Shakespeare’s Shitstorm Review: Troma and Lloyd Kaufman Make Good on Title
Campy, crappy, and cantankerous, Shakespeare’s Shitstorm is everything you’ve come to expect from Troma, and so much less.
Low and high brow keep a respectable distance in this campy, loose-bowelled adaptation of William Shakespeare’s play The Tempest. Troma Entertainment has been dumping its unique brand of independent shock cinema for almost 50 years, and for connoisseurs looking for their distinct aroma, Shakespeare’s Shitstorm does not disappoint. The uninitiated viewer may leave screenings disgusted and disgruntled. The director would have it no other way. He’s flushing his career with gusto.
This will be the last film from Troma co-founder Lloyd Kaufman, and he is really letting go. “Uncle Lloydie,” the 74-year-old low-budget filmmaking icon, is the centerpiece of the film. He wrote the script with Brandon Bassham, Gabriel Friedman, Frazer Brown, Doug Sakmann, and Zac Amico. Kaufman plays multiple roles in this tangled web of revenge and other fecal matters. As Prospero, Kaufman finds a mouthpiece instead of a codpiece, spouting undeniable truthisms in the name of pseudoscience. In Shakespeare’s Shitstorm, the brilliant scientist character finds a cure for the film’s foremost villain, the scourge of opioid addiction.
Kaufman also plays Prospero’s sister, Antoinette Duke, vice president of Avon Bard Pharmaceuticals, a big pharma company which believes a hooked customer is a steady customer. Seizing cash and power in a hostile takeover, she and Big Al King (Abraham Sparrow), the president of Avon Bard, destroy Prospero’s good name, condemning him to a bad life. He’s got nothing to show for all his hard work but a couple hundred million dollars’ worth of legal settlement. This is barely enough for a crack-addicted staff, and a lot of whale laxative.
The boat in The Tempest founders during a storm at sea. The revenge in the sour stomach of Shakespeare’s Shitstorm is literal. The aggrieved scientist douses a school of whales with stool softeners, and they shower the ship in feces. Oh, those beautiful creatures.
If you’ve never read or seen the play The Tempest, Shakespeare’s Shitstorm offers something less than a monarch note. Narrated by the bard himself (Frazer Brown), the arc is told in broad strokes. In Shakespeare’s play, Prospero is a sorcerer who conjures a storm to shipwreck his enemies on a deserted island. In the Troma adaptation, the disgraced scientist plots his revenge aboard a ship of stools gathered together on a cruise ship to celebrate chemical dependency, and other questionable habits.
Most of the film takes place during one kind of orgy or another, each a party for the eyes in their debauched detail. The unwashed castaways wash up in Tromaville, New Jersey, because “anything you can do in a boat, you can do in New Jersey. From murder to murder.” No one even bats an eye. The state is a regular punchline for the studio, which never runs out of Jersey jokes.
The drug-addled, shit-stained, corporate-ladder hangers take shelter in an after-hours club called Prospero’s Retreat. The “house special” drug is called Tempest. It is snorted, not taken rectally. The special effects are impressive for Troma, especially when the drugs kick in, and the partygoers commence their transformations into perverse versions of culturally appropriate perfection. But the low-budget studio still finds room for a lethal rubber chicken in an unforgettable demise.
This isn’t the first time Troma took off on a Shakespearean work. Guardians of the Galaxy’s James Gunn wrote the brilliantly tragic and romantically challenged, Tromeo & Juliet, where the young lovers crossed their stars with a divided and deviant, body-pierced underbelly in Lower Manhattan. Kaufman got his start in New York’s underground film movement but maintains an objective distance from its most treasured characters. Andy Warhol’s Trash (1970), directed by Paul Morrissey, and John Waters’ Pink Flamingos are outsider films told from the inside. The freak show of common man is a feature-length exercise in poor taste, all Kaufman does is point a camera at it.
Conversely, in Shakespeare’s Shitstorm. Big Al enthusiastically, but caustically, excuses his most interesting alternative-entertainment performers, such as a stripper-in-a-wheelchair, as diversity-hires. Prospero specifically seeks out a team of crack-addicted prostitutes because they are paid in rock. Kaufman’s empathy with the outsider only goes as far as the cheapest of jokes.
Kate McGarrigle is a comic standout as Prospero’s blind daughter Miranda. She brings shades of Sara from Troma’s 1984 cult favorite, The Toxic Avenger. The laughs she gets are as unlikely as the character’s relationship with Big Al’s son Ferdinand (Erin Miller). His Yale intramural fisticuff skills come in handy for protecting “beautiful blind girls” in a ridiculously effective fight scene with Caliban, played by actor/wrestler/singer Monique Dupree on all cylinders and exquisite timing. Amanda Flowers is positively unhinged as the wheelchair bound, artificial larynx-voiced spy Ariel.
What’s past is prologue, and the film is loaded with anachronistic detail. It is set in the late 1980s and foretells the problems of the tech age before the technology boom. The drug is marketed to impressionable young people through Twitter manipulation by social justice warriors Steph (Zoe Geltman) and Trini (Dylan Greenberg). Continuing in the unsung tradition of Troma originals, Shakespeare’s Shitstorm is also an intermittent musical. The songs, which are mostly about sex and crack, are astonishingly memorable and relatable.
Like all Troma films, Shakespeare’s Shitstorm is crammed with social and antisocial commentary. The drug which makes Avon Bard the biggest pharmaceutical company in the world is called Safespacia. It targets an affliction called Entitlementia, protecting users from differing opinions. Its list of possible side effects is an early highlight, especially when considering these are preferable to any emotional triggers. The movie makes fun of viewers who would be offended, if only they watched this kind of film, even ironically. Clichés are undisputed fact, and everyone gets checked. Social media warriors are called to arms by a beamed symbol of a snowflake. The scientist is guilty of reckless cultural appropriation. Having made a career out of offensive softcore, Kaufman’s manifesto is designed to repulse the virtue signaling left, panic the puritanical right, and disembowel the fetid corporate center.
The overall satirical bent chases the buffoonery of Mike Judge’s Idiocracy, or Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s South Park, but gets lost on the way. Shakespeare’s Shitstorm captures the anally retentive voice of the self-proclaimed smartest man in the room, Kaufman. But the execution is clumsily rushed, rather than meticulously sloppy. There is no subtlety in the perennially teenage-aimed sense of humor. The villains are cartoonish, undercutting the jokes, which are of the most obvious variety. Breaking the fourth wall, Shakespeare explains this away by bragging about the common man fart jokes he threw in for the standing-room-only groundlings. The film occasionally slips in effective sight gags and on-the-nose film references, especially one recalling the buckets-of-blood elevator sequence in The Shining.
Troma titles like Mother’s Day, Class Of Nuke ‘Em High, The Toxic Avenger, and Poultrygeist found a rabid cult following in drive-ins and alternative cinema outlets. At their scrappy heyday, the films made headway on USA Channel’s much-missed late-night, B-movie screening series Up All Night, alternately hosted by Rhonda Sheer and the late Gilbert Gottfried. As Prospero notes, the film was made by a rage-filled psychopath and should not be put on a pedestal. Bad taste cinema fans will get all they expect from a Troma movie: over-the-top acting, stock footage car crashes, goofy gross-outs, cringeworthy one-liners, and highly improbable acts of erotica. Shakespeare’s Shitstorm moves the iconic studio’s stock up excrementally.
Shakespeare’s Shitstorm is playing in select theaters while on tour now.