Special Features – A Brief History of Troma Entertainment

Luke Owen presents a brief history of the cult production and distribution company Troma Entertainment…

It’s a name that is synonymous among B-Movie horror fans with movies that more often than not fall into the “so bad they’re good” category. Since their inception in 1974, Troma Entertainment’s surreal look at cinema has led them to distribute 97 movies with only a handful actually being made by ‘The House That Toxie Built’. Tomorrow, Arrow Films are re-releasing 3 of Troma’s back catalogue: Combat Shock, Class of Nuke ‘Em High and Surf Nazis Must Die on DVD and Blu-ray. So I thought it was about time I would take a look back at what Troma is all about.

Founded in 1974 by filmmakers Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz, Troma Entertainment started out life with the low budget sex comedies Squeeze Play!, Waitress!, Stuck on You! (which Kaufman states is his favourite) and The First Turn On!. While all four movies did quite well for Troma, it wasn’t until 1984 when they produced violent dark comedy The Toxic Avenger that they were propelled into B-Movie stardom. The movie was such as success for Troma that they never went back to the sex comedy market and focused solely on making and producing horror movies. It gave birth to their mascot Toxie and even earned them the nickname ‘The House That Toxie Built’.

With the success of The Toxic Avenger, Troma were quick to act on getting another movie out of the door, leading to the equally successful Class of Nuke ‘Em High two years later, which was at one time was the highest selling Troma film on VHS. In between these two movies, Troma also produced and distributed the very well received Screamplay, Igor and the Lunatics and Girls School Screamers in 1986. The company was seemingly on a high and was looking to make a play for the Hollywood big leagues with their next movie.

But their success seemed to be short lived as Herz and Kaufman directed Troma’s War in 1988; a criticism of Ronald Reagan’s war glamorization, it was a box office bomb and put the company into financial hardships. Troma then made the decision to assert themselves as an independent movie distributor for films such as Peter George’s Surf Nazis Must Die, but they did try to re-establish themselves within the Hollywood system with two sequels to The Toxic AvengerThe Toxic Avenger Part II and The Toxic Avenger Part III: The Last Temptation of Toxie (both films marked the first time Kaufman was credited officially as director). In 1990, they even tried to make lightning strike twice by creating a new superhero by the name of Sgt. Kabukiman. However none of it seemed to work. The Toxic Avenger sequels didn’t light the screens up to the level the first one did and it seemed that Troma would just be a very bright flash in the movie world pan.

Troma would go very quiet following Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D. and their sequels to Class of Nuke ‘Em HighClass of Nuke ‘Em High Part II: Subhumanoid Meltdown and Class of Nuke ‘Em High Part III: The Good, The Bad and the Subhumanonid – were very poorly received. While still distributing various low budget horror movies (including Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s Cannibal! The Musical), the group returned to filmmaking in 1996 with the crowd pleasing Tromeo and Juliet, self-parody Terror Firmer in 1999 and Citizen Toxie: The Toxic Avenger IV in 2000. By this time, Troma were making films just to please their adoring fans, which meant the films didn’t do massive box office numbers for the group.

Kaufman would also go on to produce a ‘teach yourself movie making’ film entitled Make Your Own Damn Movie! which also spawned the sequels Direct Your Own Damn Movie! and Produce Your Own Damn Movie!. His last time in the director’s chair was in 2006 when he made the very well received Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead.

In more recent years, Troma has been in negotiations for its properties to be remade, starting with the 2010 remake of Mother’s Day (a low budget horror movie they distributed in 1980). Kaufman also confirmed in the same year that The Toxic Avenger would be getting a 21st century make over as would Class of Nuke ‘Em High and the recent Poultrygiest: Night of the Chicken Dead. There have also been many rumours that Kaufman himself will return to the director’s chair for a 5th film in the Toxic Avenger series (entitled Toxic Twins: The Toxic Avenger V), as well as a 3rd sequel to Class of Nuke ‘Em High.

Tomorrow I will be reviewing the Arrow Films re-releases of Combat Shock (1986), Class of Nuke ‘Em High (1986) and Surf Nazis Must Die (1987) but first I wanted to delve into the movie that put Troma on the map to begin with – The Toxic Avenger.

Luke Owen is a freelance copywriter working for Europe’s biggest golf holiday provider as their web content executive.

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  • oni

    Very good "in a nutshell" article on Troma. I myself really enjoy what Troma produces and distributes. With Troma, I go into watching a movie expecting it to be a real stinker ( and sometimes they are), but I have found some real gems among their catalogue. To me, there is a certain charm about low-budget films, unlike alot of big-budget over-hyped movies Hollywood churns out.