I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I was at the new Troma Studios in Long Island City for the Lunch with Lloyd contest I’d won. Lloyd Kaufman was taking us on the grand tour. He’d already shocked me by telling me he was really going to pay for lunch when I’d offered the cheese sandwiches I’d made. We were in the basement, where Troma kept its “archives,” as in a bunch of piled up DVDs and Blu-Rays. And then this:
“Take whatever you want.”
No, I didn’t say that. I’d snuck in X, and he didn’t say that.
Lloyd said it.
The creator of the Toxic Avenger and president of Troma Studios, a man universally known for pinching a penny until it screamed, was offering me free stuff. After the shock wore off—and believe me, I was stunned for several seconds—the first thing I grabbed was the 2-disc 10th Anniversary Edition of TROMEO & JULIET.
It made perfect sense. TROMEO was at the time the only post-TOXIC AVENGER of Lloyd’s directorial efforts for some reason I didn’t own. That’s astounding enough, but even more so when you consider, a) I love Troma, and b) I taught high school English for a decade. I’d seen it soon after it first came out, off a VHS copy that X had bought, and hadn’t seen it since. I surmise there were a few reasons I didn’t own it: 1. I think Romeo and Juliet is one of Shakespeare’s most overrated plays 2. I had to teach the play to a bunch of sappy 9th graders more than once 3. It’s not really a horror movie 4. Unlike most Troma films, there’s no real hero.
In fact, it’s not your standard Troma film at all. Sure, it’s got all the Troma stuff you’d look for: copious gore and nudity from both sexes, gross out humor and gags, and the Kabukiman car flip. It introduced Debbie Rochon to the Troma audience, in her first film for Lloyd, and James Gunn wrote the script. It even stars Lemmy as the narrator. But I’ve always thought it was striving to be something different for Troma, and succeeded. It’s a weird film within the context of the studio’s catalogue. I don’t know, maybe it’s just me. But the feel here is unlike Lloyd’s other output.
Fortunately, it’s got Will Keenan as Tromeo Que. Lloyd came across his greatest find when he discovered the young actor. It’s evident Keenan’s star is on the rise from his first scene, and he plays the character masturbating over a computer screen adeptly instead of merely embarrassingly. He’s got a touch with his delivery that makes Tromeo likable and easy to root for, and delivers a nuanced performance. And “nuanced performance” isn’t a phrase I use often when describing actors in Troma movies. He carries the film, and shows inklings of the accomplished actor he would become, as evident in TERROR FIRMER.
Opposite him as Juliet is Jane Jensen, whose performance leaves a little to be desired. She’s nice to look at, but her delivery is flat. Fortunately, the film compensates by introducing another classic Troma actor, the Penis Monster. He’s appeared in every Troma movie since, and I met him at the Troma studio. The scenes he and Keenan share are classics.
There are a host of features on the 2-disc set, including 4 commentaries with James Gunn, actors, editors and Lloyd himself. There are a ton of interviews, behind-the-scenes stuff and recollections from a lot of the major players. Note that there’s no participation from Keenan or Jensen. From what Lloyd states here and elsewhere, both of them hate him. I have no idea why, but I would love to find out why Jensen offered to buy all the copies of TROMEO & JULIET and destroy them. Only Lloyd Kaufman can inspire that kind of passion from someone he’s directed.
“Take whatever you want.”
Back to my recollection of Lloyd’s still dreamlike words. I’m glad he offered, because watching the film again that night upon returning home, I learned to love TROMEO & JULIET. I still feel it’s the outsider of Troma movies, but that makes it stand out from the crowd. Gunn and Kaufman take Shakespeare’s text and manage to pervert it to the Troma aesthetic, and Will Keenan is a joy to watch, especially knowing what he’ll become as an actor. Sure, the Penis Monster is the closest you’ll get to a monster, but as the poster promises, you’ll get “Body Piercing. Kinky sex. Dismemberment. The things that made Shakespeare great.” And this is the only film poster in the world that promises that.