October is defined in Webster’s Dictionary as “31 days of horror.” Don’t bother looking it up; it’s true. Most people take that to mean highlighting one horror movie a day, but here at FSR, we’ve taken that up a spooky notch or nine by celebrating each day with a top ten list. This article about the best Troma movies is part of our ongoing series 31 Days of Horror Lists.
Troma Entertainment proudly touts itself as a leader in independent and low-budget cinema. And with good reason. Founded in New York in 1974 by Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz, Troma has been giving filmmakers free rein to do as they please for nearly fifty years. Initially starting with raunchy teen sex comedies, Troma quickly developed a knack for producing B-movie horror comedies. Of course, Troma productions do not appeal to everyone. To many Troma films are crude, childish, and generally done in bad taste. While all those descriptions certainly apply, it does sell many Troma films short. After all, the company’s mascot is an eco-friendly superhero determined to rid the world of toxic waste.
Troma does much more than produce its own films, however. Uncle Lloyd and his team scour the world, searching for films in need of distribution. Over the years, they’ve helped many films make it into theaters or home video. I bet you never would’ve guessed that the fine folks at Troma played a pivotal role in bringing My Neighbor Totoro to American theaters for the first time!
As part of this year’s 31 Days of Horror Lists countdown, we celebrate all things Troma by ranking their ten best films. For clarity, we considered any film that was released with Troma branding at some point, regardless of whether or not it was a Troma production. Sorry Totoro, you were merely a theatrical release via a Troma subdivision!
10. Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D. (1990)
It pains me to start this list off with such a big regret, but that is what we have done. Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D., we have severely let you down. Henry Griswold is a New York police detective investigating a series of murders involving kabuki actors. One of the dying actors blesses him with the powers of the kabuki, and just like that, Sgt. Kabukiman is born! Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D. is a silly slapstick farce of lowbrow offensive humor and sight gags. But it’s Troma at their most pure Troma, and it’s loads of fun. My favorite scene involves a thug stealing a car stereo and then leaving a sign hanging in the car window that reads “stereo not on board.” Comedy gold! (Chris Coffel)
9. Beware! Children at Play (1989)
An unapologetic riff on Children of the Corn, Troma’s childish (haha) horror outing sees a horde of brainwashed kids raise hell in the woods of New Jersey. Kids are disappearing, and the local adults are horrified to learn that their young ones have been spirited away to a cannibalistic Beowulf cult (no, really) led by a mentally disturbed child who watched his dad die a slow and agonizing death in a bear trap. Luckily, a UFO-obsessed novelist — clearly the most qualified man for the job — is on the case.
I’m not going to lie to you. The reason that Beware! is on this list is that it features one of the most bananas, no-holds-barred finales of any film, Troma or otherwise. Believe it or not, the man-eating child cult meets something of a grisly end at the hands of the pissed-off adults, who use the film’s final moments to absolutely massacre the shit out of the killer kids with guns, pitchforks, axes, beer bottles, planks of wood… you name it. So is Beware! Children At Play a good movie? Of course not. But you have to respect its unflinching finale that says, in no uncertain terms, fuck them kids. (Meg Shields)
8. There’s Nothing Out There! (1990)
The Scream franchise has seen a boost in popularity recently, but if you want to see a film that directly informed the original Wes Craven classic, look no further than Rolfe Kanefsky’s There’s Nothing Out There. Sure, the film is a silly romp filled with ridiculous deaths and a rubbery little monster that is right at home in Troma’s cadre of characters, but Kanefsky, first and foremost, is a horror fan – and he layers that knowledge directly into this film through the character Mike, presaging the meta-humor of Randy in Scream. Kanefsky’s film is a love letter to horror fans, knowingly lampooning tropes we all recognize while offering a running commentary on everything the group is doing wrong, like ignoring warning sign after warning sign that they’ve just walked into a horror movie. If you call yourself a Scream fan, then you’ve got to add this to your Halloween watchlist. (Jacob Trussell)
7. The Toxic Avenger (1984)
You can’t overstate what a sensation The Toxic Avenger was in the eighties. The film came out and was a bomb. However, continual screening in New York and the home video market transformed the superhero satire into a cult phenomenon. The film would not only spawn sequels but cartoons and action figures. Long before I ever saw the film, I pitted my plastic Toxie against my Ninja Turtles and He-Man toys. They were the best of friends.
Currently, we are waiting for The Toxic Avenger to make his comeback. Is that Macon Blair remake still happening? We need it. Since its 1984 release, the superhero aesthetic has become all-consuming. We’re more ready for The Toxic Avenger to tear down the genre than ever. He should do so brutally. Also, the world is falling apart as a result of our inability to recognize our impact on the environment. So, yeah, Toxie is the crusader we deserve. (Brad Gullickson)
6. Class of Nuke ’em High (1986)
Class of Nuke ‘Em High follows the students at Tromaville High as they try and navigate adolescence while dealing with the effects of attending a high school next to a nuclear power plant. Contaminated weed, mutant toilet babies, and an honor society turned school gang are just some of the complications these poor teens must deal with. Class of Nuke ‘Em High is a goopy, melty movie that will gross you out unless low-budget practical effects are your jam. It ends with a phenomenal freeze frame and sets the stage for a franchise that, to date, has spawned four sequels. (Chris Coffel)
Related Topics: 31 Days of Horror Lists