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Tales From the Crapper

Troma // Unrated // September 28, 2004
List Price: $19.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Bill Gibron | posted September 29, 2004 | E-mail the Author
Let's face it: toilet humor is funny. Fart in the mouth amusing. Feces running down the leg hilarious. Give an audience a big fat dope with skidmarks on his shorts and a certain substance-eating grin on his face and you get more laughs than a monkey making mudpies. In the grand scheme of the scatological, Hershey squirts and worm burners break 'em up every time, and psychologists would have a Freudian field day trying to figure out why. Certainly it has something to do with all that diapering we had to go through as infants, Mommies – and on those rare occasions, Daddies – diving into that exaggerated underwear to hose out Junior's peas and carrots combo. And potty training plays a big part in the preference for log-based laughs. Scholars have consistently theorized that bad commode connotations lead to serial killing and political office seeking. So, conversely, individuals who've successfully maneuvered bowl basics grow in their appreciation of all things offal. But the real truth is that from the time we are teething to the moment we discover sex, we are obsessed with our rump and the refuge, both solid and gaseous that emanates from it. It's biology. It's animal instinct. Hell, it's FUN!

And unless your humor is hijacked by some super serious esoteric satire or gets stalled in the slacker irony of the current postmillennial malaise, you'll still find diarrhea and bottom burps hilarious. So, rejoice, all you lovers of lavatory lunacy! Has Troma got a movie for you! It's a film that celebrates almost every major bodily fluid (and even discovers a few new ones we never knew we had) while piling on megatons of naughtiness and nudity. It drowns its sets in fresh spilt blood as limbs separate from torsos. And it has got enough barking spiders, cracker ripping and gusset russeting to blow a monumental methane hole in the ozone. And what is this masterpiece to mookie stinks? What is the name of this celebration of checher? Why Tales from the Crapper of course, a neo-classic from the company that keeps the "Depends" in independent filmmaking.

The DVD:
Using an EC Comic type anthology format, and featuring two individual mini-movies plus a healthy dose of Crapkeeper bumper material, Tales from the Crapper is a strange, sensational combination of bad b-movie moments, self-deprecating comedic commentary, gratuitous gore and acre upon acre of filthy sexual perversion. And let's not forget the fecal focus...always a welcome addition to motion picture particulars. Sounds like a cherry combination for a grand night at the digital videos...and you'd be right! Tales from the Crapper is a tasteless treasure, a balls to the walls weird-out that eliminates subtlety and sensitivity for the scatological and the Sappho. There is more lunatic lesbianism in this movie than in a dozen softcore snatch-fests, and Crapper still can't seem to get enough of that same sex stuff. This is the Titanic of tit films, the Annie Hall of the anus and the Citizen Kane of stage blood. Packing more mindless and marvelous entertainment into a single movie than most Hollywood hack jobs could only wet dream of, Tales from the Crapper takes its place along side The Toxic Avenger and Terror Firmer as classic camp cult chaos. Does this mean that the segments themselves are cinematic sensations? Hell no! But will you still be bamboozled by boobies and tantalized by the usual Troma retardation? Absolutely! And with buxom Amazon Julie Strain along for the rude, risqué ride, there won't be a dry seat in the house.

Tales from the Crapper does indeed play like fodder for a 14-year-old fan-boys ultimate nocturnal emission. Both films offered here featured strippers, faux fornication, overt lesbianism and ample poop, ass and fart jokes. Your average college frat party doesn't have as many bilabial fricative funnies as this poot obsessed opus. But it's not all dumb doodie humor and bad movie motifs. Tales from the Crapper is, perhaps, the first abortive film project that recognizes and embraces its awfulness. Troma President Lloyd Kaufman and his able-bodied, underpaid crew (here reworking a couple of cinematic atrocities by a producer named India Allen) use the amateurish production values and narrative confusion to create a remarkable salvage of silliness. Using the omnibus framework, and placing newly shot sequences into the existing reel retch, something amazing has occurred. Tales from the Crapper becomes a hilarious vulgar romp as well as a comment on the current state of digital filmmaking (Kaufman even calls his new aesthetic Dogpile 95, in homage to Lars Von Trier and his Danish minimalism mindset). Giving DIY a good sharp stick in the eye, Troma proves that, only through abject professionalism and an attention to detail can a truly great bad movie be made. Homemade cinema without a sense of skill is painful to endure, and their lack of entertainment needs to be mocked and ridiculed. And Tales from the Crapper does it with exceptional wit and wickedness.

Not all the individual sequences work perfectly, however, and to determine what cuts the proverbial muster – not to mention the stinky cheese – we need to examine all the facets of this hodgepodge production. Let's begin with:

Crapkeeper Intro: Antics with writer James Gunn
The creator of Tromeo and Juliet meets up with the bowl floating fiend to discuss why selling one's soul to the Devil is the only way to make it in Hollywood.

Lloyd Kaufman, in full hokey host shtick, is the Crapkeeper (supposedly a talking turd, but just the Troma titan in a black plastic garbage bag) introducing our premise and hob knobbing (and brown nosing) with this now-famous ex-patriot of the production company. Gunn is goofy and extols his story of selling his soul to Satan for mainstream success so well you tend to believe in his baby-slaughtering ways (besides, it would really explain Scooby-Doo 1 & 2).

Julie Strain in The Case of the Melon Heavy Alien Man Eater
An alien spaceship lands on Earth and out from its hideous hull comes a shape-shifting, bloodthirsty man-eater. Realizing that the only way to get a decent meal is to stake out a place where humans hang out for hours on end, the extraterrestrial uses its mutato powers to become – a stripper! It's up to cops, including a loose-cannon female peace officer to catch the creature before it gives its customers more than a lap dance.

With the Dogpile 95 doctrine of filmmaking in full swing (which is described by the simple phrase 'fast and shitty") and occasionally becoming so self-referential that it threatens to lap itself, this alien stripper bloodbath is so clever and yet so clueless that you don't know whether you should laugh or groan. Melding a cop buddy action adventure yarn with an alien invasion and some behind-the-VIP door strip club shenanigans, this gory, goofy episode is amazingly great fun. Julie Strain manages to be both sexy and stupid, statuesque and just a little scary as the lankly, lewd police woman with a hair trigger and a 'hanging' sense of justice. Dividing her screen time between kicking ass and licking...privates, this is one actress who brings a specialized definition to the word "fuzz". Strain is the main focus here and she is perfect in the part. The other elements in this film run the gratuitous gamut, from a lesbian encounter with a magical blow-up doll, to a guy with running sores masturbating into a wig. When the Tromantis finally shows up – a hideous bug headed creature with gargantuan teeth and even bigger breasts – it's an all out claret cabaret. Body parts fly by the lens as beheadings follow disembowelings.

But the best part of this segment is the issue that makes Tales from the Crapper such a treat. Realizing the repugnance they had to deal with in order to rescue these movies, the Troma team begins a series of running gags that are friggin' fantastic. The greatest inspiration is Boner-Vision, a small circular picture within a picture featuring naked chicks and softcore sharking that appears every time exposition arrives onscreen. Not only is it enjoyable to gaze at, but it acts as a commentary on the entertainment value of the scene being presented. The replacement filmmakers also mess with the vocal dubbing, giving big, beefy action Jacksons the shrill tones of effeminate Nancy boys, while manly gals have a nice testosterone based tone to their timber. Every character is obsessed with a TV show/hit song called Cannibal Lesbian Hoedown (as jaw-droppingly classic as it sounds), and variations on the movie's title are presented in musical tribute (many of the Tales from the Crapper tunes are priceless). When added into the mess that was made previously, The Case of the Melon Heavy Alien Man Eater becomes a comic gem, a laugh out loud combination of crudeness and creativity all working together to tickle one's ribs. And not to worry, many of the usual gassy emissions are heard whenever anyone bends down. With a narrative so incoherent its like listening to a teenager with untreatable ADD, and a reconfiguration that trades on illogic, the results are extraordinary, a true helping of hilarious hi-jinx.

Lettuce to the Crapkeeper
The foul-smelling fiend gives wannabe filmmakers a lesson in how to make their own damn movie. Of course, it must contain lots of lesbianism and gun-toting transsexuals.

Lloyd and the girls are at it again, and really give this the old pre-school try. But the result is rather retarded. As Mr. Kaufman blathers on, we see some ersatz-sex between a couple residents of the Isle of Lesbos. Then we get some geek in gals' getup. If Tales from the Crapper has a single lull in the ludicrousness, this is it.

Julie Strain in Tuition of the Terror Twat
Poor dumb dope Johnny has no money for college, and this bums out his brain dead buddies to the max. So they decide to hire some strippers and throw a party, using the proceeds to pay for John's matriculation. Little do they know that these exotic dancers are really – wait for it - vampires who are looking for more than a dollar bill in their g-string from their oversexed clientele.

You can tell that Lloyd and the gang thought this vampire lesbian psychosis was almost unsalvageable. Tuition of the Terror Twat makes absolutely no sense. The supposed plot borrows so heavily from Risky Business that L. Ron Hubbard is considering a lawsuit from beyond the grave. And the entire project stinks like a half-baked halibut left in a fallout shelter to air dry. But again, thanks to the ingenious elements tossed in by Troma, we get something sensational, if only 85% as successful as The Case of the Melon Heavy Alien Man Eater. Along with more meat-eating carpet munchers and anarchic voice-overs, there are numerous outside additions here, including phone messages from Lloyd (playing our hero's doddering gay dad), a huge amount of Dead Alive inspired gore, and a scene where we cut to the Troma editing room for a throw down between Lloyd, his editor and scream queen extraordinaire Debbie Rochon. The vast majority of this movie is taken up with a prolonged party scene, and while the cameos are classic (Ron Jeremy as the dorky doorman, Trey Parker as a plastered, dirty joke telling guest), the rest of the revelry grows a tad monotonous. But again, this smart cinematic storehouse draws attention away from the flaws by playing with the actual elements of DVD. A commentary track (featuring the faked voice of Oliver Stone) steps in to try and explain away the awfulness. Boner-Vision arrives and magically changes into the warm and fuzzy Puppy-Vision to ease the suffering. And there's lots of heavy petting to distract from the tackiness.

Still, within all this chaos, Tuition of the Terror Twat finds a way to thrive. It's a borderline case, though, and one gets the feeling that this is how most people will feel about this title. True Troma aficionados will lap up every lesbian loving, butt trumpeting, intestine-tangling moment of it. But there is a real fear that someone will mistakenly take this trash seriously and fail to see the bigger, braver picture. This is Troma's 'mea culpa' to friends and fans, a chance to step in and try to fix one of their less than successful projects. Those of us who follow the company have been known to grimace (Fortress of Amerikkka) and/or squeal with delight (Outlaw Prophet) at some of their more off-center offerings. After all, this is a studio that can supply sensationally serious films (Suicide, Story of a Junkie) alongside complete amorphous gunk (Dr. Hakenstein). Instead of sticking the India Allen based stinkers on a DVD in their original form and hoping for the best, there was an honest desire to deliver something suitable for the bad movie maven. And Tales from the Crapper sure delivers. It uses a kitchen sink approach, tossing in everything they can think of including the porcelain god to offer penance to an audience accustomed to getting entertainment refuse. It is a certified classic in the realm of Troma's other benchmark titles and will take its place in the hierarchy of wonderful, wanton toiler humor. Tales from the Crapper is a fantastic, fun foible. Lloyd and his gang should be happy the original films turned out as horrid as they did. This reconfiguration is the shit!

The Video:
Combining several stock elements, almost all of them shot on handheld digital cameras, Tales from the Crapper contains several moments of mishandled moviemaking. We get some flaring and a few moments of color bleeding. Outdoor light from windows or doorways cause the image to completely white out and render the actors as vague silhouettes. On other occasions, the lack of adequate lighting removes almost all detail from the performers. Still, this 1.33:1 full screen image is clean and crisp, with some decent color correction and acceptable contrasts. If you expect a real life motion picture experience for your home theater system, this is not the DVD for you. But anyone familiar with the current crop of direct from digital mastering will find what is offered in Tales from the Crapper to be commiserate with similar camcorder creations.

The Audio:
Since most of the movie's soundtrack was re-dubbed, remixed or just thrown out, Tales from the Crapper has a schizophrenic sonic palette. Half the time the movie sounds great. Other times, it's grating. Voices are recorded too low, or with a performer so close to the mic that we experience the hard p's usually found in slipshod aural artifacts. Yet the music used – a mixture of heavy metal, punk, ersatz-lounge and other novelty nonsense – sounds absolutely amazing. Indeed the audio is better than the video here in many cases, and since it really helps to sell the multi-level joke premise of the film, the Dolby Digital Stereo gets a grateful 'thumbs up', no matter how much drop off there is in the basic film's dialogue.

The Extras:
One area that Troma always excels in – when they WANT to, that is – is the arena of bonus features, and Tales from the Crapper is no exception. From the limited edition 3-D cover (cool) to two commentary tracks (really cool) to a behind the scenes documentary and a collection of deleted scenes (Hella cool) this DVD has added content out the coccyx. Beginning with the alternative narrative tracks we are treated to diametrically opposed approaches to DVD discussion. The main track, featuring Lloyd Kaufman and editor Gabe Friedman, is yet another subtle jokefest jab at the movie. As Lloyd spouts out classic film titles that Crapper supposedly borrows from or pays homage too, Gabe agrees or clarifies what is exactly being honored. Chalking up this entire enterprise to a cinematic savant named Timmy (someone doing a direct rip-off of Crank Yankers resident retard, Special Ed) and tossing in all manner of sex and gross out gags, this is more stand-up comedy than commentary. The second track features Julie Strain, director Brian Spitz and a couple of additional guests. This take is all straight talk, with only occasional moments of mirth. They don't offer a great deal of insight into why the original movies failed (except for stating a direct desire to rip-off the 80s) but they have nothing but praise for the results. Julie especially enjoys making fun of her husband (Kevin Eastman) and detailing the amount of physical training she puts herself through to get in shape for her films.

In addition, we are treated to some behind the scenes footage of the Tales from the Crapper reshoot, which Lloyd Kaufman calls a "frat party" filled with losers and amateurs. During the documentary, Lloyd narrates the footage while holding a camera on himself. He talks about some of the reasons why the initial movies failed, how hard it was to work with the material and how unhappy he was with some of the post-production circumstances. Seeing the Troma chief in serious businessman mode is amazing, as his entire demeanor is completely different. Some of the sequences helmed during the reconfiguration of the film are found in the deleted scenes. Perhaps the best of these outtakes are the numerous gore effects that were truncated in the actual film. Lloyd also gets a chance to do his Crapkeeper routine in Spain and in front of Lenin's tomb in Red Square! As for star Julie Strain, she gets a small individual feature offering a back stage glimpse at her daily life. Entitled Topless Comedy Jam, we see the actress sans clothing roaming around her home, showing off her memorabilia. There are the usual trailers and Troma merchandising links and even the entire video clip for the oft mentioned Cannibal Lesbian Hoedown. But perhaps the single greatest sequence on the DVD is the standard introduction element by Lloyd, this time featuring Vice President Michael Herz. Showing these recognizable icons as various versions of their past selves (60s – 80s) makes this pre-feature material priceless.

Final Thoughts:
In the history of sewage-based cinema, Tales from the Crapper has no equal. It is a masterwork of pinched loaf lunacy. People without a penchant for poop may be offended by the reliance on the rectum for most of the merriment, but when dealing with the dumper, nothing quite beats these twin titles to number two. It is a credit to Lloyd Kaufman, his collaborators and everyone who participated in the creation AND correction of these mostly messed up movies that they transcend their terrible trappings to become pure comic class. While it may be hard to imagine a movie filled with masturbation, strippers, implants, beaver, butts, flatulence, sex toys, lesbianism, blood, vital organs and monsters as being anything other than grade-Z compost, Tales from the Crapper will loosen even the most stubborn stools. It is a testament to the temerity of Troma that this steaming pile of scat becomes an amazingly funny and fulfilling experience; 90 minutes of that sweet peanutty stuff we all love so much. So turn off your mind, relax and float down the urine stream. Tales from the Crapper is a gas, gas, gas!

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