Over twenty years ago I was in a video store with my good friend Kevin, and we saw this giant cardboard standee promoting a movie called The Toxic Avenger. There was a handwritten noted taped to the standee that said, "This movie is really violent and has a lot of nudity. No one under 18 can rent this movie." Well, that was all Kevin and I need to get us to rent a little film made by a company named Troma, which neither of us had ever heard of. That night we watched The Toxic Avenger in the basement of Kevin's mother's house, and my life was forever changed.
Ever since that fateful night in the mid 1980s, I have been a fan of films from Troma, and director Lloyd Kaufman. (In full disclosure, I know Lloyd personally, he appeared in my film Damaged Goods, and he is someone I consider a friend.) Over the years, I've seen my fair share of Troma movies. Some are great. Some are...well...not so great. But no matter the quality of the movie, if it is a Troma release, there's certain to be over-the-top violence, gratuitous nudity, and a demented sense of humor derived from the belief that farting is funny, but accidentally shitting your pants while farting is even funnier. It's that time-honored formula that informs much of Kaufman's latest epic from Troma, Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead, is a film of monumentally lowbrow depravity.
The action takes place at American Chicken Bunker, a fast food franchise built on a Native American burial ground. This particular ACB restaurant is preparing for its grand opening, while hapless employee Arbie (Jason Yachanin) struggles to cope with the failure of his relationship with his girlfriend Wendy (Kate Graham), who has become a lesbian in college. Outside the restaurant protestors want to shut the place down, while inside, supernatural weirdness unleashes zombie forces and mutated poultry that threatens life as we know it. If you need to know much more than that, then chances are this isn't the film for you. As anyone whose seen enough Troma movies can tell you, plot is often anywhere from secondary to inconsequential in the broad scheme of things, provided all the other bases are covered. Oh yeah, did I mention that this is a musical?
Fans of Troma know that watching these wonderfully depraved films is all about seeing what Kaufman will come up with next to push the envelope of questionable taste. That said, I'm sure Kaufman would not be upset when I say that Poultrygeist is just plain sick and wrong. Anyone who thinks that Kaufman's past films have gone too far will cream their jeans with the knowledge that Poultrygeist goes ever farther. This is, quite simply, the most demented film I've ever seen come out of Troma, not to mention possibly the most demented film I've seen (Japanese films not withstanding). And that is not a bad thing, because when it comes to reveling in bad taste, no one does it quite like Troma.
One of the most brilliant things about Kaufman's movies is that there is always some sort of message buried deep within the spilled guts, bare breasts and projectile feces--even if that message is not clear after repeated viewings. With Poultrygeist, Kaufman is clearly saying something about the fast food industry (most likely that it's bad), as well as railing against...well...honestly, I'm not sure. The fact of the matter is that Kaufman has something to say, even if I can't quite figure it out. And while it may not be apparent to some, Kaufman is a genius. No one makes schlock films like him, with a sense of craft and artistry that is as inspiring as it can be repulsive.
Fans are already calling Poultrygeist the crowning achievement in Kaufman's distinguished career. As a diehard fan of the first and fourth Toxic Avenger films (don't get me wrong, 'cause I like the second and third as well), not to mention Terror Firmer, which is brilliant, and Tromeo and Juliet, I'm not so quick to proclaim this latest film as the best in a body of work that is already exceptional. But I will say that as far as lowbrow exploitation films go, you'll be hard-pressed to find anything as sick, twisted, unrepentant and altogether wrong--not to mention entertaining--as Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead.