Yes, The Toxic Avenger. My pick for the film which should represent The Film Dump turning 3 years old today is The Toxic Avenger. I tend to, but not always, pick out one of those films that people consider to be so bad they’re good as my milestone reviews. To me they’re films that show incalculable passion and honesty despite their limitations or ineptitude. Some of my genuinely favourite films of all time fit into these categories. Films such as Troll 2, Ninja Terminator and the recently added Story of Riki-oh. I should have saved that last one for a milestone really but I was in the mood at the time. I do enjoy the milestone review days though. Hell, there will be a second in a few days when I hit 300 reviews. The film I’ve picked for No.300 is one I’ve saved just for the occasion, as was Toxic Avenger. I knew I wanted to cover a Troma film at some point and today seems like just the right time to share with you all why Troma and The Toxic Avenger are special. The good special. Click the link below for words about this film!
Toxic Avenger follows the simple tale of Melvin (Mark Torgl) who works cleaning a local gym. Melvin is pretty much a target for everyone’s mockery. He’s picked on, abused and treated like dirt by everyone he meets. Especially a group of psychotics who, in their spare time, enjoy partaking in hit and runs. One day the group decides to play a cruel trick on Melvin which results in him falling out a window and into a drum of toxic waste. This toxic waste mutates him into the Toxic Avenger (Mitch Cohen). A monster driven only by the desire to punish and maim anyone with evil intent. He becomes a folk hero and a thorn in the side for mayor/crime lord Peter Belgoody (Pat Ryan). Belgoody intends to have Toxie killed so his crime ring is free to go about their business un-murdered.
If you’ve never seen or heard of Troma films, then seeing Toxic Avenger could be a shock to the system. They’re goal is to take the B-movie silliness and fun concepts of the 50s and 60s and combine them with shock value cinema of the late 70s and 80s. The result is a film where any one scene taken out of context could easily invite reactions of revulsion and horror. In the 80s this did happen in the UK on a wide scale during the video nasty era. But taken in context the absurdity and the humour become ever so apparent. Toxic Avenger includes many such scenes including the crushing of a child’s head under a cars wheel, a dog being shot and a man’s face being crushed by gym weights. Whilst those are all horrific moments when played against the fact that the main character is a nerdy coward turned mutant and within the context of a town named the toxic waste dump capital of the USA you can tell that none of these events are to be taken as anything other than shock tactics. The intention with a film such as this is to get people talking about its content. To bring out the part in many people that enjoy seeing the most violent and shocking films you could imagine.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that at all. What’s the point of any artform if boundaries cannot be pushed in all directions. Because Toxic Avenger embraces and immerses itself in the extreme, coupled with the very low rent special effects work, you get exactly the sort of film where, suddenly, a small lady being steam press ironed to death is kind of acceptable. In fact, you’ll probably feel that was a little tame. Oh, she also gets put in a tumble dryer. Brilliant. The world that Toxie lives in is so decrepit and bereft of morals that anything goes. You’re dragged into this world and, so, anything can be accepted. Remember, this isn’t done via some flashy camera systems or with a cinematographer who’s and artisan in their field. This is all done by a small group of rebels who just want to share the sort of grimy, violent and silly films that they’ve always wanted to see with you. Troma films are a passion of film making, regardless of content, that can be appreciated by any fan of film willing to open their mind to something a little, well, a lot less polished.
For every issue I could pick with the films plotting and storytelling there’s elements that show a working knowledge of the requirements of cinematic storytelling than many film makers today wouldn’t seem to understand. For example, early on Toxie is just a rampaging monster. We get that he is doing good and only fighting villains but we still haven’t seen his face or had a chance to identify with his character. Gradually, after meeting a blind girl named Sara (Andree Maranda) Toxie becomes a person. He gains a face and a more defined personality. This is later juxtaposed against the attack on the small lady as she appears to have done nothing wrong. We then see Sara at home waiting for Toxie to return. This is cut against shots of him without seeing his face and only hearing the grunting noises he made during his rampage earlier. It appears all is fine though as we soon learn that the lady was up to her eyebrows in evil but not before we’re given a moment of peril as e believe Sara to be in trouble. She is the one uncorrupted main character in Tromaville and our desire to see no harm come to her is realised by this simple twist on the earlier scenes.
The film plays around with the basics of good storytelling a number of times without ever forgetting what level of film it really is. Nothing is refined or managed with what would be a passable level of quality in a mainstream film. But in that roughness we find the film’s charm and character. Through the 2 dimensional villains and the one note side characters we find a fully crafted world of people that are merely part of the character of Tromaville and the minds of the directors Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz. Despite its shortcoming the film is unmistakably that of the minds that created it. Good art, regardless of sloppiness, will inform you of it’s creator. There’s a reason auteur theory exists and it isn’t just for film students to have arguments over the validity of Tim Burton as an director. It’s there to identify the works of a creator and what it says about them.
Can you tell that I’m trying to state my case for Toxic Avenger being regarded as a modern classic? The film is universally flawed in every department, in the traditional sense of film making. The editing can be especially sloppy at times. But much like films I have covered previously in these special reviews, it is the perfect storm of low rent film making that lead Toxic Avenger to be the wonderfully rich and enjoyable film that it is. You can laugh with or at it. You can cringe at the gore or ridicule it’s falseness. You can mock the acting and the characters. I do believe, though, that there is a fair chance that, if you have any interest in this kind of film, you’ll enjoy the hell out of Toxic Avenger.