All that I am, I am because of the Toxic Avenger. Strong statement, sure, but bear with me.
My undying passion for Troma Studios began not with a film but a film box. I was 13-years-old and perusing the shelves at local mom-and-pop shop Videoflicks. As usual, I would first scan the myriad boxes on the new release wall, each promising its own unique brand of entertainment. Suddenly, as if spotting Medusa in ancient Greece, I glimpsed a certain title and was instantly transfixed. It was The Toxic Avenger Part II. The painted cover featured this strange muscle-bound creature with a malformed face wearing a tutu. One hand held a mop/American Flag and the other a buxom-blonde in a bikini brandishing a machine gun. I picked up the box to let the image soak in for a minute or two then flipped it over and was even more astounded by the images on the back. This was truly a movie unlike anything I had ever seen before, nor would I for a few more years at least as there was no way in hell a young tyke such as myself would be allowed by either my parents or the store to rent such a film (and believe me, I tried –repeatedly!)
This was back in ’89 and I could not get that damn box out of my head. Thankfully in 1991 Marvel published a short-lived Toxic Avenger comic series. I still hadn’t seen the movies, but I was getting my first fix of Toxie through four colours. Then in 1994 I finally managed to rent a copy of the first Toxic Avenger film. It was here that my world divided into two distinct parts – B.T and A.T. (Before Troma and After Troma.)
To say the film blew my mind would be a severe understatement. Rather, my mind was blasted into an infinite number of fragments and when I picked up and rearranged the pieces, just like the titular hero from New Jersey, I was transformed. This film was insanely wonderful; unlike anything I had ever seen up to that point. And I loved every fucking second of it! The over-the-top violence, the comedy, the melon-heavy breasts! I had just had my first taste of a drug that would hook me for life. The Toxic Avenger was my gateway into the weird and wonderful world of Troma. More than twenty years later and I’m still hooked.
When I pressed play and before the film began, there was this funny little man in a bow-tie who exuberantly introduced the film. Turned out this enthusiastic nut was Lloyd Kaufman, co-founder along with Michael Herz of Troma Entertainment. And if Toxie was Troma’s Mickey Mouse, Lloyd was the studio’s Walt Disney. Gleefully introducing each film in the Troma canon in his own unique, vaudevillian P.T. Barnum meets Rodney Dangerfield meets Lenny Bruce way, Lloyd was the profane but lovable uncle whom you couldn’t wait to see at family gatherings. Shit…Lloyd became family to me. Uncle Lloyd.
In 1998, Lloyd, along with co-writer James Gunn who just had some success with a little indie-film entitled Guardians of the Galaxy, wrote and released the book All I Need to Know about Filmmaking I Learned from the Toxic Avenger. I devoured that shit with a spoon. Not only was the book extremely informative and funny, but there was also a handy section in the back listing every Troma produced and distributed film thus far. I was working in a video shop during this period that had the oddest back catalog – no Rocky films, no Star Wars, no Indiana Jones nor the Godfather, but a surprising amount of Troma movies. In quick succession I watched films as disparate as Troma’s War, Big Gus, What’s the Fuss?, Class of Nuke ‘Em High Parts II and III, When Nature Calls, Stuck On You!, Hollywood Zap!, Killer Condom and Combat Shock. Speaking of Combat Shock, if you haven’t seen it, drop everything this instant and watch it. It’s the bastard child of Eraserhead and Taxi Driver and it will fucking wreck you!
I was also heading downtown on a weekly basis to purchase more Troma. Rabid Grannies, Redneck Zombies, Toxie Parts II (finally) and III, the original Nuke ‘Em High, Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D., Bloodsucking Freaks, Cannibal! The Musical, and Troma’s most accomplished masterpiece up to that point, the James Gunn written Tromeo and Juliet. I truly could not get enough.
The first time I met Lloyd was when he was appearing at our local HMV superstore for an indie-film symposium and book signing. I remember being on the bus when I saw the ad for his appearance in a local alternative weekly and audibly squealing with glee. Finally, I was gonna meet Uncle Lloyd!!! Not knowing what sort of crowd to expect, I made sure to get there extra early (like three hours early!) I was outside the store having a smoke when I peered in the window and saw Lloyd himself walking about. Shit…I couldn’t believe it! There he was and there was no one else around.
I tentatively approached him and offered my hand. Now, we all know what they say about meeting our heroes, but in this case Uncle Lloyd did not disappoint. He was warm, friendly, gracious and hilarious. We chatted for a good ten minutes or so, he signed my book and we snapped a photo together. I was riding on a fucking cloud. The symposium was great but those ten or so minutes chatting with Lloyd Kaufman was an experience I will never, ever forget.
Soon after, what I call the “Troma Renaissance” began. In-house production Terror Firmer was a kick-ass Meta masterpiece. Lloyd quickly followed up his first-directed film in three years with the unbelievable Citizen Toxie: The Toxic Avenger IV – the “real” sequel to The Toxic Avenger (admittedly, Toxies II and III were somewhat lame.)
I’ve subsequently met Lloyd a number of times at screenings, conventions, and events. He always remembers me and my name which is extremely impressive considering he meets tonnes of fans. I’ve attended his Make Your Own Damn Movie Masterclass and have read every book he’s written. I’ve seen The Toxic Avenger musical three times and have recently purchased my seventh copy of the original Toxie flick, this time on Blu-Ray. Truthfully, there would be no Really Awful Movies without Michael, Lloyd and Troma.
I’m certainly not alone in my “Trovotion”. There are legions of Tromatics just like myself who cover themselves in Troma tattoos, volunteer to be Toxies, Kabukimen and Trometes at Lloyd’s numerous appearances and excitedly devour anything and everything Troma releases. What is it about Troma that inspires such fervor?
As a way of examining the “Tronemonon” and even developing an understanding of my own obsession, I tracked down Lloyd Kaufman himself to analyze and pinpoint just what it is about Troma Studios that the fans adore so much. Of course, Lloyd being Lloyd, we ended up chatting about that plus so much more. In the interview embedded above (go ahead, press play. You know you want to!), I wanted Lloyd to tell me the answer, yet in speaking to him, I think I may have discovered the answer for myself. See if you agree.
LISTEN TO UNCLE LLOYD KAUFMAN ON OUR PODCAST!