Troma’s War (1988)

If you knew nothing of this movie (as I did), you’d think that this movie was meant to be a genuine action thriller that was repurposed into a comedy.

Also known as 1,000 Ways to Die, the plot revolves around a group of plane crash survivors that get caught up in an armed conflict on an island. Various characters include a deranged Vietnam vet, a blind woman, a saucy Latina, a (probable) British secret agent, an asshole Wall Street broker, etc. Apparently this was Lloyd Kaufman’s response to the glorification of war and violence during the Reagan era.

I’ll admit, the opening few minutes are quite funny. Through the credits, we hear a voiceover from the pilot calmly and casually inform the passengers that the plane’s about crash and the opening scene depicts a woman losing her shit as she watches people flail around while on fire. It sounds horrible, but it accurately sets the tone for the rest of the film. We watch as the survivors slowly evolve into full fledged commandos as they fight a hodgepodge syndicate of terrorists and communists that occupy the island.

There are a few lines here and there (“I don’t know if the guy’s psycho, or just crazy”) that might crack you up. But there are also a few moments, like an interaction with a villain where a priest’s tongue gets ripped out, that feel a little too real. Of course, that was the filmmaker’s goal. However, the satirical points never quite mesh and honestly it mostly feels like an awkward mess. When compared to other self-aware 80s parodies like Toxic Avenger and Class of Nuke Em High, Troma’s War falls short in my view.

That being said, I’ve been waiting a long time to see something like this. Whenever I watched Apocalypse Now as a teenager, I’d always laugh at the thought of replacing Wager’s Ride of the Valkyries during the helicopter attack with a bangin 80s soundtrack, complete with synthesizers and electric guitars. Suddenly the complexion of the movie would change. So thank you Lloyd Kaufman, I guess, for thinking the same things I did.

Black roses (1988)

When a movie informs you that it’s a Shapiro-Glickenhaus production, you’re in for a ride. And Black Roses did not disappoint.

I’ve always been intrigued by the psychological/political dimensions of the 80s. Poltergeist kind of touches on this in the most subtle way, how family dynamics were altered during this decade. Black Roses picked up on this concept and ran with it.

The film shines a spotlight on the contradictions within Reagan-era politics: parents being appalled yet titillated by youth culture (and a complete lack of awareness that these tensions exist). The story of Black Roses centers on some “heavy metal” band coming to small town USA and corrupting its youth. The youth become demon-possessed and start killing their parents. Only a mustached English teacher stands in their way.

Of course, the band is entirely blamed for the “corruption”. Despite the shitty parenting throughout, the adults never once ask themselves: “are we to blame?”. But I guess parenting styles in the 1980s didn’t include things like paying attention to your children. Additionally, because parents were unable to take responsibility for themselves, we now have “culture wars”…which stem back to this decade…on which adults can use as a scapegoat for why they have shitty children.

Now I’m probably giving the filmmakers WAY to much credit for this analysis. They probably just wanted to show rock n’ roll and boobs with a few demons thrown in for good measure. But all good art is a reflection on the time it was produced. And Black Roses certainly pulls back the curtain on Reagan’s America.