“I don’t know that it’s crap,” he reconsiders, “but lets face it. Open ‘A Beautiful Mind’ at a thousand theatres, then let five other movies play. Because right now, there are masterpieces from Spain, Japan, and Korea, by filmmakers like Takashi Miike, that don’t play here.”
“Meanwhile, the American public is denied them, because we have to see the same movies, wherever we go, and whatever we do. Whether you’re in a hotel, or an airplane, or a movie theatre, it’s the same six movies. It’s a disgrace. These are baby food movies, attempting to be all things to all people. You can live off baby food, but it’s very boring.”
Boring isn’t a term commonly associated with Troma’s formula, a liberal stew of breasts, brain-splatter, and irreverent humor that makes “There’s Something About Mary” look like a Merchant-Ivory Production in comparison. Meanwhile, its utterly crude and distasteful æsthetic is neutralized by the most obviously gut-bucket special effects this side of Ed Wood. While the typical Hollywood film runs anywhere from thirty to eighty million dollars, Troma’s movies average less than half a million to produce. Without state of the art gimmicks, Kaufmann heaps on slapstick action, cranberry sauce, and stage blood.
After some particularly villainous robbers hold up a Taco joint in the original “Toxic Avenger” film, its pop-eyed hero comes to the rescue with some fast-food combat strategies that must have McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc rolling in his grave. One hyperactive goon is rendered senseless by some martial arts mayhem before having his lungs ripped out by a milkshake mixer. Another offender becomes a human pizza, shoved into an oven to bake long into the evening. The “piece de resistance” involves a third thug’s hands being thrust into hot oil, his fingers immersed in the boiling goo like ten overcooked french fries.
“We filmed that scene all night,” he reveals. “The guy who owned the restaurant was a big Troma fan, and he let us shoot there for nothing. Because the Taco scene was set during the daytime, a lot of the shots are filmed facing away from the windows, so that people wouldn’t see that it was dark outside.”
Kaufman, whose Troma acquisitions catalog boasts over 1,000 titles, recently completed a second book on such low budget filmmaking secrets, Make Your Own Damn Movie. Slated for a Christmas season release, the book will be available through St. Martin’s Press.
Occasionally, an effect that deviates from the director’s specific vision can turn into a major coup. Case in point: Toxie’s hideous yet adorable mug, which brings to mind the hairless, radiated bean of “The Road Warrior”‘s main scourge, Humongus, cloned with comic book sensation Swamp Thing. “I wanted Toxie to be much more disgusting looking,” he confesses. “Jenny Aspinall, the gal whom we hired to create his look, kept coming back with this kind of lovable, lump-headed guy. I kept telling her to make the skin more oozing. Then I ran out of time and money, and had to shoot. She deserves the credit, because everybody loves Toxie. Whatever she did, it’s magic.”
Magic, indeed. Since “The Toxic Avenger”‘s mid-eighties debut, its title character has become a major franchise. His name and slime-slathered likeness can be found on comic book covers, lunch boxes, board and video games, model kits, and Halloween masks. He frequently haunts the Cannes Film Festival, and has marched in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Tacoma’s Proctor District is an upper-class nook in North Tacoma, a few blocks south of Commencement Bay and a western border to the expensive, private campus of University of Puget Sound. It’s a haunt known more for its coffee shops, antique stores, and quaint, restored 19th century homes than for norm-challenging eccentricity. In fact, it could almost be the West Coast version of Tromaville.
Yet, the town sheds its polite, disciplined demeanor each Saturday night, as the Blue Mouse Theater hosts everybody’s favorite interactive midnight movie, “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” The weekend ritual attracts a colorful freak show of neighborhood nonconformists who eschew Proctor’s refined vibe. Even though it’s Troma Thursday, and Tim Curry’s spandex ‘n mascara clad form is nowhere to be seen, the same motley crew from “Rocky Horror” have taken over the cinema, anxious to be the first in Washington to view “Citizen Toxie: The Toxic Avenger Part IV.”
There’s Sparky, a lumbering man-mountain with the blonde, untamed mane of Metallica frontman James Hetfield. Sparky spouts Troma trivia from the Blue Mouse’s front row, and grips a video copy of Troma’s “Class of Nuke ’em High” for Kaufman to sign. With his Harry Knowles-sized profile, Sparky claims to be the movie house’s unofficial bouncer, and proudly states that Troma movies and Iron Maiden music are his two greatest passions in life. His friend, a dark-haired geek sporting an oriental, silk shirt and carting around a special edition of “Terror Firmer,” hopes to get the tape autographed by Kaufman. It seems that most of the Rocky Horror regulars are on hand to be Tromatized.
Others, like the middle-aged couples and college students taking advantage of the free March screening after seeing it advertised as part of a University of Washington Arts & Lecture Series, might have been expecting an ecology documentary. Instead, they watch as Kaufman, the event’s guest of honor, saunters up the left aisle alongside a mop-wielding likeness of Toxie himself. Trailing behind them is Sgt. Kabukiman NYPD, another Troma celebrity, who shares the spotlight as the trio is mobbed by about a dozen hardcore fans.
The Troma President is greeted by another wave of rabid applause as he introduces the fourth “Toxic Avenger” installment. “I think that ‘The Toxic Avenger’ series is the only set of movies to feature someone’s head getting crushed by an automobile, before getting turned into a children’s cartoon.”
The middle-aged couple suddenly grows wary, sensing that perhaps they aren’t ready to enter Troma’s grisly universe just yet. However, Sparky and his cronies are poised for maximum splatter, howling up front as the lights grow dim. Hail Toxie.
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