REVIEW: The Toxic Avenger (1984)

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1984, Troma Inc.

Directors:
Lloyd Kaufman
Michael Herz
Producers:
Michael Herz
Lloyd Kaufman
Writers:
Lloyd Kaufman (story)
Joe Ritter (screenplay)
Cinematography:
James London
Editing:
Richard W. Haines

Cast:
Andree Maranda (Sara)
Mitch Cohen (The Toxic Avenger)
Pat Ryan Jr. (Mayor Peter Belgoody)
Jennifer Prichard (Wanda)
Cindy Manion (Julie)
Gary Schneider (Bozo)
Robert Prichard (Slug)
Mark Torgl (Melvin Ferd)
Dick Martinsen (Officer O’Clancy)
David N. Weiss (Police Chief)

Formerly known as a company known for their teen comedies and indie style features, New York-based Troma Inc. truly breaks out with their trademark style of horror and comedy with their iconic classic about a monster hero.

In the small New Jersey town of Tromaville, Melvin Ferd is a 98-pound nerd who works at the Tromaville Health Club as the janitor. He is the victim of constant torment by two bully couples, Bozo and Julie and Wanda and Slug. The bullies spend their nights playing deadly hit-and-run games. One day, Julie decides to hatch a plan to make Melvin’s life extremely miserable. The prank involves Melvin wearing a pink tutu and kissing a sheep. When Melvin is laughed at by everyone in the gym, he runs upstairs and jumps out of the window.

Unbeknownst to Melvin and everyone involved, a truck with barrels of toxic chemical waste happened to be parked in front of the gym. Melvin lands in one of the barrels and is seriously injured. Set ablaze, Melvin runs back home and is miraculously alive. However, he soon undergoes a transformation into a 7-foot mutated monster. However, on the night of his transformation, Melvin saves a police officer from three local goons. Melvin soon learns his mutations not only has given him superhuman strength, but he only has the ability to stop evil. After another incident, he saves a young blind woman named Sara, who becomes his girlfriend. His deeds soon hail him as a “monster hero” but the corrupt mayor of Tromaville isn’t having any of it and wants the monster hero gone at any cost.

The New York-based independent film giants Troma Inc. became well known after the release of this film, which has put them on the map. Originally a company who churned out some strange comedies as well as teen comedies, which would mark the debuts of Hollywood actors such as Kevin Costner (Sizzle Beach USA in 1974) and Vincent D’Onofrio (The First Turn On in 1982) as well as famed director Oliver Stone (The Battle of Love’s Return in 1971), Troma decided to try something different, and not only did they take the risk of combining horror and comedy, they ran with it full speed ahead and never looked back since.

The film is such a fun blend of horror film, superhero film, love story, and raucous comedy. Mitch Cohen is great to watch as the titular Toxic Avenger, who is not named that but rather “Monster Hero”. The name “Toxic Avenger” was officially named during post-production. While he is a superhero and a deformed one at that (not revealing his true face until halfway through the film), the horror portions come in the ways he dispatches the bad guys. This involves smacking one goon’s nose off, pulling off a dangerous riff of the Three Stooges eye gouge, dismembering, disembowelments, and even turning one evil goon into a “human milkshake”.

The chemistry between Cohen and Andree Maranda as blind girl Sara brings a sense of humanity for the Toxic Avenger. Having been a weakling who was always ridiculed and could never find a girl, Sara accepts Melvin for who he is, even when he reveals the truth to her about who he has become. And it is their love story that drives Melvin to even become more of a hero both inside and out. A montage of their relationship is quite cute compared to the rest of the film, which is filled with madness and violence.

There are some comic bits in the film, notably in the sense of bullies Bozo and Slug, played by Gary Schneider and Robert Prichard. Schneider plays Bozo as someone who stresses out constantly over everything from having a little bit of fat to having to deal with Melvin. The confrontation between the mutated Melvin and Bozo, who is driving a stolen car, actually brings some nice action but also comedy with Bozo’s reactions providing some laughs. As for Robert Prichard’s Slug, he is seen more of a foil to Bozo but does his own pranking when he puts a small snake down an aerobic instructor’s shirt after the instructor tells his class to “do exactly what he’s doing”.

Whereas mentioned before that Oliver Stone, Kevin Costner and Vincent D’Onofrio made their debuts in Troma films, this film has the distinction of marking the film debuts of Academy Award-winning actress Marisa Tomei, who plays an extra at the health club while veteran villain actor Patrick Kilpatrick plays a thug in the second action sequence for the Toxic Avenger as well as re-appearing in a small scene where Melvin is confronted by six goons at once with guns pointing at him.

The film would go on to spawn three sequels, a cartoon series, a musical, two comic book series, and a novelization by Kaufman and Adam Jahnke. Even an American rock band named themselves after this iconic indie character.

The Toxic Avenger is the iconic Troma film, the one that starts the trademark style of the New York-based company’s films. A true independent cult classic that should not be missed.

WFG RATING: A+

DVD/BLU-RAY

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