Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
"LAST OF THE MONSTER KIDS" - Available Now on the Amazon Kindle Marketplace!

Monday, March 18, 2019

RECENT WATCHES: Tromeo and Juliet (1996)

Troma Entertainment, the fiercely independent New Jersey company that has been releasing outrageous exploitation movies for forty years, has a passionate cult following. This is largely due to the tireless self promotion of Lloyd Kaufman. Some fans are so invested in the Troma brand, they even run off to work for the company. Most of these weirdos are never seen again. Occasionally, someone escapes the House That Toxie Built and goes on to bigger things.  Before Trey Parker and Matt Stone created “South Park,” their “Cannibal! The Musical” passed through Tromaville. Kevin Costner, Vincent D'Onofrio, and Samuel L. Jackson appeared in some of their films early in their careers. And then there's James Gunn. Gunn was just a college student when he was hired to write “Tromeo and Juliet.” Amusingly, his initial draft was rejected for being too sleazy! This was the humble beginnings of an A-list career.

“Tromeo and Juliet” sees Lloyd Tromatizing William Shakesphere's most famous work of romance and tragedy. This riff on the Bard's tale is set in Manhattan. The Capulets and Ques families have been feuding for years, due to Cappy Capulet screwing over Monty Que during their days as porn producers. Now, their kids and cousins are constantly fighting each other. Tromeo Que, searching for true love, sneaks into a Capulet party. This is where he meets Juliet, Cappy's daughter that is betrothed to a local meat baron. The star-crossed lovers have to overcome Juliet's psychotic father, the ultraviolent scuffles surrounding both families, and psychotropic nightmares.

Lloyd Kaufman might've toned down Gunn's first draft but “Tromeo and Juliet” still has all the edgy humor, cartoonish gore, sleazy sex, and nihilistic atmosphere you expect from the studio. Within its opening minutes, the film has featured a hanged squirrel, a real lizard eating a real mouse, a brain being punched out of someone's head, and a woman being shot in the crotch. There's jokes about masturbation, pornography, child-molestation, Catholic priests, incest, rape, homophobia, transgender people, and raisin loaf. Extended scenes are devoted to Juliet's alcoholic father torturing her. Kaufman improves on the Bard by adding a lesbian sex scene and other scenes of softcore fuckery. None of the gore is especially convincing but the movie earns points for creativity. A car window, a ladder, a tattoo gun, and a hammer with Hitler's face are just some of the weapons used to dismember the characters. This is exactly the kind of obnoxiously profane humor we all know to expect from Troma.

The vulgar content is, of course, meant to contrast against the the Shakespearian story line. Placing the Bard's story in a punk rock setting with lots of gratuitous swearin', fuckin', and killin' is entirely the point. The script more-or-less follows the play but replaces the player with deranged lunatics swinging socks full of quarters, crossbow-wielding crime bosses,  and body-piercing enthusiasts. The movie draws attention to this from time-to-time by actually utilizing the original dialogue. Tromeo and Juliet's first meeting has them quoting the iconic text. Instead of climbing up her veranda, Tromeo greets Juliet while she's locked inside a glass box. A dialogue between Tromeo and his dad maintains Shakespeare's dialogue but adds fart noises. The film even takes its own shot at Shakespearean verse near the end, during the revised ending.

As a youngster, I was more amused by Troma's edgy humor than I am now. However, “Tromeo and Juliet” still made me laugh regularly. The movie has an agreeable streak of surrealism running through it. Samson Capulet is re-imagined as a lunatic with a baby doll haircut who dresses in big T-shirts. Juliet has strange reoccurring nightmares. In one, a handsome lover suddenly grows a monstrous worm for a penis. In another, she grows a pregnant belly that spews popcorn, rats, and mill worms. All my favorite gags revolve around London Arbuckle, the meat-packing magnet Juliet has been promised to. The guy has an odd relationship with the meat he processes. At one point, he suggests an unusual dead creature – it looks like a Mothra larva – gets tossed in with the hot dogs. After Juliet breaks his heart, he commits act of self-mutilation. This is until Juliet takes a special drug that briefly turns her into a hideous cow-monster. This is the kind of nutty shit I like in my Troma movies.

It must be said that the fearless collection of actors assembled for the movie largely know what they are doing. Despite the utter depravity the script has them participate in, Will Keenan and Jane Jensen retain a child-like sweetness as Tromeo and Juliet. Keenan is a bright and appealing performer, while Jensen has an adorable quality that shines through even during gratuitous masturbation scenes. The supporting cast also includes Maximillian Shaun as Cappy, an aggressively sweaty and unhinged performance that creates a truly despicable villain. Sean Gunn is similarly unhinged as Sammy, among this strange movie's strangest characters. And let's not forget Lemmy, who mumbles his way through the role of the narrator.

Remaking Shakespeare's timeless play as an extremely nasty exploitation comedy is one thing. Kaufman and Gunn giving the story a happy ending – a happy ending of sorts, anyway – is far gutsier. Supposedly, Gunn basically co-directed the movie. You can definitely hear his voice in some of the dialogue, in addition to his own cameo and Sean having a supporting role. If those tweets pissed off Disney so much, I'm going to bet they've never seen this particular motion picture. While the Troma house-style remains an acquired taste, as always, “Tromeo and Juliet” is definitely among the studio's better output, as it actually stands up as a movie aside from its outrageous content. [7/10]

No comments: