Launched in 1974 by Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz, Troma is the longest-running truly independent studio in moviemaking today. Their movies are like no other, full of sex and gore and cartoonish acting and comedy that's both totally childish and sharply satirical. I first fell in love with Troma as a kid and have never stopped. They exist in their own universe. There is the world, and then there is Tromaville.
Though the studio has distributed over 1,000 titles, most of those are pick-ups -- independently made and financed films that are sold to the studio, who then gives them a small release or puts the movies out on DVD. Though they sport the Troma label and oftentimes have a similar sensibility, I don't consider those true "Troma movies" the way I do the ones directed in-house by Lloyd Kaufma, the "artist" half of the partnership between him and Herz (who is the behind-the-scenes businessman type). These are the movies that offer the lowbrow highs of Troma. These are the movies that will make you understand what Troma is all about. If you watch them and you're not on board with their very specific kind of moviemaking, I can't blame you. They're not for everyone. At least you've seen their 10 best movies.
Maybe I never grew out of being nine years old, but I think they're pretty brilliant. Here's why.
2. Mother's Day (1980, dir. Charles Kaufman) One of only two movies on this list not written or directed by Lloyd Kaufman (though he was a producer), Mother's Day is the brainchild of Kaufman's brother Charles. Three young women go hiking in the woods where they are captured and tormented by a group of hillbillies and their insane mother. This is a dark, nasty, unpleasant movie, lacking in the kind of comedy that makes most Troma movies fun. But it's also an effective exploitation movie, and one which represents a very different path the studio could have taken in its early days. This one was remade by Saw II-V director Darren Lynn Bouseman in 2010; it sat on the shelf for two years before going straight to DVD. It's really good.
Rambo and the military obsession of Reagan America in the '80s. But because he's Lloyd Kaufman, he couldn't stop himself from including a bunch of weird, tasteless shit that kept the movie from becoming the mainstream hit he originally set out to make. Hampered by an X rating and kept in limbo for two years (it was shot in '86), Troma's War was eventually released in a neutered R-rated cut that removed much of the personality and turned it into the thing it was mocking. Kaufman's original Unrated version was finally made available on DVD in the late '90s.
Super and a little movie called Guardians of the Galaxy for Marvel Studios. Though not my favorite Troma movie, this one deserves major props for being among the company's most ambitious and artistic. It also marks the first appearance of the great Debbie Rochon in a Troma movie, itself a cause for celebration.
Return to Nuke 'Em High Vol. 1 (2013) Lloyd Kaufman's most recent movie is technically only half a film, but even the first half offers a few "bests" for the studio. For one, it's their best-looking movie. More importantly, though, is that it boasts the best cast in a Troma movie to date. Stars Asta Paredes and Catherine Corcoran are my favorite leads ever in a Troma film and create the first love story I've ever really cared about. Their relationship becomes the center of an otherwise insane movie full of sledgehammer satire (even more than Poultrygeist), the requisite gore and nudity and several a cappella musical numbers. I prefer this sequel/reboot to the original Class of Nuke 'Em High primarily for its cast, but also because Kaufman has improved a lot as a filmmaker since 1986. Though we'll have to wait and see until Vol. 2 is released before we can fully see where the movie fits within the context of the studio's overall catalog, its scope, ambition and likable cast make it essential Troma.