Fashionably Late: Toxic Avenger


Published: September 27, 2007

The first part of the 20th century was marked by the release of some of the finest films in cinema. Movies like “The Wizard of Oz” and “Citizen Kane” paid the bills for companies like MGM and RKO, while the concept of the “movie star” was created in celebrities like Humphrey Bogart and Marilyn Monroe. But underneath the success of these box office hits were their lower budget counterparts, B-movies. Stuck with the raw end of the deal, B-movies were hardly advertised, had very low budgets and were played first at double features. Luckily, B movies had their time to shine post-Golden Age, thanks to actors like Vincent Price and a genre library which, by this time, included a great deal of Science Fiction and Horror.

Courtesy of Troma Entertainment

Now let’s forget that cinema was ever that good and leap ahead 20 years in our history lesson, by which time B movies had plunged into exploitation. Grotesque killings, explicit sexuality, and intense drug use plagued the screen, helping B-movies to never have a script that wasn’t campy. As movies like “Jaws” and “Star Wars” gained attention, moviegoers were quick to forget about the films which they had fallen in love with, and B movies soon became distant memories.

Then there came “The Toxic Avenger,” created by Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz (of Troma Entertainment infamy) and which was released as their first big hit in 1985. It was what the B movie genre needed to revive itself from its slump. It had the violence and sex, and yet it maintained a higher standard than all exploitation films with its extravagant style. On top of all the gore and nudity, Herz and Kaufman added a twist of humor. “The Toxic Avenger” not only takes a stab at exploitation film, but mostly, it makes fun of itself. B movies were never known for their quality, and the Toxic Avenger attacks this sterotype. By going over the top (and when I say over the top, I mean way over the top) with its excessivily gory violence and overexaggerated, over-acted dialogue, it creates an aura which labeled it a cult classic.

The movie follows Melvin, a 98-pound, wimpy, nerdy health club janitor. Just picture that kid in high school that everyone made fun of and shoved into lockers. Well, maybe that really didn’t happen at your high school, but you can imagine it. Melvin is constantly tormented by a group of health club regulars, led by the roid-enraged Bozo, who, when not at the gym, is out commiting hit-and-runs. Twenty-eight points for a kid on a bike! Woot!

The torture is taken to the limit on the day when Melvin is forced into a tutu and made to kiss a sheep. Fully ashamed, Melvin fearfully retreats, climactically jumping out the top-story window, landing in a vat of toxic waste, running home in a ball of flames, mutating into a grotesque monster and becoming The Toxic Avenger! If you’re not having fun with this movie by now, you will be.

Toxie, as he is known from this point in the movie, gets right to work, subdueing the gangs of the town using  the most violent of methods: crushing heads, dismembering people, and impaling victims with his hands. If that weren’t enough, Toxie places a mop over each of his victim’s heads, turning any disgust into laughter.

Shunned by his mother, he becomes a superhero outcast that sets up base in the local junkyard. In creating mayhem, he is not only able to stop crime, but also create a humorous spectacle for the audience. Most notably, he turns a gang leader’s face into a sundae and then finishes it with the blender. To top things off, he brings Sarah, the blind woman distressed from the killing of her dog, back to his junkyard pad, beginning one of the most entertaining and humorous love-making montages ever to hit the screen.

He eventually decides to go after the health club hooligans, crushing the head of an anonymous drug pusher with a weight machine (to intensify the gore in the head crushing scenes, Kaufman used melons filled with fake blood and fake brain parts, topped with a wig, to similate an imploding head), finishing with Bozo who meets his fate over the side of a cliff.

Three sequels to “The Toxic Avenger” were released but none of them had the violence, sex, humor and (most of all) style that the first installment presented. It is not only a gory action film, but also a satirical comedy filled with social commentary and political humor. Don’t settle for any of the sequels when you can witness the TOXIC AVENGER!