A collective of Winnipeg-based artists has been drafted by the notorious exploitation movie company Troma Entertainment to make a feature-length movie.
Astron-6 is a group of five multifaceted hyphenates with skills in filmmaking, visual arts, special effects and acting. In the spring of this year, they made a gross-out fake trailer for a movie titled Father's Day, in which a man sets out to avenge himself on a serial rapist-murderer who targets middle-aged dads. In the last two weeks, the trailer has popped up on various horror websites and YouTube with warnings about its extreme content, including nudity, fake genital mutilation and eye gouging.
The trailer attracted the attention of Troma chief Lloyd Kaufman, whose 36-year-old company has made a specialty of films with extreme content. Kaufman himself directed infamous cult movies such as The Toxic Avenger, Tromeo and Juliet, and most recently Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead.
Kenora-born, Astron-6 member Conor Sweeney, 23, helped create the trailer with fellow Astron members Matthew Kennedy, Adam Brooks, Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski. He says the deal was struck almost by accident, after Astron-6 essentially hired Kaufman to tape a bogus testimonial for inclusion in a collection of short Astron-6 films on DVD.
"We asked Lloyd to do one and he didn't know anything about us at this point," Sweeney says. "We paid him and through the whole promo, he was mispronouncing Astron-6. He was calling us 'Astral' and 'Astro' and this was a real mistake.
"But I'm guessing that after he shot it, he actually watched the stuff that we sent along with it, and then he started to get interested."
Certainly, Kaufman, 64, would have had reason to pay attention to Father's Day. Kaufman produced and distributed his brother Charles Kaufman's notorious 1980 shocker Mother's Day. Last year, the brothers flew to Winnipeg to shoot cameo appearances in Darren Bousman's violent but as-yet-unreleased remake of the film.
"All we ever thought was that Father's Day was going to be was this little three-minute story within itself," Sweeney says. "Then Lloyd became interested in it because it's got lots of gore and nudity and all the stuff that Troma has made its name off of, and also Mother's Day was being remade, so he thought these movies could promote each other."
Kaufman, speaking on the phone from the headquarters of Troma in Queens, N.Y., asserts Troma is not producing the film to cash in on Mother's Day, which is likely to be released in May of 2011. That, he says, would require strategy.
"We're pretty stupid at Troma," the Yale-educated Kaufman jokes. "My guess is whatever we've done, it's the non-money-making strategy.
"But Astron-6, these guys are very talented, and that's why I'm not directing Father's Day. These guys might actually make a movie where people show up."
Kaufman says the film will likely fit in with Troma's outlaw esthetic.
"The reason Troma has been around for 36 years is that our movies are one of a kind and they appeal to nobody... I mean, they are movies that are truly unique," he says.
In fact, Troma has in many respects crossed over into mainstream acceptance, especially the company's flagship property, The Toxic Avenger, which has spawned multiple sequels, a cartoon series, a theatrical musical and now a $100-million studio remake to be produced by Oscar-winning scriptwriter Akiva Goldsman (A Beautiful Mind). But that success was a long time coming, Kaufman says.
"The Toxic Avenger came out in 1982 and was kind of a Cuisinart of genres: slapstick and satire with elements of Grand Guignol gore, political statement and sociological observation.
"Initially, no movie theatres would play it because it was one of a kind," he says. "Suddenly, one theatre owner actually watched the film and realized she liked it and understood it as satire and the next thing you know, it's a worldwide phenomenon."
It's too soon to tell if Father's Day will yield anywhere near that kind of success.
"Since we found out they wanted to make the movie, we have until Father's Day of next year -- June 11 of 2011 -- to complete it," says Sweeney, adding that Astron-6 will mostly shoot the films on available weekends.
Sweeney explains the rationale of the film as a commentary on what it takes to shock a shockproof culture.
"It's so hard to shock people nowadays," he says. "The most mainstream movies like The Last House on the Left remake or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake, those movies didn't get X ratings. They're very mainstream, and yet those movies were shockingly gruesome.
"It takes a lot to shock people, and we thought the way to do that was turn the exploitation genre on its head," Sweeney says. "Instead of nubile young women getting attacked in the woods, we're showing 45-year-old fathers getting attacked."