Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Toxic Avenger (1984)

Am I crazy or are the first fifteen minutes of The Toxic Avenger the greatest fifteen minutes ever to be captured on film? What's that? Oh, I am crazy. Whew, that's a relief. For a second there, I thought I had just witnessed something truly spectacular. Hold on, it's coming back to me. Let me set the scene. A fitness club in New Jersey, scratch that, a health club in new Jersey (watching a film a second time really helps when it comes to remembering minor details). A virtual cornucopia of tight bodies poured into leotards thrusting and heaving to the song "Body Talk" by Sandy Farina. If you head down to the pool area of said health club, you'll see hot chicks in bikinis for as far as the eye can see. Don't look now, but a toothy blonde is soaking her already moist vagina in a swimming pool adjacent hot tub. A leggy brunette in a shirt-dress with the word "Whaaam!" written on it in a comic book-friendly font (I think the word "wham" may have only contained two a's, but I decided to add an extra one for dramatic effect) is sauntering through the locker room with a leggy aplomb. Did I mention there are headbands-a-plenty? No? Well, it looks like I just did. Watch, as a toothy blonde in Pony International apparel takes a break from playing racquetball to plan and conceive the event that will change Tromaville forever with her scumbag friends. (Whoa, "scumbag"?!? How do you know they're scumbags? The film is, like you said, still in its infancy as far as running time goes.) Trust me, they're scumbags. Actually, it's all about perspective. If you think purposefully running over little kids with your car is behaviour worthy of the scumbag moniker, than you might want to call them that. If, however, you don't think it's worthy, you might think I was a tad hasty in my harsh judgment of them.

It would seem that I got sidetracked from my original point with this whole: "Are the toothy blonde and her friends scumbags or not"? debate. And that was, am I crazy? (If you don't mind, I think I'm most qualified person to judge whether or not you're crazy. Looking over the scene you just set, particularly the part about the tight bodies poured into leotards, I think I can safely declare that you are definitely not crazy. In fact, anyone who doesn't think the opening chunk of super-terrific awesome that is the first fifteen minutes of The Toxic Avenger aren't the greatest fifteen minutes ever to be captured on film are the one's who are crazy.)

What's great about the opening fifteen minutes is that my favourite character doesn't even appear during them. In other words, things don't just suddenly stop being super-terrific awesome once we hit the fifteen minute mark. Uh-uh, man. If anything, they get more super-terrific awesome. Sure, some of the fight scenes have a tendency to drag things to a screeching halt, but everything else was pure radioactive joy.

Oh, and I feel like I should warn some of you that when I say, "tight bodies poured into leotards," I'm not just talking about women. That's right, some of the guys at this particular health club like to sport leotards as well.

(Don't tell me, your favourite character is the prostitute who appears briefly during the scene that is supposed to signify that the jails are becoming overcrowded thanks to "The Toxic Avenger"?) While I dug her commitment to the colours orange and black (her skirt, purse, heels, and belt are orange, while her top and nylons are black), she's not my favourite.

Since anyone whose seen this film already knows who my favourite character is, I'll sheepishly move on to the part of the film that is basically your classic origin story (don't worry, I'll reveal their identity to the rest of you in a minute). Similar to the one's you see in almost every superhero movie, the origins of "The Toxic Avenger" lie within the barrels of toxic waste that, according to this film, litter the radioactive landscape that is mid-1980s Tromaville, New Jersey: The Toxic Waste Capital of the World.

A dorky mop boy named Melvin (Mark Torgl), who works at the Tromaville Health Club, is being tormented by a group of hit and run enthusiasts (they run people over with their car for kicks). One day, while enjoying a soak in the club's hot tub, the body conscious Bozo (Gary Schneider), the church-going Slug (Robert Prichard), the leggy Wanda (Jennifer Prichard, a.k.a. Jennifer Baptist), and Julie (Cindy Manion), the aforementioned toothy blonde, suddenly grow tired of Melvin's existence. (Excuse me?) They hate Melvin with a fiery passion; one of them even has the nerve to criticize his moping technique; which, even I'll admit, is pretty piss poor as far as moping techniques goes.

On this particular day, they simply push Melvin around a bit. Later that night, we see with our own eyes how enthusiastic Bozo, Slug, Wanda and Julie are about hit and runs, as they crush the skull of a little boy with their car. If that wasn't gruesome enough, Julie and Wanda take Polaroids of the grisly aftermath. Even though I love watching Julie prance about in blue shorts, I have to say, her behaviour in this scene is kinda messed up. But then again, in a later scene, Wanda can be seen masturbating in the sauna to the photos of dead children. In other words, at least Julie is not as sick as Wanda is. Either way, they're both leggy as fuck and they're both terrible human beings. However, like I implied earlier, it's Julie who gets the idea to humiliate Melvin by having him wear a pink tutu; Julie somehow manages to convince Melvin that she digs guys in pink tutus. (What are you talking about, "somehow"? Look at Julie's body. She can make any guy, mop boy or not, do anything her heart desires.)

I don't know why, but Julie wears four different outfits over the course of the next sequence.

The first is the blue Pony shirt she wears while playing racquetball (she comes up with the plan to humiliate Melvin while in this ensemble).

The second is light blue one-piece bathing suit (she wears this to seduce Melvin by the pool). The third is a blue leotard with magenta tights (she wears this get-up when she tells her friends the plan is in motion). And the fourth is a skimpy pink bikini (she asks Melvin to put on a pink tutu and to meet her by the pool - the club has long since closed for the day).

Now, did Julie's scheme involve Melvin falling headfirst into a barrel of toxic waste on the back of a truck that just happened to be parked outside the health club? That's a subject for film scholars and hardcore Troma-philes to debate. All I know is that Melvin will never be the same again. Reborn as a large, musclebound freak covered in deformities, Melvin (now played by Mitch Cohen) is shunned by society.

Rescuing Officer O'Clancy (Dick Martinsen), Tromaville's only non-corrupt cop, from a trio of thugs who were about kill his ass in an alleyway, this new version of Melvin can't help but destroy people who are evil. Whereas most superheroes choose to fight the forces of darkness using their own freewill, Melvin's desire to vanquish the wicked and punish the immoral seems innate.

When word gets out that there's a crime-busting monster roaming the streets of Tromaville, the mayor, Peter Belgoody (Pat Ryan, Street Trash), goes into panic mode. (Wait, shouldn't the mayor be happy that someone has finally decided to clean up his town?) You're joking, right? The mayor has his hand in most if not all the illegal rackets in Tromaville; drugs, violent crime, prostitution, toxic waste, you name it, he profits from it.

Does he profit when a trio of thugs (a different trio of thugs than the trio of thugs that Melvin confronts in the alleyway- in Tromaville, crime comes in threes) decide to hold up a Mexican restaurant? You bet he does. The more important question you should be asking is... (Who holds up a Mexican restaurant?) No, not that. Though, it does make one doubt the collective brain power of the Tromaville's criminal underclass. (Who's that vision of loveliness eating a taco with Cary, her service dog?) Why that's Sara (Andree Maranda), the most attractive woman in all of Tromaville.

(Am I crazy or are the women who appear in Troma movies more attractive than the women who appear in non-Troma movies?) You're not crazy. In fact, you're absolutely right. Whether it be Janelle Brady and Théo Cohan in Class of Nuke 'Em High or Jane Jensen in Tromeo and Juliet, the Troma woman is always interesting to look at. And as everyone knows, being interesting to look at is the reason cinema exists in the first place. I mean, you wouldn't want to watch a film where the people in them weren't interesting to look at, now would you? Of course you wouldn't.

While a lot of time and effort seems to go into making these movies as disgusting as humanly possible, I think Troma's talent when it comes to casting female characters is second to none.

Anyway, getting back to Andree Maranda as Sara, the leggy woman who Melvin saves from Frank, Leroy and Rico, the Mexican restaurant bandits. Just as Frank (Larry Sulton) pulls up Sara's pink skirt and says, "I'm about to cornhole me a blind bitch," Melvin makes his presence felt.  And in doing so, prevents Sara's cornhole from being violated. In case you're not good at putting four and six together, Sara is blind.

If you don't become obsessed with the way Andree Maranda tilts her head in this movie, then there's something seriously wrong with you. (Don't you think that's a little harsh?) Normally, I would say, yes, I am being a little harsh. But this is Andree Maranda in The Toxic Avenger we're talking about. She gives hands down one of the best performances by an actress playing the blind girlfriend of a deformed superhero from New Jersey that I have ever seen.

Since her service dog was filled with lead during the standoff at the taco joint, Melvin escorts Sara home. Grabbing a cane from her vast collection of canes, Sara asks if she can touch Melvin's face. Not wanting to repulse her (he tells her he has acne), Melvin instead allows her to read his palm. If you thought the way Andree Maranda tilted her head in this movie was awesome, wait until you see the way she moves her eyes.

Always in a constant state of motion, Andree Maranda's darting eye movement, combined with propensity to tilt her head in a jerky manner, is beyond adorable.

(Even more adorable than the romantic montage--set to the kick ass strains of "Is This Love" by Race-that is utilized to signify the rapid progression of their relationship?) Ugh, I don't know that's a tough one. Let's just say they're both equally adorable. Speaking of adorable, I think this is the only superhero movie where the hero seems to actually like his or her love interest. Okay, Christopher Reeve seemed to like Margo Kidder in Superman: The Movie. But other than that, I'm not getting much of a romantic vibe from those other tight-wearing jackasses.

Come to think of it, I would be pretty comfortable in declaring The Toxic Avenger to be the most date-friendly superhero movie in existence. It's true, I didn't give this much thought. And I failed to factor in the excessive violence that is liberally sprinkled throughout this film. But my gut is telling me that this is the perfect film for people who think romance is dead and that love is stupid. And I guarantee you won't think either those things after you watch The Toxic Avenger, as it will not only entertain the living shit out of you, it will fuck with your core beliefs.


  1. Loved watching this on USA Up All Night.

  2. Ah memories. There is apparently a director's cut that was released recently!

  3. Gray's unfortunate demise is the most brutal scene in this film. That was the only part I found truly objectionable. Thank Merciful Buddha that Toxie showed up before things got even worse!!!!!

    I actually watched parts 3 through 1 in reverse order. Over a period of about ten years. This one is my favorite. Andree Maranda is so adorable I needed an insulin drip. She and Toxie were the ultimate screen couple for the 80s after Julie Cotten and Skinless Frank.

    1. Gray?!? You mean Sarah's dog? If so, than yeah... poor doggy.

      Anyway, what Toxie and Sarah have in this movie is truly special.

    2. Ooops, I meant to type "Gary." That was the dog's name, right? Its been a while since I've seen this. Really should stop writing comments so late at night.

    3. I think the name of Sarah's dog was Cary as in Cary Grant. At least that's what I heard.

    4. You are probably right. Haven't seen this in years. I was so traumatized by seeing a Golden Retriever fake killed that I almost went into a coma. Anyway, I'm just glad Toxie was there to protect Sara's tunnel of maize from carnal violation.

      Part III really weirded me out for some reason when I first saw it. Probably because I was in middle school and not used to such goofiness.

    5. "Tunnel of maize" is one of the best variations of the term "corn hole" I have ever seen.