Published on August 11th, 2013 | by Clint Davis
Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead 
Summary: Lloyd Kaufman's schlocky genre-bender goes for the jugular but ultimately crams too much into each scene. The audience is pummeled with constant, crude sight gags and one-liners.
NR | 105 min.
Director: Lloyd Kaufman | Screenplay: Gabriel Friedman, Dan Bova, Lloyd Kaufman
Starring: Jason Yachanin, Kate Graham, Allyson Sereboff, Joshua Olatunde
Studio: Troma Team | Distribution: Troma Entertainment
**This review was a reader request from Dan in Dayton, Ohio. Thanks Dan, for sharing your extremely messed-up taste with us!**
It’s probably best that video stores scarcely exist anymore, because I would hate to be the person tasked with categorizing this film. A horror-comedy-musical (not necessarily in that order) featuring no recognizable actors or crew members attached–unless you’re a devoted B-movie purveyor.
Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead is the prototypical example of a film that no studio would touch with a ten-foot pole, leaving a dedicated group of filmmakers to build the project from the ground up. Its genre changes with each scene, its message is overtly political, its jokes manage to piss off every demographic on Earth, and its visual content probably isn’t suitable for human eyes of any age. Luckily, Lloyd Kaufman couldn’t give a rat’s ass.
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t hip to Kaufman’s underground Troma Team productions until I saw this one, which was requested by a friend. Apparently, he and producer Michael Herz have been making films under the Troma Entertainment banner since the mid-1970s, which is a feat to be applauded. Independent cinema didn’t become “a thing” until the late-1990’s so it’s a credit to them for staying at it for over three decades. As mentioned, Poultrygeist is about as independent as movies get. According to reports, the majority of crew members worked for free, including the composer who wrote the film’s memorable musical numbers.
The plot of Poultrygeist takes place at a fast food restaurant called American Chicken Bunker, which has recently opened on the site of an ancient Native American burial ground. An outgoing high school senior named Arbie (Jason Yachanin) has his heart broken by his seemingly-innocent girlfriend Wendy (Kate Graham), when she turns lesbian immediately following graduation. She and a group of protesters called “CLAM” (Collegiate Lesbians Against Mega-Conglomerations) are picketing the restaurant for reasons including their treatment of chickens–leading Arbie to get a job behind the counter just to spite her. The fried chicken begins poisoning customers, turning an entire mob of people into chicken/zombie hybrids, eventually leaving the young couple to fight for their lives.
Obviously, the movie’s narrative is a combination of the two classics that inspired its title, Poltergeist and Night of the Living Dead. This isn’t all Kaufman’s schlocky picture owes to those movies, as with Romero’s zombie titles, Poultrygeist is very political-minded. The message here isn’t about racism or consumerism though, it’s instead a damning picture of both the fast food industry and corporate domination. But the audience is so inundated with grotesque humor, the film’s message never gets a chance to be taken seriously.
My eyes were exhausted after watching this film, as it tries to cram in more jokes than a Leslie Nielsen outing. No exaggeration, nearly every shot in Poultrygeist features at least a background sight gag, but more often it’s an in-your-face attempt at schlock & awe. Kaufman doesn’t attempt to bait and switch his audience though, as the opening sequence features a close-up shot of a man masturbating in a cemetary to a topless Wendy as she and Arbie fool around–as well as not one, but two depictions of fingers penetrating male ass! By the end, you’ll have forgotten those welcoming sights though, as the debauchery is notched up with each passing scene.
I was so worn out by over-the-top sight gags and disgusting sound effects that I welcomed the movie’s Youtube-quality musical numbers. These are honestly the best part of the film as they’re totally original and offer the viewer a chance to sit back and listen, rather than being pummeled with jokes. However, the film seems to forget about musical numbers about an hour in, as you don’t hear another one for the final 40 minutes–where it turns into an all-out splatterfest.
Credit needs to be given to the screenwriters though, as they play no favorites with their biting humor. Groups of people who are specifically targeted in Poultrygeist include: Mexicans, homosexuals, Muslims, Christians, Jews, mentally handicapped, Native Americans, southerners, Vietnamese, patriots, and Tom Cruise. Where the writing fails is in its failure to establish a consistent reason for why people turn into chicken zombies (Editor’s Note: I can’t believe I just wrote that sentence). Some characters turn immediately after eating the infected meat–consistent in the film’s pro-vegetarian message, while others seem to take hours to turn and still others are turned after being bitten by those infected. Also, rather than come up with a clever solution to killing the zombified poultry, the movie goes for an unfair stereotype that won’t make anyone laugh.
Kaufman and Company pull off some impressive hand-made special effects, with the transformation from human to chicken being especially effective. They made a movie that relies completely on shock value but still tells a story that’s somewhat poignant. It’s too bad the message is buried under more dick and fart jokes than a high school gym class, though. I’m a fan of sophomoric humor, as long as it serves a purpose (a la: South Park), but this is just such an unpleasant movie that it’s impossible to root for.
Then again, it is likely the only movie that will ever feature the line, “Drop that rectum!”…bonus points for that.