The Toxic Avenger (1984)

Andree Maranda
Mitch Cohen (as Mitchell Cohen)
Pat Ryan (as Pat Ryan Jr.)

Dir: Michael Herz & Lloyd Kaufman

One of the most famous bad movies, “The Toxic Avenger” became one of the first major cult hits for now infamous movie studio, Troma. Bringing their own brand of violence, camp, gore and slapstick, Troma ushered in a new age for exploitation movies in the 1980s.

I have a special place in my heart for “The Toxic Avenger”. The DVD that sits on my shelf was the first in my now vast collection of bad movies.

Unfortunately, it seems that my copy has been cut to shreds by censors so that it could get a certificate and a release. The running time on the back of my DVD case says “76 minutes”. A cursory glance at Wikipedia shows that the unrated cut is 82 minutes long. It’ll make no difference, but this is a review of a chopped up, watered-down version of “The Toxic Avenger”. If you have the 110 minute-long director’s cut (in which Marisa Tomei features as an extra) and fancy sending it to me, get in touch!

Having said that, the most brutal of images do seem to have been missed by the censors in my copy, however they’ve been cut in length to subliminal proportions. I still don’t know if I have an image of a shotgun-blasted guide dog in my mind because it flashed up during the course of me watching the DVD or because of an horrific repressed memory.

As with any movie from Troma, the acting in “The Toxic Avenger” is as hammy as a butcher’s window. It’s pushed to that extreme by the cast’s amateur dramatics rather than any professional shortcomings (though nobody really did much more in movies after this). Gary Schneider’s performance as “Bozo” is particularly entertaining. Schneider now runs an entertainment agency for children and even works as a clown from time to time – how prophetic his character’s name turned out to be.

There’s a lot of use of classical music in this movie. At times, it works well to create certain atmospheres or to give a scene an unexpected layer of pathos. I think these may well be accidental though – if I know anything about Troma, then I’d guess that the music was selected for no reason other than the fact that it’s copyright-free.

For a low-budget exploitation film, there are some brilliant home-made special effects and some great stunts. In particular, Melvin’s transformation into Toxie and one of the most impressive half burn stunts I’ve ever seen. Walking, on fire, for what seems like forever, far away from the camera and crew and far away from the edge of the shot (where stunt crews with fire extinguishers usually hang out), it’s a truly incredible piece of stuntwork that comes out of nowhere.

On its initial release, “The Toxic Avenger” made no impact whatsoever on the movie-going public at large and I’m not surprised. I have no idea why this film has became the cult classic that it is. It stinks of amateurness throughout and isn’t particularly charming. You’re not willing Melvin to get his own back on the bullies because Melvin’s such a wuss that you would have bullied him yourself. It’s the violence and gore that drives this movie on (or at least this reviewer’s interest in it). It’s camp, cheesy exploitation cinema at it’s best.

The graphic violence and gore is the meaty flesh on this movie’s almost non-existent plot bones. But the script is peppered with hilarious little lines (“What the shit?!”) that keep your interest between the ultraviolent set-pieces. Speaking of which, the creativity involved in the brutality is worth seeing this movie for alone. Deep fried hands anyone?

“The Toxic Avenger” is an incredibly important bad movie. Exploitation had become really artsy and weird by the end of the 70s. The very fact that “Nunsploitation” became a genre in its own right is testament to that fact. I believe critics were on the verge of creating a genre called “Barrelsploitation”.

It was the tutu-togged Toxie who gave exploitation a tongue-in-cheek kick up its self-important tushie. He was a superhero not only intent on wreaking havoc on steroid-filled bullies, but on exploitation cinema itself.

If you’re on this website then you must have at least heard of “The Toxic Avenger”. If you still haven’t seen it, do it now!

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