Judge Patrick Bromley is switching to waffles for a while.
Our review of Poultrygeist: Eggs-Clusive 3-Disc Collector's Edition, published April 17th, 2009, is also available.
Humans…the other white meat…Unless you're black, then it's dark meat…Or if you are Asian, then it's yellow meat…Or if you are Native American, it's red meat…
In making their own brand name, low-budget stalwart Troma has done some damage to itself. Yes, the studio gives chances to a whole bunch of independent filmmakers determined to make their own sex-n-blood epics, but a lot of those come out as unwatchable junk. Troma, in turn, becomes known for turning out juvenile, low-budget disasters. That's not true. They just distribute them. The movies they actually make in-house are juvenile, low-budget masterpieces like their latest, Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead.
Facts of the Case
Pity poor Arbie (Jason Yachanin, Friends (With Benefits)). After just one semester at college, his girlfriend Wendy (Kate Graham) has gone and become a vegetarian activist lesbian. To get back at his newly-gay lost love, a spurned Arbie takes a job at the American Chicken Bunker, a fast food restaurant that just happens to be built on an ancient Indian burial ground. It's not long before the angry Indian spirits begin poisoning the chicken and turning everyone who eats it into a beaked-and-feathered zombie hungry for more than burgers and fries. They're hungry for humans. They eat people. Do you follow what I'm saying?
I have a strong stomach when it comes to horror and gore and violence in movies. I'm not bothered by much. I say this not to boast; it is simply a fact. I made the mistake, however, of making myself a sandwich while watching the latest Troma film, Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead, and it is the first movie I've ever seen that made me lose my appetite. The scene in question came just prior to a big American-Indian-zombie-chicken massacre, when a crowd of hungry fast-food patrons gorge themselves on bubbling, greenish, pustule-ridden fried chicken. It's truly gross, probably made worse because it was about eating. I had to throw the rest of my sandwich away.
I mention this because it will either drive audiences to or away from Poultrygeist, and that's about right. There are people who will never want to see a movie like this, and they're right to stay away from it. But the people who like the kinds of movies that Troma makes (remember: makes, not necessarily distributes) will be greatly rewarded with Poultrygeist. It is made with tremendous energy and passion. It's very funny and very, very gory; there is a climactic zombie massacre that rivals a similar scene in Peter Jackson's Dead Alive (still the apex of gore for my dollar), and it is almost unendingly clever in the way it comes up with to dispatch of people in a fast food restaurant. The Toxic Avenger (the movie that put Troma on the map and established the brand) covered similar territory about 25 years ago, but Poultrygeist should close the book on fast-food killing. It's a tremendous set piece, and alone makes the movie worth watching.
Lloyd Kaufman, Troma co-founder and Poultrygeist director, is now 60 years old and keeps getting better with each film. His movies have gotten increasingly political and sharp and satirical. Production values have gotten better. The acting has improved. Poultrygeist is probably the most accomplished Troma film to date. It's the best looking, features the best acting, and is certainly the most ambitious: part satire, part zombie film, part T&A comedy, part splatter fest—and did I mention the musical numbers?
A word about the acting. It's not what draws fans to Troma films, who come for boobs and blood and stay for green slime and poop sprays. But I would argue that the movies live and die by their performances, and Poultrygeist gets two of the best actors ever to appear in a Troma movie. The performances by leads Jason Yachanin (a cross between Jake Gyllenhal and a young Lloyd Kaufman—a resemblance that the film exploits) and Kate Graham are energetic and funny; they're in on the joke without the mugging that has plagued some past Troma efforts. Graham, in particular, is a real find: she's adorable and funny and clearly game for anything, as she's asked to spend at least half the film topless and making out with co-star Allyson Sereboff. There are implications on the DVD's supplemental features that Graham wasn't always a total team player, but her performance alone makes the movie worth watching.
Poultrygeist is the first-ever anamorphic widescreen film, presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. It's certainly not the best-looking DVD you're likely to see—there are some visible scratches and print flaws—but it's pretty good, especially considering some of the studio's past efforts. The stereo audio track is equally workable, keeping the dialogue and musical numbers mostly up front but still clear and audible.
Where Troma DVDs have always excelled—if not necessarily in their content—is in the sheer volume of extras they include. The two-disc "egg-dition" (ugh) of Poultrygeist is no exception (a three-disc version with karaoke songs is also available, reviewed by our own Judge David Johnson). It comes with an embarrassment of riches of bonus material, some of which is self-promotional and gratuitous (like Troma movies themselves) and much of which is devoted to the nuts and bolts of independent filmmaking (something Kaufman has devoted a great deal of his career to; for proof, check out the Make Your Own Damn Movie box set).
First up is a commentary by Kaufman and co-writer/editor Gabe Friedman. It's a rare instance of Kaufman recording a commentary not by himself, and it's a very engaging listen. Kaufman has never been at a loss for words even on his solo commentaries, but this track provides some welcome back-and-forth about how the film came together and the obstacles that were faced (though the documentary does a better job of this; more on this in a second). Also on the first disc are several trailers, two music videos and what's essentially a "gore" reel, credited as scenes from The Virgin Spring.
The main attraction on disc two is a feature-length making-of documentary called Poultry in Motion, and it alone makes the disc worth watching (are you sensing a pattern?). Troma has commissioned these docs for their last few movies (again, they're available on the Make Your Own Damn Movie box), and they're utterly fascinating to watch. Kaufman takes a lot of crap for the messiness and immature anarchy of his movies, but what Poultrygeist demonstrates is that it's actually a miracle the movies get made at all. The production is plagued with problems from the first day, from malfunctioning special effects to incompetent crew members to location troubles to actors demanding more money or refusing to do certain things; Troma is proof that sometimes you get exactly what you pay for. Still, it's essential viewing for any would-be independent filmmakers, who ought to see what they're in for before stepping behind the camera. My favorite moment in the doc (which I honestly enjoyed as much as the movie) finds Kaufman—who comes across alternately as a raving a-hole and passionate pro—objecting to the color of a bodily fluid being secreted during a special effect ("We're not making porn," he says). Even Lloyd Kaufman's taste has its limits.
The rest of disc two has a bunch more neat stuff, including several deleted scenes including a cut death scene of Kaufman's daughter, Charlotte, an extended Ron Jeremy cameo and a deleted musical number, some footage from the movie's New York premiere, several featurettes that expound on the technical aspects of independent filmmaking (including sound design and recording, special effects and make-up) and footage from the reshoots required when a day's shooting didn't go as planned.
Though still not my favorite of the Troma canon—that honor belongs to Terror Firmer, which I still contend is a legitimate work of genius—Poultrygeist is certainly one of Troma's best. It's not for all tastes (no Troma movie is), but it's probably got the best chance of appealing to audiences outside of the core fan base. I wish Kaufman and company would make films more often, but after watching Poultry in Motion, I can hardly blame them.
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