Film Reviews

Booby trap

Some film aficionados are weaned on art-house offerings, savoring the mise-en-scène of Kurosawa, the montage of Eisenstein, and the imagery of Fellini. Others suckle on the teat of Cinemax, sneaking back into the living room after Mom and Dad have gone to bed to study the brutal disfigurement of bad guys, the mind-numbing mutations of innocents, and the rampant molestations of bare-breasted bimbos. Either route is equally valid: After all, once you see a man catch a softball in his hairy ass -- which happens in the finale of the 1980 socio-political masterpiece Squeeze Play, a heartwarming tale about a group of forward-thinking feminists out to prove they can compete with men in sports as well as they can in wet T-shirt contests -- you know there's nothing that film can't do.

It also proves that there's nothing people won't pay to see. Ergo, the success of Troma Films and Squeeze Play auteur, writer-director-producer-actor Lloyd Kaufman, who co-founded the, ah, studio. For 25 years, Kaufman and the Troma team have been putting out true independent film -- not independent-with-a-capital-I independent film, but independent film with a capital T&A. And a lot of gore. And a lot of would-be big-time talent working for art's sake, mostly because there is no budget. Not only has Kaufman's Troma Studios given the world such classics as Class of Nuke 'Em High, Surf Nazis Must Die!, and The Toxic Avenger series, but it's helped pull into focus the skills of such Hollywood heavyweights as Oscar winner Kevin Costner (as a bland everyman in Sizzle Beach, USA and Shadows Run Black), Oscar winner Billy Bob Thornton (as a dimwit homicidal yokel in Chopper Chicks in Zombietown), Oscar winner Marisa Tomei (as a modestly talented actress catching an insanely lucky break in Toxic Avenger), Oscar nominee Samuel L. Jackson (as a bad-ass on a mission from God in Def by Temptation), and South Park's Oscar nominee Trey Parker (as a gifted songwriter in Cannibal: The Musical).

But none of Kaufman's previous visionary efforts in producing, distributing, writing, directing, or acting -- not even the sociopolitical tour de force Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D., a heartwarming tale about a crime-fighter infused with the spirit and makeup of a murdered Japanese Kabuki actor and empowered with supernatural chopsticks -- can prepare audiences for Terror Firmer. Based on Kaufman's autobiography-cum-guide to low-budget moviemaking All I Need to Know About Filmmaking I Learned From The Toxic Avenger -- that is, based on it in the same way, say, Deep Throat was based on Mein Kampf -- Terror Firmer is the pièce de résistance of the Troma canon. The movie is a blender full of all the juicy nuggets that define Troma films: monsters, mayhem, syrupy bloodletting and gooey head-squishing, transgender mutilations, loads of bad acting by complete freaks, and even more pointless nudity by attractive and unattractive people alike. And there's vomiting, lots of vomiting. And not just because Ron "The Hedgehog" Jeremy cameos.

If you're looking for a plot synopsis, you obviously don't yet fully realize the beauty of Troma films. But for the record, it's the heart-warming tale of a Troma film shoot terrorized by a homicidal transvestite. Lloyd Kaufman stars as blind B-movie director Larry Benjamin, a thinly disguised version of himself. Will Keenan -- most famous for starring as Tromeo in Kaufman's trendsetting Shakespearean update for the nipple-pierced youth market, Tromeo & Juliet -- plays Casey, the soundman with the pickle fetish. Aspiring young actress Alyce LaTourelle is Jennifer, the aspiring young actress on whom Casey uses the pickle. Think of it as Truffaut's Day for Night meets Troma's Beverly D'Angelo vehicle, Pterodactyl Woman From Beverly Hills.

As in Scream 3, the always inventive behind-the-scenes-of-a-movie premise gives the moviemakers and the fans plenty of opportunities to share inside jokes that will leave the rest of the audience thinking it is just a really bad movie. But even those who aren't Troma scholars will embrace the strong sociopolitical messages found in the "De-fetusing the Pregnant Woman" scene and the "Chop off the Ventriloquist's Hand and Stretch His Dick Like Taffy" episode. But these moments are nothing compared with Terror Firmer's denouement, a heartfelt public-service announcement geared toward raising consciousness about society's bias toward hermaphrodites, featuring South Park's Trey Parker and Matt Stone and narrated by Motörhead's Lemmy. If this doesn't prove Troma inspires would-be filmmakers, nothing will.

KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Scott Kelton Jones