(Before I start, as a bit of warning, the last pic in the review is a bit graphic.)
While the likes of Class of Nuke ‘Em High, Surf Nazis Must Die and Sgt. Kabukiman NYPD are lesser known, but still relatively mainstream, entries in the Troma canon, their one film that really did crossover into wider public consciousness (it even spawned a Saturday morning kids’ cartoon series… seriously) is The Toxic Avenger.
Now available in a surprisingly good blu-ray HD transfer from 88 Films I have re-visted this king of schlock movies and, as is expected, on pretty much every level it is awful, but…
For the first part of the film every character is detestable, from Melvin, our de-facto hero and the much put upon janitor at Tromaville’s gym to the initial antagonists who are only more deplorable than our ‘hero’ and everyone else because they get their kicks from running down kids in their suped up car and getting off (literally) to the photos they take of the graphic aftermath.
While there is humour in these scenes, in a typically broad Troma kind of way, they do take some effort to get through and really only the hope that all these guys get their come-uppance carried me through.
Once our titular hero, aka Toxie, arrives, following a surprisingly good transformation scene, things change. Certainly political correctness remains a foreign concept, but at least pretty much everyone is given a good going over (if that makes it any better?), but finally we have someone to root for in Toxie and his newly found blind girlfriend, whom he saves from what is looking like its going to be a particular brutal fate.
From this point on this becomes a comic book movie in concept and convention, just one where the hero commits genuinely horrific acts to the bad guys while a Viz like streak of humour continues to run through the whole thing.
As is to be expected from Troma, these acts really are where the focus lies so we get death by gym equipment, maiming by sauna, a particular ‘nice’ Three Stooges eye-poke moment and many more.
As the film goes one thing that struck me on this watch is quite how knowing the ‘no-budget’ vibe seems to be as we get basic but none-the-less reasonably executed car stunts and fight scenes that hint that actually, it might not be as cheap as it looks. Some research suggests the film cost $500,000 so far from a blockbuster budget but with a no name cast and crew this explains how the Toxie’s ‘big moments’ were achieved.
This knowing sense really is what takes what would be an un-watchably offensive film and turns it into a watchable superhero comedy horror.
With a surprisingly big climactic scene that I first thought was using stock footage but actually seemed to be shot for the film, The Toxic Avenger entirely lived up to my memories and expectations (its been over a decade since I saw it) and it was clear why this is one of the jewels in Troma’s crown and the movie that made their name.
Certainly its not going to be for everyone, but if you can suspend disbelief and good taste for 80 minutes or so its schlocky combination of poorly shot and enacted sex, brutal violence and puerile comedy (with a little bit of thinly referenced social commentary) really does hit the spot.
And because I remember loving it as a kid, and having some of the toys, here’s the intro to the kids TV show based on the movie (hard to believe, even one series ever got made of this):