Director – Lloyd Kaufman, Screenplay – Lloyd Kaufman, Douglas Buck & Patrick Cassidy, Based on the Book All I Needed to Know About Filmmaking I Learned from the Toxic Avenger by Lloyd Kaufman & James Gunn, Producers – Lloyd Kaufman & Michael Herz, Photography – Brendan Flynt, Music Supervisors – Theo Kogan & Greg Ross, Special Effects – Reel FX, Creature Effects – Tim Considine, Production Design – Jean Loscalzo. Production Company – Troma.
Will Keenan (Casey Kaufman), Alyce LaTourelle (Jennifer), Lloyd Kaufman (Larry Benjamin), Trent Haaga (Jerry), Sheri Wenden (Mysterious Woman), Debbie Rochon (Christine), Gary Hrbek (Todd), Yaniv Sharon (Naked Production Assistant), Joe Fleishaker (Jacob Gelman), Mo Fischer (Andy), Charlotte Kaufman (Audrey Benjamin), Ron Jeremy (Casey’s Father)
Blind director Larry Benjamin is making the latest Toxic Avenger sequel for Troma Films. However, a mystery woman is killing members of the film crew.
In 1978, Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz formed Troma Films. Together they and Troma would make such films as The Toxic Avenger (1984) and Class of Nuke ‘Em High (1986) and various sequels to either, Troma’s War (1988), Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D. (1990), Tromeo and Juliet (1996) and Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead (2006), as well as acting as distributor for films such as Surf Nazis Must Die (1987), Rabid Grannies (1988), A Nymphoid Barbarian in Dinosaur Hell (1990), Chopper Chicks in Zombietown (1991) and The Killer Condom (1996). Kaufman and Herz cornered a niche market in films that embodied the quintessence of 1980s exploitation filmmaking – their films revelled in an excess of T&A, deliberately bad titles and cartoonishly cheesy gore and creature effects. However, Troma pushed these exploitation elements way beyond any other American filmmakers to deliberately embrace offensive bad taste.
Lloyd Kaufman later co-wrote an autobiography All I Needed to Know About Filmmaking I Learned from the Toxic Avenger (1998). [His co-writer was James Gunn, later the screenwriter of Dawn of the Dead (2004) and director of Slither (2006), Super (2010) and Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)]. In an act of considerable novelty, Kaufman then converted the autobiography into a Troma film and played a director loosely based on himself. (He even casts his own daughter as the director’s daughter in the film). Roger Corman never came up with such a stunt after producing his own autobiography. Indeed, the only filmmaker who ever did anything akin to this is Jean Cocteau who cast himself in his autobiographical The Testament of Orpheus (1959).
Of course being a Troma film, Lloyd Kaufman’s idea of autobiography comes out somewhere akin to a version of Ed Wood (1994) as directed by John Waters. Like a Waters film, Terror Firmer reads like a catalogue of gleeful perversities – pickle masturbation, shit eating, a blind man urinating on people, a baby ripped out of a pregnant woman’s stomach, a stoner having a funnel impaled up his ass, a fat naked man running through the streets blindfolded, a “life-affirming rape scene”, a man’s penis being stretched halfway across the room, as well as sundry vomitings, splatterings and limb severings. In one moment that reveals an uncanny glimmer of truth, a character discussing Benjamin’s films, notes that “sometimes you have to piss people off to get them to watch shit.” At least one thing that can be said about Lloyd Kaufman is that he has no pretensions about what sort of films he is making – Terror Firmer repeatedly mentions how bad the films that Kaufman/Benjamin makes are.
Terror Firmer cannily plays into the cult that Troma has built up for itself, through its creation of the linked universe of Tromaville, New Jersey, which appears in most of their films, and an online site www.troma.com where fans can suggest plot ideas for films. No other studio that has ever attempted such a gimmick and maybe it is the interactivity of Troma’s fandom that contributes to their enduring appeal. Most of the jokes and in-references play to this in-built audience. In one amusing moment, the film stands still so that characters can discuss Kaufman’s motivation for making these films and then deliver a commercial for the website, and later there is a musical sequence that becomes an MTV-styled promo for the soundtrack. There is also a sequel to the credits in-jokes that came in Tromeo and Juliet. The end of the film also holds a promo clip for a transvestite magazine starring the cross-dressed South Park (1997– ) creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone.
Terror Firmer hits a point that hovers between being an occasionally amusing bad film and a bad film second-guessing its audience and trying to be a bad film in quote marks, which is something that comes close to merely being cynicism. Maybe one has finally become inured to Troma’s brand of offensiveness or that their films have achieved a certain level of sophistication, but Terror Firmer‘s bad taste seems harmlessly amiable, even occasionally amusing. There is at least one funny scene with a ‘feminist prostitute’ wearing bloodstained panties who goes on about how tampons are a tool of male oppression.