Lloyd Kaufman is a true icon of underground filmmaking. As a co-founder of Troma Entertainment, he's been in influential figure in independent movies for over 30 years, pushing the boundaries of comedy, horror and all-around good taste. Having helmed notorious works like The Toxic Avenger, Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D. and Class of Nuke 'Em High, the Ivy League-educated writer/director/producer has also found time to act in over 100 movies, write several books and even teach college classes on filmmaking -- breeding a whole new generation of irreverence. His latest endeavor is the small-scale epic Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead.
You've embodied a fiercely independent streak in moviemaking for about 40 years now. Was it a conscious effort to veer outside of the mainstream, or did the major studios just want nothing to do with your brand of lunacy?
I actually started out working on pictures like Rocky and Saturday Night Fever. That was what I did instead of going to film school. It was an education, but I had always wanted to make my own movies. The great part of working outside the studio system is that you can do whatever you want, however you want to do it. Would Warner Brothers have given me $50 million to make a movie about zombie chickens? Probably not. But what would the world be without Troma's new film, Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead, a shot-for-shot remake of You've Got Mail. Of course, the downside of working outside the studio system is that you have to work like hell to get your movie out there where people can see it. Do you know how many theater owners I've had to fellate? It boggles the mind.
Do you ever wonder what would happen if a major studio came to you and said, "Here's $50 million. Go make a movie."?
We'd do what any independent movie company would do: we would sell out immediately. Michael Herz and I would go to Miami where all the good Jews go to die. But seriously, we would probably take the $50 million and turn it into 50 or 100 movies. That's how outrageous these big budget films are. $50 million wouldn't even be considered a large budget by the mega-conglomerates. It's chump change to them, but imagine the stories that Troma, or any of the other independent filmmakers out there, could tell with that amount of money!
What do you think about the current state of horror movies today? Are there any filmmakers out there whom you see capturing your wacky independent spirit?
There is a whole generation of filmmakers out there who have been influenced by Troma: people like Peter Jackson, Eli Roth, my former "bottom b**ch" James Gunn [director of Slither], who wrote the Troma classic Tromeo and Juliet, Gaspar Noe, Quentin Tarantino, Takashi Miike, etc. As for the current state of horror, it's bulls**t. You've got the PG-13 Prom Night at the top of the box office. People don't know the real meaning of horror anymore. Real horror is me dealing with my hemorrhoids.
Your movies -- and Troma films in general -- revel in low-brow humor, but you went to Yale. How do you reconcile those two, and how did you even get into the 'biz?
I went to Yale with the noble intent of changing the world. I wanted to be a social worker. I was going to teach people with hooks for hands how to finger paint. Then I was put in a dorm room with two film fanatics, Robert Edelstein and Eric Sherman, who were cochairs of the Yale Film Society. Talk about low-brow. I was classmates with George Bush at Yale, who spent most of his time walking around campus looking for weapons of mass destruction. I'll never forget the day he found one in my pants. But back to low-brow humor.
Your films are campy but also have sly social commentary, and Poultrygeist seems to be no different. What does this film have to say? What was your inspiration?
Poultrygeist was inspired by a number of things. It was kismet really. Troma employee Gabe Friedman had worked at a fast-food restaurant, where incidentally, he earned more money that he did working at Troma, and wanted to make a movie about the industry. Then, a McDonalds moved in next door to our offices in Manhattan, and our basement was suddenly and coincidentally overtaken by giant raccoon-sized rats. Because my employees and interns all flat-out refused to go down there and clean up the mountainous piles of rat s**t, the job was left up to me. And then, to top everything off, I read the book Fast Food Nation, which left me in tears, much like last week's TV Guide. But really, more than anything, I had come up with all of these great chicken puns, and I had to think of some way to use them, so I went to the Troma team and said, "Let's make a chicken movie!" And because I pay some of them, they kind of had to agree.
Is there any correlation between your taking on the fast food industry and your taking on the big studios?
Sure! Both the fast food industry and the big studios are fantastic producers of s**t: rat s**t, human s**t, reality show s**t, Mel Gibson s**t, you name it! They are also both somewhat responsible for our inability to distinguish s**t from s**t. Rats in your basement are bad enough, but then you realize that there are even bigger rats out there, giant rat kings like Sumner Redstone.
Why the musical numbers in Poultrygeist? Is there a rocker inside you yearning to break free? Did you write the music? What sort of genre are we talking about here? Hardcore chick-hop?
Until I discovered film, my love had been Broadway musicals. Dancing girls in skimpy costumes! Live animals on stage! If you watch The Toxic Avenger II, there are several Busby Berkley references. I'm just a married gay man who loves musicals. Gabe Friedman and I wrote the lyrics for Poultrygeist. I think we'll be receiving our Grammy any day now. Or is it a musical Oscar? Whatever the hell award they give out for musicals these days. Do musicals even win awards anymore? I hope we didn't make a mistake with the whole "singing" aspect. F**k. Well, speaking of musicals, The Toxic Avenger Musical opens in New Jersey on September 30, 2008. It's coming from the producers of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and the music was written by Bon Jovi founding member, David Bryan. It's amazing!