Scruffy City Cinema Spotlite: Lloyd Kaufman, and The Toxic Avenger

[Lloyd Kaufman was scheduled to appear at Scruffy City Hall on Aug. 24 for showings of his classics The Toxic Avenger and Class of Nuke ‘Em High. Due to forces beyond our control, he has been forced to postpone that appearance. We are hoping to reschedule both Kaufman’s appearance and the showing of his films to a later date, maybe in September.]

New York native Lloyd Kaufman was a member of the Yale University class of 1968, an auspicious group that included the likes of future U.S. President George W. Bush, and aspiring writer/director Oliver Stone.

But for Kaufman, something went terribly wrong on the road to respectability. Oh, sure, the fledgling filmmaker/actor/entrepreneur did well enough, for a while, accumulating a handful of noteworthy film credits. He did some editing for the original Rocky; served as a location scout for Saturday Night Fever; worked as a production manager to Louis Malle; he even co-wrote a film with Stone.

But most of his early work consisted of cult comedies, sexploitation and grindhouse fare. And in 1974 he founded Troma with business partner Michael Herz, the low-budget film house whose name and freak-nik film output would come to define a genre.

Kaufman will appear at Scruffy City Hall on Aug. 24 for a double-feature showing of two Troma classics, 1984’s The Toxic Avenger, and ‘86’s Class of Nuke ‘Em High. Kaufman will be a judge for the Grindhouse Grind-out filmmaking competition at this year’s Knoxville Horror Film Fest in the fall.

The Toxic Avenger is a superhero film—sort of—a super-hero film produced long before superhero films were cool. It’s also the movie that really put Troma Entertainment on the map.

TTA contains most of the signature elements that came to define Troma films, including a nominal grounding in monster/horror-movie traditions and over-the-top violence, all of it heavily marinated in camp. It’s about Melvin Ferd, the hapless, weakling janitor at a health club in a corrupt New Jersey town who turns into an uber-violent, slime-covered superhero after he falls into a drum of toxic waste.

Class of Nuke ‘Em High is Kaufman’s follow-up to TTA. Nearly the equal of its predecessor in terms of both camp quotient and cult status, it’s a twisted teen love story set at a high school next door to a nuclear plant. It’s also cautionary tale, a warning against the hazards of smoking radioactive pot.

Troma experienced some financial hardships in the late ‘90s, a crisis that led to downsizing and a diminished output. But it’s still around, producing and acquiring the rights to films most other studios wouldn’t touch. Several of its best-known film properties are in discussion for big-studio remakes, including TTA. There have even been Toxic Avenger novels, comic books, and an award-winning TTA off-Broadway musical. Come out and meet Kaufman, and see the slimy superman who put Troma on the map, on the high-def big screen at Scruffy City Hall.

Lloyd Kaufman will appear in person–soon?–for screenings of The Toxic Avenger and Class of Nuke ‘Em High. Showings are 6 p.m. at Scruffy City Hall.

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