Last night, following previous tastes of deep-fried hilarity in San Diego and my epic conversation with Lloyd Kaufman on Friday, I finally had the opportunity to experience the magnificent Opera of insanity that is POULTRYGEIST!
The screening, part of the ‘Late Show’ program at the Calgary International Film Festival (CIFF), took place at the historic Plaza Theatre with an almost-capacity crowd, despite a torrential downpour. After waiting out in the rain for about 45 minutes, the crowd was still in great spirits – partially due to the various flasks and bottles making rounds in the line-up and partially due to the hot fried chicken being dispensed to the crowd by a dude in a giant chicken suit…
Lloyd was present along with the enchanting Mistress Gory who, in addition to being a horror mistress, running www.thegoryhole.com and reviewing flicks for SuicideGirls.com, has been named an official ‘Tromette’ by His Lloydship.
Lloyd, per usual, was at the center of a mob of fans and admirers and, despite his obvious fatigue, signed every video and shook every hand offered.
(Say what you will about his taste in on-screen representations of human feces – the man is still a class act)
I managed to get in a quick ‘hey Lloyd’ as I reached past the thronging masses to sugar up my coffee, and then we headed in for the show. Brenda Lieberman, programmer for the ‘Late Show’ program and head of the Calgary Underground Film Festival, introduced Lloyd on-stage. Accompanied by Toxie, Lloyd presented Brenda with some Troma U certificates of appreciation and gave a quick intro to the film, remarking again on it being a shot-for-shot remake of that great splatstick epic – SCHINDLER’S LIST.
And now…. on to the show!
POULTRYGEIST! is definitely a labor of love for all involved. You can see the level of commitment Lloyd has given this project and the levels of commitment he has instilled in everyone else involved. The film clearly reflects Lloyds own views on commercialism, multinational conglomerates, advertising and fast food. (Lloyd has been very vocal in his criticism of McDonalds in particular and the affect they’ve had after moving next door to Troma in NYC – ‘Rats the size of raccoons’ is his favorite turn of phrase). It also belies his love of punny slapstick comedy, silent-film ‘mugging’ and his obsessions with bodily functions and lesbian trysts. And these are all good things. In fact, I’m right in line with most of the other critics in saying that this is one of the best Troma productions yet, and certainly the finest work of Lloyd’s directing career.
The writing is snappy, intelligent and knowingly camp. The jokes aren’t dumbed down, nor are they classed up for the PC crowd. The very genius of the script is that no-one is spared skewering and no target is taboo. There are a multitude of ethnic cracks, but so many and so wide-ranging that the humor is undeniable. This is equal opportunity at its finest and most influential. In the same vein, Lloyd and Team Troma take on sexuality (including bestiality, diaper fetish and necrophilia), politics and even such vague concepts as ambition and self worth.
More surprising, given Troma’s usual reliance on fans and non-actors for cast, is the quality of the acting, singing and dancing. Kate Graham is adorably perky and just sassy/pouty/sexy enough to make the character of Wendy the perfect girl-next-door sex kitten. Her singing voice is beautiful and her grace and control during the dance sequences are phenomenal. Jason Yachanin, who plays the protagonist Arby, is that rare beast seldom seen since the 80’s, an appealing, character-driven ‘nerd’ that is still charming, and likeable, despite (or possibly because of) his nerdiness. These two pair up perfectly, and flavor each others performances so well that they seem meant for each other. The rest of the film is solidly anchored by their relationship.
The rest of the main cast is equally talented, with Allyson Sereboff as the suitably distasteful turncoat Micki; Joshua Olatunde doing a mean mix of Fred Williamson and JJ Walker, Khalid Rivera and Caleb Emerson filling out the crew of the American Chicken Bunker with fresh takes on old stereotypes, and the lovely and talented Rose Ghavami as the faceless mystery woman and butt of endless Arab, Muslim and Terrorist jokes. Particularily entertaining is Robin Watkins as the ACB owner ‘General Lee Roy’ who says “it’s just like my dear old Grandaddy used to say… get over here with those torches Junior, that cross ain’t gonna light itself!” Joining them are Troma regulars Ron Jeremy, Joe Fleishaker and a million ‘blink n’ miss ‘em’ cameos by everyone from Trey Parker and Matt Stone to Lemmy, Debbie Rochon, Elske McCain and (it is rumored, although I didn’t see him) David Lee Roth, whose daughter Brenna Lee plays one of the TV reporters covering the ACB Grand Opening.
The plot, as has been mentioned before, concerns the opening of a fried chicken chain known as American Chicken Bunker opens on the sight of the ancient ‘Tromahawk’ Indian burial grounds. Concurrently, young lovers Arby and Wendy are reunited after a semester apart at College, where Wendy has discovered the joys of sweet sapphic lovin’ at the hands of the menacing Micki. The girlfriends are part of C.L.A.M. (Collegiate Lesbians Against Mega-conglomeration), a group that is picketing the grand-opening of ACB, and Arby decides to spite his former love by taking a job as counter girl at the new restaurant. Staff members and customers begin dying mysterious and tromatically graphic deaths. When the owner of the chain shows up and covers up the situation, the eggs really start to hit the fan. Soon the town is overrun by ‘Native American chicken zombies’ that visit the horrors of chickendom on the poor people of Tromaville NJ.
Of course, being a Troma film, POULTRYGEIST! is filled with massive amounts of nudity and insane amounts of ridiculous gore and nastiness. The greatest of these sequences features Troma’s ‘500lb Superhero’ Joe Fleishaker as ‘Jared’, a man who is renowned for having lost a ton of weight eating at a sub shop. Fleishaker orders a massive ‘health conscious’ meal from ACB and, after eating a questionable egg, suffers some horrific abdominal distress, shown to us in uncomfortable, yet gloriously hilarious detail through the magic of a ‘toilet-cam’ that peers up as he unleashes Montezuma’s revenge right into the lens. It has to be seen to be believed. Kaufman’s wife and co-producer, Pat insisted on very few cuts in the film, one of them being this scene, which Lloyd has promised will be uncut on the eventual DVD release. The rest of the effects are equally distasteful and uproariously obscene, from a chicken zombie impaled with a mop through the rectum that ends up as a 5′ long wooden penis for the rest of the film. There are also beheadings, dismemberments, disembowling, nose-biting, ass-punching, chicken-licking and zombie butt-plug action, none of which will be forgotten soon. This may be the single most deliriously gory film since Peter Jackson’s BRAINDEAD, and I fuckin’ dig it, man!
Mixed with singing, dancing and numerous scenes of lesbian groping orgies, POULTRYGEIST! is probably the greatest piece of cinema ever created in the splatstick musical comedy genre. This thing should win a goddamn Oscar, if for nothing else, for a scene where, following a long-winded and rage-fueled diatribe against big business, the entire amassed group of protesters simultaneously raise their Starbucks cups, drink deep and utter a self-satisfied ‘aaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhh’. And that’s exactly the feeling I had when the lights came up last night. Pure, unabashed contentment at the fullfillment of my every expectation.
The Q&A followed, with Lloyd fielding the usual questions with his trademark frivolity and charm. (I will try to post the audio of the Q&A, but I need to work out the technical kinks.) As the crowd dispersed at close to 2AM, I caught Lloyd in the lobby for a quick chat and a pic with he and Gory. It’s always a pleasure to see Lloyd Kaufman in person and it was a real treat to see POULTRYGEIST! projected in a theatre on 35mm as Lloyd meant it to be seen. Now, on to the next episode… although I have a feeling that we’ll be talking about POULTRYGEIST! again…