Terror Firmer (1999)

Author: Brett H.
Submitted by: Brett H.   Date : 2009-01-29 09:49

Directed by: Lloyd Kaufman
Written by: Patrick Cassidy & Douglas Buck
Starring: Will Keenan, Alyce LaTourelle, Lloyd Kaufman, Trent Haaga, Ron Jeremy & Joe Fleishaker

Reviewed by: Brett H.

“Why do you look at the crack of a man’s ass and think, ‘lunchtiiiime!?’”

The best slice of a Troma DVD is never the movie, but the special features. Actually, I’ll bite my tongue there because somehow, by some stroke of luck (or perhaps Lloyd Kaufman selling his soul to the dark Lord), Poultrygeist turned out to be a horror/comedy classic. In rare instances can a Troma disc survive on the movie alone (notables would be The Toxic Avenger, Tromeo & Juliet and a few others). But, in general, the act of filming a low budget Troma film is much more absorbing than what eventually winds up in the finished product. For years now, Troma has been releasing feature length documentaries on their discs. These don’t take us citizens of Tromaville merely behind the scenes; they enable us to be part of the crew. We see everything; tardy actors, tardy Kaufman, mad Kaufman, effect fuck-ups, improvisations and actresses suddenly wanting to keep their clothes on if Lloyd should make the mistake of not shooting nudity on the first day. We don’t hear recounts of these mishaps on set, we actually see each and every step of the production as it happens via behind the scenes cameras. Perhaps the best idea ever for a Troma movie would be to make a movie about making a Troma movie, and that’s exactly what Terror Firmer brings to the table.

A strange woman walks by a frisky lad on the street and is gawked at. How rude and chauvinistic! Naturally, she tears the guy’s leg off and as the blood gushes, beats him with his own limb. Next, she stumbles upon a pregnant lady and tears the fetus right from her stomach. This lady is mean… and the credits are still rolling. On the set of the new Toxic Avenger movie, blind director and low-budget auteur Larry Benjamin (Lloyd Kaufman) and his crew of misfits want to make some art. With a low budget comes big problems, and some nutcase starts violating Larry Benjamin’s first of three rules of filmmaking (safety to people) by offing Larry’s volunteers… err… employees! As the cast dwindles and love blossoms and decays, we are left wondering just who this crazy woman could be, why young Casey (Will Keenan) won’t do sweet Jennifer (Alyce LaTourelle) and how come there’s a strange pickling motif running throughout the film! Shitting, puking, de-fetusing, raping; take the most disgusting thing you can think of and add ‘ing’ to it and you’ll get the macabre of Terror Firmer!

Terror Firmer is one of those joyous exceptions in the Troma canon that is actually funny (because Toxic Avenger 2 & 3 sure weren’t). Ever wondered what would happen if Troma made Maniac? Look no further. To start the review, I will state that all of Lloyd Kaufman’s directorial work is derivative of the word ‘art’. Yes, he includes social commentary in all of his films and by that standard, one could argue that his films are over the heads of the regular audience waiting in line to see Prom Night’s remake. What I don’t understand is why this art that he so believes in is always, um, accentuated, by the most disgusting and exploitive methods of filmmaking known to man. I love all the gross-out scenes you can give me, but when someone is getting pissed on, shit on and fucked with a mop handle in so many movies, over and over again, I understand where the average viewer loses these weird Kaufman visions. Truth be told, I enjoy a lot of Kaufman’s work, but I will never pretend to understand just how he ticks. The underlying themes the man wraps in rivers of urine and feces are important and valid, but why he doesn’t try to do something a bit more focused on anything but these displeasures is beyond me. I believe he can do it, and his core audience understands the messages within. I suppose he wants a trademark, and Bergman’s introspection and Fellini’s clowns were already taken. Lloyd Kaufman is the God of fecal matter, and he obviously likes it that way.

I don’t want that last paragraph to come down too hard on Troma because they’re working on demonically low budgets with volunteers doing everything except those things of utmost importance and it’s truly a miracle most of their productions turn out as good as they do. From my (now) devoted viewings of the behind the scenes featurettes that make every release that includes one worth owning, Terror Firmer plays out exactly like a normal Troma production, except Lloyd Kaufman uses his slapschtick persona woven into his serious and sometimes angry real life persona. Everything in the movie virtually stems from reality. From the most minuscule of cost-cutting tactics, guns always jamming, the staff always quitting/getting fired/fucking up, and the marginal at best Troma first aid kit. And, all the while, Lloyd’s three rules are prominently plastered on walls all over the film much like they would be on his real sets (which in fact, were his real sets!). They are, in order; safety to others, safety to people’s property, and make a good movie. What makes Terror Firmer work is mostly all in regards to the caricature low budget film crew. Much like the real Troma, they persevere. Even if some jackass on the crew won’t shut up about Spielberg, and there’s plenty commentary on the world of indie vs. mainstream film in that.

Now, all can’t be rosy in Tromaville, so we have the matter of this wacky stalker running around cutting up all of Troma’s favorite stars, such as the man’s man Ron Jeremy and the 402 lb. Joe Fleishaker, who has nearly ten Tromatic experiences under his belt. The movie is never really scary, but the gore is cheap and fun, with the kills being as nutty as you’d hoped for. When Fleishaker is gulped up by a moving escalator and every drop of his blood and guts are shot out from the cracks, you know you got what you came for. Then, there’s all the various implements, gags and full frontal male and female nudity (not to mention a ton of sex scenes), double piss streams and flaming farts that you would expect from a Troma movie. Yes, this includes Fleishaker’s affinity for peanut butter, penis monsters and the iconic Kabukiman exploding car. The film then gets “serious” and the issue of reversing empowerment during rape to mess with criminal’s head gets brought up and you pretty much know where that’s going to go. I’m happy to say that there’s some laugh out loud scenes (including a hilarious quote from Lloyd calling himself a foot fetishist!), which lacked a tad in Citizen Toxie. You know, I’m a thousand words into this review and it really could have been summed up with “It’s everything Troma, but unlike a lot of their other movies, it’s actually pretty good”. Ah well, no turning back now.

Like View Askew, Troma exists within its own world and its fans love it for that. After years of horror viewing, I finally have a decent amount of Troma experience under my belt and I can honestly say that through their movies and special features, I feel like I’m a citizen of Tromaville. A place where everyone knows your name and they’re always glad you came – barring you don’t fuck up too bad and get fired. But, believe me… you have to really fuck up to get tossed from a Troma movie. To bring you up to speed, on the Citizen Toxie documentary, it took Lloyd about three minutes to explain to his A.D. how to insert numbered, pink revision pages into his numbered, white paged script. Three minutes to instruct her how to put in pink page 49 and take out the old page 49. I don’t mean it took her three minutes to do it, I mean three minutes to grasp the concept. And, she wasn’t fired. The more you watch Troma, the more you take from it, such as the Girls School Screamers poster (my first Troma DVD way back in the early 00s) and the referencing of Lloyd’s appearance on the Morton Downey Jr. Show where somehow, Morton looks dumber than one would assume the guys that made Troma’s War are. This is also a frequent point of contention in the themes of Troma movies. What kind of asshole goes out of his way to criticize a Troma movie?

Troma presented Terror Firmer on DVD with an array of editions to please everyone, but the one you’ll want to pick up is the 2 disc unrated edition, which is hands down one of the hugest editions in history. I’m going to cut down the special feature list to the necessities because this disc is monumental. We’re talking the always appreciated (I can’t imagine watching a Troma film without it!) Lloyd Kaufman intro, three audio commentaries, an integral version of Terror Firmer with all the deleted scenes in tact (which is the way I viewed the film, some scenes are funny and shouldn’t have been taken out, some are filler), auditions, bloopers, trailers, interviews, music videos and even a PC compatible Terror Firmer video game that’s as disgusting as the movie! Wow! But, that’s not all folks, I haven’t even mentioned the 99-minute Making of featurette and lots of another Troma standard – Easter eggs, and more! The best thing is almost everything on the disc is worth watching and loaded with information. The audio and video quality (full frame, per Kaufman’s intentions) is even above Troma’s normal standards. Terror Firmer is an offensive, hellish ride into just how a Troma film is made! Bravo, Troma Team, bravo! Buy it!

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