In honor of Will Keenan and at his request, here is my review of TERROR FIRMER. This is Mike Cucinotta’s favorite Troma film, and Lloyd Kaufman’s best as director. And Keenan is revelatory.
I’ve never been on a Lloyd Kaufman set, but I’ve seen enough of the Troma DVD extras to know that Troma does film like nobody else. So when Lloyd decided to make a film about making a film, it was bound to be like nothing ever seen before. Applying the Troma aesthetic to the concept of making art, Lloyd created what may be his true masterpiece with TERROR FIRMER, a film that puts Fellini’s 8 ½ to shame. Fuck Fellini.
Here’s a general shakedown of the plot: As blind director Larry Benjamin makes a TOXIC AVENGER sequel, a serial killer is stalking Benjamin’s set. Benjamin has to deal with a seriously ego-driven braindead lead actress, special effects and shots that don’t always work out as intended, and a cast and crew of misfits that involves PA turned actress Jennifer, wisecracking special makeup effects guy Jerry, and edgy boom mic operator Casey Kaufman, who end up forming a love triangle as the film progresses. Cameos from Toxie, Kabukiman and Mad Cow Boy spice things up, and serious asshole time ensues. Take out the serial killer, and I gather this is a pitch perfect presentation of what a Troma set is really like. Well, considering how some people feel about Lloyd, maybe you don’t need to take out the serial killer.
The power of TERROR FIRMER rides on the best cast Kaufman has ever assembled, in particular Will Keenan as Casey Kaufman. Keenan showed potential in his first role as Tromeo Que in TROMEO & JULIET, but in his second Troma effort he shines. Keenan brings an edge to Casey that a less accomplished actor wouldn’t have been able to achieve. Casey is attractive and easy to root for, but there’s something underneath all that, which Keenan brings, that is dark and elusive, and dangerous. This is the single best performance in a Troma movie, and it’s no shock that people started to compare Keenan to the likes of legendary Buster Keaton. It’s hard to imagine any other actor playing Casey, and there’s no higher praise I can give Keenan.
And he gets to choke Trent Haaga, which is a huge bonus for me. Admittedly, I used to despise Haaga, and didn’t quite understand for a long time why he co-authored a book with Lloyd. But I’ve turned around on him, and realized my enmity came from Jerry’s adversarial relationship with Casey. Admittedly, Haaga is raw here, as this is his first acting job and he’d never had any training (he was a computer geek or something, according to Make Your Own Damn Movie). Granted, Haaga isn’t a great actor by any stretch even now, but his geeky energy gives a verve to his roles, especially as Jerry. My apologies, Trent. But I didn’t cast you opposite Keenan.
Completing the triangle is Alyce LaTourelle as Jennifer. She’s gorgeous, and very appealing in the role. Tormented and confused by her budding relationship with Casey, it’s easy to see why she’d turn to Jerry. LaTourelle brings a vulnerability to Jennifer, and she’s able to find her inner strength at the film’s climax. Taken together, Keenan, Haaga and LaTourelle form the heart of the film, and provide an honesty at the core of the typical Troma gross out aesthetic.
And believe me, there’s everything a Troma fan looks for and loves. There’s lousy performances, head crushing, copious nudity from both sexes. A leg gets torn off, a fetus gets ripped from a woman’s belly, brains get blown out and a cock gets stretched out to epic proportions. Of course you get the Kabukiman car flip, put to use for about the 17th time here. And there are the reliable Troma actors: Joe Fleishaker as a potential investor who runs afoul of an escalator; Ron Jeremy in a diaper; and the always awesome Debbie Rochon, well, she gets naked and delivers the goods as only Debbie Rochon can. You even get the 3 Rules of Making a Troma film, in a Troma film that’s within a Troma film. And Lloyd Kaufman proves what a lousy actor he is yet again.
Underneath all this is a film about the independent spirit of filmmaking. Level all the criticisms at Lloyd and his films you want, but the man truly believes in his art. In TERROR FIRMER, he assembled a large group of people who believed in art to match him, and directed his statement film. TERROR FIRMER isn’t my favorite Troma, but it’s Lloyd’s most impressive, and his most personal.
Given just how personal the film is to Lloyd, it’s no surprise that Troma packed two discs worth of extras. First, you can watch the film “straight” as it was originally presented, or with the deleted scenes cut in. I prefer it straight, especially because the cuts are jarring. There are also a whopping three commentaries. Lloyd delivers the first, in true Lloyd style. Keenan, Haaga and Rochon have a ball giving their actor recollections on the third. And only a Troma flick would provide a commentary from the two editors, Gabe Friedman and Sean McGrath (my least favorite of the three). There’s also LaTourelle’s audition, a gag reel and a few other minor extras. And look for a disturbing Easter egg.
That alone would have been a huge package for most films. But Troma goes the extra miles here with Disc 2. Before we get to the main attraction, The Radiation March is the true highlight here, and on every Troma DVD it graces. But you’ll probably be more interested in “Farts of Darkness,” the full blown hour and forty minute documentary about the film. As much as I love that Lloyd would devote the energy and time into this behind the scenes exposé, in this case it’s redundant; you really don’t need it, because you have TERROR FIRMER itself. Check out a slew of stuff under “Boner Material,” best of all Lloyd’s interview with LaTourelle at Sitges. Her honesty is brutal, and awesome. It’s a shame that she’s only acted in one movie since, back in 2000.
TERROR FIRMER is Troma’s best film. It’s Lloyd Kaufman’s honest statement on independent filmmaking and the love it takes to persevere. And it’s got a powerhouse performance from an extremely talented Will Keenan at the top of his game. You’ll never think of the song “Amazing Grace’ the same way again, and you’ll understand that is possible when an insane visionary and a great lead actor come together to make art.