The Toxic Avenger (1984)

A Disney reviewer was asked by his brother to review a movie by the infamous Troma studios, and you won’t believe what happened next!

Actually, you probably will.

It’s garbage and I hated it.

“Ha ha ha aha! At last! I have defeated you!”

“Sigh. Hello, brother mine.”

“I knew requesting this review would finally crush your spirit!”

“Bitch, you haven’t crushed a damn thing.”

“What?! How can this be?!”

“Well firstly, because Anti-Depressants are AMAZING. But secondly, because you have fundamentally misunderstood the difference between different kinds of bad movie.”

So let’s talk about bad movies. Roughly speaking, bad movies can be broken into the following categories.

1)      Bad movies. Pretty simple. A movie that tries to be good but just fails. A comedy that is not funny, a thriller that is boring, a romance where you want all relevant parties to die in a fire. They’re common as muck and less useful.

2)      Good Bad movies. Movies that try to be good but are so bad that they’re entertaining. The Room, Plan 9, Birdemic what have you. Rare enough, but glorious.

3)      Good Good Bad movies. Okay, these are super rare. These are movies that are trying intentionally to ape Good Bad movies and do so in a way that makes them as entertaining as the real thing. Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace would be a perfect example if it wasn’t a TV Show.

4)      Bad Bad movies. These are less movies than acts of assault. The makers purposefully tried to make the most offensively awful movie possible just because. Serbian Film, The Human Centipede…if, for some reason you don’t know what those are, don’t google them, trust me.

5)      Good Bad Bad movies. A Bad Bad movies that’s actually so baroquely excessive and ridiculous that you can’t help but be entertained by it.

6)      Bad Bad Bad movies. And here is where they did it and it’s just gross and pointless and really, really boring.

The Toxic Avenger belongs in that final category. If it was just a little more competent I’d probably be doing an epic all caps takedown and trying out some of my most ingenious, Rube-Goldberg like profanity. But here’s the thing. You ever see Little Shop of Horrors? You know the bit where Steve Martin’s a sadistic dentist and Bill Murray is the patient who gets off on tooth extractions? It’s just no fun if the movie’s into it. I’m watching the movie and the movie is yelling “LOOK AT ME! I SUCK! DON’T I SUCK?! LOOK AT HOW BAD I SUCK!” and I’m just there half watching while scrolling through my Facebook feed muttering “Uh huh. Uh huh. Yeah. You sure do suck.”. I mean, why am I even here? The movie critiques itself.

Alright, so who are Troma? They were founded in 1974 by Lloyd Kaufman, Michael Herz and Satan (he’s a silent partner). Since their founding they’ve dedicated themselves to making independent films outside of the restrictions of the studio system, executive meddling, corporate pandering, technical competency, artistic talent and human decency. Troma have a reputation amongst their fans as plucky underdogs striking a blow against the bland corporatized studio system. A reputation that is utterly bullshit, by the bye. Firstly, Troma is a frickin’ merchandizing machine. For fruck’s sale, the Toxic Avenger had a Saturday morning cartoon with its own toyline!

I wish I was joking. God in heaven, I do.

Secondly, Troma is not the Anti-Hollywood, it’s Hollywood without any of its redeeming features. Like the very worst Hollywood fare Troma’s films traffic in senseless violence, casual misogyny, homphobia and racism. They just do it worse. If Hollywood is a McDonald’s, Troma isn’t a friendly little local Mom and Pop artisanal burger joint, it’s a cheap knockoff McDonald’s where the burgers are even worse for you and chef won’t stop taking a dump in a the deep fat fryer. That said, much like Roger Corman, Troma has been responsible for giving many screen talents their first break, with folks like James Gunn, Vincent D’Onofrio and Samuel L. Jackson all making their bones with the studio. Y’know, kinda like how WW2 was terrible but at least it gave us computers and space travel. The Toxic Avenger is by far Troma’s biggest hit and the face of their brand.

Truth in advertising, folks.

How bad is it? Let’s take a look.

Our tale begins in Tromaville (oh ffs), a tiny town in New Jersey in the middle of a toxic waste dump. Hey, know what I never talk about in my reviews? Film stock. It’s not really something I notice or think about. So how bad does a movie have to look for me to actually bring it up?

 

This bad.

This movie has made me seriously wonder if, despite everything I know about human anatomy and the film-making process, it is actually literally possible to shit out a film. Seriously, this is damn near close to Manos in terms of how ugly it looks. But hey, it’s an aesthetic that’s perfectly matched by the material so let’s just call it the best thing about the film and move on.

Okay, so in the Tromaville gym people are working out while the camera just pans over their sweaty bodies so shamelessly that it’s probably being blacklisted from working in Hollywood as we speak. Seriously, if someone ever asks you what “male gaze” means just show them the first few minutes of this movie and say “that”. There’s also two flamboyantly gay guys hanging around in Borat-thongs and their names are “Bruce” and Chauncey”. And I only know that because I looked them up on IMDB because I had a sudden premonition that I’d find that they were listed as “Fag #1” and “Fag #2”. So congratulations, movie. You briefly surpassed my expectations. Working in the gym is Melvin Junko, in a performance by Mark Torgl that suggests less that Melvin is special needs and more that he’s one of those aliens wearing a human suit from Men in Black who has literally just stepped off the spaceship.

“Got any sugar water?”

Actually, all the performances are pretty much impossible to judge because the actors were obviously told to give the most ridiculously broad, awful performances possible. I mean…how do you grade that? It’s being asked to judge a competition for “best sex offender”, what even counts as “best”?

Anyway, also in the gym are Wanda and Julie (who were clearly cast for their layered, complex acting styles and mastery of the Meisner technique) and their boyfriends Slug and Bozo. These four are your typical movie bullies taken up to eleven, and Melvin’s mere presence in the gym fills them with seething, homicidal rage. This, naturally, makes them the most relatable and sympathetic characters in the movie.

Our heroes.

Slug and Wanda stay behind in the gm after it closes to have sex because, yeah, obviously, where else are you going to do it than in a run down gym caked in the sweat and bodily fluids of America’s worst town? Alright, ladies and gentlemen. Send the kids to a fallout shelter on the other side of the world and put the Barry White album on backwards because I’m gonna teach you how to make love the Troma way.

  1. Find somewhere really romantic and comfortable to have sex, like a bench in a nasty ass gym.
  2. Get naked from the waist up, and only from the waist up ‘cos that makes it hotter.
  3.  Straddle your partner, swinging wildly from left to right while shouting their name in a way that doesn’t actually match up to your lip movements.
  4. If you are discovered by the janitor, be sure to yell at him, threaten him with a switchblade and call him a pervert despite the fact that you’re having ridiculously unconvincing sex in his place of work.

This makes the love scenes in The Room look like the love scenes in Don’t Look Now. Trust me, that is not how you sex. And this scene was probably why half this movie’s original audience even bothered to see the damn thing. In fact, hang on a minute.

“Porn?”

“Yup?”

“Thank you. Thank you for making the world a better place.”

“Thanks to the fact that you are literally available anywhere, at any time, people no longer pay to watch shitty, godawful movies like The Toxic Avenger just to get a brief glimpse of boobs. You are doing God’s work.”

“I…I’m sorry, I have something in my eye…”

“Are you crying?”

“No.”

“Oh.”

So the gang decide to punish Melvin for living by having Julie lure him to a broom closet, under the pretense of making semi-clothed, badly-synched sex. But then they turn on the light to reveal that he was actually kissing a sheep.

Okay folks, you get to choose your own caption for this one:
1) Man, that sheep can do so much better.
2) This Black Mirror prequel sucks!
3) On the plus side, Melvin is now eligible to be British Prime Minister.
4) Well, that puts the “Ew” in “Ewe”.
5) This movie kills my soul.
6) RON.

Humiliated (can you humiliate someone without dignity?) Melvin runs through the gym while all the gym patrons laugh and point. And the movie takes particular pains to show that even the fat girl is laughing at him! That’s right! Even the fat girl! That’s how low Melvin has sunk! A woman who represents the American physical average is laughing at him!

God this movie is a festering sore.

Speaking of festering sores, Melvin runs through a window and goes headfirst into a vat of toxic waste that was parked outside the gym. The gym patrons point and laugh even as he lies screaming and melting on the ground because…that’s something that humans would do. Melvin suddenly bursts into flame and goes running through the streets to the strains of Night on Bald Mountain and that’s Fantasia ruined forever. Thanks movie. Having been dumped in lethal toxic waste and set on fire, Melvin does what any of us would do and goes home to have a bath. In the bathroom his hair and skin start falling off in clumps and he turns into a giant walking tumour man in what I have to admit is a pretty damn impressive effect for a movie that looks like it was made on a budget of a packet of crisps and a couple of handjobs.

We now cut to a seedy ally in Tromaville where local drug dealer Cigar Face and his flamboyantly gay henchmen (ohhh, it’s bad guys) try to bribe Tromaville’s token good human, Officer O’Clancy.

Okay, fine. I chuckled.

When he refuses, they proceed to beat the tar out of him and then try to castrate him and whoah, just, just, just, just, just, whoah, just, whoah. Lot to unpack there.

Often, when reviewing a bad movie I’ll suggest changes that I think might have made it better and I’m not going to do that here. Because you can’t fix a turd. A turd doesn’t work or not work, it just is. But this, I think, is The Toxic Avengers biggest problem outside of an all pervading general wretchedness: It can’t find a consistent tone and stick to it. This scene is just nasty and brutal and deeply unpleasant. And I’m not saying that violence can’t be funny, because violence can be fucking hilarious. I’m saying, this movie doesn’t know how to make violence funny. Depending on how a scene is filmed, the same basic scenario of a guy getting beaten up can be hilarious, deeply upsetting or, as here, just kind of unpleasant and uncomfortable to watch. Anyway, before you can say “blue lives matter!” the Melvin-monster emerges from the shadows, beats up Cigar Face, kills his two henchmen with mops and rescues the terrified O’Clancy.

O’Clancy tell the press and suddenly the Toxic Avenger is a local hero. This doesn’t sit well with the town’s Mayor, Peter Belgoody, a corrupt politician who looks like the lovechild of John Candy and Ken Bone. The Mayor asks the Police Chief what happened and he says that the alleyway was the most gruesome thing he’s ever seen and one of the mayor’s aides says “You want gruesome? You should see my mother in law, now that’s gruesome!”

“Hi yo! Careful with joke that it’s an antique fucking terrible.”

The Chief has a German accent and keeps having to restrain himself from giving Nazi salutes because cops are Nazis…I guess…and fascism is bad except as we shall see this movie is clearly endorsing a fascist worldview and oh my God, guys, I’m starting to think Troma don’t know what the fuck they’re doing. The Chief tells Belgoody that Nipples and Knuckles (Cigar Face’s henchmen) were killed with mops and Belgoody exclaims “It must be a political statement!”

“It’s a reference to the Women’s March on Versailles of 1789 when the wives of Paris, armed with brooms and mops, marched upon the Royal Seat of Louis XVI to protest the scarcity of bread and the absolute power of the monarch! It’s obvious!”

Belgoody ain’t happy because he’s secretly running the drug trade in Tromaville and the Avenger is cutting into his profits.  Man, what a gripping tale of  crime and small town corruption.

And now: Tits.

We get a pointless scene of Slug and Wendy in the sauna at the gym because the internet hasn’t been invented yet.

Meanwhile, Melvin’s been thrown out of his home because he looks like he was left near a candle and he makes himself a hovel in the toxic waste dump.

Back at Mayor Belgoody’s office, he makes a deal with the city planner to create a new toxic waste dump near the town’s reservoir and then they both laugh evilly because…apparently they don’t need to drink water. You probably think this will lead somewhere but that’s because you’re thinking of this thing as a movie, rather than as just a series of shit that happens in roughly linear order. Oh, speaking of:

A local Mexican restaurant gets robbed by some criminals. One of the customers is a blind woman named Sara and the gang first shoot her seeing eye dog and then try to rape her (oh this fucking thing) and then Toxie arrives yadda yadda yadda brutally murders them all yippee. Okay, I always try to be fair, so there’s a martial arts fight scene here that’s actually kinda not shit. I mean, it’s cut together in a way that looks halfway cool and convincing right up to the point where Toxie grabs the guy, holds him under an ice cream dispenser and fills his mouth with white creamy goo until he chokes.

“Ah ha ha…WOW.”

Wow. If this movie was any further in the closet, right now it would be having tea in Mr Tumnus’ house.

Having saved the day with murder once again, Toxie takes Sara back to his place because this is a shitty eighties movie and if you save a girl from being raped in a shitty eighties movie she effectively becomes your property. This allows the movie to take a break from hating minorities, women, fat people and gays to get some much needed cheap laughs out of the disabled (God, I am bitter today). Anyway, Sara and Melvin become an item because she can’t see his hideous face and only sees the good person he is inside (hypothetically). It’s a spin on the Thing/Alicia Masters relationship, except I hate it and wish it were on fire.

Anyway, Toxie keeps straight up killing all the criminals in town, even bursting into the Tromaville gym to kill one of Mayor Belgoody’s lackeys whose been selling steroids to the patrons. And, despite the fact that this scene takes place a few weeks after the start of the movie, you can tell they filmed it the same day as the opening scene because ALL THE EXTRAS ARE STANDING IN THE EXACT SAME PLACES AND USING THE SAME EXERCISE MACHINES.

Huh. It’s been so long since I had a complaint about this movie related to shoddy film-making and not being just vile. Feels kinda nice. Like a cleanser.

Well, back to the coalface.

So Wendy is masturbating while topless in the gym sauna and gets attacked by Toxie who picks her up and presses her onto the hot coals saying “Let this be a lesson for ya, Hot Ass!”

We then cut to Toxie pissing in an alleyway when a limo pulls up and a pimp just offers him a twelve year old girl who he told he was taking to a David Bowie concert.

Then Toxie kills the pimp and far too many pimps come out of the pimpmobile and attack Toxie and he kills all the pimps except one who pisses his pants and runs off.

And then Toxie says “Tell all your scum friends that things are gonna change in this town. I’m not just another pretty face!”

You know, I used to review movies like Sleeping Beauty and Princess Mononoke. What an odd, winding path my life has taken.

Oh and then the weirdest goddamn part…Toxie takes the kid by the hand, and opens the door of the limo and helps her get inside. Okay, cool, he’s going to bring her safely home. But then…he gets in the back seat with her. Is there…like, a driver who’s going to take them to the girl’s house? Wouldn’t he work for the pimp that Toxie just murdered? Is it eighties movie rules that, if you kill a limo driver’s boss the limo driver belongs to you now? Or is Toxie getting in the back seat with her because OH JESUS THIS MOVIE.

The people of Tromaville feel much safer knowing there’s a berserk abomination running around terrorising the criminal underworld and people start moving into the town which causes property prices to rise which makes life a lot more difficult for the Mayor and his cronies (NONE OF THE MAKES SENSE! NONE! BAD MOVIE!)

But it’s not all selfless murder, Toxie also bumps off Julie, Slug and Bozo and for an encore, he kills a sweet little old lady in a laundromat. Now, it turns out that the sweet like old lady was actually running a white slavery ring but Belgoody seizes on this opportunity to call in the National Guard and kills the monster once and for all.

Toxie tells Sara that he’s been murdering too much and needs to go somewhere to go murder cold turkey, so they pitch a tent in the middle of a field to be alone. The National Guard surrounds the tent. O’Clancy and some of the other people that Toxie has saved get talking in a local diner and decide that they have to save Toxie.

“You know what, fellahs? I’m just a simple small town cop. But I’m starting to think what we really need is a strongman to overthrow the corrupt legal and democratic status quo and impose order through fear and the brutalisation of marginalised groups!”

So the whole town shows up and form a human shield around Toxie to stop the National Guard from shooting him and they don’t, the damned fools. So Belgoody pulls out a gun and shoots Toxie himself but it turns out Toxie’s impervious to bullets because FUCK YOU TROMA and then Toxie advances on him and the Mayor collapses into a snivelling ball, begging for mercy and of course our hero spares his life…sorry, for a second I forgot what movie I was watching. He makes a bad pun and disembowels the Mayor, and then says to O’Clancy “Officer, take care of this toxic waste”. And O’Clancy just smiles and nods because he’s just witnessed the democratically elected leader of this town be brutally murdered before his eyes and knows the new order is dawning and only those who bow to the monster’s will shall survive.  And, as the whole town watches and cheers, Toxie walks off, arm in arm with Sara while the narrator warmly informs us that Melville “rid Tromaville of all its evil so that the good citizens could live in peace.”

You know what? This ending gave me pause. Is this satire? By showing this wholesome small American town rallying around a grotesque fascistic strongman, is Troma actually presenting a biting, pitch-black deconstruction of the superhero genre? Are they essentially saying “Yeah, our hero is a brutal vigilante who metes out illegal violence to society’s outcasts while being enthusiastically embraced as a Messiah by the gullible masses, but he’s not like other superheroes because he’s hideously ugly and for no other reason.” Is this actually…brilliant?

Maybe. But it’s also ugly, vile, nasty, racist, homophobic, ableist and just basically a bad time. You want a take-down of the whole concept of superheroes, read Watchmen. You won’t feel like you need a bath afterwards.

“So you see brother, you have failed.”

“Fine. I’ll just offer to film your stand up and then leave my paw on the mic for all your best jokes.”

“OH YOU SON OF A BITCH!”

***

Scoring

Adaptation: N/A

Not actually adapted from anything, as far as I know, unless there’s some bathroom graffiti out there that got ripped off.

Our Heroic Hero: 0/25

He’s ugly on the outside, AND the inside!

Our Nefarious Villain: 05/25

Credit where credit’s due, Gary Schneider is kinda a riot as Bozo.

Our plucky sidekicks: 04/25

I hate this town so damn much.

The Stinger

Yeah, I didn’t sit through the credits. There may be a scene at the end where someone tries to recruit Toxie into the Garbage Pail Kids Initiative, who fucking cares?

Hey, was that Stan Lee?!

No it wasn’t! HOW DARE YOU!?

Hey, what’s Thanos doing?

Thanos is sitting on his chair.

FINAL SCORE: 12%

NEXT REVIEW: 15 February 2018

NEXT TIME:  Continuing our unofficial theme of “Wait, Mouse is reviewing this!?” we take a look at a movie that I’ve had on my books to review for years but never got around to.

22 comments

  1. Wow. I’ve heard of this film before but only in passing and even then just barely. I figured it was something along the lines of “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” bad. This sounds like it’s just around the corner from “Felidae” bad.

    And yes, anti-depressants are AMAZING! Glad to hear they’re working for you!

  2. “They were founded in 1974 by Lloyd Kaufman, Michael Herz and Satan (he’s a silent partner).”

    Satan is (seriously!) the villain of Toxic Avenger 3, and I hate that I know that.

    “Working in the gym is Melvin Junko,”

    His name is Ferd in the first film, but Junko in all the sequels.

    “So the gang decide to punish Melvin for living by having Julie lure him to a broom closet, under the pretense of making semi-clothed, badly-synched sex. But then they turn on the light to reveal that he was actually kissing a sheep.”

    Also, they tricked him into wearing a pink tutu, which he still wears as the Monster Hero/Toxic Avenger/”Toxie” to his friends.

    (The film was going to be called “Monster Hero”, so he’s only called that in the film; the name “Toxic Avenger” was a last-minute change)

    Meanwhile, TA2 and 3 (which were filmed together, and have a sort-of-connecting plot about an evil corporation taking over Tromaville) have a much broader and more obviously-comedic tone to them. Toxie’s voice is higher and less threatening, the level-headed but naive Sarah has turned into the completely ditzy (but still blind) Claire, the violence is a little goofier, and even the boob-glimpses are played more for comedy. They’re not good films, either, but they’re not good in an entirely different way than the first film is not good.

    That’s how they made a cartoon out of it (and a Marvel comic) – they both start off retelling the events of the first film, but with the wackier tone of the second and third films cranked up even higher. (Claire now isn’t blind, she just forgot her glasses. And Toxie’s mop is alive. And he teams up with other equally-disfigured mutants to fight pollution, because it was the 1990s and so of course they did. It’s not a good show, either, is what I’m saying)

    This film obviously hurt you, so I wouldn’t recommend watching any of the sequels (the two I mentioned, and a fourth film that I didn’t see beyond the opening narration), but just wanted to give my armchair analysis.

    “Hey, was that Stan Lee?!”

    Stan Lee is the narrator for Toxic Avenger IV: Citizen Toxie. He really is everywhere.

  3. I admit it…I mostly skipped over the article because I was kind of afraid of what I would find…I am not sure if I want to know that much about this movie.

    Also…kind of confused by your schemata….like, where would Con Air fit into this?

  4. Great review! I’m actually a fan of the “takes the violence so far that it becomes a farce” subgenre, like Re-Animator, Evil Dead, or even Bad Taste. Toxie is still a difficult sit.

    I notice you didn’t talk about “The Scene”. You know, “The Scene” featuring “The Car” and “The Utterly Pointless Act Of Depraved Brutality That’s All The Worse For Actually Being A Fairly Convincing Effect”. Thanks for that.

    I saw this when I was 10 and it gave me nightmares. Don’t know why I didn’t just turn it off after the first couple of minutes. Guess I wanted to prove I could handle it. I saw A Nightmare on Elm Street when I was 7, and while it scared me to death I also became an instant fan. But Toxic Avenger (and to a somewhat lesser extent Garbage Pail Kids) actually disturbed me, in a way legit horror movies didn’t. Horror movies make sense; they are supposed to be scary. But somebody made those movies and thought they were being funny. I just couldn’t fathom why anyone would make these things, and knowing someone did made the world seem less pleasant.

      1. Huh. Looks like the UK version is four and a half minutes shorter, and had that scene cut. If only they released a version with every other scene cut, it’d be a must own.

  5. What an…. aweful looking little movie. One of those low budget “superhero” films I’d been peripherally aware of and vaguely curious about. The apparent goriness alone would have probably put me off anyway but there was always a chance I’d succumb to pressure and my own curiosity. Thank you for saving me the trouble of having to sit through it.

  6. Got an oddity, Mouse. It looks like the rest of the commenters are seeing the entire post without problems, but it’s cutting off for me at the following paragraph:

    Actually, pretty much all the performances are pretty much impossible to judge because the actors were obviously told to give the most ridiculously broad, awful performances possible. I mean…how to you grade that? It’s being asked to judge a competition for “best sex offender”, what even counts as “best”?

    I’m utterly flummoxed; would you mind looking into it?

  7. Hey Mouse, fun fact:

    Back in 1989, Streamline Picture produced a dub of My Neighbour Totoro for use on Japan Airlines’ transpacific flights.

    Four years later, in 1993, Troma purchased the distribution rights to this dub, and gave it a theatrical release.

  8. Out of curiosity, is “Troma” pronounced exactly like “trauma”?

    I suspect the only reason Thanos is still sitting in his chair is because he doesn’t have to watch this movie. 😥

    Anyway, thanks for the review… I guess? Sounds like you’re just going to be reviewing weird stuff for a while, huh? I individually understand the words “sexy,” “kinetic,” and “thriller,” but I can’t seem to make them work together in my mind… 😅

  9. Man, that was a riot, great review, Mouse. I mean, you played your bit to a T, I commend you.
    Nearly blowing a gasket during a hate-watch of a Troma movie? Brilliant! I mean, who in their right mind would actually bother putting in the effort to be offended in deliberate trash, am I right? 😉

  10. Urrrggghhh why does this exist.

    Also, kinda random question but have you ever thought of starting a Patreon, Mouse? I’d definitely donate to your blog. 🙂

  11. So, is this studio’s name literally made to sound like “Trauma”? That’s not intentional, is it? Because either way, it seems reflective.

    Don’t have much to say about this utter mess. Except that now I’m wondering if you and Unscrupulous Mouse are half-brothers or not, because if not, you just insulted yourself there with that last outburst.

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