The Toxic Avenger is my favorite film of all time bar none. No other film even comes close. I’ve seen it hundreds of times and showed it to everyone I’ve gotten the chance to. It’s why I call myself the B-movie Avenger and was a huge influence in making me feel so passionately about the often genre defying off kilter culture that is true independent filmmaking..but it’s also a film i have never reviewed here on B-is For Best. I’ve been asked many times why this is (including once by Melvin himself Mark Torgl, who’s a great guy by the way.) and I always give different reason. I’ve said I was waiting for the Blu ray release (which has long since happened) I said i was waiting until I had the free time to do an article that would showcase all the films collectively and couldn’t do so yet since the 5th (and supposedly final) installment had yet to be made (This is a complete lie considering although i enjoyed all four films I see the 2nd and 3rd as self parodying and existing in a separate universe and feel pretty much the same way about the 4th) The truth of the matter is..honestly I’ve been afraid to do it. How does one go about doing a review article on a film that he holds in an almost religious reverence? (especially since the film’s many flaws are one of the reasons why i consider it to be the best film of all time) and do it any justice? I had planned on saving this review for my upcoming autobiography (D-Is For Drew:The Now told Tale Of A Renegade Film Reviewer) But I know if I wait I’ll never have the nerve..so for those who waited and asked..here it is..
Alot was happening in the early to mid 80’s. Aerobics gurus and muscle bound action stars had pushed America into the body talk age where Health clubs had sprouted up on every corner. Workout shows, tapes and even movies flooded the market as the young pushed their bodies (and hair of course) to the limit and beyond. Cocaine, speed and other uppers took the throne from marijuana and psychedelics as the drugs of choice for this constantly moving crowd. Big business was also on the fast track as more and more factories and refineries emerged. With them though came countless biproducts: corrosive, cancerigetic and toxic, these emerging evils captured the fears and imaginations of the thinkers of the era, terrifying them almost as much as the increasingly violent youth, so different from the flower children of the ’60s and disco ducks of the 70’s. The heroes of yesteryear were washed up, their golden boy boyscout approach to fighting evil had become laughable when compared to the endless supply of evil figures the 80’s was churning out, from Jason to Freddy to Karl The Butcher and Cropsy. The 80’s needed it’s own hero; one as brutal and real as the evil he would fight and destroy, In 1984 That hero emerged. His name is Melvin Ferd but you’ll know him as THE TOXIC AVENGER!
THE TOXIC AVENGER: Welcomes us to Tromaville (The Toxic waste dumping capital of the world) A small town in suburban New Jersey. At first glance Tromaville is just like any other small town in the U.S. but under the surface is the pestilence of political corruption. It’s Mayor (a morbidly obese self obsessed pervert) has sold the town out to corporate ghouls who are dropping hundreds of pounds of toxic waste within it’s borders. He has also hired on vicious thugs and drug dealers to shake down the population and control the simple Tromites. In the busier side of town is the Tromaville Health club, a place where it’s inhabitants go to get in shape and socialize. This too is plagued by a despicable group of thugs: Bozo, Slug, Julie and Wanda, a sadistic group of teens who spend their days terrorizing the club’s members and their nights playing a deplorable points game by running over innocent victims with their car. When the group sets their sites on on local 15 year old Uber nerd Melvin Ferd (The mop boy) for one of their more cruel pranks poor Melvin winds up falling into an (inexplicably open) barrel of toxic waste on the back of an illegally parked truck. What emerges (after an extremely painful transformation) is a 7 foot tall hideously deformed creature of super human size and strength (in a burnt tutu..trust me it’s bad ass) with the ability to sense evil and the uncontrollable urge to destroy it. Tromaville wreaked of crime and The Toxic Avenger was just the Janitor to clean it up!
Genre defying, perfectly paced, managing to be simultaneously completely filthy and utterly innocent, The Toxic Avenger is quite possibly the most multi-faceted and enjoyable filmof all time..Even hardcore fans of the film are likely gape mouthed at that statement (and Uncle Lloyd probably just shit his pants laughing)…Let me explain why it’s an undeniable fact. Let’s talk about the many things this film manages to successfully be:
IT’S AN 80’S PERIOD PIECE: Yeah, I know, naysayers “the film was shot in the 80’s of course it captures the 80’s!” This goes well beyond that copout reasoning. From the way it’s many themes (aerobics, Violent youth, political corruption,drug abuse and pollution to name a few) perfectly capture the fears and values of the era, to the use of power ballads, jam band music and bubble gum pop in it’s score and the cartoonish over the top gore and characters, The Toxic Avenger doesn’t just conjure nostalgia for the 80’s IT IS THE 80’S!!!
From the not so subtle choice of taking the heroes in tights concepts to laughable extremes by placing Toxie in a full blown Tutu, to having Toxie’s kills often based on classic gags from Charlie Chaplin (mop twirling) and The Three Stooges (eye gouging, mops in the face etc.) and of course the endless barage of so stupid they’re funny one liners (Including the often stolen “Have you seen my mother in law..Now that’s gruesome” line) The Toxic Avenger undeniably works as a stellar comedy as well as a parody of the hyper violent direction Hollywood was taking at the time the film was made.
IT’S A MODERN DAY FRANKENSTEIN STORY: This was confirmed by Co-Director Llooyd Kaufman in his first book (All I Needed to Know About Film Making I learned From The Toxic Avenger) but most fans pick up on it right away. You have a tragic monster, The (in this case initially) fearful townsfolk, The child-like nature of Poor Melvin and of course the blind friend (only in this case case it’s a super hot blonde who’s Toxie’s love interest, Sarah) The biggest difference here is the monster lives and triumphs, something the majority of fans of Marry Shelly’s classic wished happened all along.
IT’S A HORROR FILM: With the approach to some of Melvin’s kills s well as the creative use of lighting, location, and cutaways, The Toxic Avenger is a brilliant patchwork of styles ranging from 70’s slasher/Gialo to 50’s style monster movie influences. More than any other film in Troma’s library The Toxic Avenger shows Directors Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz’s wide array of interest and study into the Horror Genre and what works within it…a feat all the more impressive when you note that Kaufman stated neither of them were really Horror fans before they began working on the project! Quite a bit of Homework must have been done in such a small span of time.
IT’S THE MOST HUMAN SUPER HERO MOVIE EVER MADE: While other heroes tend to take the haughty better than thou approach to crime fighting, poor Melvin is forced to do it. He’s terrified of his ability and doubts the morality of his actions. He still needs the approval of his peers and fears he’ll never have it. All of these things make Toxie more approachable, more lovable and most importantly MORE HUMAN. It’s also why despite all the gore, sophomoric humor and nudity in the film I’m more comfortable letting my kids watch The Toxic Avenger then I am the Newest Batman movie or Disney shitfest. This film has some of the firmest lines between good and evil ever set in film.
IT’S AN ACTION FILM: With car chases, crashes, gang fights, and even a fleet of army personnel with tanks (how the fuck did that afford that…?) The Toxic Avenger also functions as one hell of an Action movie!
IT’S A LOVE STORY: Amongst the violence and madness in this film we get the tender, innocent blossoming love between Toxie and his beautiful blind girlfriend Sarah. Her Naive and child-like personality perfectly mirrors the true Melvin inside the hideous monster and their love works wonderfully to illustrate that under it all Melvin is still the shy, self conscious gentle teenager he always was. We also see his character mature into a more confident, heroic figure through his love for Sarah..Just try not to think about the fact that despite his dramatic size increase Melvin is still 15 years old and Sarah looks to be around 25..For these reasons the film is also A COMING OF AGE STORY..and a SEDUCTION OF THE YOUTH TALE
The acting here is so laughably off that it’s brilliant. Each character is so garish and over the top the entire affair comes across as a live action cartoon. This has a major benefit though as it softens the effect of some of the more potentially offensive subject matter and makes it more palatable. Toxie himself was actually played quite brilliantly when one considers the level of depth of a character that needs to be at turns a completely ruthless killing machine and a shy naive kid..All done in heavy makeup with a voice over added in post..rule or not I gotta name Mitch Cohen here. You were fucking brilliant and were sadly missed in parts 2-4..Please for the love of God come back for part 5 we need you man!
The cinematography and special effects here were..uneven..Ranging from breathtakingly believable (the badass car crashes,head crushing, and health club basement chase scene) to terrifically terrible (The day for night to night to day for night again fight scene with cigar face and his crew, the scalped to not scalped Knuckles) but even these fuck ups only add to the insanely bizarre world Kaufman and Herz have created in their opus..and the transformation scene..Holy fuck man!
Is The Toxic Avenger perfect? No, but if it were it wouldn’t be nearly as endearing as it is.
Overall I give The Toxic Avenger two middle fingers chopped off and sanded to the bone. It’s the only film I watch at least once a year and that’s a tradition I will never tire of. Kaufman and Herz should seriously consider doing whatever it takes to reassemble the original cast (those whose characters didn’t die) for the 5th and final installment of the franchise and for the love of God get Herz. We fans deserve at least one more visit from our favorite hidiously deformed creature of super human size and strength and we want to see him played by Mitch Cohen no matter what shape he’s in these days!