FEATURING: D’Lana Tunnell, Hugh Brooks, Wanda Wilson
PLOT: Voluptuous D’Lana Fargo is knocked up by local Tupelo singer Johnny Tu-Note. Her mother sets up an adoption, and Johnny wants her to get rid of the baby. D’Lana falls in with a group of “Man Haters” who are fans of stripper/sexploitation filmmaker Topsy Turvy, who is the spitting image of D’Lana.
Teenage Tupelo was the first (and only) original production released by Something Weird video. It was released directly to VHS but never made the transition to DVD, going out of print and becoming unavailable for decades.
McCarthy’s adoptive parents appear as extras in the diner; their younger alter-egos are played by actors.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: Almost certainly, you will remember the birth-of-a-baby scene (borrowed from the 1948 roadshow shocker Because of Eve). Even if you’ve seen a live birth before, it’s still shocking to see this sight casually shuffled into a narrative film context—and, accompanied by a tinkly music box rendition of “Frère Jacques,” it comes across as decidedly unwholesome. Viewer beware!
TWO WEIRD THINGS: Battered Johnny Tu-Note serenades vixen; chainsaw devil tattooist
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Teenage Tupelo plays like director McCarthy took Something Weird Video’s entire vintage VHS catalog, ran it through a woodchipper, and used the resulting pulp to sculpt his own phantasmagorical autobiography. It’s utterly unique, history’s first postmodern grindhouse film.
Trailer for the soundtrack release of Teenage Tupelo
FEATURING: Björn Almroth, Thorsten Flinck, Goran Marjanovic, Sanna Bråding,
PLOT: A son watches as his father and a pair of actors shoot an increasingly violent and depraved amateur porn movie in their small apartment.
COMMENTS: Lukas Moodysson has had a strange career. He began as a poet and novelist before moving into cinema with his debut, Fucking Åmål [AKA Show Me Love], a realistic lesbian romance. After another crowd-pleasing drama, the commune-set Together, he went into darker (but still realistic) territory with Lilya 4-ever, a bleak drama about a Russian girl sold into sex slavery. After this well-received trio, Moodysson was a critical darling with a large home-grown fan base. Seemingly, he decided to blow it all up with the deliberately off-putting experiment A Hole in My Heart.
There’s not much story to Hole. A young man lives with his dad. He rarely leaves his room, partly because the father is using the rest of the apartment as a set to produce a series of amateur porn films with his two live-in actors (one male, one female). In between shoots, the three principals dance and party as the son hangs out alone in his room, tending his earthworms and listening to industrial music on his headphones. The porn scenarios begin as normal sex acts but escalate into pseudo-rapes, force-feeding, and vomit play (the latter somewhat reminiscent of the commune orgies from Sweet Movie.) At one point, the female actor angrily abandons the group, but soon returns to pick up where they left off, acting as if nothing had ever happened. Some character development occurs: the son and father discuss the boy’s dead mother, the actor and male director bond when the latter reveals he has a serious illness (a hole in his heart?) that causes him to occasionally pass out, and the actress flirts with the son, falling short of a seduction but nevertheless producing a bond. Everyone seems to be seeking love, but not finding it. The film ends inconclusively.
The material here is disconcerting enough—the three porn producers block out upcoming scenes using barbie dolls, who sometime lose limbs in the process—but Moodysson deploys infuriating formal tricks to discombobulate the audience. The soundtrack barfs up a lot of grating, staticky noises at random moments. Though the story is ultimately told mostly in chronological order, the editing is often non-linear, crosscutting quiet conversations with sex scenes. There’s a dream sequence featuring crop circles. Moodysson interrupts the flow with snippets of real surgery footage, of both the labiaplasty and the open-heart variety. The entire things is shot faux-documentary style, with indifferent framing, unflattering lighting, and with both product labels and faces of extras fogged out. (At one point, the main cast’s faces are digitally obscured, too, suggesting the characters’ shame and lack of consent to be filmed under these degrading circumstances).
The overall feel of Hole in the Heart is of one of those nihilistic experiments of Harmony Korine or Giuseppe Andrews. At its best, it approaches a Lars von TrierDogma 95 provocation like The Idiots (1998). But Hole fails to generate empathy for the characters inhabiting its squalid setting, leaving little impact other than a dyspeptic stomach. The one thing that saves Moodysson’s experiment from total failure (and a Beware rating) is that the screed does have a particular target, the adult entertainment industry, and it does suggest, through pornographic poetry, how that commercial concern sucks in the vulnerable and distracts humanity from making healthy connections. That’s an intellectually thin message, however, and one that’s largely drowned out by the rivers of blood and vomit on screen.
Moodysson followed up this effort with the even weirder (but less disgusting) Container, an abstract avant-garde movie that nearly cost him all his remaining supporters. Her returned to realism with 2009’s Mammoth, then won fans and critics back with the heartwarming nostalgic coming-of-age story We Are the Best! in 2013. All seven of his features are collected in Arrow’s “The Lukas Moodysson Collection.”
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DIRECTED BY: Giuseppe Andrews
FEATURING: Bill Tyree, Giuseppe Andrews
PLOT: Intertwined stories of a number of absurd characters including a French dwarf who has rough sex with a teddy bear and a perpetually naked old man who has sex with an imaginary woman.
COMMENTS: “WARNING: This film contains senior citizen nudity and dead pigs.”
Now, geriatric nudity is no big thing (although when the octogenarian attempts to holds pork rinds between his buttcheeks, you may disagree). That dead pig, though… we’ll get to it.
Period Piece is a series of absurdist sketches that rarely rise to the level of jokes, and never to the level of insights. They aren’t planned out, they are just passing spurts from the brain of director Giuseppe Andrews, whose mind is not filled with classical allusions like a Jean Cocteau or scathing anti-bourgeois fantasies like a Luis Buñuel, but mostly with dirty words, bodily function imagery, and trailer park culture. The result is arrested development surrealism, like something made by Harmony Korine if he were a complete psychopath.
You get segments about two guys who siphon gas to get money to shoot heroin in a car wash. Two other guys mime eating each others’ farts (which they slice with a plastic knife and eat with a fork, in about the closest the film comes to eliciting a chuckle.) Stop-motion tater tots have sex in front of a shrine to Charles Manson. A guy eats raw hamburger. That kind of stuff. It’s shot in camcorder glare, and the editing is deliberately bad, as if a few “good” fifteen second takes were assembled to make a scene. Sometimes the same line repeats with slightly different inflection. It’s unpleasantly disorienting and visually unflattering, so Andrews does achieve the Americana nightmare feel he’s going for. And just so you won’t be fooled into thinking you’re watching something with socially redeeming value, it opens with a bit where a guy wearing a fake mustache and speaking in a Pepe le Pew accent sodomizes a teddy bear with an industrial sized can of calm chowder. (The repeated, graphic molestation of the stuffed sex slave is an ongoing motif.) Also, a lot of people shoot themselves in ineffective mock suicides. It’s as disgusting as it sounds, and much of the time, it’s repetitive and tedious, but it’s capable of holding your interest—against your better judgement.
Although the climactic dead pig is explicitly named “Society,” the main target of the film’s ongoing and pervasive anger has been women and scarcity of sex. The teddy bear who “likes it rough” seems to stand in for woman as sexual objects. In one vignette a man threatens to kill a “whore” for cheating on him. A father and son leaf through the gynecological displays in well-worn stroke mags, and the son dreams of scoring someday. The naked old man delivers obscene, scatological monologues about vaginas. Although Andrews had a girlfriend at the time, and there is a woman in the cast, the whole project gives off the vibe of something conceived by poor white guys who’ve lost all hope of ever getting laid. Therefore, when Andrews’ attempt to top Pink Flamingos in the grossout department has the naked old man hack at the pig’s head with a hatchet while screaming insults at it, I was put more in mind of incels releasing sexual frustration than outsiders taking revenge against a system that has marginalized them.
The ending of the film disclaims that “no animals were hurt in the making of this film… they were already dead!” This is not strictly true. What about the human animals in the audience who had to watch it?
Troma proudly (?) picked up Period Piece (and some other Andrews movies) for distribution, despite the fact that it’s much darker (and even cheaper) than their usual fare. The DVD features an incongruously cheerful introduction by Lloyd Kaufman, a Kaufman interview with Andrews, trailers for other Andrews movies, an obscene misogynist poem written by Andrews and read bumblingly by Tyree, and the entire 70-minute bonus feature Jacuzzi Rooms— which is literally just an unscripted chronicle of four rednecks drinking heavily in a motel room. Fun stuff, for people for whom nothing matters.
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DIRECTED BY: Ryan Nicholson
FEATURING: Dan Ellis, Nathan Dashwood, Wade Gibb, Ronald Patrick Thompson, Debbie Rochon, Candice Lewald (as Candice Le), Alastair Gamble
PLOT: A deformed 18-year old who survived a coat hanger abortion teams up with a vigilante to hunt down the pimp who killed his hooker mom.
COMMENTS: Tastelessness is one of the very few weapons low-budget filmmakers have in their arsenal that their big-budget counterparts can’t match. That is, at least, an explanation for Ryan Nicholson’s Hanger, if not an excuse. There is not much a movie with this kind of budget and shooting schedule can do to set itself apart from the pack of cheap VOD horrors—which themselves have to compete for scarce viewing eyes against the huge glut of what most audiences consider “real movies”—except to try to show you what Hollywood doesn’t dare.
In simpler times, exploitation films could survive on nudity, sex and violence, but since the big studios now dominate these niches, too, the scum at the bottom of the entertainment bucket are nudged instead towards the scatological, the pornographic, and the nihilistic. Hanger exists as a string of shock scenes hung on a dull and talky narrative that leads nowhere. We get a graphic (if incredibly fake-looking) coat hanger abortion; penis grilling; grotesque prosthetic putty slathered on nearly every character; prostitutes murdered with car doors; misogyny and homophobia; yellowface and Asian stereotyping; fart torture; the N-word; an explicit female masturbation scene; a stoma rape with chocolate pudding prop; tampon tea; bad gore effects, bad sound, and bad attempts at comedy. And, because talk is cheap, lots of talking.
Half-assed is the aesthetic choice here. Like its title character, Hanger is an ugly, angry outsider, fated to be a loser and pissed off about it. Unlike its title character (but like its comic relief character), it believes itself to be funny. I think. I didn’t laugh once, but it does appear that parts were intended to be humorous: specifically, scenes of the intensely annoying Wade Gibb, in a prosthetic mask narrowing his eyes to slits, talking in a high-pitched sing-songy “Chinaman” squeal straight out of a WWII-era propaganda film about how he loves tampons and other unfunny topics that are difficult to discern due to a combination of fake buck teeth, a badly crafted accent, and abysmal sound. These scenes double as painful comic relief and interminable padding. The movie’s highlight is Lloyd Kaufman’s appearance as a “tranny” prostitute who gets his penis burned off; Lloyd flew in, learned his lines when he arrived, shot his scene, and (wisely) got the hell out of there. If you’re unfortunate enough to see Hanger, you’ll spend more time watching it than Kaufman spent filming it.
The DVD and (2 disc!) Blu-ray are filled with an unusually high number of extras. Kaufman’s 11-minute behind-the-scenes home video is more entertaining than the entirety of the feature.
FEATURING: Lloyd Kaufman, Kate McGarrigle, Erin Miller, Monique Dupree, Abraham Sparrow, Amanda Flowers
PLOT: Very loosely following the plot of Shakespeare‘s “The Tempest,” the story involves a party ship packed with pharmaceutical executives washed up on the shores of Troma, New Jersey, after a storm of whale feces.
WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE APOCRYPHA: You’ll get more out of it if you know “The Tempest” (and know Troma well enough to catch Easter eggs like the “Kabuki flip”)—but, Shakespeare’s Shitstorm should shock and amaze anyone with a sense of cinematic adventure and strong stomach. It’s one long hedonistic orgy of grossout comedy and Bardic references. It’s got Lloyd Kaufman in two roles, including one in drag (in a Snow White costume, for reasons never explained); William Shakespeare telling a donkey show joke to a panel of Ph.Ds; and a climax that is accurately characterized as “like a Hieronymus Bosch painting” (if Bosch had been just a bit fonder of green slime, prosthetic boobs, and punk rock anthems). It’s the stuff that dreams are made of—at least, the kind of dreams you might have if you ate an entire herring pizza laced with ketamine as a midnight snack before going to bed.
COMMENTS: “The Tempest” was not William Shakespeare’s final play, but it was his last masterpiece. Its closing acts are widely interpreted as the Bard’s farewell to the theater. At 74 years of age, Lloyd Kaufman has already outlived Shakespeare, but the feeling that Shakespeare’s Shitstorm is intended as his final trashterpiece is inescapable.
Something about Shakespeare inspires Kaufman and his Troma team to heights of lunacy even beyond their usual excesses. Shitstorm may not be quite as surreal as Troma’s weirdest feature, Tromeo & Juliet, but it represents a capstone of their transgressive punk aesthetic. One affinity between Stratford-upon-Avon’s favorite son and New Jersey’s least reputable film studio is the large cast of characters: Troma has always favored maxamilized plots and as many odd-looking extras as they can convince to work for a mention in the rolling credits. The discipline (such as it is) imposed by being forced to parody the Bard’s sprawling plots enforces some structure on Kaufman, whose tendency is to make his movies as digressive and improvised-looking as possible. And of course, the tension between Shakespeare’s humanistic aspirations and Troma’s scurrilous antics is inherently amusing. The combination gives the studio the chance to argue, “sure, we may be lowbrow… but we’re smart lowbrow.” After all, they quote from the play’s text and throw in references to other plays and sonnets (always undercut by a corny or obscene joke), along with bits of Shelley and bawdy couplets of their own devise. It reminds us that there is an intelligence hiding under the layers of shit jokes.
Shakespeare’s Shitstorm isn’t just offensive; it’s an ode to offensiveness. It starts off with a toddler spattered with blood from her mother’s suicide. There’s a “diversity hire” stripper in a wheelchair, two separate subplots involving crack whores (including one who sings a musical number with the lines “suck her in and blow her out, my crack pipe never screams and shouts”), and bloody oral rape scene performed by an animatronic chicken. After all that, the nauseating scenes of characters getting lapdances while being showered by brownish buckets of cetacean “fecal bloom” seem positively quaint. The only real suspense is whether—or rather, when and how—they’ll drop the N-word. That’s all standard practice for Troma, though I daresay that Shitstorm breaks all previous Tromatic records for repulsion. But this time, offensiveness itself is the front-and-center theme of the movie; it makes the studio’s boldest case that causing offense is a social service. Shitstorm‘s chief satirical targets are entitled “SJW” bloggers with no sense of humor. Shitstorm‘s final moral is delivered as a string of ethnic jokes—with accompanying visual metaphor—an argument that mocking everyone and everything equally is a better route to solidarity than contorting our speech awkwardly to avoid stepping on any one group’s toes. In other words, lighten up. We’re all here to laugh, and if your in-group gets lambasted, it will be someone else’s turn in about 30 seconds.
And thankfully, the movie is funny. They even insert what I think is a joke for early reviewers only. Often, when you watch pre-release screeners, there will be a legend that periodically appears warning “for review purposes only.” In Shitstorm, that reminder instead reads “for bootlegging purposes only.”
Shakespeare’s Shitstorm is a monumental movie. When you sit through the nine minutes of end credits—taking care to watch those amazing outtakes and read the jokes hidden in the text—you’ll realize that it takes an enormous pile of money to make something that looks this cheap. We are unlikely to see a Lloyd Kaufman movie on this scale ever again, and it’s a shame that Covid-19 prevented it from having the grandiose premiere to a packed house that it deserved. Troma has worked its way up from a disreputable B-movie studio to an underground institution. I haven’t always been the biggest fan of their approach, but Kaufman and team have worked ceaselessly doing their own thing their own way for 35 years now—and that deserves a celebration. Of course, Kaufman’s Prospero might actually like it better this way. He doesn’t deal well with sudden popularity near the end of Shitstorm: “You’re supposed to be triggered! Do not put me on a pedestal!” So instead, let’s send him off with a quote from Shakespeare: “As you from crimes would pardon’d be,/Let your indulgence set me free.” We’ll indulge you, Mr. Kaufman, in one last glorious barf fest.
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