Monday, December 1, 2008

Director Profile: Lloyd Kaufman

For a little over a month now I’ve been writing about a director I admire and appreciate on a weekly basis. The five directors I’ve chosen to write about so far are filmmakers considered to be geniuses and the cream of the crop within their respective genres. This theme will not change this week.

There’s a phenomenon in film known as the B-movie. That’s capital B for Bad. Although most B-movie’s fit into the exploitation, horror, and science fiction genres, being classified as a B-movie tends to relate to the low budgets used to create the films. These so bad they’re good films typically build up legions of cult followings of diehard fans that allow these low-budget films to be made.

Lloyd Kaufman, an American film director, producer, screenwriter and occasional actor, is the co-founder of Troma Entertainment. Troma, which is considered the longest running independent film studio, is one of the leaders of the modern B-movie. Kaufman and Troma are best known for their absurd, schlocky and gore-filled films that intend to purely entertain, humor, disgust and shock.

Troma and Kaufman’s most well-known film is The Toxic Avenger. In fact, Troma’s current logo features Toxie, the film’s hero. The Toxic Avenger, whose success has spurned out three sequels, an animated cartoon, and a video game, is about Melvin, a stereotypical scrawny nerd who accidentally falls into a bucket of toxic waste. This in turn causes him to mutate and become the Toxic Avenger, intimately known as Toxie. Toxie, with mop in hand, becomes determined to defeat all crime in Tromaville (the fictitious city Troma places most of their films in). While content-wise this might sound a bit absurd, The Toxic Avenger was executed with pure grace and charisma by Kaufman.

To achieve extreme appreciation for what Kaufman and the rest of Troma does one would need to view a couple of their behind the scenes documentaries. While extremely entertaining and funny, the docs do justice to painstaking work the team puts in for one of their films. Nothing seems to ever go right for Kaufman, the actors, the unpaid interns and the rest of the crew hard at work. Even so, the finished products don’t represent the struggles on set. Time after time Kaufman is able to create his newest B-movie masterpiece.

Making a B-movie that is both entertaining and re-watchable is not an easy task. For Troma and Kaufman it has become second nature. They consistently churn out memorable characters, quotable quotes and disgustingly impressive special effects. Take Troma’s newest film Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead for example. Kaufman attempted something different with Poultrygeist. The film blends the classic Troma formula with the musical genre. The new experiment worked perfectly as critics applauded Poultrygeist and fans like me claimed it to be one of Troma’s best films ever, a bold statement considering their long line of work.

It’s hard to promote Troma films to everyone because they aren’t for everyone. They certainly aren’t films I’d want to watch with my parents. If you’re looking to expand your horizons drastically – and I mean drastically – take a trip to Tromaville. Kaufman and Troma have earned my eternal respect. I’ll take this opportunity to rip a page from the Troma handbook. Rather than spending your hard earned cash this holiday season on a piece of junk one of the conglomerates stews together, spend it on one of the little guys. Kaufman and Troma do it for the love of the game, not for all that superficial fame.

Essential viewings: The Toxic Avenger, Citizen Toxie: The Toxic Avenger IV, Terror Firmer, Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead, Class of Nuke ‘Em High, Troma’s War, Trome and Juliet, Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D.

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