His films have been celebrated in retrospectives held at the Venice Film Festival, Cinemathèque Français, the British Film Institute, and the American Film Institute. Billy Bob Thornton, Kevin Costner, Samuel L. Jackson, Marisa Tomei, Vincent D’Onofrio, David Boreanaz, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, Eli Roth, Dustin Hoffman, and Robert DeNiro – not to forget Academy Award-winning directors John Alvidsen and Oliver Stone – began their careers in films either made by or released through his company. He is, of course, Lloyd Kaufman, President of Troma Entertainment and Creator of the Toxic Avenger.
Much as with the work of Herschell Gordon Lewis, there’s a special place in the cinematic pantheon for Troma movies. If you’ve seen any Troma classics – such as The Toxic Avenger series, Mother’s Day, Class of Nuke ‘Em High, Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D., Tromeo & Juliet, Terror Firmer, or Poultrygeist – then you know what we’re talking about. If you haven’t, let me give you an example of what to expect. First, I think a bit of clarification is needed. Troma films are often erroneously called B-movies. During the days when every movie ticket got you two films, B-movies were the second features. They were typically lower quality examples of what you might expect in the “A” picture, while sometimes they were of a more pulpy genre variety – Western, crime, screwball comedy, and whatnot. In contrast to B-movies, Troma movies are shining examples of exactly what they’re meant to be: low budget, often tongue-in-cheek, genres pictures that are only out to show you a good time.
Kaufman got the bug for moviemaking while pursuing a degree in Chinese Studies at Yale University. “I was placed in a dormitory room with two film fanatics, and I knew everything had irrevocably changed.” In 1971, Kaufman met another Yale student, Michael Herz, who shared his passion for cinema. By 1974, they had founded Troma and begun to put out a series of sexy comedies such as Squeeze Play and The First Turn-On! while Kaufman separately worked on studio films ranging from Rocky and Saturday Night Fever to My Dinner with Andre. During the ‘80s, as popular tastes were turning to teen science movies (Back to the Future, Weird Science, My Science Project), Troma too expanded its repertoire, releasing the theatrical hits and future classics The Toxic Avenger and Class of Nuke ‘Em High.
Over the next 30-plus years, Troma would become one of the longest running (if not the longest running) independent film studios in American history, outputting product across almost every conceivable genre. Kaufman himself has produced 80 films, directed 36, written 29, and acted in 192 titles (so sayeth IMDb). Sure, there have both creative and financial highs and lows for the studio – as there have been for every studio – but Kaufman and Troma continue to produce a singular vision that has been recognized by audiences and filmmakers all over the world, including Peter Jackson, the Farrelly Brothers, Quentin Tarantino, Guillermo Del Toro, Gaspar Noé, and Trey Park and Matt Stone. In 2005, Kaufman was inducted into the International Horror & Sci-Fi Hall of Fame, alongside Texas Chain Saw Massacre director Tobe Hooper.
If forced to explain the wonderfully crazy genius of Lloyd Kaufman and Troma – and why I am so excited to include him among our Halloween guests – I would have to let Mr. Kaufman’s work itself answer the question. Here, then, is the trailer for Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead, which is NSFW and will certainly offend at least one of you:
Mr. Kaufman’s choice for our fright festival, The Velvet Vampire (1971) serves as both a film recommendation and a comment on the state of the industry. He explains:
“I am choosing Stephanie Rothman’s The Velvet Vampire not just because it is a great Halloween movie, but to make a point. In the world of horror there is a blood ceiling that gynos cannot penetrate. There are only a handful of gynos directing, producing and writing horror movies (Troma feels that ‘female’ is a derogatory term since ‘male’ is the root word, therefore we use the politically correct terms Gyno-American, Gyno-Brit, etc.). The genre of horror is the most male chauvinistic area in pop culture without reason. It is a disgrace that a genre that purports to be so hip and cool is actually a sexist boys club that discriminates against those who pee sitting down.”
Indeed, despite being the first woman to win the Directors Guild of America Fellowship, Rothman found it difficult to find work upon graduating from film school. Roger Corman was the one who gave her a break in 1964, and she spent the next year both as Corman’s assistant and performing just about every job that goes into the making of films – from casting actors to rewriting scenes and directing new sequences. It was just a year later that Corman backed Rothman’s first feature, It’s a Bikini World, starring Tommy Kirk and featuring an early performance by character actor supreme Sid Haig as well as bands the Animals, the Castaways, the Toys, and the Gentrys. Even in the trailer for Bikini World, Rothman’s trademark feminism is apparent, and under Corman, she was able to continue to pursue the question of female empowerment (as long as she clocked in the requisite levels of nudity and violence) in her next, and most successful picture, The Student Nurses.
“I was never happy making exploitation films. I did it because it was the only way I could work,” Rothman told author-journalist-professor Henry Jenkins in 2007. “Exploitation films required multiple nude scenes and crude, frequent violence. My struggle was to try to dramatically justify such scenes and to make them transgressive, but not repulsive.” These sentiments are certainly evident in today’s film, The Velvet Vampire. As vampire flicks go, it certainly is a strange one. A young couple meets an exotic raven-haired beauty at an art show and accepts an invitation to join her at her home in the desert. From then on, it’s dune buggies and décolletage as the couple slowly comes under the vampire’s spell. In addition to its almost Western-like setting, what I find most compelling about the film is Celeste Yarnell’s seductress, Diane LeFanu. Of all the vampires I’ve seen on film over the years, LeFanu is by far the least aggressive and most charming – making her, quite possible, one of the most alluring. Rather than bombarding her victims with sexuality, LeFanu (who is still highly sexual) wins them over with sweetness.
“The Velvet Vampire is one of the very few horror films by a gyno-director,” Kaufman tells us. “It includes all of the best 1970s exploitation elements – a serious lack of clothing, seduction, vivid blood and hippie cults – and doesn’t conform to the typical vampire mythos.” For Kaufman, “This movie supports my point that gynos are certainly as capable and, in my opinion, more capable than men to create horror movies. The world is full of mediocre movies made by men.” Over the years, Rothman’s place in cinematic history has begun to receive recognition. In 2007, she was the subject of a special retrospective at the Vienna International Film Festival, and in light of Kathryn Bigelow becoming the first woman to win the Academy Award for Best Director (Bigelow’s early work, it should be noted, wouldn’t be out of place in the exploitation category), there’s been a resurgence of interest in Rothman’s films. We certainly thank Mr. Kaufman for giving us a forum to discuss them here.
Rather than riffing on the vampire theme, today’s drink pays homage to the work of Lloyd Kaufman himself. A quote attributed to Mr. Kaufman on IMDb says, “I don’t make crappy movies. I spend two or three years making a film. I don’t take myself seriously, but I take my movies very seriously,” and that’s the spirit behind the Toxicolada: a very un-serious drink, very seriously made.
2 oz Gold Rum
2 oz Rich Coconut Water Syrup
2 oz Canned Pineapple Juice (strained)
2 oz Warm Water
0.5 tsp Psyllium Husks Powder
2-3 Drops Food Coloring (Green for slime, red for guts, etc.)
Make coconut syrup by dissolving 4oz of white sugar into 2 oz of coconut water over a low flame
Add psyllium husks powder to the 2oz warm water, stir, and set aside
Add rum, syrup, pineapple juice, and food coloring to a large (4 cup) microwave safe bowl, stir to mix, then microwave on high for 30 sec
Add a bit of the rum mixture to the psyllium, stir to thin, then add all of the psyllium mixture back into the rum
Return the bowl to the microwave and cook on high until the mixture begins to boil and almost bubble over
Stop the microwave, stir the mixture, and heat again, repeating the process (approximately 4-5 times) until the mixture begins to noticeably thicken
Remove the mixture from the microwave and allow it to cool thoroughly. It will continue to thicken as it cools
So, lest you ever begin to think we take our drinks too seriously, we give you tasty toxic slime. In case you haven’t guessed it yet, we love Halloween, with all its scary, gross majesty. What we wanted to do was create something that you and your Halloween guests would find gross, fun, and yet still surprisingly tasty. There are a few various edible slime recipes floating around the internet, but this one suited our purposes best, as it produces a nice, mostly clear product. It’s also extremely simple to work with – you really can’t screw it up – and the only changes we’ve made to the process have been in order to achieve the most translucent slime possible. You could just throw everything in a bowl and zap it on high until finished.
As we did with our Painkiller Peeps, we made the assumption that a “candy” cocktail should be sweet and, as such, turned to the tiki realm. The Piña Colada is a standard, easy and delicious recipe, but it calls for Cream of Coconut (a sweetened coconut milk), which would have turned our slime opaque. Instead, we’ve replaced it here with coconut water, a canned specialty drink that you can find at most markets (especially the more “eco” kind). Simply make a rich simple syrup out of it, and you’re ready to go.
The psyllium husks powder is better known as the active ingredient in Metamucil – yup, this slime will help keep you regular. Because Metamucil contains various additives, we went the all-natural route here and bought raw powder (available at health food or vitamin stores). There are a couple of things you should know about psyllium before you begin, however. Most importantly, as with any supplement, there are potential allergy and side effect concerns. Although we use very little here – and we doubt that anyone will gorge themselves on the slime (it is rather slimey) – just be forewarned. Next, if your slime isn’t setting, feel free to double the amount of psyllium we call for, as we’ve actually halved the one teaspoon most slime recipes suggest. The reason for our choice is that, because the psyllium won’t completely dissolve, the more you add, the darker and denser your slime will be.
You should also know that cooking a cocktail destroys much of its goodness and effectiveness, so the more you nuke, the more flavor you’ll lose. The end results will remain very tasty, just don’t expect a tiki bar quality Piña Colada. Obviously, our goal was to make tasty toxic slime, but by switching out the green coloring for red, you could just as easily make “guts” – or go with whatever color strikes your fancy.
We thank Mr. Kaufman not only for his singling out the work of the all-too-overlooked female directors, in particular that of Stephanie Rothman, but also for allowing us to celebrate the crazy world of Troma with a drink that we think captures everything a Troma picture stands for: craftsmanship that refuses to take itself seriously.
“Check out Mother’s Day for a portrait of a Kaufman gyno,” Kaufman asked us to pass along. Also, be sure to catch two upcoming Troma releases: Mr. Bricks, a heavy metal murder musical with music from Motorhead, and Father’s Day. Of course, if you’re looking to make it in the movie business, grab yourself a copy of Lloyd Kaufman’s newest book, Sell Your Own Damn Movie!, the latest in his series on the multiple facets of the filmmaking and distribution process, and head over to the TromaDance site for information on submitting your work to the annual “no entry fee, no admission fee” festival.
Even More from Troma: Hollywood has set its sights on Troma, and several big screen remakes of Troma classics – including The Toxic Avenger, The Class of Nuke ‘Em High, Mother’s Day, and Poultrygeist – are purportedly in the works.