Love them or hate them, Troma has been making and distributing independent films for over three decades now and founder Lloyd Kaufman's latest exercise in debauchery, Poultrygeist: Night Of The Chicken Dead is the studio and the director's most ambitious work to date. It's also one of their best.
When the film begins, a young man named Arbie (Jason Yachanin) is getting it on with his high school sweetheart, Wendy (Kate Graham) just before she's about to head to college. They make out in an old Indian burial ground and don't notice the strange things going on around them. A short time after and Wendy's gone to college. Arbie stumbles upon a protest taking place in front of a restaurant called the American Chicken Bunker and sees his flame making out with another girl named Micki (Allyson Sereboff) - it seems that Wendy is now a lesbian who protests the eating of meat and mega-corporations. To get back at her, Arbie decides to get a job at the restaurant where he works alongside a homosexual Mexican named Paco Bell (Khalid Rivera), an inbred bestiality enthusiast named Carl Jr. (Caleb Emerson), and a Muslim woman named Humas (Rose Ghavami). The franchisee and manager, Denny (Joshua Olatunde), wants everything in tip-top shape for the big opening, not only for the customers he hopes will make him rich but also because the restaurant is being paid a visit by the founder of the franchise, General Lee Roy (Robin Watkins).
Things seem quirky at first but soon get even stranger when the first customer, Jared
(Joe Fleishaker) has a very adverse reaction to the chicken he eats. One thing leads to another and soon enough Arbie is visited by his future self (Lloyd Kaufman) and the restaurant is being overrun by flesh-eating zombie chickens with only Arbie, Wendy, Mickie and the restaurant employees to save the day.
There are few things that those familiar with Troma's oeuvre expect from their films - crass humor, ridiculous gore, gratuitous nudity, and a devil may care attitude as to who their film may offend. And then there are things that you don't often associate with a Troma film... like musical and song and dance numbers, of which Poultrygeist has a ton. Oddly enough, they work quite well in the context of the ridiculous script, which was inspired in part by a real life incident in which a McDonalds moved in near the Troma building at which point their basement became infested with rats. The film's pot-shots at the fast food industry are about as subtle as a kick in the balls, maybe a little less so, but their timed well and they're shots that are absolutely worth taking. Add some political humor in there that plays off of post 9/11 racial tensions and ethnic stereotypes aplenty and throw in some of the most surreal gore scenes to come along in some time and you're left with a helluva movie.
The acting from Yachanin and Graham is solid enough to work (both show a lot of potential and a great knack for comedic timing) while supporting efforts from the rest of the cast (including Kaufman who is a much better dancer than you'd probably imagine!) help things out a lot. The film is campy and strange and wonderfully, gleefully out to raise a few feathers (if you'll pardon the pun) but it does so in such a playful way that you can't help but enjoy it. Truly splatstick at its best, Poultrygeist proves that Troma and Kaufman still have it.
The anamorphic 1.78.1 widescreen transfer looks pretty decent even if it is interlaced. There's a bit more grain and some instances of minor print damage which is surprisingly considering how recent the movie is but aside from that things look good here. Color reproduction looks nice and accurate and there aren't any problems with mpeg compression artifacts to complain about. Black levels are strong throughout and there's a decent amount of detail present in the image.
The English language Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo sounds nice and clear throughout. A 5.1 mix might have made the musical numbers and the action sequences a bit more fun but this 2.0 track has some nice channel separation and it presents the film with crisp dialogue and plenty of bounce. The levels are all well balanced and there aren't any problems with hiss or distortion to complain about.
Troma has spread the extras for this release across three discs! Here's a look at what you'll find and where you'll find it:
First up is Lloyd Kaufman and Gabe Friedman Cluck Off, which is a feature length audio commentary track from the creative team behind the feature. They begin by discussing where the inspiration for the picture came from and go on to talk about what it was like shooting in 'conservative Buffalo' and some of the problems they encountered there. They talk about their experiences working with a cast of people who were essentially all volunteers and they go over some of what they got right and some of what went wrong on the shoot. There's a sense of humor here but this is a fairly serious talk that turns out to be a pretty interesting lesson in low budget filmmaking.
Rounding out the extras on the first disc are a theatrical trailer for the feature (3:16), Lovely Scenes From Bergman's 'Virgin Spring ' (1:35 - basically another trailer), a Calamari Safari Music Video - Not By New Found Glory! (2:37), a Count Smokula Music Video (2:23), DVD credits, trailers for six other Troma releases, animated menus and chapter selection. There are also three Easter Eggs hidden on the main menu screen... but you'll have to figure those out on your own. Oh, and while it should go without saying, for the sake of being thorough, Kaufman provides one of his trademark introductions to the film before it plays, touching on the film's theatrical run and how it was bootlegged by the Chinese!
Poultry In Motion: Truth Is Stranger Than Chicken (1:21:54) is a feature length behind the scenes documentary that shows what it was like on the set of the film, warts and all. Kaufman, when it came time to make the film, basically advertised for volunteers to help out on the picture to compensate for the fact that he didn't have much money to make the picture with. Working with a fairly inexperienced cast and crew, he shuffled off to Buffalo and filmed the restaurant scenes inside an empty former McDonalds and everything else inside an old church that they rent out that also served as the team's living quarters. This featurette shows it all - everything from a fight that took place on set to Lloyd's exposed testicles - it's all here! There's a ton of behind the scenes footage, some interviews shot during the production, clips of the effects team doing their thing and actors preparing for their part in the picture. As the production goes and goes Kaufman deals with budgetary and schedule issues, a leaking fryer, uncooperative blood spraying machines, and low flying planes. It paints a realistically unglamorous look at the movie making process and it is honestly a fascinating watch.
Up next is the Tromahawk Nuggets section. In here you'll find a clip from the Poultrygeist NYC Premiere (9:32) where Kaufman, the cast members of the film and a cast of costumed Troma characters introduce the film to the crowd assembled for the screening. Cellu-Lloyd Closet contains three mini featurettes: Make Your Own Damn Omelette (1:17 - an informerical for the Make Your Own Damn Movie DVD boxed set), Blow Me... Away - Shooting The ACB Explosion Sequence (14:46 - a look at how miniatures were used for the big explosion in the film), and Make Your Own Damn Movie Sound Design (23:!9 - some behind the scenes footage from the post-production dubbing sessions that helped create the audio used in the finished film). Recording The Songs (12:55) is a look at everyone in the recording studio lending their voices to the beautiful music that plays such an integral part in the film's success while Designing The Monsters (8:07) is, as you could probably guess, is a peek behind the scenes to see how the effects guys created some of the monster effects used in the film. The Poultrygeist Rooftop Re-Shoots (5:36) shows how Kaufman gathered a small cast up a year after the production had wrapped to shoot some new footage to cut into the already shot footage from Buffalo on top of the former location of the Troma building in Manhattan. Filming The Meat Grinder (3:58) shows us just how insanely messy it was to shoot Paco Bell's gory death scene and last but not least, Joe Fleishaker Gets A Head Mold (8:32) is an amusing look at how a head mold was created of a very chipper looking Fleishaker for use in his death scene.
Rounding out the extras on the second disc are four Deleted Scenes starting with Ron Jeremy's Happy Ending (1:44), which was the original ending developed for the film that involves Jeremy and some chicken. Charlotte Kaufman Death Scene (0:50) is a look at how Lloyd's own flesh and blood met her end at the restaurant's soda fountain while Time Bomb! Deleted Scene (1:19) is a trimmed bit from Humas' noblest hour seen towards the end of the movie. Last but not least, Humas S-U-I-C-I-D-E Song (2:02) is a musical numbers in which the Muslim Humas dances around the fryers with the help of some Hasidic Jews - it's actually pretty damn funny and it's the only one of the four deleted scenes not presented with time code over top of it.
The third disc contains the Kara-Yolk-E section in which you can watch any of the musical numbers from the film with the lyrics over top so that you too can sing along and join in the fun. The songs included here are Poultrygeist Theme Song (3:08), Revenge Is A Dish Best Served Fried (2:39), Fast Food Love (5:24), Generous General (3:21), Longing To Live - Waiting To Die (3:04), and S-U-I-C-I-D-E (2:02). Each song is available with or without the vocal track (except for the first track, which is 'vocal track' only) and intros and outtros from the 'Blackened Cajun Chicken' are also included.
Also on the third disc are trailers for Poultrygeist, The Complete Toxic Avenger, Special Needs, Blood Spit, Coons and Crazy Animal as well as some animated menus and song-selection.
If you don't already appreciate Troma's style, this one isn't likely to change your mind but those who 'get it' will find a lot to love about this mammoth three-disc collection. Poultrygeist: Night Of The Chicken Dead is a terrific return to form for Kuafman and Troma and the film is as hilariously entertaining as it is an equal opportunity offender. Crass, juvenile, and genuinely disgusting, it's never the less a clever and creative film and Troma has pulled out all the stops with this jam-packed release. Highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.