Troma thrived in the 1980s. Hailing from the days of Reaganite Hollywood, where so many movies felt like glossy products either aiming to be a franchise or glorifying the white middle class consumerist suburban experience, Troma’s movies felt like a collection of outsider films that rebelled against both mainstream and rebellious cinema. They were almost like the brats of the party that gave the middle finger to the acceptably artsy crowd. I could go on about how good The Toxic Avenger is, but we’ll save that for another day.
By the 1990s, Kaufman’s directorial work took a back seat to Troma’s distribution arm. Kaufman had been crushed under a bad deal with Warner Brothers to make a couple of sequels to The Toxic Avenger, not realizing they were being used as a pawn against Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It took six years after Sgt. Kabukiman, NYPD for Kaufman to come back behind the camera, along with his newly discovered writer James Gunn. Tromeo and Juliet began the short lived 1990s renaissance of Troma productions, providing a delightfully warped view of Shakespeare’s classic, this time focusing on incest, punk music, and rat pregnancies. I’m not here to talk about that either.
Instead, I’m here to glorify Terror Firmer. Or, rather, the R-Rated edition of Terror Firmer. Lloyd Kaufman’s public persona is complicated. He glorifies himself as a man who can get things done, but denigrates himself as an everyday Joe who has no idea how to direct a movie. Terror Firmer is Lloyd Kaufman’s pisstake on himself. Based on All I Need To Know About Filmmaking, I Learned From The Toxic Avenger, Terror Firmer is the fictitious making of a Troma movie. Lloyd himself plays a blind idiot director trying to control the chaos around him while a slasher cuts through most of the film crew.
Even for a Troma movie, Terror Firmer is beyond the pale. For two hours, Kaufman destroys the envelope of good taste and replaces it with two hours of near constant graphic language, violence, and sexuality…all in a manner similar to a Bugs Bunny cartoon. Terror Firmer uses shock like a teenager; big scenes of violence and sexuality operate as as a disruptive distortion field akin to a Looney Tunes cartoon. It might be offensive if it weren’t so damned goofy. It might be misanthropic if it didn’t have such love for its characters.
Unfortunately at the time, Blockbuster and Hollywood Video were on their No Adult Movie crusade (that they failed miserably at). Meaning, in order to get a movie on the store shelving, it had to be rated R or under. It couldn’t be NC-17, X, or Unrated due to adult content. The MPAA, already notorious for having a bias against independent features (see: This Movie is Not Yet Rated) forced Lloyd to chop over 20 minutes out of Terror Firmer in order to get an R rating. Instead of merely gutting it, Lloyd gave a middle finger to the MPAA and added in his own Fuck You commentary about censorship…by inserting big Censor boxes over horrific gore, or explaining exactly what was being cut out of the movie. In the scene above, Lloyd the blind director walked into a bathroom with a couple having sex, and started peeing on them; so this was replaced by Lloyd throwing frozen peas on two stick figures having sex.
I still have the VHS copy of the R-Rated edition. I think it may be the only censored product I own. For years, I had been trying to find a streaming copy of it so I could bring it to you guys, and Troma finally put it up this year. I find it such a fascinating artifact, and believe it should be taught in a crash course about filmmaking and compromises.
The Unrated version of Terror Firmer streams on Troma Now ($4.99/mth)
The R-Rated Censored version of Terror Firmer streams for free on YouTube