Directed by: Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz
Written by: Joe Ritter
Starring: Andree Maranda, Mitchell Cohen, Jennifer Babtist, and Mark Torgl
Reviewed by: Tyler B.
The first Super-Hero... from New Jersey!
Troma Entertainment. Love 'em or hate 'em, they are still the only truly independent film company on the planet. Best known for churning out cult-camp classics like Class of Nuke 'Em High and pick-ups like Bloodsucking Freaks, the Troma brand is guaranteed to shock, offend, gross-out, and make your lower gut hurt with laughter. Founded in 1974, Troma started off their film cannon by producing the first wave of sex comedies and picking up low-budget films no other studios would touch. These films did enough money to keep the company afloat, but It wasn't until 1984 that Troma would seal it's future. Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz decided that they needed to make something other than sexy comedies and the horror genre was looking to be a successful venture. So they pulled out the working title of Health Club Horror from the newspaper headlines and began filming the movie. It was released to theatres in 1985 as The Toxic Avenger, and since then it has become the center piece of cult-horror films. This is the one that started it all, folks!
Melvin Ferd (Mark Torgl) is a 98-pound nerd who works as a janitor at the Tromaville Health Club. He's constantly picked on by Wanda (Jennifer Babtist), Julie (Cindy Manion), Slug (Robert Prichard), and Bozo (Gary Schneider), four punks who get their jollies off by performing gruesome hit-and-runs at night. After a prank on little Melvin the Mop Boy goes awry, causing him to leap out a second story window into a vat of toxic waste, Melvin is transformed into the hideously deformed creature of superhuman size and strength, the Toxic Avenger (Mitchell Cohen). Now an outcast, Melvin takes refuge at the local dump and soon discovers he has the sense to detect danger and corruption. It's time to take care of the corrupt and vile citizens, politicians, and thugs of Tromaville. Nothing can get between Melvin, his mop, and his blind girlfriend Sarah (Andree Maranada). It's clean-up time and time to give Tromaville back to the people.
The Toxic Avenger was released to theatres in the mid 1980's to much success and acclaim from a variety of newspapers and review collectives. The film's combination of sex and violence is what immediately propelled it to cult status and a hit among the horror crowd as it contained just the right amount of camp and craziness to put a smile on any demented cinephile. Personally, I don't think there is any other film that truly earns the label as a 'cult film' than The Toxic Avenger does. When I first gazed my eyes upon it at the tender age of 12-years-old, I was hooked. It's got everything you could ever ask for in a cult horror picture; violence, gore, a monster (who's also the hero at that!), sex/nudity, and so much cheese it's almost bad for your health! The acting is campy and all the actors really seem to have a fun time playing their characters. Mark Torgl breathes life into nerdy Melvin and you can feel the pain of his transformation into the gigantic monster hero. We can all identify with that transformation and I'm sure we've all been picked on or bullied as youngsters. Joe Ritter's script is both off-the-wall and hilarious, yet still seems down to earth in a very weird way.
The film found a new legion of fans when it was released on VHS by Lightning Video in both an R-rated version and unrated cut. An interesting note is that the R-rated VHS actually contains some deleted scenes that are intact that aren't even in the unrated director's cut. Lloyd personally told me they pulled the wrong print, kinda like what happened to the original recalled Swamp Thing DVD release. Both Kaufman and Michael Herz's direction on the picture is energetic and keeps the pace rolling along. Troma seems to capture a punk aesthetic with their filmmaking and it truly shines here. Jennifer Aspinall designed the creature and provided all the make-up effects for the movie. Limbs are ripped off, hands deep-fried, thugs are turned into milkshakes, and then there's the infamous head-crushing scene. The film even opens with a warning declaring that it contains scenes of extreme violence. The effects are particularly gory, inventive, and actually quite realistic. Aspinall would go on to working on films like Spookies and Street Trash. The Toxic Avenger is a horror-comedy, so there are plenty of laughs dished out with the blood, including some hilarious montages (that even go on 3 times as long as they should in the unrated theatrical cut if you ever have the pleasure of seeing the film on 35mm). Even though it was originally intended as a straight horror film when Lloyd first came up with the idea while working as a location manager on John G. Avildson's Rocky, it would not be the same film today, or as successful, if it didn't contain the amount of camp it does.
Over the years The Toxic Avenger has become a household name. Spawning three sequels (a possible 4th may be brewing [fingers are crossed]), a popular 90's kids TV cartoon The Toxic Crusaders (also the only kids cartoon based off of an R-rated film), video games, toys and comics, and countless other merchandise. Toxie himself is even a spokesperson for keeping the environment clean and green, and standing up for nerds everywhere. He's just as famous as Freddy, or Jason, or Michael Myers. The Toxic Avenger also paved the way for the Troma brand and they would continue to make and distribute some of the most insane and offensive horror cult films available. The Toxic Avenger is available on DVD in quite a few releases. First is the original DVD release from way back in 1997, then there's the Tox Box which contains Parts 1, 2, and 3 and the Toxic Crusaders movie (just the first four episodes strung together). And then there is the 2-disc 21st Anniversary Edition which contains a 'Tromorphic' widescreen transfer of the film, which regrettably means 'not anamorphic'. The film was shot open matte so the widescreen version would preserve the theatrical exhibition of the film, so if you've got one of the original DVDs you're still not losing any picture information since it was shot full frame. Other special features on the 2-disc edition include a new commentary track, interviews with cast and crew, fan videos, and much more. The final DVD release of Toxie is the newly released Complete Toxic Avenger set which also contains all four Toxie films the entire Toxic Crusaders cartoon series. If your a horror fan, Toxie belongs in your cult-horror DVD collection. No collection is complete without it.
If you're a fan of cult cinema, off-the-wall horror, or just a good old time in front of your boob tube, I cannot recommend The Toxic Avenger more highly. It's worked it's way into my heart and is my personal favorite film of all time. I would not be as into horror films or film in general if it wasn't for this maniacal farce, it blew my mind. Everything about the film screams fun and it's a prime example of 80's independent filmmaking. It's inspired countless filmmakers to make their own films, like Tarantino and Peter Jackson, among many others. If you like a good heaping helping of sex and violence with your comedy-horror and a monster hero as American as apple pie, then you need to take a trip down Tromaville and get your own Tromatons a-buzzing. The Toxic Avenger is Essential!
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