Inspiration comes from unexpected sources. Lloyd Kaufman's interest in film kicked in during his freshman year at Yale, thanks to a Jean-Luc Godard-obsessed roommate. But it wasn't until after that year that his muse found him. Unlike fellow classmate and old friend Oliver Stone, who went off to Vietnam, Kaufman spent a year teaching in a small village in Chad. There, he filmed the bloody slaughter of a pig. When he came home, none of Kaufman's friends or family had the stomach to view his little gorefest, and he got his first rush of power over an audience. An auteur was born.
Kaufman, the father of Troma Studios, makes films that friend and mentor Roger Corman refers to as "a Cuisinart of genres." They're a sort of anti-formula response to Hollywood's commercially über-viable formulas. Most independent studios are incapable of standing up to the corporate-powered Hollywood juggernaut and end up having short shelf lives. Not Troma, which will celebrate its 30th anniversary in 2004. Kaufman's long-lived studio not only has an office -- it's had its own building since '79.
Troma projects have jump-started many a career. Kevin Costner's first starring role was in Sizzle Beach, U.S.A. One of Billy Bob Thornton's first breaks was his role in Chopper Chicks in Zombietown. And scribe James Gunn moved from writing Tromeo and Juliet to penning the screenplay for Scooby-Doo, earning himself industry buzz and piles of loot.
Early viewers of Troma flicks have grown up to become filmmakers themselves, and images from Troma films are finding their way into mainstream pictures. "The Farrelly brothers, Scary Movie, that kind of thing, seem to have a lot of '80s Troma stuff going on," says Kaufman. Or take Bad Santa, also starring Thornton. "The hypocrisy of exploiting the holiday, ripping off little children and playing the hoax on them that they're actually seeing Santa Claus is kind of a dirty trick," he says. "It's got a Troma flavor to it." There are also more direct parallels. The grotesquely drippy, snotty-nosed kid in Bad Santa bears striking similarity to the mucus-oozing granny in Terror Firmer ('99). And the cum-in-the-hair gag from There's Something About Mary is reminiscent of the tomspoogery in The First Turn-On('83).
Troma's most popular and enduring character is still Toxie, who first hit the screen in The Toxic Avenger ('85). Toxie, vulnerable and yet filled with rage, is loosely based on Kaufman and has grown up alongside him throughout the series.
Never resting, Kaufman will appear at the Alamo Drafthouse on Saturday to attend TromaFest and promote his book, Make Your Own Damn Movie (in its lucky 13th edition). TromaFest features the Texas premiere of Tales from the Crapper. The Tales from the Crypt spoof features Kaufman himself as the "Crapkeeper." Crapper stars Troma starlet Julie Strain, South Park's Trey Parker and porn star Ron Jeremy -- and guarantees gigantic breasts and questionable taste. TromaFest screens The Toxic Avengerat 8 p.m. and Rabid Grannies at 10 p.m. Friday, December 12; Tales from the Crapper at 7 p.m. and Citizen Toxieat 10 p.m. Saturday, December 13; and Class of Nuke'em High at 8 p.m. and Cannibal: The Musical at 10 p.m. on Sunday, December 14.