A Troma film is a lot like Judge Gordon Sullivan's life, only with social commentary.
"Those are our new flavor pods!"—General Lee Roy
Lloyd Kaufman has been on a roll for over a decade, with every movie he's made from Tromeo and Juliet in 1996 to Poultrygeist in 2006. Sure, he only made two other films in that decade (Terror Firmer and Citizen Toxie), but the level of consistency is staggering, considering budgetary constraints and the enormous changes that have occurred in the distribution and exhibition of feature films. Lloyd has managed to soldier on, crafting his art with a dedicated crew of semi-volunteers who share his vision, doggedly sticking to his 35mm production guns. Regardless of the relative merits of the film, Poultrygeist deserves credit for being an independent zombie-chicken-musical shot on 35mm film by a company that has managed to avoid getting bought out for thirty years. Luckily, though, Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead (Blu-ray) is a splatter masterpiece that takes everything great about Troma (gore, humor, and independence in the face of mega-conglomerates) and amps it up into an all-singing, all-dancing miasma of delicious social commentary drenched in gore. Now the film is also the first release from Troma in hi-def. While no one will be surprised that this isn't a reference-quality disc, it puts all the goodies from the DVD into one place, with some added material to boot.
Facts of the Case
Arbie (Jason Yachanin) loses his one true love Wendy (Kate Graham) when she leaves for college. When they meet again, Wendy is protesting the opening of an American Chicken Bunker fast food restaurant in their hometown, and it seems she's been turned into a lesbian by Micki (Allyson Sereboff). Because he's lost his love, Arbie decides to get a job at American Chicken Bunker (as a counter girl, of course) to have enough money to win Wendy back. This particular American Chicken Bunker was built on sacred Indian burial ground, so the angry spirits will have their revenge, and Arbie must try to win back his love while fighting off undead hordes of chicken zombies.
Looking back at the history of Troma, their commitment to highlighting social ills is evident at least as far back as their infamous Toxic Avenger, and looking back it seems almost inevitable now that the horrors of fast food would receive Tromatic attention. I mean it's not hard to connect food service and zombies, nor is it much of a stretch to compare the usual low-budget gore of something like Terror Firmer to the sauce-laden foodstuffs sold by many fast food establishments. Add in director Lloyd Kaufman's penchant for movie musicals (and gratuitous nudity) and you've got Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead.
If you're already familiar with more recent Troma offers like Terror Firmer or Citizen Toxie, then know that Poultrygeist is more of the same: gore-drenched sight gags mixed liberally with nudity, social commentary, and Lloyd Kaufman-inspired insanity. It's a heady mix that compares favorably to any of their recent films. In many ways it may be the best Troma film yet for its sheer consistency: every gag seems to land more often and with more force than any other Troma film to date. The plot moves quickly and coherently and the ending satisfies completely.
For those unfamiliar with any recent Troma films, I have two things to say. The first is that there is no good way I know of to describe the viewing of a Troma film. I come close when I say it's like the Three Stooges remaking Chaplin's The Dictator with gore, but the Troma aesthetic is so completely unto itself that any outside references pale in comparison to actually viewing one of their films. The second thing I would say is that if you haven't seen a recent Troma film, there's probably a very good reason. Unless you're particularly young or sheltered, chances are good that if a Troma film is right for you, you would have seen one by now. They're an acquired taste, and only those looking to significantly expand their cinematic horizons should seek one out.
That being said, Poultrygeist is the perfect film to show a Troma neophyte. The consistency of the product coupled with the continuation of the usual Troma concerns with gore, slapstick, and social commentary make Poultrygeist a good entry into the Troma catalog.
Troma got a bad rap in the early days of DVD for producing DVDs with horrible transfers that did absolutely nothing to help the low-budget look of their features. They've since gone on to rectify some of their worst offenses, and the DVD of Poultrygeist was a new high water mark in their catalog. It's not a reference disc by any means but it was free of glaring macroblocking and noise. They've carried that that commitment to better quality into their first Blu-ray release. In hi-def Poultrygeist looks about as good as you'd expect a recent Troma film to look. The print itself looks funky with odd colors and some damage, and the transfer maintains that presentation. Detail is better than the standard DVD but not great, and grain is present but not a significant problem. All of this is to say that Poultrygeist looks good (for what it is) but not great in hi-def. The audio hasn't be upgraded at all from the DVD, and the stereo track does a fine job with the music and dialogue but isn't anything special.
The extras, though, are where this disc (and the previous DVD) really shine. There are numerous deleted scenes, interviews, special effects featurettes, and music videos (all ported over from the three-disc "Eggs-clusive" edition). However, the real cream of the crop are the by-now standard feature-length making of and commentary by Lloyd. This time instead of "Farts of Darkness," we get "Poultry in Motion," which covers the production of the film in epic detail. It's really amazing that these films get made considering all the calamities that befall the production, and this is a definite warts-and-all presentation of both Lloyd and a Troma set. Much of it will be familiar territory to fans who've watched the other making-ofs on Terror Firmer or Citizen Toxie, but the new stories are worth hearing. Lloyd's commentary features help from editor Gabe Friedman, and the two discuss the production as well but also give a lot of information on the film's distribution and reception. It's especially funny to hear Gabe bitch about the directory of photography while Lloyd defends him. These extras are also ported over from the DVD, but we can add the new commentary by Jason Yachanin and Kate Graham, or Arbie and Wendy. The pair speak pretty fondly of the film (much more fondly than I would have expected based on the other extras) as they share their experiences during the shoot. Jason is a bit of a ham, but the track is very listenable and it's interesting to hear more from a Troma star rather than director Lloyd.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I do have a single, solitary complaint about Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead: honestly, I would have liked even more musical elements. The ones that are there are great. The songs are clever, sung with conviction, and the visual presentation (including the dancing) is spot-on. Since all those things were so darn good, I wanted more—more clever songs and more dancing and more crazy-dream-sequence moments. Maybe I'm being greedy, but that's the only way I can conceive of making Poultrygeist any better.
I would also have loved some subtitles on this disc. I like to read along with such great dialogue and I can't do that with this disc.
The upgrade decision is a hard one. I know a lot of fans want to support Troma so this Blu-ray disc will be an easy sell. For others, I would have to say that the upgraded video and new commentary are probably worth a rental, but the previous DVD, especially the Collector's edition, was just so good that the Blu-ray doesn't have much new to offer.
I don't know how, but Lloyd and company keep doing it: Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead is not guilty.
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