Movie Review – Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead (2006)

Ever since 1984’s The Toxic Avenger, Troma has had an environmentalist and anti-corporatist bent. Beginning in the mid-90s, it also began to embrace animal rights. These causes come together in what is perhaps Lloyd Kaufman’s magnum opus, 2006’s Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead. An activist film at heart, decrying the inhumanity of animal abuse and the detrimental health effects of fast food, as well as the way corporations can manipulate activist efforts or disregard human decency for profit, if the internet is to be believed the title even made MSN’s “Top Civil Rights Films of All Time” in 2011 aside such inspirational classics as Stand and Deliver (1988) (for the record, I’ve been unable to find this list on MSN).

Of course, this is still a Troma film, meaning Poultrygeist is still a raunchy sexploitation schlock-fest oozing with gore, gross-out toilet humor, gratuitous nudity, and transparently amateurish acting. It’s also a musical, at least in its first half. The plot, if one wants to be so kind, follows Arbie, who takes a job at a new fried chicken restaurant that was built on an Indian burial ground. He’s trying to win back his ex-girlfriend, Wendy, who’s become bi-sexual and with her new girlfriend has joined a group of protesters called “CLAM” (Collegiate Lesbians Against Mega-Conglomerations) who are picketing the restaurant. Eventually vengeful chicken spirits begin possessing employees and patrons alike, creating an absurd siege narrative drenched in all manner of bodily fluids.

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The production of Poultrygeist was itself an adventure, and behind-the-scenes footage was compiled into a feature-length documentary entitled, Poultry in Motion: Truth is Stranger than Chicken (2008), which I highly recommend as a companion piece to the film. A lesson in guerilla filmmaking, a large portion of the movie was financed directly out of Kaufman’s pocket. More than seventy inexperienced volunteers came together to help make the movie, sleeping in an abandoned church and enduring long, grueling hours. Special effects props malfunctioned, tempers erupted, and all the while Kaufman is seen being an energetic sixty-year-old with unending stamina who, were it not for his thirty years of experience making no-budget schlock, is perhaps the only guy who could have pulled it all off.

In past Kaufman films, such as 1999’s Terror Firmer, I appreciated the message but grew tired of the method. The jokes didn’t work for me – it was all (mostly human) waste and not enough wit. However, Poultrygeist is genuinely funny, if just as crude, and much smarter. It begins with a manic energy that never lets up, infusing its jokes with biting satire, and unlike many other Troma films the running time feels like it goes by quickly and smoothly. The pacing is perfect for what is needed. Surprisingly, the songs were catchy and the lyrics, though replete with juvenile humor, were actually entertaining and had me cracking up. They also allow the audience a breather from the barrage of constant sight gags, giving us a welcome lull with which to regain our focus and be ready for the next onslaught (a technique I wish more Troma films employed). Kate Graham, who plays Wendy, is adorable and a joy to watch, even when clothed.

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As with all Troma films, they’re not for everyone. As I said in my review of The Toxic Avenger, often times they’re not for me. If you’re not one to find a zombie-finger-butt-plug gag funny – and I understand if you aren’t – it might be best to steer clear. As for myself, I thoroughly, and I fully admit surprisingly, enjoyed Poultrygeist. It’s the strongest Troma film I’ve seen and the one I see myself returning to at some point in the future.

Grade: B-

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