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Toxic Babes and Slime Monsters Live on at Troma Studios

We took a tour of the infamous B-rated horror production company, Troma Studios, run by Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz.

by Abby Ronner
Jun 1 2015, 10:00pm

Photos by Bobby Viteri

The video below contains adult content.

In a warehouse in Long Island City, adult film actress Ophelia Rain lathers up under cool water when suddenly green slime bursts forth from a cardboard pipe above. The scene plays out at Troma Studios, the B-rated horror production company run by Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz, responsible for cult classics such as The Toxic Avenger, Tromeo and Juliet, Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D., and most recently Return to Nuke ‘Em High Volume 1. The green slime is part of a second team shoot for the upcoming Return to Nuke ‘Em High, Volume 2.

The inner sanctum of Troma Studios is in disarray, as one might expect of a studio that is best known for its low-budget titles, with a staff of less than 10, largely supported by volunteers. Walls lined with old Troma movie posters are the only decor that seem remotely intentional. The many filling cabinets throughout the office hold everything from silicone monster masks, severed limbs, and creepy baby dolls to misplaced tridents and Kaufman’s award collection. His desk is strewn with props like these from his last 40 years in the business, a horror hoarder’s dream come true. While in classic juxtaposition, Herz’s desk sits opposite, mired in files and stacks of paper.

Troma was founded in 1974 by Kaufman and Herz who attended Yale University together and bonded over Kaufman’s black and white television, the only one in their dorm. Though Herz originally co-directed Troma’s films with Kaufman, he now runs the business end of the venture. Kaufman says, “Michael and I believe in making movies about ideas we love and trying to find one-of-a-kind people…. James Gunn, when I got his resume, I saw that he was getting an MA at Columbia University, but he also had something about being a performance artist who vomited on stage and I said, ‘That’s my Hitler!’” Kaufman exclaimed, repurposing a Mel Brooks line from The Producers.

The Troma team is keen on dropping names of celebrities who got their start at the lesser-known studio, tossing them back and forth like grade-school brags. Kevin Costner acted in Sizzle Beach USA; while Bill Nunn, Kadim Hardison, and Samuel L. Jackson starred in Def by Temptation; and Paul Walker and Fergie were child actors in Monster in the Closet.

The studio atmosphere is subdued with a collective concentration—a familial coterie of young film buffs dedicated to the singular cause of continuing the Troma legacy. It’s quirky traits of this nature that establish the friendly vibe in the studio, one that can exist only among a group of people with a very specific passion for a B-movie vortex of slime, slugs with razor-sharp teeth, fog machines, and Super Nintendo.

The team dynamic is somewhat akin to the basic tenets of grassroots community organizing. You give each person a stake in the game, their own slice of agency, thus engendering an atmosphere of shared determination and dedication. It would be easy to assume that Kaufman is aware of the psychology behind this method, wooing unpaid volunteers with a credit here, a cameo there, but he runs his studio with sincerity. Kaufman is truly everyone’s friend. A jovial weirdo with a penchant for the outsider, he believes in each person on his team, no matter their age or skill level—as long as they pledge allegiance to the Troma Team.

Ophelia Rain, the star of the slime shoot was an early Troma fan. In high school, she discovered Tromeo and Juliet and Terror Firmer. She brought them to school to show her friends and ended up grounded as a result. To this day she remains a die-hard Troma fan.  She joined the Troma Team thanks to her unyielding pursuit of Kaufman through monthly emails soliciting open parts. “I’m exactly where I want to be in my film career,” she said as she cleaned the slime off post-shoot. “I wanted to be a ‘Burning Angel’ and I wanted to be a part of Troma Entertainment, and I did it!”

Ever the underdog, Kaufman takes in all types of people with a passion for film. He tirelessly admonishes the hold that the mainstream film industry has on the direction of contemporary cinema. “Unless one is a partner with one of the vassals of the devil-worshipping international media conglomerates, it’s hopeless,” he says. Ophelia’s blood-curdling screams can be heard in the distance. He then goes on to lament the disparity between the financial success of the mainstream and their independent subsidiaries. He says, “It’s like a greased strippers pole. There’s no way to climb up.”

In-house Troma films are by definition low budget.  In a world where almost $1 million is the going rate for indie film production, Kaufman is generating films for half of that. His cult following plays a large role in Troma’s continuity. In recent years, Kaufman discovered crowdsourcing campaigns. “With Kickstarter you find out right away if people want it, which they did. Our fans put up half the budget for [Return to Nuke’Em High, Volume 1],” he says, noting that only half of the movie got filmed.

Kaufman reminisces about a shoot at French Woods, a summer camp in upstate New York that Kaufman and Herz took over for a few days back in the early 1980’s to film The First Turn-On!!,Vincent D’Onofrio’s first film. He laughs as he remembers the first morning of the shoot, just before dawn. He and Michael Herz were setting up for that day’s scene on the shore of the lake when a skunk appeared in the distance.  He says, “We were a couple of city boys. We didn’t know anything about wildlife. We were terrified.” As the skunk got closer, Kaufman took off running with Herz trailing behind him.  The co-founders of arguably the most prolific B-horror film production company run as fast as they can from a skunk in the middle of a children’s summer camp at sunrise.  It’s as tame as it gets until in just a few hours, D’Onofrio will utter the infamous line, “Stop joking and start stroking.”

Below, Tromaville superstar Dylan Greenberg and The Tromaville All Stars Band perform their rendition of "We Are the World":

Click here to help make Return to Nuke 'Em High: Volume 2, and for all things Troma, click here.

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