Directed By: Lloyd Kaufman
Starring: Jane Jensen, Will Keenan, Valentine Miele
Tag line: "Body Piercing, Kinky Sex, Dismemberment. The Things That Made Shakespeare Great"
Trivia: James Gunn was paid $150 for writing the screenplay
Directed by Lloyd Kaufman (The Toxic Avenger) from a script co-written by James Gunn (The Specials, Guardians of the Galaxy), 1995’s Tromeo and Juliet is Troma’s take on William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, merging elements of the classic love story with the nudity, sex, and gore that put Kaufman, Herz and company on the cinematic map.
Set in modern-day New York City and narrated by Lemmy, one of the founding members of the band Motorhead, Tromeo and Juliet concerns the forbidden love affair that develops between Juliet Capulet (Jane Jensen) and Tromeo Que (Will Keenan), whose families have been at odds for some time. The troubles between the two clans began years earlier, when “Cappy” Capulet (Maximillian Shaun) betrayed his old friend and business partner Monty Que (Earl McKoy), first by stealing the video porn business they started together, then by sleeping with Monty’s wife, Ingrid (Wendy Adams), who abruptly divorced her husband so that she and Cappy could be married. The younger generations, born well after the events that started it all, have kept this feud alive, battling and bickering with each other every chance they get. But when Tromeo and Juliet meet at a costume party, their feelings for one another run so deeply that they’re willing to turn their backs on their families so that they can be together.
As expected, this newfound love doesn’t sit well with either the Capulets or the Ques. Cappy Capulet, who’s been physically abusing Juliet for years, has arranged for her to marry London Arbuckle (Steve Gibbons), heir to a large meat-packing company. As for Tromeo, his best friend Murray Martini (Valentine Miele) enjoys beating the hell out of every Capulet that crosses his path, so the notion of Tromeo hooking up with the daughter of their sworn enemy isn’t an attractive one. The affair will eventually lead to more bloodshed, yet with the help of a confused priest (Flip Brown) and an opium dealer (Garon Peterson), the star-crossed lovers may just beat the odds and find a way to live happily ever after.
Despite its classical influences, Tromeo and Juliet is, first and foremost, a Troma film, meaning it’s jam-packed with gooey gore (several characters die gruesome deaths, and poor Sammy Capulet, played by Sean Gunn, loses a few fingers when Murray forces his hand into a paper slicer), as well as lots of sex, including a steamy lesbian encounter between Juliet and her servant Ness (Debbie Rochon). In addition, we’re treated to a full-on nipple piercing (performed by Tromeo’s cousin Benny, played by Stephen Blackehart); some animal cruelty (the squirrel hanging by its neck at the beginning of the movie was clearly fake, but the mouse that became a lizard’s snack was not); and other various perversions (including, though not limited to, incest). There’s still plenty of Shakespeare to be found in Tromeo and Juliet; aside from its well-staged love story (Jensen and Keenan do a fine job as the two leads), there are moments when the dialogue is lifted directly from the Bard’s play (after Juliet utters the famous line “Parting is such sweet sorrow”, Tromeo replies with “totally sucks”). Still, those looking for a faithful adaptation of Shakespeare, a la Laurence Olivier’s Henry V, will be disappointed, not to mention a bit repulsed, by what this movie has to offer.
There have been several noteworthy film versions of Romeo and Juliet over the years, such as Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 movie (starring Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting as the doomed lovers) and Baz Luhrman’s stylish modern-day telling, 1996’s Romeo + Juliet, which paired Leonardo DiCaprio with Clare Danes. It even inspired a damn good musical (West Side Story, the movie version of which won the Academy Award for Best Picture), and Disney’s straight-to-video sequel Lion King 2: Simba’s Pride borrowed heavily from the Bard’s tragedy. But as strong as these films are, I’d rank Tromeo and Juliet above each and every one of them. Funny, poignant, and utterly disgusting, it’s more than a great Troma flick; Tromeo and Juliet is also the most entertaining Shakespeare adaptation I’ve ever seen.