The Toxic Avenger (1984)

toxie
Toxie having the obligatory post-intercourse cigarette with his blind girlfriend Sara.

 

The Toxic Avenger is an absurd piece of filmmaking with just enough laughs and quirks to make it bearable.

I have been informed that The Toxic Avenger is one of Troma’s better films, so it was perhaps not the most appropriate introduction to their notorious catalogue that contains titles such as Nazi Surfers Must Die and Class of Nuke ‘Em High.

I was expecting gratuitous nudity and violence, and I was presented with it, but one thing I didn’t expect was the pantomime acting. There’s an array of absurd caricatures, including Bozo (Gary Schneider) a psychotic, gym frequenting idiot who enjoys running children over with his friends Slug (Robert Prichard) and Julie (Cindy Manion). Whilst at the gym, they antagonise the janitor Melvin (Mark Torgl), a ridiculously dorky moron who spends much of his screen presence squirming and baring his comedy-looking teeth. I thought there would be a good old fashioned revenge film to be found in The Toxic Avenger, and there is to a certain extent, but the relentlessly silly acting broke any modicum of investment I may have had in the characters to the point where it became almost unwatchable.

Other characters include Mayor Belgoody (Pat Ryan Jr), the corpulent, corrupt mayor of ‘Tromaville’; the German police chief (David Weiss), who accidentally exposes his closeted Nazism by compulsively performing the Nazi salute and blurting out Fuhrer!, and Sara (Andree Maranda), the Toxic Avenger’s attractive, blind girlfriend whose condition is often the subject of juvenile jokes, the most frequent one being her stick inadvertently making contact with Toxie’s crotch.

I’m sure most are familiar with the premise – during a particularly humiliating session of bullying, Melvin the janitor falls out of a window and into a barrel of toxic waste, transforming him into a super strong and super righteous mutant – The Toxic Avenger.

Performed by Mitchell Cohen, the Toxic Avenger’s, or Toxie’s, screen presence is the film’s chief merit. The prosthetics and makeup applied to Cohen’s body are very good considering the budget and Troma’s reputation. The scene in which Melvin transforms into Toxie is also appropriately painful looking and gruesome, reminding me of the transformation scene in An American Werewolf in London released three years prior.

What I found particularly funny was the Toxic Avenger’s voice. He initially only grunts and roars, I assumed he could no longer speak, however the toxic waste somehow provided him with a silky smooth mid-Atlantic accent (the voice acting provided by Kenneth Kessler). Kessler’s diction is made for radio, it never gets old hearing it emanate from such a grotesque mouth. Amusingly, whenever Toxie speaks in this accent, his back is always facing the camera; this I thought was a reflection of the budget, so I was surprised when in the latter stages of the film you see Toxie speaking directly into the camera with no technical hitches at all – a sudden influx of money, perhaps?

Like everything else in the film, the violence is amateurish. At times it reminded me of my friend and I’s home movies. Using the ‘DigitalBlue’ camera, we created whole horror film franchises including the terrifying ‘Oven Glove Man’ series and homages to the infamous Jason Voorhees of Friday the 13th. Inevitably, the two characters eventually clashed in a Freddy vs. Jason fashion, my friend was the ‘Oven Glove Man’ and I, wearing a fancy dress hockey mask, was Jason Voorhees.

If my memory is correct, the majority of the films followed the same format of a murder scene followed by a still shot of the victim covered in terrible blood and gore effects that I had applied with relish using the software’s paintbrush function. Now and again the film felt like this, there would be lengthy fight scenes with little in the way of tangible choreography and violence. The viewers’ bloodlust is only given slight satiation when Toxie deals a finishing blow and the incapacitated victim’s wounds are shown in often motionless close-up shots, some of which being very gory, particularly the scene in which Bozo runs over a teenager’s head.

With gore, scantily clad women and ridiculous campy humour, The Toxic Avenger has many earmarks of a Troma film. However, unlike most comparable films, there are enough laughs to make its 87 minutes bearable and at times somewhat entertaining.

60%

Bad Taste (1987)

Bad Taste

Until Jackson’s follow-up Braindead, this may have been the goriest film ever made.

I love Bad Taste. I love that the film was clearly made for about $20 and that the cast consists of Peter Jackson’s mates. It’s also so enjoyable because the film demonstrates how talented a filmmaker Jackson is. For example, there is a scene early in the film where Derek (Peter Jackson) has a blood spattered fight with some alien invaders on a cliff side. Through raw talent and a massive amount of bravery, Jackson and his team achieves a tangible sense of acrophobia.

The story is that Earthlings are under threat from alien invaders who are endeavouring to fill a culinary gap in their intergalactic fast-food market – that of human flesh. The malicious extra-terrestrials don’t arouse suspicion as they assume human appearances.

Such a grave situation calls for the toughest team available – the Astro Investigation and Defence Service. This elite team comprises Derek (Peter Jackson), a perverse Kiwi with an insatiable bloodlust, Barry (Pete O’Hearn), a man who will use his .44 Magnum only when necessary and Frank (Mike Minett), Giles (Craig Smith) and Ozzy (Terry Potter), a trio of muscle car driving tough guys.

Jackson’s early films have a real talent for choreographing gore: there are heads being blown off, brains being eaten, arms being torn off, severed heads being drop kicked, seagulls being head butted, entire bodies being chain sawed and even sheep being detonated. The film is utterly drenched in an outrageous amount of viscera, but it is all of the slapstick variety with a strong Commonwealth lacing of black humour.

Though the film is by no means performance driven, there is a certain charm about the cast’s inexperience. Also, Peter Jackson is hilarious as the absurd, demented Derek, whose horrible shrill laugh and personal motto ‘I’m a Derek, Dereks don’t run!’ are particularly memorable.

The filming locations, such as the aforementioned cliff side, are all of outstanding natural beauty; Bad Taste is as much an advertisement for the country as Jackson’s later work would be.

As we all know, Jackson has since gone downhill, directing the poxy Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies – what a shame. However, he has recently expressed interest in making another horror film; I just hope he sticks to his roots with a shoestring budget and an immeasurable amount of corn syrup and gore.

81%

To those interested, below is a fascinating documentary on the making of ‘Bad Taste’. It’s remarkable what a talented, enthusiastic director with a shoestring budget can achieve.

This is part one of the documentary, parts 2 & 3 should be easy to find on the related video section at the end of the clip.