Sunday, May 1, 2016

Troma's War (1988)

... aka: Club War
... aka: 1,000 Ways to Die
... aka: War

Directed by:
Michael Herz
"Samuel Weil" (Lloyd Kaufman)

Since the 80s became more and more conservative as the decade progressed, violent action movies featuring flag-waving American meat-heads (usually with military training) going overseas to kick evil foreigner ass became all the rage. An excellent dipstick to gauge where the decade headed was the Rambo series. The initial entry in the franchise, 1982's First Blood, took place in America and dealt with a disrespected, forgotten drifter war vet who's forced into action after being victimized by abusive and corrupt police officers in a small Washington town. This film was clearly made with anti-war commentary in mind, particularly in regards to the neglect and poor treatment of our soldiers after they've served. On the other hand, the later Rambo sequels (released in 1985 and 1988), threw lead character John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) into third world countries and asked audiences to cheer him on as he blew away countless Vietnamese, Afghani and “Commie” bad guys. Audiences also flocked to theaters to see Arnold Schwarzenegger take on pesky Central and South Americans in Commando (1985) and PREDATOR (1987) and Chuck Norris taking on the Vietnamese in three Missing in Action films and Lebanese and South American terrorists in two Delta Force films. And there were plenty more where those came from.

A number of directors offered up a counter balance of sorts to the action heroism of the above films (which some felt not only tastelessly glorified war but also were pushing a right wing blind patriotism agenda during the Reagan Era), including Oliver Stone with Platoon (1985), Stanley Kubrick with Full Metal Jacket (1987) and Brian De Palma with Casualties of War (1989); all of which made war out to be what it truly is: ugly, depressing, often utterly pointless and dehumanizing for all parties involved. Since the 80s saw plenty of shoot-em-up war action movies as well as plenty of serious war dramas, it seemed like the perfect time for a war movie spoof. After all, there was plenty to poke fun at and who better to tackle such delicate subject matter than Troma, the folks behind The Toxic Avenger and Class of Nuke 'em High? Well, actually, I can think of quite of few people who'd have been better suited but considering no one else at the time would even think of making a movie like this, Troma's War is what we get.

A Tromaville Airlines plane crash lands right off the coast of a seemingly-uninhabited island near Cuba. Many are killed, but the survivors gather together on the beach and try to figure out what to do. Though the majority of these people are outright obnoxious to start they strangely become almost likable by the end. The closest thing we have to central figures in this group are the shirtless Taylor (Sean Bowen), who's a smart ass but basically a nice guy, and Lydia (Carolyn Beauchamp), an uptight, tough girl feminist. There's also mysterious British spy / blowgun assassin Marshall (Steven Crossley), racist, sexist, homophobic and violence-loving Vietnam vet Parker (“Michael Ryder” / Rick Wasburn), flamboyant punk singer Sean (Alex Cserhart) and his all-female band “The Bearded Clams” (Aleida Harris, Mary Yorio and Susan Bachli), blind vegetarian Jennifer (Lisa Petruno), Jewish widow Dottie (Jessica Dublin), single mother Kim (Brenda Brock) and her baby (Lisbeth Kaufman), priest Father Brown (Dan Snow), Wall Street broker aka corporate slime Roger Kirkland (Patrick Weathers), fat guy Cooney (Ara Romanoff), feisty Latina Maria (Lorayn Lane Deluca), cancer-stricken, one-armed Hardwick (Charles Kay-Hune), a prissy male flight attendant, a neurotic woman and others. Yes, that's a lot of people to keep track of but at least everyone has their own individual quirks.

Almost immediately, the gang notice some heavily-armed soldiers patrolling the woods but this isn't a military rescue mission looking for them. The island is instead home to a multi-ethnic and multicultural group of terrorists, who've gathered there from all over the world with one goal in mind: to “make American crumble.” They plan on infiltrating the U.S. and causing as much destruction as possible from coast to coast, which includes setting off car bombs, infecting citizens with AIDS and poisoning every major water supply. The group is working hand-in-hand with republican politicians (Ha!) in the U.S. who are helping to fund their little organization and want to freak out the population and destabilize the country in order to line their own pockets, increase their power in Washington and help out their corporate buddies. Gee, sounds like the George W. Bush reelection campaign all over again.

Ludicrously believing the plane crash survivors are actually commandos sent there on a mission to destroy them, the terrorists set out to hunt them down, but our band of heroes prove to be tougher and more resilient than they expected. This leads to lots of lengthy, laughably violent battle scenes that include lots of gunfire and explosions and death by snake, quicksand, neck snapping, gutting and harakiri, a crossbow arrow to the crotch, a tongue ripped out, mutant Siamese twins cut in two, ears cut off and fashioned into a necklace and literally hundreds of extras being shot, stabbed and blown to smithereens over the course of the film. This is exactly what you'd expect from Troma taking on the war genre. It's fast-paced, noisy, crude, gory, zany, filled with violence and T&A, sometimes very funny and clever but at other times painfully stupid and irritating. One thing it's not is boring.


Not all of this works and the film suffers mostly from several incredibly tasteless “gags” that simply aren't funny (like a woman getting raped by an AIDS-infected man covered in puss-oozing soars) and some hideous overacting. Especially awful are the bad guys, including a training camp colonel doing one of the worst Schwarzenegger impressions imaginable and an incredibly annoying, snorting, pig-snouted military base commander. Subtle this ain't.

At 3 million dollars, this remains Troma's highest-budgeted in-house production to date. It was originally called Club War (also the release title in Germany) and played at numerous international film festivals; even winning a critic's award at Fantasporto in 1990. However, it wasn't financially successful as a theatrical feature and had to recoup its budget on home video. The cast also includes Pericles Lewnes (who was in charge on the special effects along with William Jennings) and Troma regulars Rick Collins and Joe Fleishaker.

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