Lloyd Kaufman is a staunch defender of American independent cinema. He's also the guy who, with business partner Michael Herz, co-directed trash classics The Toxic Avenger and Class of Nuke 'Em High. As the co-founder of the now-40-year-old Troma Entertainment, Kaufman produces, distributes and directs no-brow comedies about, for and by juvenile delinquents like South Park's Matt Stone and Trey Parker, and Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn. This Thursday, Kaufman himself hits the Alamo Drafthouse for a double feature of his latest film — Return to Nuke 'Em High Vol. 1 — and one of his most notorious, the original Class of Nuke 'Em High from 1986. We talked to Kaufman about recycling footage, Troma's distinguished alumni and too much urination.
You usually rank Troma's War as your favorite Troma film, right after Tromeo and Juliet and Toxic Avenger, right?
I believe Troma's War is one of Troma's best movies, but Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead is a much better film, and I certainly like both Return to Nuke 'Em High films better. Troma's War is a very underrated movie, and it got totally fucked by the MPAA. Richard Heffner, who just made a noise like a frog and was president of the MPAA, told Michael Herz over the phone that our movie stunk. The MPAA is not supposed to do that, and they disemboweled our movie. They took out punches and jokes and things that were perfectly acceptable in movies like Die Hard. I think Heffner's words were "No fuckin' good," or something. It was very unpleasant.
Our violence is, as you know, cartoon violence. That movie followed The Toxic Avenger and Class of Nuke 'Em High, so we had built up some steam. But the only way we could get into movie theaters in 1986 was with an R rating. And the film was cut down to something like a G-rated movie. I'm very bitter about it; I hope Dr. Heffner burns in hell, quite frankly. And I don't like to speak ill of the dead, but the nerve, the arrogance, the hubris of his comments! There are very few movie studios that have lasted and remained independent for a long time. And the MPAA is one of the reasons.
Troma has had a lot of alumni infiltrating the big studios, like James Gunn. Pretend you're a proud mother showing off embarrassing baby pictures of your favorite son. What can you tell us about some of his rookie mistakes?
I spent five years writing Tromeo and Juliet, but he solved it! We co-wrote it together, but most of the dark brilliance of that screenplay is James Gunn. James came to us through a friend, and he wanted to be a novelist, not a screenwriter. I gave him what we had written, and gave him $150. The only thing I remember is...he put a lot of urination scenes in it. Too much of that. Other than that, I think he did a great job. It was his idea to put in the line, "What light through yonder Plexiglas breaks?" That set up a stunt with Plexiglas that almost blew me up. They used too much dynamite, or whatever they use for stunts like that.
Speaking of too much blowing up, almost all the movies that you either directed or co-directed since Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D. recycle footage of the same car crash. When did that stop being a good way to save money and start being an inside joke?
When the fans asked for it. The first time may have been with Tromeo and Juliet. And then with Citizen Toxie we weren't planning to use it, but we had a big sequence with a car chase, and we decided it would save us a lot of anguish if we re-used that shot. Only problem was that Kabukiman has a clown running around that movie on a unicycle. So with Citizen Toxie, we had to write in a clown on a unicycle. [Laughs.] Somehow, when we started editing the movie, we managed to edit, to cut the clown out. Now the fans are waiting for it. And in Return to Nuke 'Em High Vol. 2, there's a major riff on that whole thing.
You know, Bertolt Brecht is a big inspiration, and Andy Warhol. I don't think they ever met, but they both broke the fourth wall a lot, and I like that stuff. So I think the running gag with the car flip works on various levels. When I was at Yale, I hung a bit with the Warhol gang. I used some of his superstar types in early movies. I can't say I had any conversations with him, but I did pass him at Max's Kansas City. But I was a big fan of his movies.
You know, you're the only major publication interested in the 40th anniversary of Troma. The New York Times is busy sucking the teat of the major studios. They twist themselves into a pretzel when Kumar and Schmumar Go to White Castle Part III. They say, "Oh, the farts are such a statement about American culture! It's such great satire!" It's bullshit. Troma paved the road for farts! But we don't exist. In Russia they used to kill people. Then they got a little nicer, and all they'd do is take away people's passports. That's where we are.
Lloyd Kaufman will appear at Alamo Drafthouse Vintage Park on February 20 at the "Nuke 'Em High" double feature. The evening's festivities begin at 7:30, and admission costs $15. 114 Vintage Park Boulevard, 713-715-4707, drafthouse.com/houston.