John Bruni reviews Best Of Tromadance Film Festival – Volume 1

Best Of Tromadance Film Festival - Volume 1 5 to 30 min., 2002
Written by Various
Directed by Various
Language: English
My rating: ★★★★

Many years ago, Lloyd Kaufman (the president and co-founder of Troma, and the creator of the Toxic Avenger) saw the whorefest that the Sundance film festival had become.  It sickened him and drove him to found TROMADANCE!  Tromadance happens at the very same time as Sundance, but unlike the latter, the former has no entry fees for movies, audiences are picked on a first-come-first-serve basis, and tickets are for free.  Everyone is treated equally.  No one has celebrity status.  Now, entries don’t have to be horror, but the emphasis is on that particular genre.  Here is a selection from the inaugural year, taken from the first volume on DVD!

* * *

Directed by Carey Burtt
6 minutes
Rating: Pro

This is the story of real-life serial killer, Richard Chase, the Vampire of Sacramento, as told by . . . dolls. That’s right. Barbie and Ken dolls are the characters portrayed in this dark  story of blood and cannibalism. There is a creepy, old-timey voiceover telling the tale as grotesque images are marched across the scene, like the one in which a stuffed rabbit is drained of its blood so that a Ken-doll Richard Chase could inject said blood into his arm. Very weird stuff, and very well done.

Directed by Kevin Meyer
5 minutes
Rating: Mixed

While this one is pretty funny, it’s a one-trick pony pushed to its absolute limit. A very nervous, very awkward guy is trying to make sure everything is perfect for a family dinner that he’s planning. However, he’s freaking out so badly he has to collect himself in the bathroom mirror, shouting to himself, “You’re ruining everything!” Things get worse over the course of the meal. He keeps fucking up and making all sorts of faux pas, and each time he puts himself in front of the mirror, he’s doing something even worse to himself. He goes from burning his own hand to cutting on his belly. By the end of the meal, he’s speckled with his own sweat and blood and . . . well, it’s not worth talking about. Sure, you’ll get a cheap laugh, but that’s about it.

Directed by David Schmoeller
9 minutes
Rating: Pro

This is one of the best short films on this disc. Too bad it’s not horror. It’s a documentary ABOUT a horror movie. Remember CRAWLSPACE, starring Klaus Kinski? It turns out that filming it was  an absolute nightmare. Kinski, a great actor, had a habit of pissing directors off and running them through the ringer. Most directors quit on him, but Schmoeller absolutely dedicated himself to finishing this film. Some of the stories are really funny, but best of all are the interviews with Kinksi himself, as he rants and raves about how much directors suck, and how much he doesn’t want to get fucked in the ass
by them. At one point, Schmoeller wants to fire Kinski, but the distributor paying for the film to get made demands that he keep Kinski on. It is at that point that people start begging him to kill Mr. Kinski. One person even decides to kill him for the insurance money. Hence, the title. It’s a great piece of behind the scenes action on what goes into directing a great actor for a horror movie.

Directed by Lee Demarbre
27 minutes
Rating: Pro

This is the best of the collection that can actually be considered horror. It’s the perfect homage to ‘Seventies kung-fu adventure movies, complete with Santo! (Er, well, Santos, as they probably couldn’t get the rights to use the actual Man in the Silver Mask.) A mummy on a Mexican island is turning people into zombies with the aid of an ancient chalice, and a businessman hires Harry Knuckles, aka Spanish Fly, to stop the mummy. Well, actually, he’s just interested in the chalice, but that doesn’t matter. Harry turns him down, only to be forced to go after he fights with a treacherous woman and a kung-fu robot. With the help of Santos, Harry raids the island and battles to the death with the Aztec mummy in the most ridiculously awesome of ways. It’s the perfect little flick, from Phil Caracas’s portrayal of Harry Knuckles to the bad dubbing to the 007-ish opening credits. Best of all, this movie eventually led to JESUS CHRIST VAMPIRE HUNTER and HARRY KNUCKLES AND THE PEARL NECKLACE. You can’t go wrong with this one.

Directed by Steve Herold
12 minutes
Rating: Pro

What happens when a poor slacker loser’s girlfriend breaks up with him because of his bad habits and small penis? He tries to drink himself to death, of course. Instead of turning into LEAVING LAS VEGAS, though, this guy pukes up everything he drank, and it turns into a puppet by the name of H.R. Pukenshette! (He’s French.) From this point on, it’s H.R.’s duty in life to show him that life is indeed worth living. This is borderline horror. More bizarro than anything else. It’s good for a laugh, a moment of gagging (because, you know, H.R. is made of PUKE), and then a few more laughs.

Directed by Barry Norman
30 minutes
Rating: Pro

Again, another great movie that isn’t horror. This one showcases the acting talents of one Mick Foley (known to most as a variety of WWE characters, in particular Mankind). Hint: he’s not bad. Not great, but not bad. This one also stars Melissa McBride, who has recently found fame as Carol on THE WALKING DEAD. Foley plays Bird, a guy who makes a living by robbing people. When we first meet him, he’s conducting an ingenious plan to rob a fast food place through their drive-thru. It doesn’t work out, and he gets busted. Later, while meeting with his parole officer, it is suggested that Bird become a debt collector, which he does. Much to his chagrin, he discovers that he feels kind of guilty doing this. He finds there is more honor in straight-up robbing people. However, it seems like he might have found some love on the job . . . . It’s got kind of a shitty, heavy-handed ending, but getting there is a lot of fun. Many of us have worked in places like the debt collection agency, and we’ve all heard some version of the boss’s training speech. Great stuff.

Directed by Richie Winearls
22 minutes
Rating: Con

This is a very strange “silent” movie. It seems that for the most part, people speak like guttural versions of the adults in Charlie Brown cartoons, and only ransom note-like speech cards decipher their actual words. Combine this with some pretty interesting
imagery, and you get a pretty unconventional short film. The problem is, it’s all sizzle, no steak. There is practically no story here. It is essentially a 22 minute excuse to play with spaghetti. (And yes, there is a spaghetti monster. No, it does not fly.) There does seem to be a string of events, but that alone does not make a story. Pass on this one.

Directed by Caleb Emerson
14 minutes
Rating: Pro

Looking for gore for the sake of gore? Here you go! Red is a serial killer who revels in blood to the extreme, and oddly enough, his victims seem to like it. In one scene, a woman smiles as he violently rips her spinal cord out of her back. In yet another scene, he’s having a conversation with one of his victims about his love life before sawing the poor bastard’s legs off in a manic frenzy. Red’s a very transgressive guy. He animalistically eats human flesh in public, for example. He answers his door while holding a severed leg. To quote
the man himself, when asked how he’s doing, he says, “My soul is beyond this fucking universe!” But at the heart of this story is not the gore and violence; it’s how a young woman named Violet (Violent?) wins young Red’s heart. All right, that’s not the most original idea ever, but with old stories like this, the only way you can win an audience over is by going to complete, laughable extremes, which Emerson does successfully. At one point, Red has a conversation with a police officer and the guy’s partner, a ninja. Yes, a ninja. It’s definitely worth your time.

Directed by Cyrus Helf
11 minutes
Rating: Pro

This is another one of those movies that needs complete extremeness to work. At its heart, this is a story that happens for its own sake. To be interesting—at all!—it has to be absurdly over-the-top. Very few people in the world can make it through this one
without gagging. It is easily the grossest film in the collection. It revels in the filth of its unnamed protagonist, who wakes up covered in the biggest zits ever put to film. He slogs through the garbage of his bedroom to the bathroom, where he violently pukes for a while before going to the mirror to pop his pimples in the bloodiest way possible, smiling all the way. Even the Claymation sequence is stomach churning. A monster that would have been at home in a Tool video squeezes zit volcanoes to harvest delicious cheese. This is a dream sequence wrought by the glue-sniffing habits of the protagonist, and this inspires him to rob the local convenience store of buckets of nacho cheese. He then takes these to a discarded bathtub in the middle of nowhere, and he proceeds to bathe in cheese. It is just that grotesque. In the meantime, the clerk of the convenience store swears Rambo-like vengeance on the Zitlover, straps a bunch of weapons to him (including a couple of grenades), and goes out in search of his prey. Lunacy ensues. So much of this film is done for the sake of shocking (like the scene where a bunch of kids set fire to the clerk for NO REASON AT ALL!), it’s ridiculous. Usually, that’s an empty thing for an artist to do, but Helf does it so effectively one is actually awed by the experience of watching ZITLOVER. Awed and disgusted.

That’s it for the first year of Tromadance. There are four more to go!

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About John Bruni

John Bruni is the author of AND JESUS CAME BACK (Rooster Republic), DONG OF FRANKENSTEIN (New Kink), POOR BASTARDS AND RICH FUCKS and TALES OF QUESTIONABLE TASTE (StrangeHouse) and STRIP (Riot Forge). His short work has appeared in anthologies like A HACKED-UP HOLIDAY MASSACRE (Pill Hill), ZOMBIE! ZOMBIE! BRAIN BANG! (StrangeHouse) and the critically acclaimed VILE THINGS (Comet). He edited STRANGE SEX 3 for StrangeHouse, and he was the editor and publisher of TABARD INN: TALES OF QUESTIONABLE TASTE. Find out more at and
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