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By Capt. James Van Thach told to Jonathan Wei
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This could be the most important day of Zac Amico's life. Or it could be nothing, just an awkward memory of the time the self-described "fat guy from New Jersey" got the chance to fulfill his junior high dreams and failed ingloriously—naked, writhing on the floor, green vomit dripping down his neck beard in front of eight strangers and his personal hero. At least that's how, in the weeks leading up to this moment, the 24-year-old qualified today's stakes online. "This is what I've wanted desperately since I was 13 years old," he wrote. "No pressure."
So here the NYU graduate is on a late Wednesday afternoon in June. Shirtless in a Long Island City office, under the kind of bright interior lights that effectively turn stretch marks into tiger stripes, and stripped down to black elastic-waist boxers, white socks, and Chuck Taylors. "Fuck it," he announces to the room. "Now or never." Amico pulls down his shorts, steps out of his underwear, and stands up naked. "Troma, right?"
Indeed it is. Troma Entertainment, the '70s-born New York City splatter-comedy factory that touts itself as the world's oldest independent movie studio. The shoestring production company and distribution channel that is responsible for arguably "the most offensive, tasteless films in the history of cinema," works of "questionable artistic and moral value" (their words), including delicate titles such as Redneck Zombies, Rabid Grannies, and Surf Nazis Must Die! Creators of The Toxic Avenger, a pervasive cult classic that spawned a four-part franchise, a Saturday-morning cartoon, an Off-Broadway musical, and a reportedly $10 million Hollywood remake that's in development. The aggressively transgressive moviemaking mill directly responsible for the kind of gag-inducing footage that, in 2011, when a California man bought a dollar-store DVD cleaning disc that turned out to be the company's most recent film, Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead, he was so horrified that he wanted to hire a lawyer, he told the local news, "to make sure this doesn't happen to other people."
The human face of this lowbrow legacy is Troma president and co-founder Lloyd Kaufman, a 66-year-old Z-list movie director who is, depending on whom you ask, either the third arm of trash celluloid's Holy Trinity, along with Russ Meyer and John Waters, or the most persistently talentless and graphically sophomoric hack ever to exist outside a parent's basement. Regardless, Quentin Tarantino, Sam Raimi, and Peter Jackson have noted his personal influence. Troma effectively discovered Trey Parker and Matt Stone by offering to distribute their Cannibal! The Musical. And for "almost 40 years of failed filmmaking" (no one's really sure when Troma started, even though the company says 1974) Kaufman, his signature bow tie, and his lifelong professional partner, the media-shy Michael Herz, have cobbled together more than 20 of their own works (the "real Troma movies," according to many slavish fans) on legendarily tiny budgets and left behind a long, well-documented trail of extremely fake-looking shit, piss, vomit, and blood.
"Troma is the herpes of the movie industry," is how Kaufman puts it. "We just won't go away."
Troma is back again this summer, shooting Kaufman's first feature film in six years, a Starz-supported remake of the studio's cult teen-drama send-up Class of Nuke 'Em High. But the moment, Kaufman is pointing at Amico's manhood. "That's a new thing?" he asks, stifling a laugh and scratching his head. "The, the, the ring. On the penis. We haven't had that on camera." People crack up. "It's a Prince Albert," someone says. "Monaco Prince Albert? Or the other one?" Kaufman asks, genuinely preoccupied with knowing whether Grace Kelly's son or Queen Victoria's husband has inspired this accessory. "The other one," someone whispers, trying to get him to move on. "Oh, wow," Kaufman says, raising his eyebrows. "Very good."
Meanwhile, Amico, whose auditioning for a part in the Nuke 'Em reboot, has started to convulse. His arms, extended like penguin flippers, are shaking. His mouth is foaming. He begins to scream violently, high-pitched and brutal, gagging like a strangulation victim as a stream of sea-green fluid runs down his stomach. His knees give out, and he collapses to the floor, where he spastically jiggles and gurgles like a clogged toilet. His nude body twitches for a minute, then falls still.
Silence. "You did a good job," Kaufman tells the fake-dead kid. "There wasn't enough foam, though. Can we do another one?"
Stanley Lloyd Kaufman Jr. was born on December 30, 1945, to Ruth Lisbeth née Fried and army-lieutenant-turned-lawyer Stanley Lloyd Kaufman Sr. His parents split after 25 years; his father's second wife was 30 years younger. "My father told me he couldn't believe that he actually had sex with my mother. But they had to have done it at least three times," Lloyd teases now. The other two: Lloyd's sister, Susan, who would become a production designer for projects like David Mamet's 1991 Homicide, and brother, Charles, who would eventually direct three Troma movies, including the 1980 horror-thriller Mother's Day, remade by Brett Ratner in 2010. (Today, Charles owns the San Diego bakery Bread & Cie and uses the challah recipe of their paternal grandmother, Millie, an organic-food-buying socialist who lived on the Upper West Side, wore tennis shoes, and cursed a lot.)
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