In 1996 Baz Luhrman and his leading man Leonardo DiCaprio shot to mainstream international recognition with the release of a new retelling of William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet. A couple of months later, keeping with the long-held tradition of exploitation cinema, Troma Films released their, rather more unique, version of the story, Tromeo & Juliet.
From the off we are in fairly familiar Troma territory, albeit with what looks like a far higher budget than most of their output, as Motorhead’s Lemmy welcomes us to “Fair Manhattan, where we lay our scene” and introduces the principal players (then the less principled ones… that’s the level of humour we’re dealing with, for the most part).
Then we head to Lloyd Kaufman’s vision of a punk club where we meet various members of the Capulet family and a piercing and tattoo parlour where we meet various of the Ques (this film’s version of the Montague family) including Tromeo.
From there the film takes on a very loose version of the origin story, albeit with extra gore, body modification, sex, bondage, penis monsters and drugs that induce transformation into a cow-human hybrid… as anyone who’s knows Troma’s work will recognise its almost pointless trying to explain how most of that fits into the story.
As you’d expect Kaufman’s direction is at best bad and at worst atrocious, especially when a slightly clever attempt at montage is attempted and things become momentarily impossible to follow (this happens a few times, particularly when we go into a dream sequence).
Probably the best attempt at ‘clever’ editing comes when we are introduced to our two leads romantic situations as we cut from Juliet and her nurse/housekeeper, Ness, in bed and Tromeo watching a porn CD-ROM (it’s definitely the 90s, folks!) – again this pretty much tells you everything you need to know about the movie.
What makes this film stand head and shoulders above most other Troma movies I’ve seen, such as their legendary Toxic Avenger series and the likes of Class of Nuke Em High, Surf Nazis Must Die and Sgt. Kabukiman NYPD, are the contributions to the script from James Gunn. Gunn would go on to write the Dawn of the Dead remake and write and direct Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy and hints at his slightly off beat, irreverent style poke through here.
A highlight of this is the intertwining of the original text with a more Troma sensibility which range from the obvious (a blind drunk Monty Que asking the whereabouts of his son) to the, comparatively, clever.
For example, to Juliet’s “Parting is such sweet sorrow” Tromeo retorts, “Yeah, it totally sucks”, this ‘couplet’ somewhat sums up all you need to know about the movie’s ‘bard-sploitation’ ambitions as it clashes the text with the basest of things in its own style.
As the film climaxes with a twist on the original tale (though West Side Story this isn’t) I couldn’t help but be entertained by what is not just on paper, but for the most part on film, a fairly awful movie but what seem to be Gunn’s contributions helping elevate it, slightly, above the rest of Kaufman and Troma’s oeuvre.
This review is based of the 16:9 version of the film included on the 2015 88 Films edition of the movie that gives a very good visual transfer with generally very good audio, this trailer isn’t…