as the movie progresses. The film is always in good humour. The main punk bad-guy, Spike, portrayed by Robert Prichard, quite reminded me of Vernon Wells’s character from Mad Max 2, which he later reprised in Weird Science, before letting off some steam as Bennett via the Commando antics of John Matrix. Prichard’s charismatic portrayal reveals an interesting notion about the film, in that the bad guys are way more fun and likeable than the so-called good guys in the form of annoying Jock couple, Wayne and Crissy. Brad Dunker puts in a great performance as the neanderthal-esque Gonzo and must be a prime candidate for the ‘Weirdest Screen Punk of All Time’ award, with brown face paint, grey mohawk, a set of monstrous nose rings and a strange bone club accessory. I never got the chance to check out this film first time round, and whilst it is definitely a film of it’s day, it remains an incredibly fun and watchable affair.
Father’s Day (2011)
‘Father’s Day’ is a movie looking for a place in the current resurgence of the grindhouse genre, characterised by films such as ‘Deathproof’ and ‘Hobo With A Shotgun’. Indeed the film has more in common with such movies than it does as being the latest member of a production company with the heritage of Troma Entertainment. Kaufman pointed out in the pre-movie chat, that the idea was to create a film to contrast against the movie, ‘Mother’s Day’.
The film’s premise lies in the search for a patricidal serial rapist and killer from the point of view of a small team of dubiously violent vigilantes. Not exactly a first date movie! Ahab, the bearded protagonist of the movie, portrayed by Adam Brooks takes us on a wise-cracking, skull-busting trip through the movie, on the trail of the mysterious and brutal killer, Chris Fuchman. Although the movie seemed to go down well with the Troma-sympathetic crowd, I couldn’t help but feel that the film was a little disappointing. In a post Blair Witch Project era, the role of budget horror movies has taken greater prominence with cinema-goers, such that the standard of more thriftier films has gone up and their exposure to horror fans has been increased through social networking and viral marketing. I couldn’t help but feel that the film didn’t stand up strongly, in comparison with other films in the grind house homage genre.
The Toxic Avenger (1984)
The final film brought to us in the triple bill was the movie that became the flagship product of Troma films. The anti-hero of which, known affectionately as ‘Toxie’ becoming such a quintessential representation of the output of Troma films that he adorns their entire branding strategy.
Mitch Cohen plays the stereotypical nerd character, Melvin Junko in a garish gym set in Tromaville. After being subjected to the bullying behaviour of the juvenile jock gym clientele, Junko ends up falling into a container of chemical waste. While he is burned and deformed by the toxic effect of the waste, he also mutates into the gargantuan beast that is the Toxic Avenger. Realising that he no longer has a place in normal society, as even his mother is unable to recognise him as anything other than a monster, Toxie resorts to inhabiting a junkyard and waste site. The film follows his tribulations in seeing through his revenge, and there is also a strange opportunity for Junko to experience love with a conveniently blind girl. The film is frankly ridiculous, but it carries out its purpose knowingly, and with great charm. While Toxie is capable of great violence, there are also several hilarious moments when he backs off, growling to politely apologise to innocent bystanders for inconveniencing them, while he exacts his titular revenge. The movie has a certain naive charm which is based on how it marries quite a witty script within the confines of its evidently restrictive budget, through the use of absurdity. Like ‘Nuke ‘Em High’, it’s a movie of its time, but ultimately, it’s the hallmark film that represents everything that Troma stands for and is the pay-off experience for any who succumb to the cult charm of the whole Troma schtick.