Judge Christopher Kulik's kink leans more towards lurid spheres.
Four raunchy comedies by Lloyd Kaufman & Michael Herz!
Aside from Cannibal: The Musical, I've never really delved into the Troma library. Sad, I know. Never saw Toxic Avenger or any of its sequels. Missed out on the two Class Of Nuke 'Em High flicks. And as for Surf Nazis Must Die, never even saw it in the video store. All of these films have graced cult film aficionado lists for the past two decades, and some even credit them as inspiration for studio films which came afterward.
Founded in 1974 by Lloyd Kaufman & Michael Herz, the Troma team's first significant hit was the 1979 sex farce Squeeze Play! Even though it was spit on by major critics, it generated a cult following while playing in theaters in my home state of Virginia. Because of the film's unexpected success, Troma followed it with three more sex comedies: Waitress!, Stuck On You!, and The First Turn-On!!
Now, all four films have been packaged in a "Sexy Box" set, complete with extra goodies for Troma fans.
Facts of the Case
Squeeze Play! (1979)
Stuck On You! (1982)
The First Turn-On!! (1983)
The best way I can describe these four "sexy comedies" is that they are strikingly similar to the Roger Corman-produced Nurse films from the early 1970s. They hew to a specific formula, punctuated by moments of raunchy humor and a generous supply of T&A to keep genre fans satisfied. True, none of these films are particularly good (one is above average), and yet it's hard to deny each exhibits a wild energy. Many of the actors attack the screen with joviality that's hard to ignore, and outrageous comic scenes are played for all their worth. I can see how all four of these films would have scored with certain audiences who didn't care the plots were thin and the laughs were cheap.
As for me, I had an extremely mixed reaction to The Sexy Box. The first two films are largely appalling, due to a contradictory tone. While Lloyd Kaufman credits the inspiration for Squeeze Play! and Waitress! as being the Women's Movement, many of the female characters act like airheads. On top of that, the filmmakers use every opportunity to get them disrobed and the male characters ogling over them like slobbering beasts. Squeeze Play! promises battle-of-the-sexes comedy, but all it delivers are broad stereotypes and boring playground action. Still, it's tolerable when compared to Waitress! with its blatant sexism and endless string of sophomoric gags (nose-picking, spitting in soup, and more).
After finishing Waitress!, I didn't know if I would be able to survive the other two films. But to my surprise, Stuck On You! and The First Turn-On!! were much more accessible and amusing, even with an occasional dash of sexist spice. Of the four, Stuck On You! was the best, coming off as not only a charming romantic comedy but also a hilarious commentary on modern-day relationships. Taking a cue from Mel Brooks' History Of The World, Part I, the film spoofs historical couples (such as Adam & Eve) without relying on crudity or nudity to sell its humor. Mark Mikulski and Virginia Pente make an extremely likable screen pair, but the real star is Professor Irwin Corey, a legendary comedian known for his inventive doublespeak.
Finally, we return to lewd territory one more time with The First Turn-On!!, which plays like Meatballs on ecstasy. The plot is completely preposterous and the acting amateurish to the nth degree. Yet, it still delivers what it promises: hormones, flatulence, sex, drugs, and orgies. I laughed more than I expected to, though I'm not exactly proud of it. The funniest moments come not from the flashbacks, but rather a wacko camper named Lobotomy, played by Vincent D'Onofrio (Law & Order: Criminal Intent) in his film debut. According to Kaufman, Stanley Kubrick saw the film and liked D'Onofrio so much he later cast him in Full Metal Jacket. Apparently, this was to be the film debut of Madonna, who begged Michael Herz repeatedly to be cast.
Thirty years later, these films haven't aged well. The low budget shows in every frame, as evidenced by a ton of dirt, scratches, and cigarette burns. Squeeze Play! and Waitress! also suffer from lack of rich color and detail. Visually, The First Turn-On!! comes off best, with lush outdoor shots involving the foliage and trees. The mono tracks on all four films get the job done, though there are occasional pops and cracks. Dialogue is clearly heard, although the lack of English subtitles is a bit frustrating.
All of the DVDs are Region Free, each with a commentary by Lloyd Kaufman. Even though he flies solo on all four, he's a real trip to listen to, providing lots of great stories and production info. Lloyd reveals many of the orgasms were genuine due to Troma's commitment to realism. One memorable story had the crew filming a scene in an apartment without the female resident's knowledge (a friend got them in). When she returned from vacation, she started to freak out when she saw two people having sex on her bed, though Kaufman calmed her down by saying they were doing a remake of Bergman's The Seventh Seal!
Additional extras can be found on The First Turn-On!!, including an interview with Michael Herz, who is known to be extremely camera shy. Kaufman is given a much-longer interview, discussing the birth of Troma and his business relationship with Herz. Finally, many of the film's stars talk about their experiences working for Troma.
Fans who've been waiting years for these films to be released on DVD will no doubt enjoy watching them. Newcomers are highly advised to rent them before committing to a purchase. All I'm saying is you could do a lot worse.
Kaufman and Herz are free to go, though the films are found very guilty!
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