TROMA FILMS--for those whose cultural knowledge stops at the borders of, well, culture--makes gory, sophomoric, and generally tasteless entertainments like The Toxic Avenger and A Nymphoid Barbarian in Dinosaur Hell. And they do it on the cheap. In this age of so-called "independents" that are actually the red-headed stepchildren of corporate content-providing juggernauts, Troma is one of the last bastions of cinematic freedom.

The company is the brainchild of Lloyd Kaufman (and his shadowy, behind-the-scenes partner Michael Herz), who proves as entertaining as any of his latex concoctions. Kaufman will be in Portland this weekend to introduce Troma's latest, Terror Firmer. It's a rare opportunity to see a Troma film on the big screen, and unlike many low-budget companies, Troma uses 35mm film rather than video.

This post-modern, self-referential horror/comedy/murder mystery stars Kaufman as a blind movie director making a low-budget splatter film for a company called Troma (in real life, Kaufman can, in fact, see). The story involves a bizarre love triangle, death by escalator, the art of pickling, and of course, a fat naked guy running down a New York street. To say more would ruin the most shocking plot revelation since The Usual Suspects.

"We couldn't find anyone else," Kaufman offers as explanation for his largest on-screen role to date. "Most older actors who are any good are in the union, and can't do non-SAG [Screen Actors Guild] films. For $400,000 we can't do union films."

Far from being a shameless huckster, Kaufman is an intelligent, if slightly cracked, filmmaker with a passion for his work and a rare knowledge of cinema history. His favorite film of all time is Princess Yang Kwei-fei by the great Japanese auteur Kenji Mizoguchi. For someone whose tastes run to the classics, Kaufman certainly pushes the envelope with politically incorrect humor. What saves films like The Toxic Avenger (which features a child's head run over by a car) from being just plain disgusting is a genuine humanity, plus a tongue-in-cheek attitude that lets us know it's all just a movie. And there are themes in these films--just ask Kaufman about Terror Firmer:

"Well, when my character urinates on the people [a couple having anal sex in a restroom, to be precise], that's a pretty profound symbol. It's not in bad taste at all." In fact, Kaufman states he's never come across an idea that was too disgusting. When asked, he compares his films to (what else?) presidential politics.

"Look at the election! One gets oil money, the other's a tobacco farmer! These people are two of the biggest whores I can imagine. If they could get elected by embracing Eva Braun, they'd do it. Everything they do is in bad taste!" An ardent Nader supporter, Kaufman's posted several opinionated essays on the Troma website.

As filmmaking goes, the ethos of Troma is pretty simple and all-American in the final analysis. "As long as we believe in what we're doing, we'll be okay. I don't think we'd exist if we didn't believe in what we do. If people are offended by that, fuck 'em."

Lloyd Kaufman will introduce Terror Firmer at the Clinton St. Cinema on Saturday the 16th at 7 and 9:15pm and again on Monday the 18th at 7 and 9:15 pm. On Sunday the 17th he'll be at the Gateway Tower Records from 3:30-5:30 pm, to sign his book All I Need to Know About Filmmaking I Learned From the Toxic Avenger.