I was a snarky, bespectacled, under-achieving 17-year-old in my last year of school. But I ruled that year with my posse of demented hipster teens by distributing battered VHS copies of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, THE KINDRED, lots of DEEP THROAT-era porn, cigarettes and blackcurrant cider to keep the rival gangs (er, cliques) in line. I would also routinely canoodle with the school bully after lunch in the empty locker rooms. Like most teenagers with a God Complex, I thought I was the shit, and that I’d seen and done it all. But I fucking hadn’t.
That was the summer I was introduced to Troma — or more specifically THE TOXIC AVENGER — and I was sold.
This flick welcomed all to Tromaville (“Toxic Waste Capital of the World”) and introduced us to long-suffering Mop Boy Melvin, who worked at a gym run by Bozo and his racist gang of bone-breaking douchebags, whose hobbies include vehicular homicide… and, of course, torturing Melvin. But a cruel prank involving a baying mob, a sheep in drag, a pink tutu-wearing Melvin and a skydive into a barrel of toxic waste backfires… and henceforth, watch out evildoers: Melvin is reborn as The Toxic Avenger!
Thus begins Toxie’s absurdist, two-fisted odyssey through Tromaville’s criminal underworld — breaking up diner heists and back-street drug deals, tearing and ripping and deep-frying his way through the sleazy criminal classes, and hailed by the local press as a Monster Hero! The character and plot in TOXIC AVENGER is essentially a cheeky reinterpretation of several Marvel and DC properties at the time — and it rocked.
Monster Kids, cinephiles and cult aficionados (and of course, Blumhouse readers) with a soft spot for B-grade, creature-packed, sex-fueled, ultra-violent pulp movies will need no introduction to Toxie’s creative father: The Hugh Hefner of trashy independent cinema, Troma President and popular horror personality Lloyd Kaufman.
With a career spanning 40 years, Kaufman spent a large chunk of that time navigating the low-brow corners and lower echelons of the entertainment industry; the man has demonstrated an undisputed commitment to independence and excellence in Bad Taste cinema. The pop-cultural puppetmaster is an ambassador for “The Good, the Bad and The Subhuman” — so lower those highbrow expectations, readers, and instead prepare yourselves for Mutant Penises, Monster Foetuses, Terrible Toadies, Toxic Avengers and buckets of blood and green slime.
Troma and Kaufman together have a long history of embracing the underdog, and Lloyd has identified himself in several interviews as “a gay man who’s married,” a strong queer ally and a staunch supporter of inclusiveness in film and outsider voices in cinema. Like George Romero, Roger Corman and Peaches Christ, Kaufman understands that horror and monsters cannot exist without a social conscience.
For example: POULTRYGEIST is a perverse parable that tackles mass-produced meat and damningly indicts the USA’s fast-food-nation, while THE TOXIC AVENGER and CLASS OF NUKE’EM HIGH both address animal rights, same-sex relationships, environmentalism and economic doom. Before Troma, Kaufman penned (with director Ted Gershuny) 1971’s Sapphic thriller SUGAR COOKIES, which has been described as “a female VERTIGO.” Kaufman was also the first to put transgender characters on the silver screen with VEGAS IN SPACE — long before PRISCILLA: QUEEN OF THE DESERT became a cult hit — and SUPERSTARLET A.D. is another queer-oriented apocalyptic tale.
Kaufman has also maintained an open-door policy for emerging filmmakers, and has worked with many future genre superstars at the beginning of their careers — including Eli Roth (THE GREEN INFERNO), Trey Parker (SOUTH PARK) and James Gunn (GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY). The polymath is also one of the last “Hollyweird” icons to directly engage with his audience, often via social networking apps like Twitter.
[For this piece, I’m hyper-focusing on queer flicks from the Troma stable — and if you’d like an overview and some autobiographical stories from Kaufman’s career, be sure to check out this interview over at the amazing SHOCK WAVES Podcast.]
Directed by Kaufman himself, this indie-industry satire takes the form of a gross-out slasher flick, and features SOUTH PARK’s Trey Parker and Matt Stone, porn superstar Ron Jeremy, a pre-CABIN FEVER Eli Roth, Trent Haaga and Debbie Rochon fighting for their lives on a film set.
An alliance between Troma Entertainment and Astron Six can only mean one thing: DEATH WISH with buggery! A degenerate has started sodomizing and butchering innocent young dads, and it’s up to jailbird Ahab who, alongside a hustler and a priest, must track down and butcher the serial killer who sodomized and murdered his father. A modern day Grindhouse opus!
It’s exactly what it says on the label: a predatory prophylactic is eating its way through New York City’s sexual deviants, and it’s up to queer cop Luigi (Udo Samel) to rid the city of this callous contraceptive! When the Killer Condom relinquishes Luigi of one of his balls, things definitely get personal — and really ugly!
SUPERSTARLET A.D. (2000)
Sleaze, bloodshed, tribal women and burlesque at the end of the world! This flick’s BARBARELLA-style plot follows Naomi attempting to track down a vintage burlesque film alongside her lover Rachel, as they battle heavily-armed gangs (segregated by hair color) through a post-apocalyptic Femphis!
MONSTER IN THE CLOSET (1986)
That’s a pretty loaded title, but since it applies to a Troma film, that means it is not a metaphor: the title monster is totally closeted, and he’s going to eat you — just not in the good way.
VEGAS IN SPACE (1991)
Three years before PRISCILLA hit the Outback trail, Troma released this micro-epic about a crew of Drag Queens who embark on a very different kind of voyage — to the planet Vegas, on a mission to save all dragkind.