Adam de la Cour's 10-minute film is a strange beast indeed. Even its origins are unusual.
Adam is a musician and fledgling filmmaker - he made the 2013 short THESE THINGS HAPPEN, if you're familiar with it - as well as being an ardent fan of Troma. So much so that he contributed to their Kickstarter campaign to help get RETURN TO CLASS OF NUKE 'EM HIGH made. Through this interaction, he ended up sending them his script for MR TOPPS - and Lloyd Kaufman happily agreed to appear in it (more on that shortly).
The film itself opens with the titular character (Benjamin Campbell Piggott) waking up to discover he's gagged and tied to a chair in the centre of a darkened room, the only light there beaming down on him, interrogation-style. A distorted deep voice from an unseen host challenges him, in what amounts to a bizarre take on the old "This Is Your Life" TV programme - in which Topps is reminded of former transgressions in his career as a circus lion tamer, and the people he's hurt as a consequence along the way.
All the while, Topps remains indignant. In fact the insults he spews in his mystery captor's direction - made clear to us viewers via English subtitles, seeing as though he's ranting through a gagged mouth - are positively obscene. "I'm gonna place my balls on your forehead, you hidden idiot. You're gonna be staring down the meat barrel once I'm out of here, face to face with Spurt Reynolds, guzzling down his cannonball runs" ... that's just one of his entertainingly crude outbursts.
We learn through the gravel-voiced captor's addresses that Topps has fucked over quite a few people in his time. Not least of which is fellow circus entertainer Professor Tiddles, who "wants his winkie back" (don't ask).
Topps eventually seems to sense a degree of gravity to the charges being levelled against him (that is, he is a prize shit and many folk have a grudge to bear against him, it would seem) when he's bent over, has his pants pulled down and whipped cream is smeared all over his bum hole in preparation of presumed violation.
But then, the lights come on and ... Aah, I'm not spoiling anything. This is fun. It's not only fun, but it's incredibly stylish on a visual level, tautly edited and deceptively intelligent. Look beyond the gleeful irreverence: there's a lot of thought that's gone into this, and it makes for a most impressive 10 minutes of entertainment as a result.
Consequently this is snappy, genuinely amusing, visually amazing (very simplistic in its style but artistically so - shades of THE LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN, CAFE FLESH and even Jodorowsky abound) and frequently inventive. The host's stories are aided by little visual re-enactments, nothing fancy, but everything's framed and lit sumptuously, making this such an impressive prospect even if you're not fully attuned to the irreverence which is unfurling.
Speaking of which, I appreciated the humour in MR TOPPS. It took me back to the exciting days of the 1980s, when the likes of "The Young Ones", "The Comic Strip Presents..." and "Black Adder" were busy changing the way British comedy was perceived. What MR TOPPS does so well is hark back to such glories, while straddling the line between art, comedy and thriller extremely well.
When those lights come up, the tension is admittedly lifted - but the humour remains in the few scenes which follow. This is where we get to see Kaufman in his amusing cameo too, as Battery Bob (a most welcome homage to FREAKS, and an excuse for a knowingly terrible gag).
MR TOPPS is clever without being "clever" (you know, smugly so). It's never off-putting. But it does signify a real talent in the form of de la Cour. Not only does he write, direct and producer the piece, he also handles the impressive music (a mix of atmospheric gialli-suited ambience and Mr Bungle-esque vaudeville madness). Keep an eye on him, because he could go on to huge things.
Adam de la Cour's next film is said to be a feature-length effort called PILTY, in which the main character is driven to committing acts of extreme violence whenever he smells old VHS clamshell cases. In the hands of a man this skilled, that gets me incredibly excited.
In the meantime, MR TOPPS can be enjoyed in full on Troma's forthcoming DVD and blu-ray releases of RETURN TO RETURN TO CLASS OF NUKE 'EM HIGH (yes, you read that right - there's two RETURNs in that title!).
MR TOPPS demonstrates a great balance of invention, polished talent and an almost childlike penchant for naughtiness. I like it a lot, and it comes highly recommended.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Directed by Adam de la Cour|