Considering that the Troma film industry is the longest running independent film industry, it remains relatively unheard of in the mainstream media. Specializing in explicit nudity, sexuality and a ridiculously copious amount of gore still unrivalled by their mainstream contemporaries, Troma movies have become synonymous with emetic, low brow and farcical fodder which serve as a foil for the alleged appropriate and more suitable subject matter of mainstream culture. This image has been contested by its founders, Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz, who have created a fictional region aptly titled ‘Tromaville’ to act as a foil to contemporary society and satirize a film industry which is by nature conservative and exclusive. Just like its renegade creators, Troma’s films adopt a unique approach to social commentary that substitutes elaborate symbolisms and trappings for a cheap thrill and gut-wrenching gore.
Films involving nuclear experiments, accidents and mutations are a key staple in the Troma repertoire. Class of Nuke’em High, released in 1986, the same year as the Chernobyl disaster, places emphasis, albeit farcical, on the complacency of the town officials in placing a nuclear plant one mile from the local high school, and the effects on the students after its nuclear meltdown. Although physical deformities and mutations ensue, the most dramatic result is in the behavior of the once conservative students, who become hell bent on letting loose. With virtues such as abstinence being propagated during the Reagan period, the libertine activities of Nuke’em High’s students would have been considered by his supporters to be immoral, yet ironically it is Reagan’s policy to pursue nuclear energy that is the cause of such rebellious sexual promiscuity amongst Tromaville’s youths.
Moreover, Kaufman and Lloyd do not shy away from incorporating highbrow elements of culture into their work, particularly those associated with literature.
Tromeo and Juliet (1996), explores Shakespeare’s tragedy against the backdrop of the punk and counterculture movement, where rivalry ignites over the control of the porn industry. Critics have argued that this is a blot on Shakespeare’s escutcheon, with its unapologetic nature for grave deviations from the classics. Shakespeare considered that the functions of plays are ‘to hold as ‘twere mirror up to nature’, and although Tromeo and Juliet is not an accurate reflection of today’s society, it does reflect the increasing immunity that society has procured with regards to sexuality, nudity and violence within popular culture to such an extent that only the extreme can induce feelings of shock.
The Troma industry is still an independent force within the film industry, and its ability to survive can be either seen as a testament to the vision of its creators or as a disappointing indicator of how film culture is continuing to fall into the gutter of lowbrow entertainment. ‘Movies of the Future’ is the slogan of this industry, and with the increasing prevalence of reality television, critics of this genre will continue to debate whether to some extent such films precipitated such turns of events, or were merely astute in their foreshadowing.