Some Tromatic Evening
April 24, 2002 | It was a dark and stormy night.
Well, it had been earlier. In fact, it had been a doozy. Scattered, disembodied tree limbs were testament to that. But what wasn't clear was whether or not the impending Troma Films party, ostensibly to celebrate their new documentary All the Love You Cannes, had caused the torrential downpour or if it had scared it away. Regardless, it seemed an ominous sign to a Troma rookie like me.
Even more ominous was the guy on the subway. He was wearing a suit but his face was battered and bloody. Purple bruises were visible in between the gooey open wounds. He hung his head between his legs in misery. Great. "What a sad sight," I thought. "No one is offering to help this poor guy. Well, I better read this newspaper."
By the time I got to Webster Hall, the famed multistory dance club, I was ready for the open bar. After maneuvering past the waiting throng and uttering the four most blessed words in the English language - "I'm on the list" - I trotted onto the nearly empty main dance floor. It was early and a few dozen Troma folk - including Troma stars the Toxic Avenger and Kabukiman - were hanging out beneath a giant screen showing behind the scenes clips from Terror Firmer. The first thing I saw was a guy getting his legs chopped off, then a guy getting his head blown up, then a woman getting her boobs shot off, and finally, most disturbingly, a fat, hairy, naked guy running wild in Times Square. A little later Lemmy, the legendary lead yowler of Motorhead, popped up on screen describing his take on the Troma method via subtitles. "It's mostly about how gross you can get in public," he explained, adding poignantly, "I hate filming." So, wait a minute. Was that how people really felt about Troma?
Since I knew very little about Troma, I figured I'd take this opportunity to talk to some of the little folks, the grunts that make it all happen. Sure, I'd read G. Noel Gross' excellent DVDTalk interview with Troma boss Lloyd Kaufman, but I needed to experience this for myself. It didn't take long for me to overhear a juicy tidbit. "Yeah, I jumped out of a second story window once," came the voice from behind me. "But it was ok. I landed on a cactus." Chris Fitzgerald interns at Troma, a place he calls "an organized Animal House. It's like a close knit fraternity." But there's gotta be work to do, too? I mean, movies like Bloodsucking Freaks don't just make themselves. "If you do your work, you can go nuts," explained Chris, which sounded like a pretty good trade off to me.
I ducked behind the giant video projection screen looking for other points of view. It's not possible to ignore a guy with a thick beard and a lovely sleeveless dress, so I introduced myself to Andy Straub, Troma promoter and host of "Win Andy Straub's Liquor," which he described as "America's most dangerous game show." Andy takes his game show on the road with Troma's traveling sideshow to places like Cleveland's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The game forces contestants to answer questions and then experience either "hard drinking or electrocution," although it's a little unclear which one is the reward and which is the punishment. The grand prize, however, is liquor from Andy's personal stash, although Andy points out that that's only "if you remember to ask for it."
Andy also loves Troma. "It's a great company to work for. The competition is slim to nil. You sleep two to a room, stacked like cordwood." Sounds great. A major draw for him is working with Lloyd. "He's not my mentor. He's my menthol," said Andy. "He's minty in your mouth." Andy remembered always being something of a wildman, but suggested that his time at Troma has really honed his sensibilities. On "Win Andy Straub's Liquor," for instance, he used to discourage vomitting until one day, in what Andy considers a turning point in his life, fellow Troma-ite Tony Balls drank a cup of Andy's vomit on stage. As far as turning points go, that's a pretty good one.
So these guys work the business end of Troma. They love the chance to do stuff like promotion and office work in a chaotic environment. But who's actually making the films? Zafer Ulkucu started out as an intern but moved on to start his own Troma-affilliated production company, the elegantly named Honeymoon Bloodbath. His first short film, Captain Bill and the Street Rockin' Buccaneers, played at Tromadance in Park City, Utah, and will be featured on the DVD of the same name. The film is about rock and roll pirates. "What can be better than that?" enthused Zafer. As one IMDb.com reviewer put it, "[Captain Bill is] sexy, disgusting, and promotes unhealthy lifestyles! Everything a good comedy should do."
Zafer listed his filmmaking influences, other than Lloyd (of course) as Peter Jackson, Sam Fuller, and Sergio Leone; a pretty solid list, and he firmly expressed his disgust at the corporate conglomeration of the bulk of the entertainment industry. "Troma can't spend millions on TV ads," he explained. "So instead they fly Lloyd, Kabukiman, and a couple of hot girls" across the country. "That's our promotion." It seems a solid strategy since hordes of rabid Troma fans (or "fucking freaks" as Zafer describes them) turn out at every stop. "Lloyd is the least egotistical filmmaker," according to Zafer. "If a movie is about a rape scene then it's about a rape scene. If it's about a super hero scene, then it's about a super hero scene. It's not about Lloyd. He's a filmmaker for the audience, not himself." He's also offended at the notion that people have been victimized by Hollywood. "People don't get Blockbuster memberships at gunpoint," he points out. "The geek have inherited the Earth."
A large part of Troma's marketing genius lies in the Tromettes, a roster of buxom movie sirens that appear on the screen as well as at the Troma events. Roxanna Bina, whom I first spotted getting a gnarly scar applied at the special effects make-up table, represented the Tromettes at Webster Hall, as she had at Cannes and Sundance before. Roxanne, whose own website is at http://www.roxannabina.com, claimed to have become a Tromette almost by accident. "I sent in a picture and didn't even expect them to call. But they did!" I wasn't really sure how that was an accident, but I was willing to go with it. Did she know what she was in for? She only learned what Troma was all about "through a friend after I got the job. I was surprised. They're so crazy! The best thing about being a Tromette," she continued, "is that I get to hug Lloyd. He's so cool." That seems to be the general consensus.
With Webster Hall filling up at an alarming rate and the Troma crew starting to really get loud, it was getting tough to keep track of what was happening. Through the chaos, however, I suddenly saw a familiar face in the crowd. It was the bloody guy from the subway. I guess he hadn't been beaten up after all! Here he was, healthy, smiling, and a beer in his hand. Mark Hawley used to work in Troma's Online division but quit last May. "I was doing eight people's jobs," he said. "Now there are like three people left." So, how many people's jobs are those three doing? Not many, apparently. "The site hasn't been updated since September," Mark pointed out. Still, Mark felt like he was still part of the Troma family. "When Lloyd walks up and I go to say 'Hi,' he'll be 'Oh, great, wonderful, it's wonderful to see you!' He doesn't remember me!"
So, by all accounts, Lloyd is the nicest guy in the world. When he finally arrived I was amazed at how different he looks, even from the behind the scenes footage I had been watching. He's a small Jewish guy with a passing resemblance to Mel Brooks. True to form, however, he greeted me with open arms and demanded that I get between him and his lovely wife, Pat, the Deputy Commissioner of the New York State Film Commission (which is almost too weird to believe, considering Troma's notorious lack of shooting permits) for a snapshot. "DVDTalk is a great site!" he gushed. "Send my love to [DVDTalk honcho] Geoff!" Done! Lloyd wasn't able to hang out at Webster Hall all night, however. He had an early shoot the next morning in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, a real old-school neighborhood. I asked him what he was shooting. Without a hint of irony he replied, "Tales From the Crapper."
I mentioned that the Troma clan seems to be sort of like a family, maybe as much like the Brady Bunch as the Chainsaw Massacre bunch. She agreed and said that now that she had been inducted into the family she might stop by the Troma offices and hang out. "I tried to get my boyfriend to take me before but he didn't want to go." Looks like it's time to apply some of that independent Troma spirit to your own life, Shannon, and ditch that bozo!
So, the fans love Troma, the Tromettes love Troma, and the Troma crew loves Troma. Heck, even the former Troma employees love Troma. And certainly the thousand or so Webster Hall partygoers who drifted into the Troma party unawares seemed to love Troma. The good-time vibe hung in the air and by the time I left it had infected me too. Sure, I never saw the All the Love You Cannes clips that I initially showed up to see. But I was exposed to a whole lot more. Now I, too, love Troma. The next step, I guess, is to actually see some of their movies.
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