When Nature Calls (1985)

We call them guilty pleasures because we are partially ashamed for lowering our guard and taking enjoyment from something we feel is beneath us. It’s a stupid term and I wish not to use it, but it best describes my reaction to When Nature Calls . Produced by Troma Entertainment, the company responsible for pictures such as The Toxic Avenger, Class of Nuke ‘Em High, and Surf Nazis Must Die. I tend to over generalize Troma’s work as being deliberately bad. Peppered throughout there extensive catalog of films are a few gems; Combat Shock, Mother’s Day, Story of a Junkie to name a few. I can now add When Nature Calls to my list of guilty Troma pleasures.

Like earlier sketch anthology works such as The Groove Tube or Kentucky Friend Movie, this film is a series of gags strung along a loose narrative.  When a New York City construction worker decides to pack up his family and move to the country the family encounters a series of frontier challenges. The story is presented like a movie with commercial interruptions; the family has their own theme song. Most of the jokes are crude, sometimes tasteless, but each segment is never dragged out. Flawed segments are too short to even complain about. Still, one has to be in the right mood or mindset to enjoy the irreverent ideas being thrown at the screen. Screenwriter and director Charles Kaufman has some real wonderful comedic ideas. The trailer for “Raging Bullshit”, a parody of the Scorsese boxing masterpiece is quite funny, as is the segment where G. Gordon Liddy hosts a Jerry Lewis telethon, raising money to find a cure for people who imitate Jerry Lewis. With in the actual story,  David Strathairn plays an Indian who befriends the family and this might be the first and only person in a Troma film to go on to be nominated for an Oscar. Best of all is a cameo by “Classy” Fred Blassie as a psychiatrist, of all things.

Like so many of these sketch anthology films, When Nature Calls feels like an unnecessary movie. Due to the short nature of each sketch and the often randomness of the subject matter behind each gag, it seems wholly illogical that one would need a feature film to deliver these types of jokes. Just read this comment from the Internet Movie Database. Obviously, this poor soul is utterly confused by the When Nature Calls, so much so that they don’t even realize that the previews are part of the actual movie. Still, they do a far better job of describing the film’s intermission animation than I ever could.

“First of all, on the video, you have to muddle through 25 minutes of absolutely, positively HORRENDOUS previews of parody movies…If that isn’t enough to bury someone, the movie starts and is even worse. And, if that wasn’t enough, read on…..I gave up the ghost during “intermission” where a hot dog was “masturbating on popcorn”, noses with glasses were “snorting cocaine”, hog dogs were “drinking alcohol”, and a marijuana leaf “rolled itself into a joint, stood up, and bowed”, among other things that were totally rude, crude, and insulting. It couldn’t get worse than this “movie”! – rainbeau56

Okay, I disagree. I also must note, all the punctuation and phrasing is as is, I changed nothing! Read on…When trying to recontextualize a film like When Nature Calls it probably should be noted that films of this ilk were made prior to the dominance of cable television or the internet. There simply was not a venue for such scatter-shot, gutter-humor back then. Today, we are seeing a slight return in these films, but mostly in the form of so-called-parody movies like Scary Movie or Epic Movie. Still, those films feel to specific or too dependent upon an exact point-in-time, with all of their humor revolving around movies and news events from just prior to their release dates. These older sketch anthologies are looser and further reaching in their comedic targets. If they have a modern day comparison it is perhaps Robot Chicken. Maybe if When Nature Calls’ skits were on Adult Swim, SCTV or even Saturday Night Live, people like the one above would get it. That said, these sketch anthology films do feel like museum pieces, but hey, I like history museums, they are amongst my favorite guilty pleasures.

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