If you accused Lloyd Kaufman of making cheap, cheesy and vulgar films, he'd probably laugh — all the way to the bank. The founder of Troma Entertainment has been churning out low-rent exploitation movies since 1974. While countless US independent producers and distributors have fallen by the wayside, Kaufman has survived and prospered.
Troma claims it's the longest-running independent film studio in the US; Roger Corman has been in business longer, but with different companies (New World Pictures originally, then Concorde-New Horizons.)
While Troma boasts that it's responsible for “the world's greatest concentration of camp,” its catalogue includes early performances by Kevin Costner, Billy Bob Thornton, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert De Niro, Dennis Hopper and Dustin Hoffman.
Kaufman scored his first big breakthrough in 1984 when he wrote and co-directed with Troma partner Michael Herz The Toxic Avenger, the tale of a health club mop boy named Melvin who's transformed into a hideously deformed creature of superhuman strength. That spawned an animated TV series, comic books and three sequels; the most recent, Citizen Toxie: The Toxic Avenger Part IV, was released in 2001. Troma's output includes the Class of Nuke 'em High trilogy, Sgt. Kabukiman NYPD, Troma's War and Tromeo & Juliet.
In recent years Kaufman has complained that it's virtually impossible to release movies outside the major conglomerates, and he lambasts Sony, Viacom, Time Warner, News Corp. and Disney as “evil” entities in his latest book, Produce Your Own Damn Movie!
He's turned increasingly to the Internet to market and exploit his movies like his most recent effort Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead. The tale of the malevolent events which follow the opening of a fried-chicken joint on a Native American burial ground, it mixes Troma trademarks such as lesbians, jiggling breasts and projectile vomiting with more modern flourishes like porno musical numbers and equal-opportunity racism.
"It's a unique film," Kaufman told the Houston Chronicle after Poultrygeist screened at the local Crypticon Horror Convention. "But also it's an important sociological satire in that hopefully it will get young audiences talking about the evils of the fast-food industry and a number of political issues too."
His book is a how-to guide for independent filmmakers laced with personal anecdotes, reflected in chapter headings such as: How I Got a Rabbi To Hate Jews or How I Let Oliver Stone Beat the Crap Out of Me to Hone his Producer Skills; and How To Do It Hollywood Style or Lloyd Kaufman is the Herpes of the Film Industry. He Won't Go Away.
"I think the key lesson is that if idiots like us can make movies about hideously deformed creatures of superhuman size and strength like The Toxic Avenger and Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead, which are really unbelievably extreme," Kaufman says, "If we can make those kinds of movies and keep going, then there's no reason why anybody can not make movies and succeed especially in an age of digital technology."