Chainsaw Cheerleader Reviews: Tromeo & Juliet (1996)
Directed by: Lloyd Kaufman
Written by: Lloyd Kaufman, James Gunn
Narrated by: Lemmy
Cast: Jane Jensen, Will Keenan, Valentine Miele, Debbie Rochon, Tiffany Shepis, Stephen Blackehart, Patrick Connor, Steve Gibbons, Sean Gunn, Joe Fleishaker, William Beckwith, Earl McKoy
Genre: comedy, satire, drama, cult classic
Juliet Capulet: Parting is such sweet sorrow.
Tromeo Que: Yeah, it totally sucks.
Troma Entertainment is a low-budget independent film production and distribution company, which is known for their shock exploitation films that often encompass graphic violence, extreme gore, gratuitous nudity, and sexuality. Formed in 1974 by Lloyd Kaufman (The Toxic Avenger) and Michael Herz, Troma films specialize in B-movies that are surrealistic in nature and often contain social commentary that is a play on 1950s horror, often done so in a mocking manner. In 1996, Troma Entertainment went on to continue their legacy of magnificent trash with release of the studio’s most popular in-house production, Tromeo & Juliet.
Tromeo & Juliet is a mordern punk adaptation of William Shakespeare’s most famous work, Romeo and Juliet. While a rather faithful adaptation, Tromeo & Juliet follows the basic storyline and keeps the character partly true to the original source material. The dialogue of the film often draws from the literary legend himself but served with a twist. It is certain that Shakespeare never used the word cunt or cocksucker in any of his plays but if he had, it is apparent that many students forced to read his work would have paid more attention in high school English class. Tromeo & Juliet is the mutant child of Romeo and Juliet but only with the addition of tremendous amounts of violence and sexuality. Though the ending has been revised and the film is sprinkled with liberal interpretations of events, such as lesbian sex scenes and a continuous theme of incest.
The film, Tromeo & Juliet focuses on the ongoing feud between two warring families (the Ques and the Capulets) and the tale of two star-crossed lovers. The feud began after Cappy Capulet (William Beckwith) stole from his dear friend, Monty Que (Earl McKoy). Taking his adult entertainment company and his wife, Cappy forced Monty into a life of poverty and alcoholism. Left to care for his only son, Monty raised Tromeo (Will Keenan) to hate the Capulets. Twenty years after the falling out and taking place in modern-day Manhattan, the hatred between the families still boils. This hatred only deepens when Tromeo meets Cappy’s daughter, Juliet (Jane Jensen) at a consume party. It is love at first sight when the two meet but their love is met with violence as old hatred dies hard. With the help of his cousin Benny (Stephen Blackehart) and friend Murray (Valentine Miele), Tromeo is able to fight for his Juliet, while her abusive father and the man she is arranged to marry stand in his way.
For Troma Entertainment, Tromeo & Juliet was the answer to the bombardment of contemporary adaptations of the plays of Shakespeare that came about in the 1990’s. Films such as Romeo + Juliet by Baz Luhrmann, My Own Private Idaho (a retelling of Henry IV), and Ten Things I Hate About You (a retelling of The Taming of the Shrew) were seen as fresh and new with cast members that were often the latest teen-idols. As these films began winning accolades, Kaufman teamed up with James Gunn (of Slither and Dawn of the Dead fame) to construct a script for modern day film extremists. This union penned and produced a film true to Troma standards of entertainment. These principles employ the “kitchen sink” approach. Kaufman often assembles his films with a message that is carried throughout the movie with a loud and in your face tactic that frequently uses violence for laughs but inserts a few brief moments of serious banter. Troma Entertainment has never been known for trying to push a message subtly and Tromeo & Juliet is no exception. As no topic is off-limits when used as a plot device, Tromeo & Juliet show cases an eyeball being plucked out, a squirrel hung from a noose, an extreme close-up of an actual nipple-piercing, bondage between father and daughter, a three foot penis, a monster penis, cunnilingus, two men kissing, incest between siblings, self mutilation, lesbian sex, and a Catholic priest frolicking with a young boy (all of which is narrated by Lemmy of Motörhead). While these actions and knowing that this is a B-movie, may present the idea that the film is poorly shot and poorly acted, the viewer will be surprised to learn that Tromeo & Juliet is rather polished when compared to Kaufman’s earlier work and that the acting is quite good for a film of this caliber. Aside from Troma Entertainments latest release, Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead, Tromeo & Juliet is one of Kaufman’s better acted films.
Tromeo & Juliet stars Troma Entertainment scream queens, Tiffany Shepis (plays Peter, the Capulet Servent) and Debbie Rochon (plays Ness, the Capulet nurse and Juliet’s lesbian lover). The duo excel at their typically over-the-top sexual performances. Another Troma favorite is Joe Fleishaker. Known for his large size and his large appetite, Fleishaker has become a staple of Troma films.
Will Keenan (Tromeo) and Jane Jensen (Juliet) share a compatible chemistry as the main characters. Despite the fact that a Troma film will never win an Oscar, the pair look more natural and comfortable reciting Shakespeare than Leonardo DiCaprio did in 1996’s Romeo + Juliet. One great example of this occurs when Juliet seeks the help of a Rastafarian priest to halt her arranged marriage with a meat tycoon named London Arbuckle (Steve Gibbons). After ingesting a potion given to her by the priest, Juliet transforms into a half-human/half-cow hermaphrodite monster with a three foot penis. Upon seeing the beast that is to be his bride, Arbuckle crashes through the window of Juliet’s bedroom, committing suicide out of seer fright. It is obvious that Shakespeare never intended such a scene for any of his works but the language he used is still applied to even the most outrageous of scenes in Tromeo & Juliet. While Jensen seems perfectly natural while reciting Shakespeare, even while having a three foot penis dangling between her legs, one must wonder why for an actor of DiCaprio’s stature it seemed as if every word he spoke was daunting. Yes, DiCaprio was twenty-two at the time he starred in Romeo + Juliet but with films such as This Boy’s Life, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, and The Basketball Diaries shot before the release of this film he had already proven to be an actor that was far wiser then his years.
Each cast member of Tromeo & Juliet acts well beyond the stereotypical abilities of a B-movie. The one cast member that shines above all is William Beckwith, who plays Cappy Capulet. Beckwith’s portrayal of Juliet’s abusive father has fashioned one of the more disturbing father roles in film that is more akin to Ed Wilson in Natural Born Killers than Jacob Fuller in From Dusk till Dawn. It is not the physical violence toward his daughter that is most disturbing but his incestuous behavior. The best example of this occurs when Juliet awakes from a nightmare screaming to be greeted with her father laying beside her in her bed. While holding her curling iron, Capulet laments that about his daughters libido and states that she used the curling iron to masturbate. Grabbing her, Capulet then drags his daughter into a dark room, dresses her in pink bondage, and cages her in a Plexiglas box. At no point is Capulet actually seen touching his daughter in a sexual manner and Juliet proclaims that she has not known the pleasures of a man but during the bondage scenes he is seen sweating profusely which leads one to believe that he may be masturbating as the viewer is presented with no other reason for him to be sweating. While Capulet’s behavior is disturbing, the viewer must remember that like every Shakespearian play, the villain always meets a justifiable end.
A staple of any play penned by Shakespeare is filled with not only internal conflict but physical conflict as well. Tromeo & Juliet has a number of well choreographed fight scenes that are used as a vehicle for gore and laughs. With each new fight the level of the intensity of the violence deepens and helps to move the story toward its climax. One such fight that best displays this acceleration in violence occurs after Juliet’s cousin Tyrone (Patrick Conner) learns that she is involved with his mortal enemy, Tromeo. After finding Tromeo at his cousin’s tattoo parlor, Tyrone tries to force Tromeo to fight him. Tromeo refuses but his challenge is agreed to by his friend Murray. As the two fight others in the shop soon join in. Murray soon finds himself out matched after accidently stabbing a tattoo gun into the wrong man’s eye. Tyrone bashes a club into Murray’s skull and upon his death takes flight. Enraged by his friend’s death, Tromeo chases after Tyrone. As the two fight a ladder hanging out of a car window slams into his chest. The force of the connection causes Tromeo to rip off Tyrone’s arm as the car drives away with him attached to the ladder. It is through a series of car crashes that Tyrone is finally dismembered.
Tromeo & Juliet, as well as all Troma Entertainment films, are pure enjoyment for a select portion of the movie going audience. It is not that, Kaufman tries to appeal to a certain group, it is the fact that art is subjective While some may find Tromeo & Juliet revolting, there are those who would disagree and proclaim that a love story without violence is truly the film that is disgusting. In all its B-movie greatness, Tromeo & Juliet is the one Shakespearian film that will never bore its audience.
Tromeo & Juliet receives an 8 out of 10