Troma

MCM London Comic Con brings out the legends on day one 

MCM London Comic Con was back again for its 2017 Spring edition.

The convention, at ExCel London, started its three-day weekend celebrations with some of the biggest and most-loved names in pop culture as well as some new British-bred talents.

Included in the morning’s schedule was four of the Power Ranger‘s most familiar faces. Original rangers Austin St. John, Walter Jones and David Yost were joined by former Yellow Ranger Karan Ashley.

The four old friends discussed their times on the much-beloved television show, including reminiscing about favourite episodes and moments. Though the conversation veered more to the serious side when they began to talk about the difficulties of getting good contracts in Hollywood and what they view as unfair treatment by their bosses.

Though all four actors said that they will be appearing in the film The Order in the future with several other former Power Rangers. It’s a show that has quite a loyal and fanatical fan base, and sure to give The Order the attention it needs.

The convention’s big name of the day was kung fu icon Donnie Yen. The Chinese actor sat with The Modern School of Film’s Robert Milazzo to discuss the icons of the genre as well as Yen’s own upbringing in both China and the rough streets of Boston.

Up-and-coming English director Tom Paton took the time to promote his new film Redwood while sharing his experiences as a young, indie director. The film, which stars Buffy alum Nicholas Brendon, is Paton’s second feature-length film following the success of 2016’s Pandorica.

Closing the day out with both the best of indie success and iconic names was the panel with Lloyd Kaufman of Troma with Essex Spacebin director David Hollinsworth.

Essex Spacebin, which is distributed by Troma, premiered at Prince Charles Cinema back in February paired up with the Troma classic Tromeo and Juliet.  But while Essex Spacebin is certainly Troma-inspired (Hollinsworth named Combat Shock in particular), its certainly a British film.

It’s a strange (to put it lightly) story of a woman trying to access a stargate… or something. It’s almost utterly explainable but worth watching just for the spectacle. The film was mostly shot on 35mm film and stars an actress who largely had never done any acting before.

Troma picked up the film after the creators emailed Kaufman. But Troma always strives for the unique and basks in the anti-establishment. It certainly doesn’t win all the fans in the world, but there are barely any fans that are more fanatical.

Kaufman was recently at the Cannes Film Festival to promote the new Return to Return to Nuke ’em High Volume 2. And looking at the Troma twitter page it looks like they all had a fucking blast causing a scene.

And that’s what is so great about MCM London Comic Con. It offers both big names and established icons but also makes sure to celebrate British talent. Troma being at the con is going to be a personal highlight of the weekend. Always happy to see Lloyd when he comes to London. Nothing is more infectious than passion and investing what you believe in.

There have been a lot of changes to this weekend’s schedule, including both cancelled appearances and additional panels. Always keep up with MCM’s twitter page and check those signs! If you haven’t bought your tickets, tough. Saturday is now entirely sold out.

Wicked Wednesday: Frightmare (1983)

frightmare

When picking a film to watch this week, I was determined to watch a British horror film, since I have yet to write about one. You know, “welcome back to Brexit land” sort of thing. Spoiler alert: I ended up watching the wrong movie. There are several films that go by the name Frightmare, but instead of watching the 1974 version by Pete Walker about a couple who had been released from an asylum, I watched the Troma-distributed version from 1983.

It was an honest mistake. Swear it.

Frightmare was directed by Norman Thaddeus Vane, and starred several big names like Ferdy Mayne, who was in Polanski’s The Fearless Vampire Killers.

Mayne resurrects his role (in a way) when he plays Conrad Razkoff, “last of the great giants of horror cinema.” Razkoff is past his prime in many ways. The film opens with Razkoff unable to please the director of the commercial he’s starring in. Razkoff proceeds to push the director off a balcony during their next break.

What happens of this? Well, nothing I don’t think, as the film then moves on to Razkoff making an appearance as a school where a group of film students excitedly great him. Razkoff is unable to handle the situation and faints. One of the students, Meg, revives him.

He later dies at his home, but not before strangling another director. Razkoff crawls into his coffin before his funeral (he’s dead, mind you). As the funeral begins, his wife claims her husband didn’t want to be cremated because he can come back from the dead. Since she’s a loving and supportive wife, she instead has him placed in a garish tomb/mausoleum building.

The group of students from earlier in the film decide to kidnap Razkoff’s body and take it back to an old mansion. As they break into his tomb, a video plays on a television of the actor, sending a warning to anyone who has broken into his tomb.

Jeffrey Combs is one of the obnoxious grave-robbers in his debut film roll. There’s a large ensemble of kids, but Combs still manages to stand out from the others. Mostly because he gets the few gags of the movie, but I’ll just credit it to his acting. Luca Bercovici (yes, of Ghoulies) is Saint, Meg’s boyfriend.

The corpse is brought back to an old mansion where the kids proceed to “hang out” with the actor. To be fair, they do treat him to a nice time. There’s spaghetti, quoting his best films and even a little dance number!

frightmask

Unfortunately, this is sort of where Frightmare begins to drop off. Despite the promising premise and Mayne’s superb character role, things play out like an average slasher film, but only with really dragged-out scenes.

Many of the scenes worked like Corman’s Poe adaptions: full of fog and a bit of atmosphere through in for good measure. But this doesn’t really work for a slasher film. Much of the film is really dark, and just shows Razkoff slowly getting nearer as the latest victim runs into his trap. There’s none of the shock that usually comes with a slasher (though, to be fair, the film really does try to bring these two genres together).

Meanwhile, Razkoff’s wife is attempting to hold a seance to connect to the location of her husband’s body. None of this part of the story makes much sense either. Actually, none of the magic in this story is really explained (like why does Razkoff have a tomb with killer gas AND a television?), but it mostly forces the viewer to go, “Oh yeah. Sure. Why not?”

The wife eventually receives a phone call from Meg, who isn’t really aware of what’s going on to her friends as they disappear. I guess since she saved Razkoff’s life, she gets to be the one survivor. But she’s freaked by the house (obv) and seems convinced that something is after her. Which is pretty ironic considering we all know she’ll be the only one to survive.

Only the last death – that of poor Saint – is really shocking. If only the film tried to do more traditional morbid things like the incarceration would the film really have been dark in a good way.

Frightmare is super unusual. A bit dull, but mostly just strange. Despite its really quirky and unique story, it doesn’t really deliver, especially considering so much of the movie was really difficult to hear – I had my headphones on with the volume almost completely up. I appreciate the film’s attempt to bring two well-loved genre’s together, but it never really pays off.

Perhaps my mistake was not such a good one.

Citizen Toxie: The Toxic Avenger IV at the Prince Charles Cinema or the night I met Lloyd Kaufman

img_1571May 7th at the Prince Charles Cinema, the fourth installment of the Toxic Avenger series had it’s European screen debut. Director Lloyd Kaufman was in attendance to also promote the European debut of the Toxic Avenger Musical at the Southwark Theatre.img_1575

Citizen Toxie: The Toxic Avenger IV was released in the States in 2000-2001 but it took quite a few years until Europeans decided to show it in cinemas, and where better to have the premier in Britain’s best cinema? Well, if you don’t count the showings at Cannes. Which we won’t.

The film itself is a truly relentless film with a pace that keeps pushing and hardly ever stops for air. According the voice-over in the beginning (done by Kaufman’s friend Stan Lee), Citizen Toxie is the true sequel to the Toxic Avenger movie, discounting the two sequels that were released in the 80’s. In the “official sequel,” the Toxic Avenger must face his enemies in an alternate world where Noxious Offender wrecks havoc and terror throughout Amortville (the mirror to Tromaville).

This is, admittedly, my first time ever seeing this film. It amused me greatly, but my poor husband looked a bit green throughout.

Like thimg_1601e film, the director Lloyd Kaufman is just as relentless. Following the film, the co-head of Troma Productions did a Q&A with the audience. He was joined by lovely wife, Pat, and British Banjo director Liam Regan.

Lloyd and Pat were absolutely wonderful and genuine. It’s always inspiring (sorry to sound a bit daft, but it’s seriously true) to see a man stick to his guns and succeed, well sometimes. He at least succeeds at doing what he set out to do. Making money is often the benchmark of success, but knowing that someone keeps pushing forward despite that little detail is amusing to no end.

The two directors talked about what it means to be independent in a digital age, and the difficulties of coming up with money. Regan’s film Banjo used Kickstarter, as well as several Troma films. Lloyd said that at one point Troma made money, but it has become the reality that the films often just make their money back. But the facts of money never seem to break Lloyd’s spirit, and that’s truly great.

Following the Q&A, Lloyd stayed to sign memorabilia until the cinema kicked everyone out for closing time. The PCC is always so good about this stuff. Lloyd was even better as he told everyone he’d wait around to sign until the last person left. And he did. The signings did take forever because unlike other signings, no one was rushed through. He had a conversation with each fan and seemed really happy to meet everyone.

The Troma head told me that he was currently working on a book with a writer. He said it will be about his films and will have bits about feminism. If this is at all true, it will be pretty exciting. I had just finished reading his book All I Need to Know About Filmmaking I Learned From the Toxic Avenger. If you want to read about the full history of Troma Productions or learn about filmmaking, maybe don’t read this to fulfill those needs. But if you love a bit of silly non-fiction with heart with a strong voice throughout, this is a great read.

Due to the events of last week, it’s taken me almost two weeks to write this post, but I still get a bubbly, toxic feeling thinking about my exchange with the Kaufmans. They are a sincerely lovely cimg_1597ouple that I am so happy to have met. Like Toxie, they are truly one of a kind.

And just because he was so adamant about telling everyone, Troma’s YouTube page has loads of free films to watch. When I was working on Wicked Wisconsin Wednesdays, this was a valuable resource in helping me watch movies for free. But don’t be a total cheap-ass. Buy a Troma DVD and support some truly independent cinema.

In a world filled to the brim with conglomerates and “the big guys,” it really never hurts to support a team who achieve what they do on the talent of some really lovely people.

The Toxic Avenger: the musical at the Southwark Playhouse 29/4

img_1567

What a disgusting, wonderful and tromatic bit of theatre The Toxic Avenger musical is. The show, which began its month-long run at Southwark Playhouse on the 22nd, is a romp through the toxic waste that is New Jersey filled with romance and plenty of sex jokes.

The Toxic Avenger musical, follows a similar, but notably different plot line from the 1984 film. Here, the musical focuses much more on Toxie’s relationship with his blind girlfriend Sarah. There’s a lot more character development with her as we learn that she wants to write a book that Oprah will put in her book club. Gone are the four main tormentors from the movie (you know, the ones that like to run over children for “points”). Instead there is a stronger focus on the main villain: the mayor, who is played as a woman (Lizzii Hills, who also plays Ma Ferd).

A running gag is the use of the musical’s small cast. There are only five actors: two (Toxie and Sarah), who always stay in character and the three remaining actors cover the rest of every character needed in each scene. The insanity of the three actors running and doing quick changes is charming and offers up some of the best laughs in the show. “Bitch/Slut/Liar/Whore” has the Mayor facing off with nemesis Ma Ferd. The song escalates from the actress chatting to herself behind a curtain to literally jumping back and forth between her two parts.

The musical first opened in New Jersey at the George Street Playhouse in 2008. The musical had its first off-Broadway production the following year. The musical was written by the same minds behind the Memphis musical, writer Joe DiPietro and David Bryan. Yes, that David Bryan. The one from some band called Bon Jovi.

With Bryan behind the music, the musical very much clings onto an 80’s vibe. Occasionally swinging from 80’s ballads worthy of any hair band to a song that John Cougar Mellencamp is waiting for royalties on. But since this is a musical inspired by a Troma film, everything is a bit filthy and always tries to cross some sort of line.

The cast at the Southwark Playhouse was truly fantastic. The parts of White Dude and Black Dude (Marc Pickering and Ashley Samuels, respectively) were a personal highlight. The two play rolls tirelessly. Jumping from one character to the next with unbeatable comedic timing. Hills was fantastically evil as the mayor. And the leads played by Mark Anderson and Hannah Grover, did such a great job of nursing the small, strange romance that they were put in charge of.

Fans of the well-loved Toxic Avenger movie will have nothing to worry about: their movie has been well-adapted into the new medium and makes a great European debut in London. While the plot does focus a lot more on relationships than violence, the humour of Troma still remains intact in every bit of the musical. I’m sure it has brought a tear to Lloyd Kaufman’s eye.

As with the true spirit of Troma, much of the humour and wit of Toxie will be lost on most “arts critics,” but that’s why no one listens to them anyways. The Toxic Avenger musical is sweet, gross, offensive and most of all: hilarious as fuck.

The Toxic Avenger is at the Southwark Playhouse, running until the 21st of May. You can buy tickets here.