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!
Being Locked in is a scary situation for anyone. Being an ex-con I understand this more then anyone. Perhaps more then any other species we value our freedom of mobility, our ability to relocate on a whim and even more so, our ability to choose with whom we associate with. What happens when you take 5 strangers who would otherwise never choose one another as permanent companions and trap them in a room with limited supplies? That is the premise of SHELTER.
SHELTER begins when a group of 5 people all from different walks of life (with the exception of one couple) respond to an emergency alarm by heading into the basement of an office building that they’re all visiting for different reasons. They soon realize they are in a bomb shelter and once they go inside one of them panics after seeing a flash on the television and an end of transmission and locks them all inside when th indicator reads toxic levels of radiation on the surface. They think they’ll only be there for a few hours but find out they’re now stuck for several months! Irritation turns to psychosis and what started off as a nuisance becomes a waiting game to see who will snap next!
The trapped in a room scenario is nothing new. Most films that try it fail miserably due to the constraints that such a limited setting puts on the story. I do believe this is the first one that I’ve seen that takes place in a bomb shelter though and I have to say this actually works quite nicely. The added tension of not knowing who survived and who didn’t, not knowing if escape will bring salvation or certain death, all o these factors added depth to what easily could have been a forgettable film if it had merely focused on claustrophobia like so many films like it have.
The acting here was superbly done with a very well rounded group. We have Jef the daunting husband, desperate to save his marriage, a man who has spent his life compartmentalizing things only to be driven mad when it is him who is stuck into a box, and his wife Marisa, too dense and self absorbed to realize she has completely lost her humanity. We also have Chelsea the cold calculating thinker, completely obsessed with her own survival she is willing to do anything to ensure she lives no matter the cost, Tyler (my personal favorite of the group) A hard working family man who’s only desire is to be reunited with his daughter be it in life or death, and Hudson, the charismatic wild card, calm and collected he is the mediator between the rest but also the cause of many of the conflicts as his demeanor is a ruse to fulfill his own hidden agenda. Every good group has a Judas and Hudson is it here. Considering how much this film relies on conflict, this group o mixed nuts (pun highly intended) brings it in tens!
The cinematography here, while pretty basic is effective. We get a low res look that works well considering a large part of the film takes place on what are supposed to be security camera. We do get some pretty interesting off kilter overhead shots that add a surreal quality to the whole affair.
I only have two complaints here. The first is that the non-linear story telling isn’t exactly clear at first which kind of threw me for a loop for a bit. This one is a very small complaint because it’s rectified pretty quickly. My other complaint us a larger one: We don’t get nearly enough Tyler!!! He is the most endearing and identifiable character.He’s the guy we should all be rooting for and for the majority of the film he’s all but forgotten! This is especially sad when you consider that he is likely the best actor in the film! If Hudson is our Judas then Tyler is our christ!
Even with those complaints out of the way this is still a pretty solid piece of cinema and I highly recommend giving it a shot. Overall I give it one middle finger a quarter of the way extended.
i grew up as an enormous Clive Barker Fan. Everything from his artwork to his comics, and of course his films just grabbed me. All of his stuff is so..visceral, often times literally. So imagine my excitement when not one but two of his “lost” films show up on my desk in the form of a nice little DVD. When i slid this bad boy in I knew I was in for something special, and boy was I..although perhaps not in the way I expected.
It’s not often I see a film (or in this case films) that leave me at an almost complete loss for words. I’m one opinionated motherfucker, so this is a rarity indeed. What has me so stuck you ask?
Well (and excuse me if I offend here) These aren’t exactly films at all..I mean in the strictest use of the term I guess you’d say these are more films then most of the things I review here considering they’re shot on actual 8mm film where most of the stuff I review here is shot on digital or video )or a dead fucking cat attached to a tin can full of jellybeans) but where plot, character development or dialog is concerned…there’s l none. I’m not saying it’s underdone, I’m literally telling you these things are not components of these spectacles at all. Now I’m sure some pretentious art wookie out there is peering over his mauve horn rimmed glasses down at his cheat sheet or wiki-cocksucker right now and going “Excuse me, sir, you just don’t get it!” and I know there’s a synopsis available but there was one for The Begotten as well and let me tell you, these types of films exist for three reasons: Freaking out people who are on drugs, confusing the audience, and making the director feel superior because as confounded as the audience may be the director and his cronies know the big “deeper meaning” It’s like a secret club for haughty art major outcasts so they can make the jocks and “cool kids” feel like outsiders for once…and you know what? I’m cool with that.
These two films (The Forbidden in particular) are quite visually stunning at times, like Barker’s paintings in motion. We get a good look at his roots and more importantly we see what he was capable of before Hollywood briefly thunder kissed his prostate before turning his name into a brand and retiring him to the shadows. We also get some great interviews with Barker and his buddies where they reflect on their younger selves and laugh at how pretentious they were. I can’t help but like these fellas after seeing these.
If you’re looking for a typical horror film avoid these like a child rapist in a candy suite but if you’re looking or something different, can keep an open mind and are curious about a side of a well known director he seldom gets to show in it’s full capacity then I highly recommend checking this one out. I give it no middle fingers up.
Most of the time reviewing a film is pretty damn straight forward. I receive the film, watch it, and discuss whether or not is was effective, what worked and what didn’t…typically whether or not I enjoyed the film and it getting a good rating from me are interchangeable. The film we’re about to discuss taught me a lesson, and because of it the way I think of reviewing is changed forever. That film is THE POGO FILM PROJECT.
I first heard about the Pogo Film Project in a pretty odd way. After reviewing The Trouble With Barry a few years back a slew of emails poured in requesting that I review more films with a “gay” twist. Turns out that a straight reviewer willing to review movies with a homosexual subtext or gay main characters is a pretty rare thing. My search for films like that came up empty handed for the most part, with most of the films I discovered that fit the bill turning out to be softcore homo erotica (Even I have to draw the line somewhere guys) that is until i discovered a little known releasing company called bestdeaths.com (aka scream kings) who seemed to take a more serious approach to Horror with a gay theme. Before I reached out to the company (whom have since sent over a nice little helping of their fare that we’ll discuss in another article soon) I reached out to filmmaker Pete Jacelone about this warped little take on the Gacy murders. He promptly sent it over and boy did I get more then I bargained for!
THE POGO FILM PROJECT shows us the more…intimate side of Gacy’s atrocities; the murders themselves! With a bit of embellishing on the part of the writer, several scenarios play out illustrating how Gacy was able to subdue, torture and murder several young men in his home.
Dark to the point of being evil, stomach churningly believable and too effective for it’s own good, The Pogo Film Project is a very tough watch and I must admit I spent a large part of my viewing experience (which clocks in at a whopping 3+ hours) wondering if some sick fuck was using this as whack material. I also have to say that I sat through this thing twice because the first time I saw it I didn’t comprehend that the loving and lingering approach and sexualization of the scenarios was done to attempt to put us in the same frame of mind as Gacy and not to arouse the audience or exploit the victims as I had initially thought.
The acting here was actually quite good, in fact I can honestly say that the gentleman who played Gacy was probably the closest to the real deal I have ever seen in a film. His bizarre blend of effeminate boyishness and gruff manliness is a tough thing to mimic and this guy got that shit down pat. Each of the victims also did a wonderful job, but this is also where my general uneasiness of this project comes into play as well. You see it’s a bit of a stretch to say Gacy’s victims were young men, young teenage boys is a more accurate way of describing them and here this is represented very realistically with actors who really do look young..too young.
The deaths here consisted mostly of strangulation (as did the real cases) and each death is done impeccably well, combined with the low res camera and voyeuristic angling this aspect gave this film a snuff movie like feel that, to be perfectly honest, freaked me the fuck out.
Here’s where things get confusing. I always tell the truth about my opinion of a film and I will here as well; I hated this thing, fuckin’ HATED it, it made me so uncomfortable to watch that I needed a shower and to pray after watching (and considering the things I’ve watched for this site that says a fuck load)….but why did I hate it? Because it shocked and disgusted me, because it brought the facts of these horrific crimes to light in a way that was too damn lifelike too damn true to form, because it…horrified me.
The bottom line is, even though I didn’t enjoy this film, it did it’s job. In fact I would go as far as to say that the film was never made to be enjoyed in the first place. It was meant to disgust and horrify and for that I give this film 2 middle fingers chopped off and sanded to the bone. Would I watch it again? Probably not. Should you pick it up? If you’re a die hard true crime fan who really wants to get into the world’s first killer clown’s head then fuck yeah you should.