Fantasia 2020: #Shakespearesshitstorm

  • Director: Lloyd Kaufman
  • Writers: Brandon Bassham, Lloyd Kaufman, William Shakespeare
  • Stars: Lloyd Kaufman, Erin Patrick Miller, Abraham Sparrow, Kate McGarrigle, Amanda Flowers

Review

“This shitstorm’s got me wet!”

This isn’t simply a lyric from probably the best song in Troma’s #SHAKESPEARESSHITSTORMit’s a damn battle cry! Put this on a t-shirt, and I’d wear it with pride.

Lloyd Kaufman’s latest feature film (his last?) is less a battle cry, though, and more a victory cry. But, the spirit remains the same because, perhaps more than any other film of his in Troma’s legendary filmography, #SHAKESPEARESSHITSTORM is a testament to true independent cinema and independent thought, and that is really saying something since independence is the genetic makeup that composes the studio that has been gleefully disrupting media for 45 years. And, what a celebration it is.

#SHAKESPEARESSHITSTORM is an adaptation of the Tempest, the Bard’s final solo drama (and what I humbly consider Shakespeare’s masterpiece). Like Troma’s previous Shakespearian production, the cult classic Tromeo and Juliet, the action of the play is transported to a world that is certainly more modern and urban but just as strange as the brave new world of the Tempest: New Jersey. Specifically Tromaville, New Jersey, the landmark location used in countless Troma classics.

Lloyd Kaufman takes center stage as Prospero, a mad scientist who landed in Tromaville in the 1980s after have being both betrayed by his evil partners in the evil pharmasutical industry, Big Al (Abraham Sparrow) and his sister Antoinette Duke (also played by Kaufman, only in very bad drag), and disgraced in the media by people who were offended by his irreverence.

He has spent the last three decades plotting his revenge, scheming with “crack whores” and creating provactive mutant horrors with names like “Armadildo” and “Dicke” a cock with a…well…you know…on its chest. He takes breaks in his work to get plenty of maniacal laughter in, but never to help his blind daughter Miranda (Kate McGarrigle) see again.

The film opens with the first phase of Prospero’s plan. Big Al and Antoinette host a party on a yacht celebrating the launch of their new drug Safespacia, a miracle medication that keeps users safe from opinions different from their own, offensive jokes, and feeling uncomfortable. As the Big Pharma executives, politicians, mercenaries, warlords, and other people who like having dirty money in their pockets all revel in their corruption and debauchry, whales that have been given copious amounts of exlax attack the yacht, spraying party goes with their shit, creating a literal shitstorm.

The soiled party crash lands on the undesirable shores of Tromaville, New Jersey and are taken to a strip club they don’t realize is owned by Prospero. Or perhaps they don’t care as the party continues with plenty of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Especially one drug: Prospero’s new high called Tempest that these nasty elites ingest like candy.

The mad scientist’s revenge quickly takes shape, romance blooms between two star crossed lovers, an army of hypocritcal social justice warriors comes together for a showdown with Prospero, and madness ensues that could only be found in a Troma film from the genius of Lloyd Kaufman.

#SHAKESPEARESSHITSTORM is a masterpiece. It is irreverent, crude, hilarious, and consuming, all hallmarks of a stellar Troma flick. And, oh is it biting. This film has teeth, and Lloyd Kaufman is their master.

Kaufman is at his best when he’s found a soapbox from which to address the masses about all he finds disagreeable and disgusting about this world in true Chaplin style. Previous films of the auteur’s like Terror Firmer and Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead exemplify this, but #SHAKESPEARESSHITSTORM is a declamaton on an entirely new level.

As always, Kaufman goes for the throat of the industries, corporations, and elites who play with the lives of normal people like toys in a sandbox. All decorum and symbolism is disposed of when broadcasting the motivations of Big Al. He tells you outright he doesn’t care about the people, only their money. To some, this plain exchange of information may come off as parody, but it is merely Kaufman cutting through all the fat. Metaphors are great, but we should hate this man and others like him in real life, so let’s just hate him for who he really is, with no risk of misinterpretation.

#SHAKESPEARESSHITSTORM also tackles social justice warriors, which is where audiences may have the most issue with this exploitation take on Shakespeare. Admittedly, there was a moment where I winced as the film’s faux-commerical for Safespacia promised a safe space for people looking to protect themselves from opinions they found disagreeable. I was concerned that were drifting into waters familiar to anyone online, where jokes condemning SJWs are a dime a dozen.

Perhaps the point was to push my comfort threshold, but I came to understand that Kaufman is actually satirizing the social media influencers and outrage addicts who need it known to the world that they are “woke,” that they are more unproblematic than anyone else, only for their righteousness to be shed, and their hypocrisy revealed.

It all comes together in the film when social media and Safespacia addicts Trini (Dylan Greenberg) and Steph (Zoë Geltman) are weary of Tromaville’s urban glory before sharing a ridiculous jump scare when they meet Caliban (Monique Dupree), an African American woman. People like these characters muddy the waters of social and political discourse. Their liberalism is entirely performative, and their wholesome image is simply a projection. Underneath, they are vapid and two-faced, and only care about followers. That doesn’t make them that much better than Big Al, does it?

When tackling the idea of how people respond to the kinds of jokes and content that get people in trouble, Troma’s bread and butter, this is where Kaufman gets most introspective and even dejected. In the most poignant scene of the film, Prospero confronts the mob furious at what he defends as simply a joke. He pleads with the protesters that the real problem are the evil, out of control, unchecked Big Pharma executives who are hellbent on poisoning them as they take all their money. He’s only trying to help, but they don’t care, and he cannot understand why.

During my first go around with this film, I caught myself saying “whoa.” I was not expecting this. Just like the Tempest is a meta-reflection of William Shakespeare as a playwright and his art, so does this film reflect Kaufman as a filmmaker, and it’s surprisingly sad when you realize that Prospero defending himself is actually good ol’ Uncle Lloyd having to defend his art to an audience who has changed and evolved, an audience no longer as interested in the offensive as they once were. However, just like offense taken to Prospero’s rhetoric overshadows his message, Kaufman is at the mercy of an audience that cannot hear what he’s trying to say underneath the crass elements of his films, even though what he’s trying to say is important, even though he’s screaming it at the top of his lungs.

Satire aside, Troma’s #SHAKESPEARESSHITSTORM is as much about the magic of art as the original source material is. At the film’s end, Kaufman’s monstrous Prospero breaks the fourth wall to deliver the famous line, “we are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep.” He delivers the line with a soft sigh and finishes with a shrug of the shoulders, empathetically reaching out to his audience to tell us that not only are our lives dreams themselves, our dreams are ultimately our reality, and we are participants in the dreams, in the reality, of others. But dreams, like life, like Prospero’s madness, is ethereal and will eventually end.

For Lloyd Kaufman, his dreams have been curated in the mayhem of his filmography, and we have been an active and integral component of his dreams turned reality, but this may be the last time we see the words “a Troma Team Release” or “directed by Lloyd Kaufman” at the beginning of a film. If this is in fact Kaufman’s final film, then this highly entertaining yet bittersweet swansong is an artistic achievement that celebrates the director’s rabid fanbase as much as it celebrates the life work of this exploitation film legend.

Played as part of the Fantasia Film Festival 2020

Jesse Berberich | Twitter: @JesseBerberich

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