Editorial – My First Troma
Following a couple of weeks ground firmly in the realm of the acknowledged masterpiece, I took a brief sojourn outside of the canon a couple of days ago. Always keen to seek out new areas of the cinema, even, or especially if that means charting outwardly towards areas far away from the orthodox or norm (within the context of my own interests of course). The area in question this week would be the cinema of Troma, the New York-based independent film production house who boast of having achieved “Almost 40 Years Of Reel Independence”. Led by Lloyd Kaufman, an old-fashioned showman in the vein of William Castle, Troma have consistently been shifting units of direct-to-video content for as long as commercial home media has existed. My first foray in to the world of Troma involved the recent Blu-ray reissue of Class Of Nuke ‘Em High, one of the studio’s flagship titles.
This from the off: my experience with Class Of Nuke ‘Em High was much more positive than I ever expected it to be. The production values were legitimately pleasing, and it felt as though it knew exactly what it was doing. Having only experienced the briefest of flirtations with Troma in the past, with said experience literally extending no further than the Toxic Avenger animated spin-off, the Mutant Turtle aping and contextually bizarre (given it’s roots) Toxic Crusaders, and that series’ tie-in comic-strip magazine, this surprised me greatly. But alas, that’s simply an example of my own prejudices infringing upon my expectations.
My immediate thoughts regarding Troma in the wake of this viewing was of just how closely aligned to, and how many similarities Troma share with other, more “respectable” alternative approaches to the Hollywood system. Are they really that far removed from the Roger Corman factory? Or George Romero’s attitude towards filmmaking? With a $2 million budget Troma were relatively financially committed going in to production on Class Of Nuke ‘Em High, it wasn’t a simple case of knocking something together in a weekend and reaping the financial rewards, while in the centrally tying locale of Tromaville, the city in which all Troma-produced movies take place, the group have a connective element that recalls a form of auteurship in a way. As mentioned above, the production values are fine, and quite the opposite of the “rock ‘n’ roll” approach Troma might have you believe: tripods are in place and the sets don’t look like they’re fit to fall down. Cliché and non-professional actors may be the order of the day but a charm remains, with the famous cartoon comic-book aesthetics of the imprint standing front and center, while a genuine wit and knowing straddling proceedings. Apologies if this comes across as the ramblings of a man surprised, or even erring on the side of patronising, but one might garner certain expectations of Troma fare from mainstream outlets.
Sure, the list of thanks (largely consisting of brands partaking in product placement) spreads almost as far as the cast and crew section during the films closing credits, with companies as diverse as Nike and the erotic bakery mentioned, but if that’s what it takes to get this particular brand of picture financed then who am I to criticise? Exploitation, yet filled with social commentary, Class Of Nuke ‘Em High is demythological and subversive of the American dream. Tromaville exists on a plane but one nuclear war away from Saved By the Bell’s Bayside, and is one achieved by practical effects and filled with Fellini-references. Yes, it’s obnoxious, and uncouth, but that’s a part of the agreeability of it all.
I have to admit that it did seem unusual to view a film of this ilk in “glorious” high definition, instead of some infinitely re-watched VHS. Blu-ray has brought with it quite the renaissance of B-movies and DTV-fare, with Second Sight’s Return Of The Living Dead being another recent example of a Criterion-level treatment for culturally “lowly” material. With the likes of Zombie Flesh Eaters, Lady Snowblood and Christmas Evil aka You Better Watch Out due major upgrades before year’s end, now would seem to be the ideal time to discover such material.
Interestingly, and tying this editorial firmly in the contemporary, last night tales began to circulate that James Gunn, a filmmaker whose craft was honed in the world of Troma was to have taken the reins of Marvel Studios newest sub-franchise, the Avengers 2 preceding Guardians Of The Galaxy. While the immediate effects of the Troma factory might not be as overt or as apparent as that of the Corman stable or other more respectable alternative channels, Gunn’s appointment serves as a convenient reminder to ignorant viewers like myself just how influential even the unlikeliest of sources can be.
Adam Batty – Editor-In-Chief