Tag Archives: Grossout

CAPSULE: TERROR FIRMER (1999)

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DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Alyce LaTourelle, Trent Haaga, Lloyd Kaufman

PLOT: A serial killer picks off members of a film crew making a -style movie.

Still from Terror Firmer (1999)

COMMENTS: once said, “It’s easy to be shocking, but it’s hard to be witty and shocking.”

I’m not sure Terror Firmer, and Lloyd Kaufman’s Troma output in general, wants to be either shocking or witty. In a movie that begins with a baby ripped out of the womb inside the first minute, it seems easy to make a case for the former. But since everything is played as a joke in the very broadest terms possible—e.g., when a man’s hand is cut off, he takes a bite of his own bloody stump, for no conceivable reason—the impact of the shock scenes is greatly diminished. It’s not as taboo-busting as Pink Flamingos (although it does have a number of rape jokes, which, besides racist and homophobic jokes, are perhaps the last real taboos left in existence.) Troma may poke at political correctness, but they don’t really take a stand behind any of their offensive ideas, playing them off as toothless gags as quickly as possible. What they really aim at is not to be shocking so much as to be simply gross—thus, the rivers and rivers of bodily fluids and waste, from director Lloyd Kaufman blindly peeing all over a fornicating couple to the killer puking voluminously over a couple of Frenchmen. As a grossout spectacle, Terror Firmer reaches a pinnacle that even John Waters couldn’t have dreamed up (though a few frat parties I went to in the 80s might have approached it).

As for witty… I’m not sure that was a big point of emphasis in the script. Yes, there are a couple of clever film industry jokes at the expense of self-important targets like Stephen Spielberg, “Cahiers du Cinéma” and Penny Marshall; and, for fairness’ sake, jokes at the expense of Troma’s own lack of taste, quality, and continuity. But in general, Lloyd Kaufman’s instinct is to go lowbrow, and to go for quantity above quality. The comedy calculus seems to be: if they can fit in four jokes a minute, that’s almost five hundred gags in the movie, and at least three or four of them will land. Terror Firmer isn’t witty, but it’s busy. Take, for example, a random but representative scene involving the shooting of the movie-within the movie from the middle of the picture. It’s set at a vegetarian rally and in the space of a minute it brings in protesters in bikinis, a surly script supervisor with a mohawk, a honking crotch sound effect, a piece of liver on a string, and a man in a cow suit with a functioning udder that leaks greenish milk; it ends with a scatological eruption. The result of such scenes, packed with chaotic, trashy punk mise-en-scène, is a movie that’s better in its tiny details than it is in its grand design. The movie’s frenzied parade of freaks and outrageousness keeps you from getting bored even when the juvenile jokes aren’t carrying the lame plot. It’s a Tromatic as any movie has ever been.

Bottom line: Terror Firmer is gross and busy rather than shocking and witty. But you can’t say that a movie with prosthetic hermaphrodite genitals, a naked fat guy running through the streets of New York City, and a puppet crucifixion (complete with dangling severed hand) isn’t going all-out for your attention.

The cast is huge. Will Keenan, who also starred in Tromeo & Juliet (1996), may be the closest thing to leading man material to appear in a Troma film. He reminds me a little of a slightly less handsome with slightly better acting chops (his impression isn’t too bad). Alyce LaTourelle does a decent job as the only straight character in the madness, but was never seen again after this. Kaufman is as goofy as one would expect; his lack of comic timing is itself a running joke. Trent Haaga got this part (his film debut) by publishing positive reviews of Troma movies; he later wrote screenplays (The Toxic Avenger IV, Deadgirl) and fashioned a career as a character actor. supplies most of the eye candy. Ron Jeremy and Lemmy from Motorhead have cameo roles (Lemmy’s is funny).

Dedicated fans may want to pick up 2020’s “20th Anniversary” Blu-ray release, but it’s arguably no improvement over the original 2-disc DVD release, whose special features it mostly recycles. Troma’s grimy visual style doesn’t really scream out for high definition. This print has also been reformatted to a widescreen presentation, when the original was deliberately shot in a 4:3 ratio intended to fit 1999 television screens. A new introduction from Kaufman and a fifteen-minute reunion featurette are the only bonuses not found on the original release.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…pic wallows in bad puns and good bods and evinces a gung-ho approach that’s either refreshing or tiresome depending on one’s age and IQ.”–Lisa Nesselson, Variety (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: WETLANDS (2013)

Feuchtgebiete

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: David Wnendt

FEATURING: Carla Juri, Christoph Letkowski, Meret Becker, Axel Milberg

PLOT: A sexually precocious teen girl who is virulently anti-hygiene tries to seduce her male nurse when she is hospitalized with anal fissures.

Still from Wetlands (2013)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Wetlands proudly advertises itself as “the most WTF, NSFW movie” of the year, and it is unique in that it’s the world’s first art-house gross-out romantic comedy. It’s worth a look for the way it blends cuteness and transgression with a peppering of magical realism moments, but it’s more provocative than weird in the end.

COMMENTS: I recently saw a Dutch study that came to the common-sense conclusion that sexual arousal overcomes feelings of disgust, allowing us to propagate the species despite the fact that the process of sexual intercourse involves a lot of foul smells and exchange of potentially deadly fluid-borne bacteria. So it’s no surprise that Wetlands makes its hemorrhoid-ridden heroine with the crusty panties a) horny and b) hot.  Helen may be unhygienic, but thankfully she’s photogenic. A movie about a fat, homely girl who disdains hygiene and trades tampons with her best friend would be far harder to (forgive me) swallow.

There are more than a few softcore (and some pretty hardcore) sex scenes here, and graphic “ick” moments that will remind you of illustrated versions kinds of stories teenage boys like to swap in locker rooms to make each other gag. There are also a sprinkling of hallucinatory scenes to catch weirdophiles interest, anchored by the moment where an aroused Helen sees a tree sprouting from her vagina. Perhaps even more visually impressive is the opening credits’ psychedelic trip through the rainbow forest of microflora and fauna growing on a filthy public toilet bowl. Helen confesses that she “often mixes up reality, lies and dreams,” which calls into question some of her more extreme exploits, but her hallucinations are always psychologically revealing, and sometimes dead-on satirical (as in the fantasy where her mother faces her greatest fear—being struck by a bus while wearing a pair of dirty underwear).

Wetlands intends to challenge what it contends are our irrational prejudices about the uncleanliness of our own bodies. But in knowingly pushing the audience’s gross-out buttons, it sometimes perforates the wall of absurdity to the point where its legitimate  message is lost. The pizza scene, in particular, seems like something that belongs in a Pink Flamingos sequel. The movie risks sweeping its argument about the irrationality of taboos away in a flood of menstrual blood, mucous, semen, and the miscellaneous fluids that pool on the floor of one particularly unhygienic public toilet. Wetlands is filled with womb and birth imagery that suggests that the process of becoming human is inescapably wet and smelly, and that  perhaps we should embrace that reality as joyously as our heroine does.  Yet, Helen confesses that she’s had herself secretly sterilized. The statement is made offhandedly, and maybe its one of the lies that Helen mixes up with truth, but it metaphorically cuts off the “life-affirming” reading. Still, although it might be a little thematically confused and try too hard to shock, Wetlands is bold and original in tone, and it boasts a brave and winning performance from Carla Juri (who convincingly captures the raunchy and rebellious charm of a free-spirited teenager despite being in her late twenties).

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…an aesthetically amped-up affair, full of segmented screens, oversaturated colors, trippy special effects, and drugged-out flashbacks and dream sequences…”–Nick Schager, The Village Voice (contemporaneous)

 

CAPSULE: DEADBALL (2011)

Beware

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Mari Hoshino

PLOT: A boy with a (literally) killer fastball grows up to become a vigilante, is imprisoned, and is blackmailed into playing on the jailhouse baseball squad despite the fact that he has sworn never to use the fatal pitch again.

Still from Deadball (2011)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: strikes out with this charmless screwball baseball-gore comedy.

COMMENTS: Deadball lost me at the first special effect. Dared to throw some real heat, preteen pitching prodigy Jubeh jumps into a green screen stratosphere and launches his best ball from a mile up. The fatal results are expressed by an extremely fake CGI fireball laid over the film, followed by an extremely weak and thin CGI blood splatter from the victim, followed by a closeup of a subpar latex mask with a distorted eyeball lolling off to one side and stage blood bubbling up through a puncture wound in the forehead. Sure, we know the movie is cheap, but there is a real laziness in this scene, a rushed “that’s good enough” feeling. I got the sense that Deadball doesn’t think too highly of its target audience, especially since the rest of the movie—with its incoherent plot and jokes about puke-eating and body cavity searches—seems to have been written by a team of particularly immature twelve-year-old boys during breaks on the playground. Everything about the movie is cheap. Locations are minimal; the prison set Jubeh gets remanded to after he turns into a vigilante looks like a modified warehouse, and the warden’s office looks like a garage (there’s even a car parked in it). Costumes are also threadbare, although when it comes to the opposing team, a squad of female delinquents uniformed in black leather bikinis and ripped fishnet stockings, there might not be so many complaints. Nazis play a role in the plot (what, the Japanese can’t plunder their own fascist history for villains?), so swastika armbands offer more cost-conscious wardrobe choices, while a prop portrait of a vaguely Asian Hitler that looks like it came from a Yokohoma thrift shop is an unintentionally amusing lowlight. As we’ve already discussed, the special effects are bottom-of-the-barrel, even for splatterpunk (which usually prides itself on its crimson-tinged money shots, if nothing else). The digital blood here is just way too voluminous, and way too cartoonish: a geyser of a nosebleed, in particular, is simultaneously nauseating and risible. By the time they trotted out the giant robot in the ninth inning, I just didn’t care about the outcome anymore. Deadball‘s lone asset is Tak Sakaguchi, who somehow manages to convincingly play a teenager even in his thirties. For whatever reason, his character is modeled on Clint Eastwood’s “Man with No Name,” right down to the Navajo duster who wears slung across his shoulders. There’s a running joke about how he always manages to have a cigarette ready that’s one of the few gags that actually works (the other notable example being an extremely silly moment when he punches his dominatrix warden through the phone). Sakaguchi manages to keep some kind of dignity in the film, and considering the script requires him to fighting a transvestite using a salt-shaker full of MSG as a weapon, that’s a testament to the actor’s inherent heroic charisma. Sushi Typhoon keeps grinding out these DVDs, and they’re showing no signs of stopping. Deadball may suffer at my keyboard because it is the latest in a long line of these gory assembly line B-imports, but I can honestly say that this movie, in particular, annoyed the hell out of me. Hell, I’d rather watch an A-Rod at bat than see Deadball again; they both cheat the audience, but at least Rodriguez is trying.

Deaball is a reworking of an earlier Yamaguchi film entitled Battlefield Baseball (2003), that also starred Sakaguchi. That one reportedly had an even lower budget than Deadball.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Filmed in the bloody style of Battle Royale and fueled by a rowdy cast of hilariously psychotic characters, the film is nothing but splatter-action that at times literally sizzles with shamelessly low budget yet playful visual effects.”–Maggie Lee, Hollywood Reporter (contemporaneous)