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)

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.






'We're Not Here to Entertain' Is Not Here to Break the Cycle of Punk's Failures

Even as it irritates me, Kevin Mattson's We're Not Here to Entertain is worth reading because it has so much direct relevance to American punks operating today.


Uncensored 'Native Son' (1951) Is True to Richard Wright's Work

Compared to the two film versions of Native Son in more recent times, the 1951 version more acutely captures the race-driven existential dread at the heart of Richard Wright's masterwork.


3 Pairs of Boots Celebrate Wandering on "Everywhere I Go" (premiere)

3 Pairs of Boots are releasing Long Rider in January 2021. The record demonstrates the pair's unmistakable chemistry and honing of their Americana-driven sound, as evidenced by the single, "Everywhere I Go".


'World War 3 Illustrated #51: The World We Are Fighting For'

World War 3 Illustrated #51 displays an eclectic range of artists united in their call to save democracy from rising fascism.


Tiphanie Doucet's "You and I" Is an Exercise in Pastoral Poignancy (premiere)

French singer-songwriter Tiphanie Doucet gives a glimpse of her upcoming EP, Painted Blue, via the sublimely sentimental ode, "You and I".


PM Picks Playlist 3: WEIRDO, Psychobuildings, Lili Pistorius

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of WEIRDO, Brooklyn chillwavers Psychobuildings, the clever alt-pop of Lili Pistorius, visceral post-punk from Sapphire Blues, Team Solo's ska-pop confection, and dubby beats from Ink Project.

By the Book

The Story of Life in 10 1/2 Species (excerpt)

If an alien visitor were to collect ten souvenir life forms to represent life on earth, which would they be? This excerpt of Marianne Taylor's The Story of Life in 10 and a Half Species explores in text and photos the tiny but powerful earthling, the virus.

Marianne Taylor

Exploitation Shenanigans 'Test Tube Babies' and 'Guilty Parents' Contend with the Aftermath

As with so many of these movies about daughters who go astray, Test Tube Babies blames the uptight mothers who never told them about S-E-X. Meanwhile, Guilty Parents exploits poor impulse control and chorus girls showing their underwear.


Deftones Pull a Late-Career Rabbit Out of a Hat with 'Ohms'

Twenty years removed from Deftones' debut album, the iconic alt-metal outfit gel more than ever and discover their poise on Ohms.


Arcade Fire's Will Butler Personalizes History on 'Generations'

Arcade Fire's Will Butler creates bouncy, infectious rhythms and covers them with socially responsible, cerebral lyrics about American life past and present on Generations.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Thelonious Monk's Recently Unearthed 'Palo Alto' Is a Stellar Posthumous Live Set

With a backstory as exhilarating as the music itself, a Thelonious Monk concert recorded at a California high school in 1968 is a rare treat for jazz fans.


Jonnine's 'Blue Hills' Is an Intimate Collection of Half-Awake Pop Songs

What sets experimental pop's Jonnine apart on Blue Hills is her attention to detail, her poetic lyricism, and the indelibly personal touch her sound bears.


Renegade Connection's Gary Asquith Indulges in Creative Tension

From Renegade Soundwave to Renegade Connection, electronic legend Gary Asquith talks about how he continues to produce infectiously innovative music.


A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.


Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.


PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.


'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

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