We automatically think of art and business as two opposing forces, but Roger Corman’s career offers a nice counter-argument to that assumption.
…because they’ve been making vulgar, disgusting trash with independence and integrity for over 40 years! Taking a cue from Roger Corman, Troma Entertainment produces and distributes B-level and below genre movies loaded with violence, gore and obscenity, but also cinematic style. Founders Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz, who often write, direct and appear in many of the Troma films, have an uncanny ability to tell bizarro stories at whatever budget level they can afford. In addition to taking chances on off-beat creative voices like Trey Parker and Matt Stone or James Gunn, the company has also experimented with digital distribution models and hosts its own alternative film festival.
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So maybe Troma hasn’t changed the status of independent film like "Sex, Lies, and Videotape" or even influenced the low-budget horror genre as much as "The Blair Witch Project" or "Paranormal Activity." But honestly, who cares? Not Lloyd Kaufman or Michael Herz, that’s for damn sure. You may dislike their movies, but their films always have a unique perspective and occasionally even a positive message a la "The Toxic Avenger." And it’s not as though Troma’s independence has meant sacrificing on talent or quality. They’ve cast future award winning actors like Billy Bob Thornton and Samuel L. Jackson along with porn stars, random casting call weirdos and their own homegrown scream queen "Tromettes." While Troma protégés like James Gunn have crossed over into the mainstream – and arguably made the mainstream cooler by bringing Troma’s "‘eff you" spirit – Kaufman and Herz have continued to do things their way. Sure, they’ve had their struggles, and have even sold the remake rights to some of their bigger hits like "The Toxic Avenger" and "Class of Nuke ‘Em High" to idea-starved Hollywood. But when the studios inevitably water those properties down and screw them up, does anyone think Troma will give two flying ducks? They’ve been able to make money by not selling out.
While Troma has made a name for itself in genres like horror, science fiction and extreme action, what separates them from other independent and B-movie filmmakers is one simple fact: they don’t take their work too seriously. The company started by making exploitation comedies and has always kept an element of humor in their films. Usually, this is evident from the title. "Surf Nazis Must Die" may sound like an urgent command, but it’s pretty clear the movie isn’t going to be "Schindler’s List" despite the fact that both express an anti-Third Reich message. Especially in horror films, humor is an often underrated device, either as a means to ease the tension or a signal to the audience that, deep down inside, the filmmakers know the story premise is borderline ridiculous. Troma in fact often incorporates humor into what’s supposed to be scary. For an excellent example of this, look no further than the infamous penis monster in "Tromeo and Juliet." Want a less phallic version? Then how about the evil chickens of "Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead."
While Troma isn’t for everybody, it is for a lot of people who comprise a pretty sizable niche audience. Believe it or not, a lot of diehard fans love obscene content, excessive gore and absurd storylines. Within this basic set of guidelines and under a certain budget level, Troma has found a lot of room to experiment with different types of material, new formats and unusual creative voices. For instance, they were willing to take a chance on a bizarre musical comedy about cannibals from Trey Parker and Matt Stone well before the creators of "South Park" were one O shy of an EGOT. They’ve continued their willingness to give oddball outsiders a venue, even hosting an alternative film festival as a way to discover extremely under-the-radar talent. Troma was the first studio to shoot a feature on video, and recently has experimented with digital distribution models. Troma’s independence has also allowed Kaufman and Herz to use their films as a way to express their personal views on political and social issues, taking on causes like the treatment of farm animals and LGBTQ+ rights with their signature bizarro style.
I’m Lloyd Kaufman, President of Troma Entertainment and creator of Toxic Avenger. AMA!Read more
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