The Toxic Avenger (1984)

Posted: January 20, 2016 in Movie Review
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The Toxic Avenger (1984)

Directed by: Michael Herz & Lloyd Kaufman

Starring: Mitch Cohen, Mark Torgl, Andree Maranda, Pat Ryan Jr., Jennifer Babtist, Robert Prichard, Cindy Manion, Gary Schneider

In 1984, a low-budget horror movie laid the groundwork for the future of an entire film studio. No, not “A Nightmare on Elm Street.” This monster flick, which can officially be referred to as a horror comedy, even spawned a kid-friendly cartoon series. Nope, not “Ghostbusters.” We’re talking about “The Toxic Avenger.” Troma Entertainment’s pride and joy, “The Toxic Avenger” marked a change in direction for the company, which had until that time focused mainly on sex comedies. In the 30+ years since, Troma has primarily relied on the horror genre while still producing comic gold. Though it failed to catch on at first, this radioactive cult classic has since acquired a massive fanbase and continues to fascinate newcomers to this day.

Melvin Ferd (Mar Torgl) is a skinny, big-toothed nerd working as the janitor of a health club located in one of the shitholes of the world: the fictional town of Tromaville, New Jersey. This crime-ridden city is the kind where the same young punks who torment Melvin at the health club also routinely commit vehicular homicide. One day, the tricks they play on Melvin go one step too far… out of a second story window and into an open vat of toxic waste. What should kill Melvin instead transforms him like some kind of comic book superhero into the muscle-bound, violence prone Toxic Avenger (Mitch Cohen), or Toxie for short. Fortunately for Tromaville, Toxie is able to focus his need to smash things on those who truly deserve it. His first victims, a gang of drug dealers threatening to castrate a cop, are left with mops placed over their lifeless faces as a sort of calling card. His second set of victims are a group of robbers terrorizing customers at a fast food restaurant. Toxie escorts a beautiful blonde blind woman named Sarah (Andree Maranda) from the scene after dispatching of the villains, who killed Sarah’s seeing-eye dog. Eventually, Toxie and Sarah will form a romantic relationship.

As with any superhero who became what they are due to the actions of a villainous foe, so must eventually come the hero’s revenge. If Toxie actually kills the two girls from the group of hit and run artists, neither death is actually shown. He burns Wanda (Jennifer Babtist)’s rear end with a sauna heater and corners Julie (Cindy Manion) in the basement of the health club wielding a pair of scissors. In any case, neither is ever seen again, so they may as well be dead. There is no ambiguity in the fates of Bozo (Gary Schneider) and Slug (Robert Prichard, who resembles Corey Feldman from “The Lost Boys” with that red bandana). They are both killed after stealing a car from an old woman.

While many become fans of Toxie’s actions, not everyone is amused. Corruption moves all the way up to the top in this town, and the obese Mayor Belgoody wants to put a stop to it before he’s next on Toxie’s hit list. He makes his move while Toxie is experiencing a crisis of conscience, and finds him in a tent with Sarah at a secluded spot outside the city. Bringing the National Guard with him, the Mayor moves in for the kill, but he hadn’t counted on the citizens of Tromaville standing in the way as a human shield. The Mayor is ultimately killed when Toxie rips out his guts.

It wouldn’t truly be a classic early 80’s horror flick if there weren’t at least one future Hollywood star present. In the Director’s Cut, as Toxie first begins his pursuit of Julie inside the health club, a young dark-haired woman draped in a blue towel is briefly shown walking in, screaming at the top her lungs at the very sight of Toxie and then running away as fast as her legs will carry her. That young lady is none other than future Oscar-winning actress Marisa Tomei.

After hearing about it for years, I finally saw “The Toxic Avenger” for the first time in 2015 on Netflix. Knowing that there were sequels, I sought them out soon after. Let’s just say I was unimpressed by “Part II,” never finished “Part III,” and so have never gotten around to watching the fourth film in the series. I think I’ve seen enough to reason that there never should have been any sequels. The original “Toxic Avenger,” on the other hand, is better than I could have imagined. It establishes exactly the right over-the-top tone in order to get away with some of its more daring plot points, such as the gruesome hit-and-run murder of a kid on a bicycle. It is such campy fun that I was compelled to own it on DVD. I personally thank Lloyd Kaufman and all else involved for dreaming it up and bringing it to life. You want a more ringing endorsement than that? How about this, then: “The Toxic Avenger” is one of those precious few movies that you MUST see before you die.

  1. Sylvia Williams says:

    That is a ringing endorsement! Little Marisa Tomei, eh? Cool! Another excellent review from CEW III.

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