Through my many years of watching films, I have come discovered that some movies are synonymous certain genres. When you think “Mob movie,” The Godfather usually comes to mind. If the term “Science Fiction” or “Space Opera” is mentioned, one might have visions of light-sabers or Vulcans run through their head. And when someone says “Horror-Comedy,” the first film though of is The Toxic Avenger. Ahh yes, The Toxic Avenger. Not only is this film extremely entertaining, it is a pinnacle of independent film making and single-handedly shaped the direction of an entire movie studio, as well as influenced countless films. But we’ll address that after the jump. So douse yourself with some toxic waste and follow me!

The Toxic Avenger
Director: Michael Herz & Samuel Weil
(aka Lloyd Kaufman)
Starring: Mitch Cohen, Mark Torgl,
Andree Maranda, Pat Ryan Jr.
Company: Troma Entertainment, Inc.
Year: 1984

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the film (which, given Major Spoiler’s key demographic, may be a relatively small number of people), The Toxic Avenger (originally called “Health Club Horror”) is the story of 90 lbs. janitor Melvin Junko (Mark Torgl) and his eventual transformation into the super-strong, evil-hating, comically-deformed Toxic Avenger (Mitch Cohen). As Melvin, the members of the Tromaville Health Club despised him, constantly bullying him around and playing mean-spirited pranks. Melvin’s biggest aggressor was Bozo, a rage-filled adrenaline junkie whose hobby was running people over for fun, and his girlfriend Julie. Together, they trick poor Melvin into wearing a pink tutu and kissing a sheep. He is then chased around the health club, eventually causing him to jump out a third story window, into a conveniently-placed flatbed full of toxic waste. Bursting into flames, Melvin runs home and mutates into our hero “Toxie.”

Almost running on pure instinct, Toxie takes to the streets, stopping all evil-doers with his trademark over-the-top violence and ridiculous gore. It is during one of these “heroic missions” that Toxie meets Sarah (Andree Maranda), a local blind woman. Sarah is a complete clutz, and many bits of slapstick humor ensue. They eventually fall in love, and both settle down in the Tromaville Landfill.

All of the rampant do-goodery becomes troublesome for the corrupt Mayor Peter Belgoody (Pat Ryan Jr.). He was losing countless men from his various gangs, thousands of dollars from his drug rings, and his temper. As luck would have it, though, the Toxic Avenger was about to become the most wanted man in Tromaville. See, Toxie’s “instincts” were actually an ability to detect people who have committed villainous deeds, much like Bruce Willis’ ability in Unbreakable. This power backfires when he brutally throws an old woman into a washing machine, then clothing irons her to death. Did I mention this old woman was the leader of a white slavery ring? Unfortunately, the citizens of Tromaville did not know this, and Belgoody uses this to fuel his military assault on Toxie. A final battle of sorts ensue, ending with Belgoody’s innards being spilled and the Toxic Avenger being returned to his place as the town’s beloved protector.

If there is one word I could use to describe The Toxic Avenger, and by extension almost all Troma films, that word would be extreme. There is no subtlety in The Toxic Avenger. Nothing is partially done or “lightened up” for the audience. The audience wants a little violence, Troma give excessive, almost cartoony violence. The audience wants a few little… ahem, risqué scenes, this film delivers tenfold. Maybe a little gore, perhaps? Well, there’s fake blood by the gallons. In some films, this would be a major detriment, but for The Toxic Avenger, all of these extreme elements mesh together quite seamlessly, and does not detract from the film at all. I believe this is comes from the fact that not once in this entire movie does it seem to take itself seriously.

As acting goes, this film is pretty much par for the course in comparison to other 80’s movies. Everyone overacts a little, but again, it fits. Melvin’s whiny wimp is excellent, Sarah’s blind act was incredibly goofy and over-the-top without being too distracting, and Toxie… well, there’s not much to say about Toxie. Special recognition goes to Pat Ryan, who apparently ad-libbed every single line of dialog, and his delivery is leaps and bounds more natural than anyone else in the movie.

For me, the most amazing aspect of The Toxic Avenger is the fact that they created so many effects, so many sets, so much everything with almost no budget. The Toxic Avenger had a budget of $500,000.00. No movie nowadays can be made for $500,000.00 and fit in so many physical effects and have the influence that it has. Before Toxic Avenger, Troma’s main genre was “sexy, Animal House-esque comedies.” Hard to believe, given Troma’s current backlog of films. Without Toxic Avenger, we’d have no Class of Nuke ’Em High, Troma’s War, Sgt Kabukiman, NYPD (which I’m going to delve into sometime IN THE NEAR FUTURE! That’s foreshadowing, folks.), Tromeo & Juliet… and that’s just Troma films. Films like the Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness (Evil Dead 1 was actually made in 1981, but also lacked much of the comedy evident in the later films), Squirm, Critters, Elvira: Mistress of the Dark, Beetlejuice, Killer Klowns from Outer Space, and so on would never have been made, or at least have been met with more hardship and scrutiny while in production, if not for Toxie. I don’t know about you, but to me, that’s pretty dang impressive, and definitely worth some sort of recognition.

Unfortunately, Troma couldn’t keep their momentum when it came time to create sequels to the Toxie franchise. While this technically doesn’t affect the awesomeness of this film, I will admit that knowing the impending train wreck does leave a sort of bad taste in my mouth. I’m not going to get into it here (I mean, I need to save some rants for future reviews), but geez are the sequels bad.

Overall, The Toxic Avenger is a film definitely worth checking out, especially if you have a penchant (or at least a high tolerance) for ridiculously over-the-top gore, cheesy and lowbrow comedy, and a fair amount of nudity. So… definitely not for kids. And thus, I am going to go ahead and surprise no one by giving The Toxic Avenger 4 ½ out of 5 stars.


The Author

Sam Dunham

Sam Dunham

Sam Dunham was born at a very early age, and shortly after became entangled in the world of film. His first memories are of seeing King Ralph in his local theater. He learned to talk with the help of Adam West's Batman: The Movie. He's one of the few people to still own a working RCA Videodisc player (heck, it's where he first watched Young Frankenstein!). When Sam is not perusing his extensive B- movie collection or sitting in dark theaters with a tub of popcorn, he is usually found reading comic books, fixing computers, toiling away at his day job, working some nights at a local radio station as a "soundboard guy," and going to class so that he can one day toil away at his day job fixing computers. One time, Lou Ferrigno conned him out of $20.00. But that's another story...

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1 Comment

  1. November 8, 2009 at 2:15 pm — Reply

    One of my favorite films of all time.

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