Troma // 1996 // 107 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // June 22nd, 2010
"Two houses, different as dried plums and pears
in fair Manhattan where we lay our scene"
- Lemmy, House of Mötorhead
Tromeo and Juliet changed my life. It was my first Tromatic experience (aside from a few late-night cable clips), and although I was well versed in low-budget movies, Tromeo and Juliet was the first time I realized bad movies could be art. By that I mean that the film, however bad its acting and effects, however low its budget, could have a message and orchestrate all its resources to presenting that message. With Tromeo and Juliet Lloyd Kaufman and company take Shakespeare's basic story of warring houses and make it relevant to contemporary concerns over teenage rebellion, vegetarianism, as well as gender and sexuality. The film was initially released in the early days of DVD, then upgraded for the film's 10 anniversary. Now it's only the third time that Troma has released one of its own films on Blu-ray, and fans are going to want to upgrade to this edition for all its high definition glory.
For those who managed to skip and/or forget Freshmen English, Romeo and Juliet involves the title characters falling in love in Verona, despite the fact that their families don't get along. Following their forbidden love, the couple are secretly married, but when Romeo is forced to kill Juliet's cousin, he's banished. They hatch a plot, but things get confused and both the lovers end up dead. Tromeo and Juliet is just like that, except the Capulets and Que's are fighting over a porn film studio in Manhattan, pretty much everyone has tattoos or piercings, the nurse is a lesbian, and honestly things don't end quite so tragically.
I would gladly nominate Tromeo and Juliet as the best Shakespeare adaptation on film, as blasphemous as most Bard fans might find the notion. It's no accident that the film used the tagline "Body piercing. Kinky sex. Dismemberment. The things that made Shakespeare great." By not taking their source too seriously the Troma team get to enjoy all the wonderful things that the play has to offer (including several instances of lines being taken directly from the source), while also allowing for some comically-ironic commentary (like when Tromeo wishes he "were a hand upon that cheek" while Juliet's hand is resting on her naked bottom). It's a win-win situation, without enough of the play intact to make it worth comparing to the original, but with enough new material added to update the relevance and keep the material fresh. I hope the film has inspired Troma fans to take another look at Shakespeare's plays.
Despite the positive influence of good ol' William, this is still a Troma film. That means loads of gratuitous nudity, slapstick violence, and gore. Highlights this time out include a full-on nipple piercing on camera, a penis-monster hand-puppet, and some lovely girl-on-girl action featuring scream-queen Debbie Rochon. Tromeo and Juliet might have signaled a growing maturity in Lloyd Kaufman's filmmaking, but he didn't abandon the more outré elements that made his films famous in the 80s.
This is the Blu-ray disc Troma fans have been waiting for. We've long suspected that under those ugly DVD transfers, full of noise and macroblocking, there lurked the glorious 35mm beauty that Lloyd Kaufman has long extolled the virtues of in his numerous books. Well, with Tromeo and Juliet, that suspicion is confirmed. Where the 10th Anniversary DVD is filled with noise and digital funk, the Blu-ray edition is clear and clean. That doesn't mean that the film looks reference quality or anything, but now there's no layer of bad compression to keep fans from the goods. However, Tromeo and Juliet was still filmed hastily in sometimes-iffy lighting on cheaper-looking film stock, but darn if it doesn't look great for all that. This was how Tromeo and Juliet was meant to be seen on home video. To that end the film is presented full frame, which is the film's original aspect ratio. One wishes that with the enhanced capacity of Blu-ray that a matted version of the film was also available, but that's a small concern. The audio on this disc is only so-so. The clarity is sufficient to bring out the problems with the source, including some distortion, hiss, and poor on-location sound management. Still, the dialogue and music are clear and well balanced so the track isn't painful to listen to.
All the extras from the 10th Anniversary DVD have been ported over (including the Lloyd Kaufman intros welcoming us to the DVD). The fun starts with four commentaries. The first features James Gunn (who co-scripted the film) and Lloyd Kaufman, and the two discuss the film 10 years on. The second is a "lost" commentary by James and Sean Gunn, where the two have a fun time talking about the making of the film. The third includes editor Frank Reynolds and Troma's go-to editor Gabe Friedman. This might be the most technical of the four tracks, with lots of discussions about how the film changed in post-production. The final commentary is a solo Kaufman track, the same one featured on the original DVD release all those years ago. Kaufman is surprisingly candid and gracious about making the film and obviously proud of his creation. After that, there are new interviews with the cast, including Sean Gunn, Debbie Rochon, and Lemmy; as well as deleted scenes and rehearsal footage. I found it a bit unnecessary, but this disc includes fan reenactments of several scenes. In a featurette, Lloyd Kaufman joins James Gunn on the set of Slither to film his cameo for his screenwriters directorial debut. Gunn and Kaufman return for a featurette that takes them to the set of Eli Roth's Hostel. Plus, there's the usual Tromatic extras, including trailers, introductions, bizarre short films and music videos. It's an amazing amount of material, even for hardcore Troma fans.
Tromeo and Juliet is still a Troma movie. That means bad acting, bad effects, and bad taste. It takes a certain twisted sense of humor to appreciate Uncle Lloyd's dark treat, and some people don't have it. Where I see an hilarious send-up of Shakespearean pretensions, others will see a low-budget mess of a movie that reaches for the lowest common denominator for a reaction. And I'm okay with that.
I'm sadly still waiting for subtitles to become a regular fixture of Troma releases.
Troma has since made funnier films (Terror Firmer), more outraged films (Citizen Toxie), and more epic films (Poultrygeist), but Tromeo and Juliet was the first time they managed to tame the sophomoric tendencies of earlier Tromasterpieces like The Toxic Avenger and its sequels, and combine them with clever, consistent thematic concerns that mark their later period. This is probably the best place for a Troma neophyte to start, since its a transition between their '80s work and their late-'90s/21st century output. Whether old or new, fans will be delighted by this Blu-ray release. The upgrade in video is a stunning revelation, and almost certainly worth it (if only to see what's buried under the noise of the DVD). Even viewers not willing to pony up the dough without new extras should give this disc a rental just to see how gorgeous it looks.
The star-crossed lovers may be doomed, but Tromeo and Juliet is not
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 107 Minutes
Release Year: 1996
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Deleted Scenes
* Bonus Footage
* Bonus Shorts
* Music Videos