Troma // 2009 // 200 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // October 28th, 2009
"Discovered in the lower depths of the Ukrainian black market, Troma proudly presents the infamous works of Soviet sleaze-maestro Yakov Levi."
It's not easy being a Troma fan. We have to wait years between each Lloyd Kaufman-directed Tromasterpiece, and the bits of video that dribble out in between can be seriously hit or miss. Don't get me wrong, I would love more Lloyd-helmed madness, and I understand that Troma has licensed a vast array of films to earn money that will eventually go into the Kaufman project. However, as a consumer, it's a little tough to know whether a Troma release that didn't originate in-house is worth buying. Certainly I want to support the brand when they release stuff like Cannibal! The Musical, but I could do without another Tales from the Crapper. Which brings us to Shameless, Tasteless: Trash Cinema From The Soviet Underground. Although it's not quite up to the standards of the best non-Troma films, this release presents the work of Yakov Levi, and there's a good chance that Troma fans will be interested in his particular brand of cinematic excess.
For the last decade or so, Troma guru Lloyd Kaufman has been on a crusade to get people to, in his words, "Make Your Own Damn Movie," and it seems that Yakov Levi, a Ukrainian filmmaker, is his acolyte. With no budget worth mentioning, very little equipment, and largely nonprofessional actors, Levi has produced a series of short films that have a unique (and twisted) take on themes scatological and sexual. Shameless, Tasteless collects the following short films:
* The Killer Bra
* Matroshka Dolls of Doom
* Vanity Insanity
* The Ghost of Marquis de Sade
* Penisella I, II, III, & IV
Shameless, Tasteless is really the perfect title for this release. The included films can be split into roughly three groups. The first are the more horror-oriented titles, like Vanity Insanity and The Ghost of Marquis de Sade which are like mini-episodes in an alternate-reality Hitchcock show. For instance The Ghost of the Marquis de Sade features three nubile young women conjuring the invisible ghost of the infamous Marquis, and then being tormented by his sexual depraved imagination. The second category of films are the gross-out John Waters homage, like the title films. These have very little plot but instead try to go straight for the gut. And by that I mean try to get the audience to vomit. As an example, Shameless is about an elderly prostitute and her adventures in being as repugnant as possible in picking up johns on the street. I have a pretty iron constitution with this stuff, but there were definitely some stomach curling moments. Finally, the Penisella films belong in a category all their own. Each episode deals with a woman who happens to have a 12-inch penis and her misadventures because no one will love a woman with a penis. In many ways it's the most tame material on the disc (if you can get past the giant fake penis), but also just surreal enough to be interesting.
Like many Troma releases, this disc features a boatload of gore, suggestive themes, and semi-naked people. With that said, this release probably won't satisfy gorehounds or horndogs, because the gross-out stuff doesn't come from typical dismemberments or murder, and the nudity/suggestive material is surrounded by enough disgusting moments to make it hard to appreciate.
Also like many Troma releases, this disc doesn't scream quality from an audiovisual standpoint. In this case, though, the seriously low budget origins of these flicks must shoulder at least half the blame. Expect macroblocking and low detail for most shots, and a consumer-grade camera look to the rest of them. The audio seems okay, but I think much of it was dubbed later. It's in Ukrainian with English subtitles, which works surprisingly well for these bizarre little films. For extras we get a commentary by director Yakov Levi for each of the films. He speaks in a thickly accented English about each of the films, their origins, and some of his trials and tribulations, and still has time to crack a few jokes. Really, his commentaries are an interesting peek into the life of a no-budget filmmaker and all the difficulties that come with that territory.
In addition to Yakov's commentaries, there are also a number of promos for his other works, including lots of lesbian-oriented PSAs and short films. There's also an interview between Lloyd Kaufman and Yakov Levi, as well as a slide show of pictures from his archives and a comic book that can be stepped through. Then there is a host of extras related to some of the individual films, which include deleted scenes, audition tapes, and Russian credit sequences. If that weren't enough (and it will be, for most people), there are also a number of trailers for other Troma products.
Shameless, Tasteless, certainly won't be to everyone's taste, but for those who like the more upchuck oriented aspects of the Troma aesthetic will likely be drawn to this release. Because the price point is so low, budding filmmakers might want to pick the disc up to hear some of Levi's cautionary tales regarding low-budget filmmaking.
Since it's already shameless and tasteless, it might as well be guiltless, too.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Ukrainian)
Running Time: 200 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Photo Gallery