Tuesday, October 23, 2007

TAD 2007: "Poultrygeist: Night Of The Chicken Dead" Review

(USA, 2007, 103 minutes)
Written by Daniel Bova, Gabriel Friedman, Lloyd Kaufman
Directed by Lloyd Kaufman
Cast: Jason Yachanin, Kate Graham, Allyoson Sereboff, Robin Watkins, Joshua Olatunde, Lloyd Kaufman

Founded by Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz in 1974 in NYC, Troma Team Productions became notorious for its rough-hewn sleazefests like The First Turn-On and Squeeze Play and since then, the spawn of Hell’s Kitchen has spread (like a fungus, as the old joke goes) from a distribution company into a production studio, home video label, web portal, and annual film festival (Tromadance—what else?). Amazingly, Troma (the name means nothing, btw) brushed briefly with the G-rated set when its figurehead The Toxic Avenger (or “Toxie”, to friends) was spun off into a children's television series (The Toxic Crusaders) and a line of action figures. But as the exploitation market shrinks, Troma has managed to outlast the New Worlds and the Avco-Embassys and endure as the vulgarian Mecca for those who subscribe to Picasso’s adage that “good taste" is the enemy of creativity…

But as a willing customer for such titles as Fat Guy Goes Nutzoid and Stuff Stephanie In The Incinerator, I can tell you that while few card-carrying devotees of the B-circuit might admit it, the idea of Troma is often a lot better than the films they produce and/or distribute. So I’m pleased to report that for the most part--with mucho caveats mind you—Troma’s latest scurrilous pageant—the musical horror farce Poultrygeist: Night Of the Chicken Dead--is a (literal) gas and worth checking out if you've got the fortitude for this sort of thing.

Hopeless nerd Arby (Yachanin) and his white bread wannabe-girlfriend Wendy (Graham) celebrate their last night of high school together dry-humping in the Tromaville cemetery, coincidentally right on top of where the ancient Tromahawk Tribe have been buried. They’re interrupted by a masturbating serial panty sniffer (oh, you cry, not that plot again!), who inadvertently helps resurrect one of the centuries’ old corpses, whose disembodied finger makes Arbie’s passage to manhood all the more memorable by lodging itself in his rectum.
Assuming you’re still with the film, and this review, we cut to a year later. Arby, stuck in Tromaville to take care of his mentally-retarded father and blind mother (both never seen), returns to find the graveyard has been paved over to host a franchise of the Southern-based “American Chicken Bunker” fast food chain. An array of leftist protestors has blocked entrance to the restaurant, and Arby is surprised to find that his true love Wendy has joined up with CLAM (College Lesbians Against Mega-Conglomerations). To spite the dogma of Wendy and her girlfriend Mickey D (Sereboff), Arby accepts a job with the restaurant as a “counter girl”. His manager is the militant Denny (Olatunde), and his dubiously-qualified coworkers include the effete Paco Bell, hillbilly hick/bestiality enthusiast Carl Jr., and radical Muslim Humus, who wears a birka with her ACB uniform.

On the first day of business, a crazed man barges into the restaurant (porn icon Ron Jeremy—no Kevin McCarthy) to warn everyone in the restaurant that the spirits of the Tromahawk tribe will enact vengeance for disturbing their sacred burial ground. The franchise’s greedy owner, General Lee (Watkins—having seemingly studied under Foghorn Leghorn), has arrived from his latest cross-burning to MC the Grand Opening and laughs off any suggestion of disaster. Even after--for reasons never 100% fully explained--a suspicious but otherwise unnoticed batch of noxious green eggs show up, which become an added ingredient of the chain’s daily menu and are immediately inhaled by the loutish patrons.

The first, a morbidly-obese glutton (Troma regular Joe Fleishaker, who appears to have doubled in size since his turn as the Mayor in the years since The Toxic Avenger and has somehow managed to stay alive), gives birth to the first of the film’s many forms of rampaging man-fowl in the men’s room. It’s a scene that starts off disgusting and manages to outdo itself with such outrageous excess than even the most jaded devotee of bathroom humour will feel bludgeoned by its conclusion (you’ll thank Kaufman’s wife for insisting on the usage of those rapidly multiplying “censored” banners—I won’t say any more).
Assuming, again, that you’re still with me—Arby encounters “Old Arby” (Kaufman), an almost spectral backroom dweller who warns the youth to ditch this career and aspire to more in life, or he’ll be stuck behind the counter forever. But as the spirits manifest themselves in increasingly monstrous (and ridiculous) forms, it’ll be a long time before Arby and co. get out of the restaurant at all.

It's forever the Reagan Era in Tromaville, evident by the grainy film stock (which does nothing to beautify the Buffalo, New York locations), rinky-dink synth score that sounds like it's performed on a Casio keyboard, visible edits, dodgy ADR, and geysers of blood, bile, and purple slime. But the sensibility is definitely current, and the satire targets 21st century hot buttons as the Morgan Spurlock and Eric Schlosser indictments of the fast-food industries (the characters are named after fast food chains), post-9/11 hysteria, increased societal splintering and political/sexual/ethnic “tribalism”, and even the Abu Ghraib scandal. The Photoshop’d stills of a hooded chicken being marched on a dog leash are probably the funniest thing I’ll see on film this year (I asked Kaufman if the Lindy England photos were public domain, to which he shrugged and remarked: “I sure hope so!” Could Poultrygeist get Redacted…?).

It might be too much to say that Poultrygeist is one of American cinema’s most merciless deconstructions of political correctness since (Kaufman’s protégés) Parker and Stone’s Team America: World Police (which was, if nothing else, a Troma production with better film stock and a longer production schedule), but then again, everything about Troma films is too damned much—there’s a talking burrito, ass ripping, castrations, and as the title promises, hordes of rampant, carnivorous chicken mutants, one of whom, yes, does bite the head off a human (if Troma could afford Ron Jeremy for a cameo, couldn’t they have splurged a little more for Ozzie Osbourne?).

For all of the precious fluids spurted across our glazed corneas though, Kaufman shows himself to be an old-school vaudevillian throughout--who else in this day and age would put a "This Space For Rent" sign amidst a crowd of protestors like something out of a Harvey Kurtzman MAD Magazine panel? Zip and boing sound effects abound.

Billed as a musical, there aren’t really a lot of songs, and only a few are memorable, my favorites being Kaufman’s Riverdance-influenced “Longing To Live/Waiting To Die”, and the sorority-set “Slow Fast Food Love”, a shamelessly sexploitive riff on the Grease duet “Summer Nights” (you can listen to some of the soundtrack here at Troma's MySpace page). By the time the splatter goes into overdrive for the extended climax (outdoing—and outgrueing—the marathon spectacles of dismemberment from Peter Jackson’s Brain Dead and Robert Rodriguez’ From Dusk Til Dawn), the tunes are dropped entirely. Kaufman explained that he intended “Poultrygeist” as something more akin to Takashi Miike's Happiness Of Katakuris (Lloyd’’s knowledge of film, from Hitchcock to Stan Brakhage, is impressive).

Post-screening, after a truly pathetic audience response to a karaoke round of the Poultrygeist title song, Kaufman bounded back onto the stage, joined by the ever-present scantily clad Goth chick, a Michael Berryman lookalike (one assumes he was part of the entourage and didn’t wander in from the nearest Annex methadone clinic), and the worst "Toxie" yet seen in public (couldn't he afford a latex slip mask that fit? And where was the tutu?) for a very candid Q&A.

The shocker came when Kaufman (a Yale grad) announced that this could well be his last film. Poultrygeist was the first Troma production totally funded by Kaufman and his wife out of their own pockets, using their home as collateral. The current state of film exhibition makes it hard for even an established name brand like Troma to make money (I had long assumed Troma’s cash cow was home video). Kaufman and Herz have long been supporter of independent film, distributing titles from around the world (often with minimal re-cutting—are you listening Harvey Weinstein?) and Kaufman regularly appears in the efforts of first-timers (for free) to lend a “name” and possibly ensure them a professional deal. So Kaufman can be forgiven for shilling on the sidewalk hours before the screening, shilling in the lobby selling DVDs and soundtrack CDs, shilling on stage, and still shilling at the neighboring pub afterwards. He’s definitely the genuine article who takes his philosophy and trade literally to the streets.

Poultrygeist won’t open in New York until March of 2008, with some regional releases planned. Until then, you’ve got time to beg, plead, and threaten your local movie houses into booking it—more than ever it seems, the future of anarchic, truly independent cinema depends on your voice...

BTW, Lloyd told me to mention Toxic Avenger: The Novel, which you can order here at Amazon.

©2007 Robert J. Lewis