Troma in Terrific Transition: ‘Father’s Day’ (Blu-ray)

For a while, we were worried. Troma, those titans of pure independent cinematic art, looked to be in trouble. After spending untold millions trying to make Poultrygeist a mainstream success (and getting screwed by the Establishment distribution bureaucracy in the process), it looked like Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz’s dream of an ongoing outlet for envelope pushing entertainment was slowly disappearing. Sure, for nearly 40 years, the company has championed some of the most amazing works of weirdness ever to grace the supposedly silver (and eventually, small) screen. They introduced us to some highly original moviemakers, as well as bringing us their own iconic entries, like The Toxic Avenger, The Class of Nuke ‘Em High, and Terror Firmer. Yet, as the new millennium rolled around, the company seemed incapable of keeping up. The titanic failure of Tales from the Crapper didn’t help.

Thus began an unusual business strategy. Kaufman took to college campuses around the world, offering Master Classes (and companion DVD and book releases) on how to Make Your Own Damn Movie and Produce/Direct/Distribute same. He made himself available for cameos and/or mentorship for other filmmaking wannabes. He opened up the Troma vaults and championed file sharing and other “alternative” means of getting his movies seen. He’s even started to license titles (Mother’s Day, Toxic) for…perish the thought…Hollywood remakes. Yet what fans really want is more of the madman’s method insanity, those twisted take on the terror/titillation tropes we’ve come to expect from the label. Luckily, Kaufman stumbled upon the brilliant Canadian creative conglomerate, Astron-6. One look at their mind-blowing major release, Father’s Day, confirms its place in the movie studio’s mythology…and future.

The narrative centers around Chris Fuchman (Mackenzie Murdock) a serial rapist/murderer who targets dads. His crimes are particularly vicious and brutal and have had a major impact on our three main “heroes.” Ahab (Adam Brooks) saw his pop pilloried by the fiend, and he’s spent a lifetime eager for revenge. Twink (Conor Sweeney) just recently lost his dad to the diabolical fiend, and the teen prostitute is now angry and confused. Father Sullivan (Matthew Kennedy) has been helping his mentor, Fr. O’Flynn (Kevin Anderson) track the monster, while Detective Stegel (Brent Neale) can’t catch a break in the case. After the situation with Twink, Fr. Sullivan locates Ahab in an isolated cabin and brings him back home, hoping he can stop the terror. Hooking up with his stripper sister Chelsea (Amy Groening), the gang heads out to hunt some Fuchman. Little do they know that their plan will involve homemade maple syrup, Satanism, and a guided tour through Hell itself.

It would be easy to say that Father’s Day is the film Grindhouse wanted to be. Of course, that would be assuming that Mr. Tarantino and his pal Mr. Rodriguez had the first clue about what an actual exploitation film truly is. Their attempted recapture of the “glory days” of the drive-in was nothing more than a pair of amplified genre efforts, each one pushing the limits of the premise by throwing as much blood and bombast at the screen as possible. Now, Father’s Day GETS the concept of full blown cinematic sleaze. It doesn’t merely wallow in excess, it redefines it. Where else can you find a film which flawlessly mimics the steady stream of outsider outrage that used to permeate the passion pits from 1955 until 1975. We get blood, guts, gore, death, defilement, sex, splatter, nudity, jokes (both obvious and far inside) and enough jaw dropping invention to make those aforementioned auteurs ashamed of their meager attempt.

When you consider that this is a collective effort, that Astron-6 is actually five people – Brooks, Kennedy, Sweeney, Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski (both who have minor roles here) – functioning together to craft their mutual vision, it’s amazing it works at all. You can see the influences throughout. There are nods to previous greats, references to Lewis, Raimi, Carpenter, Argento, Fulci, Buttgereit, Romero, Bava, and Troma itself. We even get homages to the imaginative direct to video titles of the ’80s, a time when Kaufman and the gang were king. This is especially true of the ending, which finds Ahab, Twink, and Fr. Sullivan traversing a sensational stop motion underworld in hopes of ending the Fuchman’s reign of terror. The whole sequence reminds one of the value in practical effects and their ability to make even the most far flung idea seem cinematically viable.

All is not 100% perfect, however. Towards the end, the cast seems a bit too enamored of their own jokes, and you find the previous seriousness slipping into a decidedly tongue in cheek vibe. Nothing destroys a homage quicker than reminders that everyone should be wholly in on the joke. Additionally, there’s not enough time spent in the strip club. If you got characters who are willing to be naked (and in one case, wield a massive chainsaw), you really need to showcase them, not simply have them pass through the narrative. On the other hand, the fake UHF level TV bookend presentation conceit used is brilliant. We even get a mid-act break for something called Space Raiders. It looks so tantalizing that we actually miss it once Father’s Day starts up again.

Naturally, as part of their packaging, Troma goes overboard with the added content. There is a third disc in this Blu-ray/DVD set that contains several featurettes, some of which actually supplement the film. There’s making-ofs, make-up demonstrations, a couple of deleted scenes, and an interview with Matt Stone of South Park fame (?!?). There’s also an added CD containing selections from the score, and it too is a hoot. As a matter of fact, taken together, the soundtrack and film are like a precise overview of the entire Something Weird catalog…and if anyone today is worthy of the ’40 Thieves’ moniker given to said exploitation giants, it would be Lloyd Kaufman. Father’s Day proves that, when he’s not making masterworks, he’s quite capable of finding fresh examples of same. As a result, Troma’s future seems fairly bright, indeed.

RATING 9 / 10