The Toxic Avenger (1985)Directed By: Michael Herz
Written By: Joe Ritter
Starring: Andree Maranda, Mitchell Cohen, Pat Ryan, Jr., Jennifer Babtist, Robert Prichard, Cindy Manion, Gary Schneider, Mark Torgl
Country of Origin: United States of America
Troma. No film company exemplifies an innate ability to reach cult status quite the way Troma does. During the 1970’s, a fledgling company started by Lloyd Kaufman and this film’s director, Michael Herz, began to churn out low-budget sex comedies that were…sophomoric at best. Granted, the term “sex comedy” really doesn’t lend itself well to upstanding, high society, but hey, that’s not the point.
When Troma broke into the 80’s, Kaufman and Herz began to move forward with their biggest story yet: a tale of a weakling pool boy who, thanks to a cruel prank, becomes a radioactive mutant monster capable of destroying evil and saving the small town of Tromaville! Introducing, in all its glory, The Toxic Avenger, a mid 80’s answer to the early superhero film, as well as a statement of dominance from a low-budget, big-aspiration movie company.
To set the record straight, The Toxic Avenger cannot be reviewed just like any old film. Sometimes, films with the “Troma Team Release” tag in front of them make an honest effort to be terrifying or serious. These films, particularly as it comes to cult status, find themselves buried in the lexicon of society. This movie is something that really symbolizes what Troma is all about: intentionally bad schlock, and damn proud of it. Whenever someone sets out to make a movie awful from the start, they realize that they’re providing the world with something truly charming even though it might be difficult to watch. So, because it served as the flagship film for Kaufman, Herz, and legions of bad movie fans, The Toxic Avenger deserves a different kind of review.
In simple terms, the story of Toxie is quite like a lot of other superheroes from the comic books. Here we have a lovable (okay, hideous) loser working the pools in the local establishment who can never catch a break. Young women borrowed from one of Russ Meyer’s dubious flicks (read: they have gigantic breasts) taunt Melvin mercilessly until one day, they, and their lunkhead boyfriends, decide that they want to play a practical joke on poor Melvin. Just as Melvin thinks he’s gonna get some action, he ends up being forced to make out with a lice-infested sheep. Life can’t get much worse for Melvin, until another accident sees him covered with toxic waste left arbitrarily out in the open. Soon, our pathetic pee wee finds himself undergoing huge genetic mutations, as he morphs into a 6-foot 4-inch general hell-bent on revenge.
Some of his first victims are smalltime crooks that die in grisly fashions. In fact, one of the calling cards of a Troma film (this being the ideal Troma film) is brutality in death. Never have I seen more characters have their heads explode, dissolve, or deteriorate to blobs in an instant, and I’m including the hundreds of “living impaired” films I’ve viewed. Anyway, as a way to rub out the criminal influx in his town, Melvin (now Toxie, though always referred to as Melvin) uses his trusty mop from his janitorial days to wipe out the enemy…literally! Think about this: a mop to the face could completely obliterate your template. Now that’s a fucking superpower! He’s equipped with sulfuric acid mops! Mr. Clean be bitchslapped.
Word begins to spread about Melvin’s antics as he continues to fight crime where the police force (crooked and corrupt cops, you know the drill) will not. Eventually, Melvin rescues a blind woman from a robbery at a local fast food restaurant. Let that sentence soak in, and you get the general obscurity we find in most every Troma film. Her name is Sara, and she moves in with Melvin at the city dump soon after the traumatizing (or is it Tromatizing) incident.
Meanwhile, the townspeople are split, some praising the monster’s heroic efforts, others lambasting him for interfering with their community as a horribly disfigured man. Sound familiar? That’s probably because through all of the bad acting, editing, directing, writing, and, well, anything else I left out (that includes you, costuming), this movie is a classic example of the superhero ideal. For every person who supports your aid, there is one to balance on the other end. It’s a realistic and tragic statement on the way people operate, but it fits perfectly for those interested in the whole “Good vs. Evil” mindset. Toxie is only so popular with the community, because if he were 100% over, then we wouldn’t need a movie. Conflict. It’s a beautiful thing.
We wander from scene to scene as often crime fighters do until Melvin/Toxie is finally absolved and accepted into the world that created him, and the narrator reveals the nickname (and subsequent title) The Toxic Avenger. Cue credits, and everyone goes home a winner.
Member of the crew who should’ve been fired: All of them. That’s the point of a Troma film. Every single member of the crew is in some way flawed and should face ten lashes, then walk the plank.
Best Name in the Cast: Marisa Tomei has a brief (about one second) cameo in this film long before she was ever discovered. Just another perk from the Troma legacy; truly films of the future!
Quote of the Film:
“Honest cops are all alike: A bunch of fucking faggots.” -Cigar Face, confidently believing he’s in the Dick Tracy universe.Final Thoughts:
It’s too bad that most of the Tromatic Cinema following The Toxic Avenger (save for Class of Nuke ‘Em High) signaled the demise of the world’s first (and only) b-movie mainstream schlock purveyor. Sure, they still produce direct-to-video releases, but its not the same as the huge middle finger they gave Hollywood. After all, they take movies and make parodies just like we see today, the difference being that their spoofs are made like spoofs should be: low-grade, low-budget, with a heart of gold. After all the bullshit, “make a quick buck” flicks that come out every year (like say, Disaster Movie) we should at least be able to take solace in the fact that Troma had them beat long before, and with character, originality, and a mop-wielding super beast named Melvin. Sure, he would later come to be Toxie, but maybe a good Melvin is exactly what Hollywood’s unoriginal, untalented “fun bunch” needs.