Film

War is Hell-arious: 'Troma's War': The Tromasterpiece Collection


Troma's War

Director: Lloyd Kaufman, Michael Herz
Cast: Carolyn Beauchamp, Sean Bowen, Rick Washburn, Patrick Weathers, Jessica Dublin
Rated: R
Studio: Troma
Year: 1988
US date: 2010-01-26 (Limited release)
UK date: 2010-01-26 (General release)
Website

We all know the combat cliché - war is indeed hell. But so is filmmaking, that is, if you ask Troma chief and all around champion of independent art, Lloyd Kaufman. Not only would he argue that any conflict - political, personal, or philosophical - is absolutely pointless, but it's painful as well. All throughout the bonus features for the recently released "Tromasterpiece Collection" version of the studio's seminal Troma's War, the infamous filmmaker complains about the production clashes that almost cost him his movie - and his sanity. From less than professional actors to constant complaints about shoddy food service and "third meals", this brilliant satire on man's unbridled bloodlust and the sovereign satisfaction of same stands as one of their best - no matter the final box office.

Yes, Troma's War was a bomb, and that's something the Kaufman and clan just can't get over. Frankly, such a status is understandable when viewed through the middling eyes of the mainstream, but almost impossible to fathom when it comes to balls-out geek fandom. For all its outright liberal leanings, this film falls right smack dab in the middle of American road, an offering that celebrates carnage and killing (actually setting a record for most squibs used in a major motion picture) while arguing against such outright aggression. Indeed, Troma's War is a crackpot inconsistency, pro and anti, a delicious dark comedy that's often vile and mean-spirited, a standard action flick flecked with all manner of Kaufman's bad taste comedy conceits. Together, these impossible parallels deconstruct everything we love about the genre while reinventing the way we view the enemy, and ourselves.

The storyline is simple in its set-up. An airplane loaded with Central Casting characters (fey flight attendant, chauvinistic Vietnam vet, sporty hunk, skeazy gal pal) crash lands on a Caribbean island. Little do the survivors know that they've washed up on the shore of a terrorist encampment. Seems a pair of perverted conjoined twins is creating a super army. Their goal? Destabilize the USA and take over. Under the auspices of Capt. Schweinhart, Maj. Ramirez, Col. Jennings, and Maj. Asyolsky, they are almost ready to invade. Unfortunately, they think the innocent casualties of the crash are armed guerillas ready to undermine their mission. Soon, it’s a full blown firefight as baddies are raping, killing, and kidnapping everything in sight - and once they are outfitted weapons, our heroes are ready to kick some evil-doer hinder as well.

Military movies just don't get any more deranged that Troma's War. All mega-munitions claims aside, this is one completely crazy entertainment. If you know Kaufman and crew's unbridled audacity, if you get the fact that he and is mythical moviemaking company are out to both revolutionize and rebel against the status quo, if you truly comprehend his found film school hired help mentality, you'll plotz at how powerful this vision can be. If, on the other hand, you want logical narratives, non-cartoonish characters, ambiguity of purpose, and pure Tinseltown polish, please look elsewhere. Troma isn't in the wholesome, feel good film business. Instead, they have made their name challenging convention as well as looking for new ways to make the old formulas and stereotypes fresh and new.

You can see the agenda clearly within Troma's War's visuals. A blustering officer is decked out in a full pig nose, another is a Nazi who confuses everyone for a Jew. The conjoined twins are viewed as so sexually maladjusted that only their carnally confused brain would come up with such a stupid invasion strategy. Heck, even one of the heroes is decked out in full Oliver Stone flowery Hawaiian shirt mode, the better to homage the controversial auteur. He even looks like the famed director of Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July. Hot topic issues like Anti-Semitism, gay bashing, and religious sacrilege are prevalent, as are jokes and problematic jibes about same. Blindness and bondage happily coexist with ethnic slurs and questionable racial profiling. And just when you thought you've seen it all, Kaufman and company find new ways to insult, intrigue and irritate you.

For Troma, no subject is a sacred cow. This is particularly true of a sequence Kaufman kvetches over, complaining that the MPAA and producers forced him to cut it prior to the theatrical release (though it has since been restored to the DVD print proper). It involves a slimeball infected with HIV and the subplot to turn a group of infected AIDS zombies loose on the horny American population. The entire scene is so surreal, so ridiculously over the top and histrionic that you can't help but laugh. And yet the notion that Troma would take on the horrific disease right in the middle of its struggle for social and political relevance illustrates just how extreme and aggressive the company can be. It's an attitude that might explain the underage revolutionary with a rifle (who turns out to be Kaufman's daughter) or the constant traumatizing of an infant as part of another sordid scheme (again, one of the director's kids).

While some may moan that the majority of the bonus features are ported over from previous releases (and it's hard to hide such a fact when interviewees and commentators constantly reference the year, the time since the movie was made, and other temporal clues), they do provide a portrait of a troubled set. Some of the actors speak lovingly about working on Troma's War, but behind their benevolence is just a hint of anger and animosity. Similarly, Kaufman's commentary is filled with complaints - about talent, about tolerances, about taking advice from people reluctantly. He indicates that Troma's War started out as a semi-serious attempt at making something like Rambo or Missing in Action. Instead, the cracked corporate aura that infiltrates all of the company's canon took over, and the rest is ridiculous ersatz exploitation bliss history.

Could there be more bloodshed? Certainly. While Troma's War takes the cake in mini-explosives as bullet wounds, there is much more arterial spray in something like Tromeo and Juliet. Similarly, the no name cast of day players is perfectly acceptable, but doesn't offer the same staying power as later members of the thespian ranks like Trent Haaga and Debbie Rochon. In fact, one could argue that Troma's War was the moment when the company realized that it couldn't successful conquer every genre and see solid audience returns. Instead, they went back to what they did best, something drive-in film critic Joe Bob Briggs would call "the three B's - breasts, beasts, and blood". As a result, the King of Outsider Art - Lloyd Kaufman - remains firmly atop his decade's old filmmaking throne. Yet for every adventure of the Toxic Avenger or Sgt. Kabukiman, NYPD, we have a terrific forgotten masterwork like Troma's War. At the time, it was dismissed. Today, it's divine.

9
Music
Music

Chewing the Fat: Rapper Fat Tony on His Latest Work From Hip-hop's Leftfield

Fat Tony proves a bright, young artist making waves amongst the new generation of hip-hop upstarts.

Music

The Bobby Lees Strike the Punk-Blues Jugular on Jon Spencer-Produced 'Skin Suit'

The Bobby Lees' Skin Suit is oozing with sex, sweat and joyful abandon. It's a raucous ride from beginning to end. Cover to cover, this thing's got you by the short hairs.

Music

Khruangbin Add Vocals But Keep the Funk on 'Mordechai'

Khruangbin's third album Mordechai is a showcase for their chemistry and musical chops.

Music

Daniel Avery's Versatility Is Spread Rather Thin on 'Love + Light'

Because it occasionally breaks new ground, Daniel Avery's Love + Light avoids being an afterthought from start to finish. The best moments here are generally the hardest-hitting ones.

Music

Buscabulla Chronicle a Return to Puerto Rico in Chic Synthwave on 'Regresa'

Buscabulla's authenticity -- along with dynamite production chops and musicianship -- is irreplaceable, and it makes Regresa a truly soulful synthwave release.

Music

Why Australia's Alice Ivy Doesn't Want to Sleep

Alice Ivy walks a fine line between chillwave cool and Big Beat freakouts, and her 2018 debut record was an electropop wonder. Now, in the middle of a pandemic, she tries to keep the good vibes going with a new record decked out in endless collaborations.

Music

12 Essential Kate Bush Songs

While Kate Bush is a national treasure in the UK, American listeners don't know her as well. The following 12 songs capture her irrepressible spirit.

Books
Featured: Top of Home Page

'Breathing Through the Wound' Will Leave You Gasping for Air

As dizzying as Víctor Del Árbol's philosophy of crime may appear, the layering of motifs in Breathing Through the Wound is vertiginous.

Books

'Perramus: The City and Oblivion' Depicts Argentina's Violent Anti-Communist Purge

Juan Sasturain and Alberto Breccia's graphic novel Peraramus: The City and Oblivion, is an absurd and existential odyssey of a political dissident who can't remember his name.

Books

Five Women Who Fought the Patriarchy

Whether one chooses to read Square Haunting for the sketches of the five fascinating women, or to understand how misogyny and patriarchy constricted intellectual and public life in the period, Francesca Wade's book is a superb achievement.

Reading Pandemics

Parable Pandemics: Octavia E. Butler and Racialized Labor

Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower, informed by a deep understanding of the intersectionality of dying ecologies, disease, and structural racism, exposes the ways capitalism's insatiable hunger for profit eclipses humanitarian responses to pandemics.

Film
Film

The Cyclops and the Sunken Place: Narrative Control in 'Watchmen' and 'Get Out'

Hollywood is increasing Black representation but Damon Lindelof and Jordan Peele challenge audiences to question the authenticity of this system.

Film

Director Denis Côté on Making Film Fearlessly

In this interview with PopMatters, director Denis Côté recalls 2010's Curling (now on Blu-Ray) discusses film as a "creative experiment in time", and making films for an audience excited by the idea of filling in playful narrative gaps.

Film

Rediscovering Japanese Director Tomu Uchida

A world-class filmmaker of diverse styles, we take a look at Tomu Uchida's very different Bloody Spear at Mount Fuji and The Mad Fox.

Film

Contemporary Urbanity and Blackness in 'New Jack City'

Hood films are a jarring eviction notice for traditional Civil Rights rhetoric and, possibly, leadership -- in other words, "What has the Civil Rights movement done for me lately?"

Recent
Music

Chewing the Fat: Rapper Fat Tony on His Latest Work From Hip-hop's Leftfield

Fat Tony proves a bright, young artist making waves amongst the new generation of hip-hop upstarts.

Music

The Bobby Lees Strike the Punk-Blues Jugular on Jon Spencer-Produced 'Skin Suit'

The Bobby Lees' Skin Suit is oozing with sex, sweat and joyful abandon. It's a raucous ride from beginning to end. Cover to cover, this thing's got you by the short hairs.

Books

'Perramus: The City and Oblivion' Depicts Argentina's Violent Anti-Communist Purge

Juan Sasturain and Alberto Breccia's graphic novel Peraramus: The City and Oblivion, is an absurd and existential odyssey of a political dissident who can't remember his name.

Music

Daniel Avery's Versatility Is Spread Rather Thin on 'Love + Light'

Because it occasionally breaks new ground, Daniel Avery's Love + Light avoids being an afterthought from start to finish. The best moments here are generally the hardest-hitting ones.

Music

Khruangbin Add Vocals But Keep the Funk on 'Mordechai'

Khruangbin's third album Mordechai is a showcase for their chemistry and musical chops.

Music

Buscabulla Chronicle a Return to Puerto Rico in Chic Synthwave on 'Regresa'

Buscabulla's authenticity -- along with dynamite production chops and musicianship -- is irreplaceable, and it makes Regresa a truly soulful synthwave release.

Film

The Cyclops and the Sunken Place: Narrative Control in 'Watchmen' and 'Get Out'

Hollywood is increasing Black representation but Damon Lindelof and Jordan Peele challenge audiences to question the authenticity of this system.

Featured: Top of Home Page

'Breathing Through the Wound' Will Leave You Gasping for Air

As dizzying as Víctor Del Árbol's philosophy of crime may appear, the layering of motifs in Breathing Through the Wound is vertiginous.

Music

12 Essential Kate Bush Songs

While Kate Bush is a national treasure in the UK, American listeners don't know her as well. The following 12 songs capture her irrepressible spirit.

Music

Tatsuya Nakatani and Shane Parish Replace Form with Risk on 'Interactivity'

The more any notions of preconceived musicality are flicked to the curb, the more absorbing Tatsuya Nakatani and Shane Parish's Interactivity gets.

Music

Martin Green's Junkshop Yields the Gritty, Weird Story of Britpop Wannabes

Featuring a litany of otherwise-forgotten budget bin purchases, Martin Green's two-disc overview of coulda-been Britpop contenders knows little of genre confines, making for a fun historical detour if nothing else.

Reviews

Haux Compellingly Explores Pain via 'Violence in a Quiet Mind'

By returning to defined moments of pain and struggle, Haux cultivates breathtaking music built on quiet, albeit intense, anguish.

Reviews

'Stratoplay' Revels in the Delicious New Wave of the Revillos

Cherry Red Records' six-disc Revillos compilation, Stratoplay, successfully charts the convoluted history of Scottish new wave sensations.

Reviews

Rising Young Jazz Pianist Micah Thomas Debuts with 'Tide'

Micah Thomas' Tide is the debut of a young jazz pianist who is comfortable and fluent in a "new mainstream": abstraction as well as tonality, freedom as well as technical complexity.

Music

Why Australia's Alice Ivy Doesn't Want to Sleep

Alice Ivy walks a fine line between chillwave cool and Big Beat freakouts, and her 2018 debut record was an electropop wonder. Now, in the middle of a pandemic, she tries to keep the good vibes going with a new record decked out in endless collaborations.

Books

Five Women Who Fought the Patriarchy

Whether one chooses to read Square Haunting for the sketches of the five fascinating women, or to understand how misogyny and patriarchy constricted intellectual and public life in the period, Francesca Wade's book is a superb achievement.

Film

Director Denis Côté on Making Film Fearlessly

In this interview with PopMatters, director Denis Côté recalls 2010's Curling (now on Blu-Ray) discusses film as a "creative experiment in time", and making films for an audience excited by the idea of filling in playful narrative gaps.

Music

Learning to Take a Picture: An Interview With Inara George

Inara George is unafraid to explore life's more difficult and tender moments. Discussion of her latest music, The Youth of Angst, leads to stories of working with Van Dyke Parks and getting David Lee Roth's musical approval.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.