The Story of Troma's Long Ignored Masterpiece, Troma's War
It was 1986 and I was getting a hard-on to make another movie. Toxie was a hit, Class of Nuke 'Em High was a hit, and our audience was clamoring for more Troma booty. We were ready for the next level. We would make a movie that fully utilized the Troma feel, that would catapult us into the mainstream of moviemaking. No film is more Troma than the resultant Troma's War. Unfortunately, the only place it catapulted us into were warehouses of unsold videotapes.
Troma's War was Troma's answer to Reagan and Rambo. After two decades of peace power, WAR was back in style in America. In Troma's War, an airplane crashes on what appears to be a deserted island. Some of the passengers survive, including a low-level rock and roll idol, a blind woman, a Vietnam vet/used car salesman, a mother with her baby, an assassin, and a priest. Each of them is an ordinary inhabitant of Tromaville--one of the "little people." While on the island, they uncover an army barracks, where elite terrorists and businessman are preparing an offensive on the United States. It is the Tromavillians' responsibility, they realize, to indulge in some undercover terrorist work of their own, to save the world from this evil conspiracy. With guns, bombs, mutants, full-frontal assault, and full-frontal nudity these ordinary folks must salvage democracy.
I have long maintained that Troma's War is our undiscovered masterpiece, with only The Toxic Avenger and Tromeo & Juliet in its league. Less well-known than Toxie, Tromeo, Nuke 'Em High, Surf Nazis, Bloodsucking Freaks, or even Sgt. Kabukiman, Troma's War is my personal favorite.
The cast on Troma's War was the best I had up until that time. The group of young actors put themselves into it 100%, and their morale stayed strong throughout a hellish and messy shoot. However, perhaps because they cared so much, they were also exceedingly willing to argue with me over everything from plot points to makeup to stunts.
One of the great pleasures of Troma's War was working with ass-kicking senior citizen Jessica Dublin, a star of many spaghetti westerns. Once, while Jessica was trudging through the mud in high heels, I screamed at the crew:
"Can we get some help over here now--I got a seventy-year-old woman about to have her ass broken!"
I could tell Jessica was offended by my remark.
"I'm sorry, Jessica. I meant to say 'butt.'"
"F--k that!" Jessica said. "I'm only sixty-nine!"
The other great discovery in the Troma's War cast was Joe Fleishaker. Joe was a five-hundred-pound extra--excuse me, actor person--to whom I took an instant liking. I saw the potential in him of a Troma action hero. The cast complained that I was spending too much time focusing on this "background character," giving him lines and action-oriented scenes, even though there was no such character in the original script. "You're just focusing on him because he's fat," said one of the actors. Which, of course, was completely untrue--another five-hundred-pound actor person had also been on set, who I wasn't nearly as drawn to. Since Troma's War, Joe has appeared in both Toxie sequels, Sgt. Kabukiman, and Tromeo & Juliet. He also plays the character of Michael Herz in the Tromaville Café TV series and other video projects.
My primary problems with the cast, though, came during the scenes with Señor Sida and the AIDS Brigade. The AIDS Brigade had been a bone of contention from the very beginning, when screenwriter Mitchell Dana claimed it was too extreme. I have said before, and I will say again, that I did not think of this as being demeaning to people with AIDS. A conversation with screenwriter/water sports enthusiast James Gunn emphasized that perhaps, yes, there are some ways in which I view the world differently:
"I mean, Lloyd, come on. In all the offensive things I've seen in all Troma movies, this was the peak. I have to admit even I blushed a bit when I saw it. Nothing in The Toxic Avenger shocked me, but this I just couldn't believe."
"I didn't think of it as shocking."
"How could you--?"
"I just thought of it as frightening. It was one of the more serious parts of the film--this could actually happen."
"Wait a second. You don't have these people acting like humans with a horrible, debilitating disease. They're hunched over, growling and spitting, sticking out their tongues, scrunching up their faces, they're acting like, well... monsters."
"Yes, well, you know the PAs showed up wearing the makeup, the bursting boils, the pustules--"
"Those were PAs?"
"And a few members of the crew," I said. "The actor persons casting people screwed up. The AIDs Brigade was supposed to be about fifty people, but we ended up with six or seven."
"Hm. I'd think a brigade would be at least nine people."
"Yeah. Anyway, they showed up in this ridiculous makeup, and everybody in the crew just started cracking up."
"So you decided to have them act like monsters?"
"Well, you know--On the one hand it was funny... On the other hand it was horrible... I didn't really connect the two."
"You know what the most offensive scene in the movie is, don't you?"
I shook my head.
"It's where the leader of the AIDS Brigade--"
"Yes. Him," James said. "He takes that sexy girl into that wooden shack and rapes her. And then, when he's done, she jumps up, topless--these huge breasts bouncing around--and she yells out, 'I've got AIDS! I've got AIDS!' I completely freaked out when I saw that."
"Why? First of all, you're making a joke involving rape and AIDS at the same time, and then, because you have a chance for some gratuitous naked breasts, you just sort of throw that in on top of it."
"You didn't like it?"
"No. It was my favorite thing in any movie ever."
"After every time I had sex with my girlfriend over the next few weeks, I would jump up and down yelling, 'I've got AIDS! I've got AIDS!'"
"She didn't find it as funny as I did."
"Well, to tell you the truth, that scene was the one nobody wanted to do. The actress said she didn't want to say the 'Got AIDS' line, the DP said he didn't want to shoot it, everyone on the crew thought it was stupid."
"But you knew that you really wanted to take this movie over-the-top?"
"I just want to make sure that people understood."
"That she had AIDS."
"She just got raped by a guy with AIDS-spurting boils all over his face! It was obvious!"
"I was afraid the audience wouldn't get it. It was purely for plot."
"I'm not saying this in a bad way, Lloyd. But there is something very, very wrong with you. Why'd you throw the boobies in?"
"I don't know. Again, nobody wanted her to do that. So, to appease the crew, we shot it two ways, topless and not topless."
"And you knew all along--"
"And I knew which one I was going to use, sure."
"And you figured, you know, if a woman's willing to bare her breasts, you shouldn't pass up that opportunity."
"You're the one who said it."
"But you didn't realize that your thinking process is kind of weird. Again, I'm not saying this in a bad way--this is why Troma movies are so unique. But most people would say, 'Okay, we have this gratuitous nudity. We'll put that over here in this scene. And then we have this horrifying rape situation--so we'll put that over in this other, different scene'--you see what I'm getting at here? 'And then, we have a silly joke, so we'll give that guy his own scene too.' Se what I mean? But in Troma movies, you just throw all that stuff in one scene together. It's like emotional gumbo."
"I sort of see what you're saying."
"But it's what makes the movies great, Lloyd."
"It makes you insane at the same time, but you know--"
Although James did point out to me some unusual zags of my thinking process, I must say that I did care about the AIDS theme quite a bit. What was important to me wasn't so much making a broad statement on the nature of AIDS in our society, but to push the disease itself in people's faces. It was 1986 and the issue was being swept under the carpet by the media and by popular culture in general. AIDS hadn't been dealt with at all in movies, with the exception of a TV movie, An Early Frost, which was just the old Brian's Song disease movie transposed with a new disease.
Many have criticized us, saying that although Troma's War was the first movie to deal with AIDS, all that is nullified. They say Troma "makes jokes out of things that just aren't funny." In addition to AIDS, these things also include violence, sex, and toxic death. I would agree that these things are not funny--but that is why I make jokes out of them. Humor, I believe, is one of the human spirit's healthy ways of dealing with pain. As I believe strongly in both free speech and the fact that ideas in and of themselves cannot in any way be dangerous (only the preclusion of them can be), I do not believe in stifling humor because it's based around something "too heavy." And, now that I think of it, toxic death is funny.
 On Troma sets, actors often get jealous because I spend more time on the goofy second unit shot of a background guy tripping in the mud than the dramatic climax of the romantic relationship. This is probably one of my great failings, but what the Hell--it's more fun this way.
The Birth of Troma
The Godfather of Gore Speaks
2 or 3 Things I Know About Toxie (2 and 3)
The Troma Acting Method