This is as classy as it gets at Troma: Shakespeare! Of course,
the Bard has to adapt to the territory: Juliet gives Caesarean
birth to a live rat; later, she mutates into a lovely cow; a
priest crushes the head of a Satan worshipping bikie with his
heel; Capulet locks his daughter in a glass box (not a balcony)
in bondage gear. "Body piercing. Kinky sex. Dismemberment.
The things that made Shakespeare great," blurbs the flyer
promoting the film.
Director Lloyd Kaufman and his stars - Jane Jensen, Will
Keenan, Valentine Miele, Steve Gibbons, Sean Gunn, Joe
Fleishaker, Lemmy and Debbie Rochon - worked hand in gory glove
with SFX make up designer Louis Zakarian to bring to life the
deadly scenario that Kaufman and co-writer James Gunn created.
The result, says Elizabeth Snead of USA Today, is "not
just for Troma junkies: Tromeo & Juliet is sexy, silly, sweet
and surreal. Out of the past, totally of the moment and
completely over the top."
New York Post’s Bill Hoffman even raves about the acting,
calling it "spirited".
"The costumes blend
stylised Elizabethan with the tattoed and tattered
underground look of today’s lower Manhattan."
Shakespearean dialogue is mixed with nuevo-Goodfellas
exchanges, often in iambic pentameter.
The film is a commentary on popular youth culture in general
and cinema in particular, contrasting high and low art, comedy
and tragedy, melodrama and black humour, according to US writer
Mark Cummings, writing in FilmTopics. He says Kaufman’s
inspiration is not the banal 1968 Zefirelli version but the
stylised 1934 George Cukor interpretation. Not only is part of
the film score the same, but the costumes blend stylised
Elizabethan with the tattoed and tattered underground look of
today’s lower Manhattan.
Kaufman’s instructions to his actors was simple but strong: "My primary goal with the actors was to keep them
focused on the truth of the emotion without regard to the
unusualness, or even the silliness, of whatever was taking place
This is the underlying reason for Troma’s overall
success; characters reacting to their extraordinary surroundings
as if they were absolutely mundane.
"Some will undoubtedly
see Tromeo & Juliet as a desecration of a great
Cummings closes with a resounding (if a tad garbled)
endorsement of this film: "Some will undoubtedley see Tromeo
& Juliet as a desecration of a great work. But for those of
us able to overcome our prejudices of what cinema or story are
supposed to be, we are presented with a dark comic masterpiece
more akin to Bunual than Hershell Gordon Lewis, closer to Borges
than Stephen King – and lying beneath it all, a glorious
sadness as infinite as its possible interpretations."
The Troma genre is something unique, a mix of the sacred - The
Toxic Avenger III: The Last Temptation of Toxie - and the profane
- Nymphoid Barbarian in Dinosaur Hell. Their catalogue includes
Demented Death Farm Massacre; Fat Guy Goes Nutzoid!!; Redneck
Zombies; Bloodsucking Freaks; Curse of the Cannibal Confederates;
and the off-beat, off-handed comedy, When Nature Calls You've
"Whether they love it
or hate it, they'll never forget it."
As Kaufman says, "Troma films are supposed to be
comedies, but the people going are looking for an adventure in
movie-going. Whether they love it or hate it, they'll never
forget it." The company has a loyal following not only in
the US (The Toxic Avenger sold 300,000 copies on video) but in
the UK and in Europe.
And it is not confined to the shadowy video libraries in back
streets. The British and American film institutes have both
organised Troma retrospectives, as has the San Sebastian Film