Times are tough for true independent films. Just ask Troma. The leading purveyor of outside the mainstream art has just had one of its best years. They released the theatrical masterwork Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead back in October to massive critical acclaim, and soon thereafter, restarted their definitive DVD distribution of new and unusual off the radar titles. Still, according to the longstanding icon of all things iconic, all is not well within the world of maverick directors and iconoclastic producers. Just ask Evan Husney, the company’s co-director of video releases. “Studios, mainstream and independent, need to stop worrying about films solely as a ‘product’ and realize that there are still people out there who enjoy seeing a good film,” he said recently in an interview on the subject of independent film. His assessment on the genre in general? “It’s pretty grim.”
After a year which saw the Troma go from almost afterthought to continuing vanguard of a truly dying breed, Husney thinks he knows the cause of the current chaos. “There are and always will be filmmakers producing unique, groundbreaking work,” he says. “However, the distribution vehicle for such work is pathetic.” He elaborates: “Studios are not taking enough risks breaking or developing new artists with new ideas. Film buyers and retailers believe there isn’t any appeal for such alternative product - and that’s B.S.!” Husney experienced this first hand while attending last year’s American Film Market. “I was astonished to find that the current output of most of the indie studios seems as much of a contrived product as that of the mainstream,” he concludes. “If I see another trailer for an indie film with handwritten credits, I’m going to kill myself.”
Hunsey continues: “Most of the independent films featured in the marketplace co-star Michael Madsen as ‘Bob’, ‘Joe’ or ‘Ace’ (take a look at his IMDb for laugh). Other common findings are a tons of Saw imitation posters, children’s films with a CG talking dog, films with phony Cassavetes aesthetics, or somehow a combination of all three co-starring Michael Madsen.” And don’t try to argue for a lack of viable examples. “There were some great indie films last year which were a breath of fresh air,” he adds, “films like Wendy and Lucy, Shotgun Stories, and Let the Right One In. At a grassroots level, these films proved to be successful both critically and financially.”
“Something needs to change, and it’s not the filmmakers, it’s the studios,” and as Husney points out, Troma has persevered to remain at the forefront of truly untarnished individual art. “I really hope as digital distribution grows,” he offers, “it will open more avenues for new talented artists to get their work seen!” One of the ways his company continues this good fight is via the freshly minted Tromasterpiece Collection. As Husney explains, “the ultimate goal for the (label) is to take older Troma catalog titles and give them new life to find a much deserved, broader consumer awareness outside of our customer base.” As a close collaboration between the company, founders Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz and the creative element involved in each, Husney points out that, “fans have been really appreciative of the ‘Tromasterpiece Collection’. We’ve received nothing but praise on the (recent) Redneck Zombies
Tromasterpiece DVD, and we owe a lot of it to Pericles Lewnes and Edward Bishop for putting together most of the bonus material.”
Indeed, upcoming titles in the series will follow the same path. According to Husney, the next classic up for reconsideration will be the slasher favorite, The Last Horror Film. It stars Joe Spinell in, what the company refers to as” his most unnerving, perverse performance since his unforgettable starring role in William Lustig’s Maniac.” The film also reunites Spinell with another Maniac-¬alum; Hammer horror film and Bond-girl babe Caroline Munro. Husney adds that “The Last Horror Film DVD will include the uncut version of the film, which has never been released in America on video and was only available on the pre-certification UK VHS tape released over 25 years ago.”
Fans can also look forward to a wealth of bonus features including a brand new featurette, My Best Maniac
which features Spinell’s closest friend, Luke Walter, a brand new audio commentary with Walter, a new interview with Maniac
director William Lustig, Buddy G Giovinazzo’s (Combat Shock
) short film Mr. Robbie
aka Maniac 2
which features Spinell in one of his last performances before his untimely death, original and new trailers, and much more.
After that, Troma will tackle one of its most unusual and satisfying foreign films. “Later in the year we will be releasing the highly anticipated Director’s Cut of Philippe Mora’s Australian bushranger classic Mad Dog Morgan,” says Husney. “The film will be presented with a new beautifully restored, uncut, anamorphic widescreen transfer loaded with new and vintage bonus material.” Mora’s Outlaw masterpiece stars Dennis Hopper in, what the company considers, “his greatest performance of the 1970s next to The American Friend.”
“The Tromasterpiece Collection will also expand with a new anniversary edition of Troma’s War,” Husney points out, which will feature new cast and crew interviews, including a career-spanning featurette on the life and times of Troma’s most famous action hero Joe Fleishaker. In addition, future titles up for consideration include the hilarious the pre-Toxic Avenger ensemble sex comedy, The First Turn-On, Spanish horror classic The Hanging Woman starring Paul Naschy, and Lech Kowalski’s harrowing Story of a Junkie (a true underground masterwork).
But perhaps the most anticipated title of the year is also one of Troma’s most controversial and complex. “Combat Shock
has remained hidden in the underground video universe for more than 25 years,” Husney points out, “and has now fully ripened to disgust, revolt and depress a new generation of indie film viewers.” The 1986 thriller about a returning war vet and the troubles he faces readjusting to civilian life is, according to the company, “more relevant today than it did during its initial theatrical release.” Husney explains. As usual, fans and first timers can expect a great deal of depth from the upcoming digital package.
“Combat Shock: 2-Disc Never-Before-Seen Director’s Cut will include the heavily sought-after pre-Troma cut entitled American Nightmares which is somehow more delightfully repulsive and grim than the Combat Shock cut (which will also be included in the set for comparison).” That’s not all, of course. The most exciting special feature in the set is Post-Traumatic, an American Nightmare, which Husney describes as “a new featurette which contains interviews with filmmaker Buddy Giovinazzo contemporaries lending their praise, critical analyzes, and also examining themes of other nihilistic films of the 1980s.”
And the wealth of added content continues. Present in said featurette are such famous genre names as John McNaughton (Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer
), William Lustig (Maniac
), Jorg Buttgereit (Necromantik
), Jim Van Bebber (Deadbeat at Dawn
, The Manson Family
), Roy Frumkes (Street Trash
), Mitch Davis (Fantasia Film Festival), Joe Kane (The Phantom at the Movies
), Rick Sullivan (The Gore Gazette
– his first interview in 20 years!), David Gregory (Severin Films), and the star of Combat Shock
, in his first sitdown ever…Rick Giovinazzo.
According to Husney, the set will also include, “an audio commentary with Buddy and Jorg Buttgereit, an all new interview with Buddy conducted by Lloyd Kaufman, Buddy’s rarely-seen short film starring Joe Spinell titled Mr. Robbie aka Maniac 2, a look at the locations from Combat Shock as they appear today, original press and photo galleries, new liner notes by Steve Puchalski of Shock Cinema, and other highly anticipated material.”
Last but not least, perhaps the most important DVD collection the company will release this year is not an actual film. Coinciding with founder Lloyd Kaufman’s latest must-own tome, Direct Your Own Damn Movie
(published by Focal Press), Husney indicates that “Troma Team Video will be releasing a four-disc DVD box set (of the same name), which will include a newly produced, feature-length documentary with interviews from Stan Lee, Trey Parker, Eli Roth, James Gunn, William Lustig, Stuart Gordon, Penelope Spheeris, Mick Garris, Monte Hellman, Ernest Dickerson, and many more.”
The main feature is a documentary, offering “a step-by-step breakdown of operating outside the studio system as well as a guide to script-writing, pre-production, casting, managing sets, post-production, and the secrets of selling your own dam movie,” says Hunsey. The box set also features six hours of bonus material, including documentary featurettes, extended interviews, music videos, and much more!
“We would love to reissue more forgotten Troma gems from the toxic basement,” Husney indicates, considering how successful DVD updates of titles like Getting Lucky have been. They also plan on putting out the long delayed box set of Giuseppe Andrews films. In addition, the company will continue to seek out and resurrect unusual offerings from around the world, as they did with such new post-millennial classics as Bloospit, Cyxork 7, and The Seduction of Dr. Fugazzi. With the limited edition three disc set of Poultrygeist already sold out (Husney adds, “we have hatched the final batch. What ever is on the shelves at your local retailer is all that’s left. Get them while they’re hot!”) it seems like true individual art still has substantial support. Even in these tough economic times, Troma abides. “We have base audience that loves us no matter what,” Husney explains, “and thanks to them, the lights are still on. They are loyal and for good reason.” Good reason, indeed.