The Toxic Avenger
The Toxic Avenger 1984
A lot of B-movie fans, and especially horror B-movie fans likely know the name Troma. It’s a small company that’s churned out a whole lot of low budget films over the years with titles like Yeti: A Love Story, Surf Nazis Must Die!, and Killer Condom. But before doing horror movies, they mainly did sex comedies. The Toxic Avenger was more or less their first foray into horror, even though it’s not what anyone would call full blown horror, it has the death scenes and blood and gore which is a staple of these kinds of horror movies. And it was a success… eventually. It wasn’t quite the slow burn that the Rocky Horror Picture Show would become, but it found a foothold as a midnight movie and is considered a cult classic. Heck, there was even a children’s cartoon of it. As for my own experience with Troma films, I know I was familiar with the Toxic Avenger, but I can’t for the life of me remember exactly how. I think I watched at least one of the films when I was younger, and I know I caught some of the episodes of the cartoon. I also watched Tromeo and Juliet, which was directed by the James Gunn who would later go on to direct Super. But my knowledge of Toxie had mostly faded when he came back on screen in all his cheesy glory. This is a cult movie for a lot of the same reasons the Room is a cult movie. The acting is horrible, the effects are obviously cheap but brutal (for the time at least), but in the end, I had a blast.
The basic plot of the movie is that there is this 90 pound, dorky, practically mentally challenged janitor named Melvin who works at this health club that’s frequented by a bunch of musclebound jocks and ditzy sluts. There’s a group of four of these people led by Bozo who spend most of their free time treating their car like a video game, running down pedestrians for “points”. They are fed up with Melvin’s annoying presence and play a prank on him, dressing him in a pink leotard with a frilly tutu, tricking him into kissing a sheep in front of the entire health club membership. He freaks out and jumps out the window, right into a conveniently placed semi truck full of barrels of toxic waste which transform him into a giant, hideously deformed creature who goes around Tromaville killing its evil inhabitants, and eventually finds love and acceptance in the process.
I think part of the charm of this movie comes from the actors. There’s acting that’s larger than life, then there’s over the top, and then down the street and around the corner is the level of acting in this movie. Every line is delivered like it’s the most important line in the world, and if there’s an emotion attached to that line, it’s the most exaggerated expression of that emotion possible. And accompanying the acting is an over-enthusiastic foley artist who accentuates every action with a sound effect that often borders on cartoonish, and more often crosses it. Unfortunately, the sound quality is one of my least favorite parts of the movie. I thought the acting was cartoonish enough that it didn’t need the added level of the sound effects to go the extra mile, and on top of that, almost all of the Toxic Avenger’s lines are dubbed and not only do they not sound like they are coming from him, but they are also wildly different sounding than all of the grunting and growling sound effects they use before he ever utters a word.
And of course, there’s the gore in all its low budget 80’s glory. There’s head crushings, limb ripping, burning, oozing, even disemboweling. Compared to the level of what the so-called torture porn has raised the bar to today, the gore in this movie falls right into the level of humor that the rest of the movie aims to reach. And for all the blood, it is obviously trying to be a comedy at heart, even though it succeeds on a completely different level. There is a blind woman who obviously becomes the Toxic Avenger’s love interest, like some other-loving thing you may very well know of, but her blindness is played completely for slapstick and humor. Toxie initially saves her from being “cornholed” during a taco joint robbery where her seeing eye dog gets shot and killed, and he has to lead her home before going into a montage of her knocking things over and other slapstick-y things. Like the blind girl, every other side character is an extreme stereotype, though everyone around them treats them like it’s completely normal, like the gang member named Nipples. He’s a burly black guy with a full beard, yet he wears a blonde wig and talks in a high pitched voice. There’s also a elderly woman who’s also a little person that gets killed by Toxie. But it’s ok because you later find out that she was running a white slave trade.
In the end, I think a large part of what wins me over is the complete and total bizarreness in this movie. From the ridiculous villains that make no logical sense whatsoever. White slave trade, really? To the town rallying against the mayor in favor of the monster hero, to his unexplained ability to only lose control and kill truly evil people. It made absolutely no sense, but in the end, I loved almost every minute of it and am looking forward to the sequels. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.