Film and TV

Troma Co-Founder Lloyd Kaufman Tells Us What Disgusts Him in Movies

Director Lloyd Kaufman's latest Troma masterpiece is called #ShakespearesShitstorm, a retelling of William Shakespeare's The Tempest with a literal shitstorm in place of Prospero's magical storm.
Director Lloyd Kaufman's latest Troma masterpiece is called #ShakespearesShitstorm, a retelling of William Shakespeare's The Tempest with a literal shitstorm in place of Prospero's magical storm. courtesy Troma Films
It's hard to imagine a guy like Lloyd Kaufman being disgusted by anything. His Troma Films production company bathes in bodily fluids, cartoonish gore and unapologetic humor.

Your view probably gets skewed when you've been a totally independent studio for 45 years in the shadow of the Hollywood media machine.

"If you're going to go into the arts and even if you're a narcissist, and maybe I am a narcissist, you shouldn't be looking to make money," Kaufman says from his studio headquarters in New York. "I really believe that 50 years from now, we're gonna look back on this era of the '80s, '90s and 2000s as conspicuous consumption."

Every Troma movie follows the pathos of its founders Kaufman and Michael Herz, who make films on their own terms without marketing schemes or input from people who've never made a movie. There's no formula to Kaufman's filmmaking. He knows his audience and what they want to see on the screen. As a result, Troma has produced underground cinema classics such as Sgt. Kabukiman NYPD, Class of Nuke'em High, Cannibal: The Musical and The Toxic Avenger — which is currently being rebooted with stars Peter Dinklage, Elijah Wood and Kevin Bacon.

click to enlarge Troma Films co-founder and director Lloyd Kaufman. - COURTESY TROMA FILMS
Troma Films co-founder and director Lloyd Kaufman.
courtesy Troma Films
Kaufman's latest film #ShakespearesShitstorm marks his 50 years in filmmaking and calling out his industry and the world's bullshit by flinging as much of it as he can at his cast and the screen. In this instance, that's not just a metaphor.

"When I'm dead, the world will get it," Kaufman says. "For the time being, we're the last of the independent movie studios, the genuine cult movie studio whose fans are rabid. They totally make us look like a big corporation."

#ShakespearesShitstorm is a musical retelling of William Shakespeare's The Tempest in which Kaufman plays a modernized Prospero who's banished to the storied land of Tromaville for daring to challenge the greedy, big pharma executives for raking in millions over opioid addiction. However, instead of conjuring a storm of sea water, Kaufman's Prospero conjures a storm of white shit to smite his shipwrecked enemies.

Kaufman is taking the movie on tour across Texas starting with The Texas Theatre this Saturday, followed by a live Q&A.

Kaufman says he's been wanting to tackle The Tempest since Tromeo and Juliet, the 1997 Troma black comedy hit he wrote with future filmmaking star James Gunn.

"I wanted to feel Prospero at his age and I think I was 74 and I could feel Prospero," Kaufman says. "Of course, he was dead by the time he was 74 but I understood what he was going through, that loss of power for one."

The title alone makes it hard for #ShakespearesShitstorm to get any festival play, except for an anchor screening at the Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal and an upcoming screening at the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens. So naturally, Kaufman is taking his latest epic comedy horror musical to Texas.

"It's unbelievable," he says. "Texas has a huge art community. I've been to places like the Deep Ellum Film Festival. I've hung out there at galleries. More people know me in the streets of Texas than New York City, to be honest."
Kaufman is the very definition of a showman with his trademark bowtie and boundless enthusiasm. His energy bleeds into every film he's made and produced.

"It's just to get people's attention and entertain them," Kaufman says. "I tend to gravitate towards younger people because older people my age are boring as fuck and the famous older people, they won't answer my calls. So what are you gonna do? I painted myself into a corner with a lot of talented young people for 50 years."

Kaufman's contribution to cinema extends beyond the classic cult films that fans devour on VHS, DVD and streaming services like Troma Now. He and Herz also gave some of the film and TV industry's biggest names their first jobs: Samuel L. Jackson, J.J. Abrams, Oliver Stone, Marisa Tomei and South Park creator Trey Parker and Matt Stone.

"The guy who runs the Texas Theatre [founder Barak Epstein] worked for us as an intern," Kaufman says. "He probably doesn't want people to know that but he worked on Citizen Toxie: The Toxic Avenger IV."  
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Danny Gallagher has been a regular contributor to the Dallas Observer since 2014. He has also written features, essays and stories for MTV, the Chicago Tribune, Maxim, Cracked, Mental_Floss, The Week, CNET and The Onion AV Club.