Troma Entertainment has been around since 1974, when college friends Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz founded the fiercely independent film studio. The pair met at Yale. Since its inception, the studio has become one of the largest independent film studios and distributors in The United States.
Troma has been instrumental in launching the careers of many of Hollywood’s biggest names. Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman, and Kevin Costner all worked in Troma films toward the beginning of their careers. Legendary genre writer/director James Gunn landed his first directing gig (Tromeo and Juliette) via Troma Entertainment. Troma is also responsible for lending source material to several high profile remakes. Darren Lynn Bousman (Repo! The Genetic Opera) loosely remade the 1980 Troma film Mother’s Day. Bousman’s reboot was released last year. Remake deals are reportedly in the works for some of Troma’s most recognizable films, such as, The Toxic Avenger, and Class of Nuke ‘Em High. It may be a while before either of those happen, however.
Despite playing a major role in the film industry and contributing to the discovery of many household names, Troma Entertainment has the stigma, in some people’s minds, of being nothing more than a schlock obsessed, low-budget, nonsense machine. As a result, we see viewers (even genre fans) turning up their noses at the works of very talented filmmakers.
Being very passionate about independent film and Troma’s contribution to the indie film scene, we wanted to take a moment to set the record straight and offer up five Troma titles that every horror fan should see. This is not a top five list. This is a history lesson for the un-inducted. Just like with any film studio, there are films in the Troma catalogue that aren’t great. But, for some reason, it seems that people lump all Troma titles together and are willing to write off an entire studio based on a bad experience. We’ve never seen someone do that with 20th Century Fox or Warner Brothers. So, because we are thoughtful and also passionate about independent filmmaking and Troma, we have put together some titles that will give horror fans not familiar with Troma’s brand of cinema a sample of what the studio’s films are really like. The Troma Team is responsible for some terrific films and we don’t want anyone to miss out on the opportunity to take in some fantastic flicks, based on a misconception. We wager that watching the five films listed below will make a Troma fan out of any genre fan. But, really, there is no need to thank us. We are here to help. We mean it. You can stop, now.
Mother’s Day was directed by Charles Kaufman, Lloyd’s brother, who has since left Hollywood. Mother’s Day has a couple of schlocky moments, but it’s ultimately a fantastic outsiders vs. locals film. It is in the vein of movies like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. We don’t mean to say that Mother’s Day is as good as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre; there are few fright films that are on the level of TCM. But, Mother’s Day is a brutal, suspenseful, and outrageous bloody good time. It’s a visceral and intense horror film. Mother’s Day is a great choice for someone who has never seen a Troma film before. If you first showed an un-inducted viewer something like Tromeo and Juliette, they may end up not wanting to watch another Troma film. And that’s not because Tromeo and Juliette is a bad movie, it’s because the film is a little "out there". Tromeo and Juliette did actually achieve a certain amount of critical acclaim. But if you showed it to someone with no perspective on the works of Troma Entertainment, they probably wouldn’t appreciate it in the same manner as someone who is familiar with Troma’s particular brand of zany.
Girl’s School Screamers
John P. Finnegan directed Girl’s School Screamers. It was his directorial debut and the only film he ever directed. Girls School Screamers is a great second film for someone still becoming familiar with the Troma Library. Girls School Screamers has some of the signature Troma campiness in it, but it has a lot in common with a run of the mill B-grade slasher film. It’s the story of a group of college-aged girls, in a house, being picked off by a baddie. That’s easy enough for even a casual horror fan to get on board with. There are a few scenes that are overacted, but that is something you will find in any title from the Troma library. Girl’s School Screamers is not necessarily one of Troma’s best films. But for the newcomer, it’s a good second title to watch while continuing their introduction to all things Troma.
Girls School Screamers recently went out of print (OOP) on DVD. It is commanding nearly $30 for a new copy, via Amazon. For more on what’s out of print, check out our feature detailing some popular titles that are OOP on DVD.
The Toxic Avenger
The Toxic Avenger is Troma. The titular character, also known as Toxie has become Troma Entertainment’s mascot. The Toxic Avenger was co-written and co-directed by Troma founder, Lloyd Kaufman. After you’ve seen Mother’s Day and Girl’s School Screamers, you will have a better understanding for the Troma aesthetic and their signature sense of humor. Trying to watch The Toxic Avenger without that base knowledge may preclude a new viewer from completely "getting" The Toxic Avenger.
This film is actually certified fresh by Rotten Tomatoes. It’s one of the best Troma films, ever. But, as we mentioned before, it’s really important that the viewer know a little bit about Troma’s liberal use satire before they tackle The Toxic Avenger. This was the first Troma film I saw, and I regret not seeking out some other titles from Troma’s sizeable back catalogue, beforehand. I liked the movie, the first time I saw it. But I didn’t completely "get it" until the second time I watched it. Upon my second viewing, I had significantly expanded my exposure to Troma and the film resonated with me in a completely different way. It’s one of my all time favorite Troma releases.
The Toxic Avenger gave birth to a short-lived children’s cartoon called Toxic Crusaders. Only 13 episodes of the series exist. I remember watching the show during its short run in the early nineties. A box set featuring all of the Toxic Avenger films and all 13 episodes of Toxic Crusaders was released on DVD in 2008. It is still available on Amazon. Prior to its release, the complete animated series was impossible to find by any conventional means.
Class of Nuke ‘Em High
Like The Toxic Avenger, Class of Nuke ‘Em High was co-written and co-directed by Lloyd Kaufman. Nuke ‘Em High is another essential Troma film. Next to The Toxic Avenger, I cannot think of a film that is more representative of the Troma aesthetic than this. Nuke ‘Em High is campy, cheesy, and satirical. It takes place in Tromaville, where the students attend Tromaville High School. The problem the students of Tromaville High are up against is daily exposure to toxic waste. It seems that the constant contact with this harmful byproduct is causing them to act out in increasingly strange ways. Nuke ‘Em High is one of my personal favorite Troma films and I think that after one has seen the three films we listed previously, they are more than ready to spend a couple of hours at Tromaville High Shool.
Return to Nuke ‘Em High (a co-production with Starz Media) is currently listed as being in post-production on IMDb.
We started this lesson by introducing you to Mother’s Day and we will end our lesson with Father’s Day. We put Father’s Day last for a couple of reasons. First, because it is one of Troma’s newest films and we think it shows how far the studio has progressed since its early days, and inversely, it shows exactly how much Troma has stayed the same. The second reason we put it last is that Father’s Day is one of the most shocking exploitation films to come out in some time. The previous four films lead the viewer up to a place where they are ready for this story of a mad man who is on the loose and raping people’s fathers. It gets worse. But, we don’t want to ruin the fun for you.
Father’s Day is a joint venture between Troma and the filmmaking fivesome Astron 6. Astron 6 took to the director’s chair for Father’s Day, but Troma took on the producing role, and Lloyd Kaufman made a cameo appearance as both God and The Devil. With a tagline like: “Sons, Lock Up Your Fathers,” you can only imagine the kind of good old-fashioned debauchery you’re in for with Father’s Day.
Troma is accepting donations, by way of crowd funding, for a documentary called Occupy Cannes. The documentary will focus on independent film studios and filmmakers and how they must fight to stay alive in a business that is dominated by the studio conglomerate. You can donate here until March 8th at 11:59 PM.