Borderline Cinema

The company Troma has become a legend in film circles (or at least the sort I move in), thanks to their technique of churning out low-budget exploitation movies with titles like ‘Stuff Stephanie in the Incinerator’ and ‘Surf Nazis (Must Die)’. Their most renowned product is probably ‘The Toxic Avenger’, which gained notoriety when the BBFC demanded 15 minutes of cuts before release – it says a lot that the result was still perfectly intelligible! Here are some of their ‘forthcoming attractions’ :

THE TOXIC AVENGER, PART 2 – (Kurz & Weil, 1988).

The much awaited sequel to their international hit about a nerd who falls into some chemical waste and mutates into a superhero who wreaks revenge on his tormentors and any other bad peole. Even the cut version was superbly tacky and tasteless, with guide dogs getting shot, old ladies dry cleaned and kids run over. Unfortunately, Part 2 has very little of this sort of thing, probably due to it being a co-production with Lorimar (makers of ‘Dallas’ – or is it ‘Dynasty’?), who presumably demanded reducing the blood until it resembles a Saturday morning cartoon for kids. Toxie, as our hero is known, is unemployed since he cleaned up Tromaville, and heads off to Japan to seek his long lost father. This leaves the field clear for Apocalypse Inc to move in and turn Tromaville into a chemical dump. Toxie returns, having killed his father after finding him smuggling drugs, mops them up and discovers his real father.

The problem is that the messy splatter of the original has been replaced with funny fight sequences; Toxie is now little more than a Mr. T clone. Even his blind, blonde bimbo, one of the highlights last time, is played by a different actress (Phoebe Legear) and she’s far too twee. Despite a couple of promising moments, the overall result is something that makes you want to stick a mop down your, or Lorimar’s, throat. “Toxic Avenger 3” has been shot; one glimmer of hope is it’s subtitled “The Last Temptation of Toxie” – surely not a Lorimar co-production with that title!

TROMA’S WAR (Kurz & Weil, 1989)

A plane of tourists crashes on a Caribbean island to discover a group of terrorists are preparing to conquer the US. Naturally, the tourists can’t let that happen and take on the bad guys. “Makes Rambo look like ‘Lassie Come Home'”, said Variety. There certainly is a lot of blood here, 99% of it in the form of squibs going off after people get hit by bullets. There’s not a great deal else – gun battles occupy at least half the picture so if you liked “Commando”, this might well suit. There are some moments of BAD taste; a tongue pulling, a girl being raped by an AIDS sufferer and a Siamese twin getting, er, de-Siamed – how much of all this will survive on the video is a moot point. The characters (including ANOTHER blind bimbo!) are total stereotypes and the whole thing has an aura of heavy parody, which is generally unsuccessful since no-one of any intelligence took “Rambo” seriously to start with. Acceptable rather than brilliant.

EVIL CLUTCH (Andreas Marfori)

Troma also buy in foreign films; this is an Italian horror pic, and guess what? It is one of the WORST movies I have ever seen – I expected it to be bad, but it surpassed even my fears. The plot is totally incoherent (couple in woods, horror writer warns them of danger, they ignore him and are attacked by a ‘zombie’ whose makeup looks more like sun-burn), the cast numbers five and the director clearly got a Steadicam for Xmas; there is barely a shot without the camera swooping, swaying or disappearing up it’s own backside.

The first five minutes promise a lot of squirms, with a guy having his genitals torn off by a woman with claws in an unusual place (presumably Miss Evil Clutch). For the next 70-odd minutes though, there’s nothing except cliches, pointless scenes, dry ice and more bloody Steadicam shots. The end is gory enough – it’s just a shame that by then you’re so cynical that even the sight of a chainsaw does little to raise your spirits. The characters wander about aimlessly – the zombie runs on, removes the hero’s hands with a rock and runs off, and Miss Clutch disappears totally half way through the film, only to reappear at the end lying next to a bridge, for no apparent reason other than to give the director something for the camera to run towards. The biggest pile of garbage I’ve seen for years.

RABID GRANNIES (Emmanuel Kervyn)

Up until last year, Belgium was synonymous with dullness in films, music and football. Now, all of a sudden with New Beat and ‘Crazy Love’, it’s on the map. ‘Rabid Grannies’ continues the trend – judging by the audience reaction when I saw it, it’s the best European horror film in years . It takes place during a family reunion – everyone is there to try to crawl into the grandmothers’ good books, who are rich and about to snuff it. Everyone, that is, except the black sheep of the family, Christopher, who was sent away in disgrace after being involved in black magic. He sends a peace offering of a carved box – the bad news is that it turns the grannies into demons…

From then on we’re deep in ‘Evil Dead’, spam-in-a-castle country. The family and staff are slaughtered in astonishingly messy ways: limbs, blood and internal organs fly, an 8-year old is dismembered, a fat guy has his legs eaten when he gets stuck trying to escape, a woman is ground head-first into railings. That the overall effect is entertaining rather than sickening (even the non-horror fan I dragged along enjoyed it) is tribute to the style and directorial stance. An example: a priest blows his head off with a shotgun, unusually not in close-up. Then, a few scenes later we pass the same location and see a gobbet of flesh with a few teeth attached casually draped over the set…

Sure, there are cliches, there are holes in the plot – you just get no time to think about them and since all the characters are unpleasant, you ‘enjoy’ their revolting fates. I honestly can’t remember the last time I was as sorry to see a film end – partly perhaps because there’s little chance of seeing it all again. That the censor won’t like it is certain; it’s not even “thoughtful” gore a la ‘Hellraiser’. Mind you, if “Bad Taste” can survive..!