I’m a child of the ‘90s and since The Toxic Avenger film franchise ended in 1989 (not to return until 2000), my initial encounter with Toxie and the world of Troma came from The Toxic Crusaders animated series. And dude, that cartoon completely sucked. So because of that rather sour first impression, I never made viewing the original Toxic Avenger a priority until the Director’s Cut DVD was released some years back.
Oh the glory I’d been missing.
The Toxic Avenger (Troma)
Melvin (Mark Torgl) was nothing but a 90lbs weakling until a cruel prank instigated by some health club punks landed him face-first in a barrel of toxic waste. The mutagenic effects of the sludge transformed him into the horribly disfigured but totally buff monstrosity of justice known as the Toxic Avenger (Mitch Cohen). Using his newfound super strength, nigh-invulnerable physique and trademark mop, “Toxie” takes to the streets of Tromaville, murdering and mutilating evildoers in the most obscene ways possible. Along the way he discovers love in the form of a blind chick as well as the wrath of diabolical overweight politicians.
If Troma exists for any reason then it must be to provide society with glimpses of the most over-the-top and in-your-face scenes of tasteless depravity known to man. In this, their most popular and successful film, the audience is spared none of Troma’s gruesome signature details. So, how utterly devoid of good taste is The Toxic Avenger? Well, just to provide you with a single example of what to expect, there is a scene in which a girl takes Polaroids of a ten year-old boy whose head has been crushed then proceeds to use them for masturbatory purposes. And that’s just for starters. Troma films most certainly aren’t meant for anybody with a moral compass, which must be why they’re right up my alley.
Like all Troma flicks, The Toxic Avenger is decidedly more of a comedy than a horror film. The comedy is completely ridiculous and at times confounding; it will at least keep you and your drunken friends entertained. It is pointless to complain about the acting in a Troma film, since it’s always intentionally bad, and these vomit-inducing performances actually enhance the humor of the film. As with the Class of Nuke ‘em High spin-off franchise, I’ve found that The Toxic Avenger is more fun to watch with a group of friends, as you’re really supposed to be laughing at it more often than with it.
The violence in this movie is absolutely phenomenal. When I picked up the DVD I was greeted with the following message in gigantic letters: “Featuring the full head-crushing scene!” My curiosity was suitably piqued. Head-crushing seems to be the order of the day in this film, as drug-dealers and even children find their noggins caved in on multiple occasions. The effects are noticeably low-budget, but they all work regardless. The scene where the drug-dealer gets his melon smashed beneath the weights at the health club might be my favorite.
As for plot, once Melvin becomes Toxie there isn’t really much of one from there. The film devolves into a series of vignettes as Toxie “cleans up” the streets of Tromaville with extreme prejudice. Sometimes he’s getting revenge on the people who bullied him, other times he’s just wasting new characters who came out of nowhere (like the gun-toting robber/rapist at the fast food joint). The disjointed scripting actually makes the film feel fun and spontaneous; there’s hardly ever any downtime to bore you. It’s an ADHD sort of movie.
It’s hard to write out any negative criticism about a Troma film since they make their movies bad on purpose; complaining about the acting, cheesy dialogue or goofy effects essentially boils down to not getting the joke. I guess if I had one issue it would have to be Toxie’s voice. They wanted him to sound suave and intelligent, though in that regard I don’t think they went over-the-top enough. He just doesn’t sound very distinctive. And while the signature overacting is fun for a while, it can grate on your nerves in large doses (you probably don’t want to marathon this series).
The Toxic Avenger is Troma’s quintessential classic which epitomizes pretty much everything the company stands for. While I found the sequels to be rather disappointing, I’d highly recommend the spin-off franchise, Class of Nuke ‘em High, if you enjoyed this offering.
Troma has also recently released the The Toxic Avenger Collection 4-disc set on Blu-ray.
Like what we do here at AIPT? Consider supporting us and independent comics journalism by becoming a patron today! In addition to our sincere thanks, you can browse AIPT ad-free, gain access to our vibrant Discord community of patrons and staff members, get trade paperbacks sent to your house every month, and a lot more. Click the button below to get started!