Jarv’s Schlock Vault: Toxic Avenger triple bill
The Toxic Avenger
“If you’re in danger and you need help, maybe, just maybe… the Toxic Avenger will be there”
Kind of like a mutant A-Team. Heh.
I don’t know why people pick on good old Troma, the frequently maligned gods of cheap cinema. I think it must be down to critical snobbery because I struggle to think of a Troma film that isn’t at the bare minimum entertaining.
Honestly, I think that if Troma didn’t exist then someone would have had to invent them.
This entry from the vault is certainly the most famous and successful Troma film, not that this means anything, and also one of the best. It is possibly the most important Troma production, in that it changed the whole ethos of the company, kept them afloat and majestically spawned some entertaining sequels. In the early 80’s (the pre-Toxie years) Lloyd Kaufman used his fledgling Troma studio to bang out sex comedies that were so wretched they make the dreadful British “Confessions” films seem good. Troma was on the verge of going tits up (which would have been a shame), when someone had the bright idea of making a Superhero movie. Despite the fact that they lacked the knowledge, money or talent usually necessary for this sort of undertaking, they bravely pressed ahead. The resulting fiasco was The Toxic Avenger, the movie that single-handedly saved the studio, and changed Troma from an inevitable bankruptcy into the studio of choice for any fan of low rent fun.
There is no such thing as a bad Troma movie. There is also no such thing as an actually good one either, but The Toxic Avenger almost makes it.
Welcome to Tromaville, New Jersey: a poor town plagued by organised crime and bullying gym types who we know are bad, because they kill people. Moreover, one of them is called Bozo. Melvin Junko works as the janitor/ mop boy in the local gym. One day enticed by possibly the worst pair of tits ever to appear naked on screen, Melvin is the victim of a practical joke when he is dressed in a tutu and then bundled into a vat of toxic waste. He struggles home and in what I thought was a subtle and moving portrayal of teenage self-abuse spends all night groaning in his bedroom. When he awakens the next day, he has become THE TOXIC AVENGER, and is compelled by the toxic particles in his blood stream to clobber criminals of any stripe. Eventually he cleans up Tromaville, but not before getting to bone a blind chick and setting up home in the town dump.
The thing is, Troma are synonymous with crappy performances, shitty scripts, abysmal special effects and shoddy direction. I don’t think this is actually fair, because not all Troma films are automatically like that. Most of them are, obviously, but some seem to slip through. For example, with The Toxic Avenger, they clearly set out to make a comedy/ satire of superheroes. Melvin never loses his tutu- even when he’s the Avenger, and his vigilantism is so extreme that I think it’s deliberate- in one case he murders an old woman in a dry cleaners who it turns out secretly ran a white slavery ring. This sort of thing (which could sit quite happily in a serious comic book movie), is so over the top it has to be deliberate. So when I see comments about this film saying “The story of the Toxic Avenger is far too pale and insubstantial to bother writing a serious and worthwhile review. I mean, why should I write a real movie review if the movie makers didn’t bother to make a real movie?” I just want to slap the person that wrote it simply because they’ve missed the point by so far. The writing is gleefully vindictive, and many of the jokes (Melvin’s mother’s remarking “My little Melvin. He must’ve finally reached puberty” when Melvin is undergoing his transformation into Toxie) are successful. It is a good script. The direction is competent, in that they set out to make a superficially “bad” movie, so there isn’t really a lot to criticise. The odd decision (some of the car shit is dull) can be a bit self indulgent, but it does not hurt the film too badly.
The performances are all over the top cheesiness, but I have to say that the only actually bad ones are from Bozo and his girlfriend, but even then, I have to say I think it’s deliberate. I am assuming an un-Troma level of competence from them, but, then again, this is the least Troma quality film they made. They’ve certainly not done anything as actually good as this since. A chocolate sweetie to whoever spots future Oscar Winner Marisa Tomei.
I suppose if I have to point out what is bad in this I do have to mention that some of the special effects are crap, predictably, and the two performances singled out above are grating. There’s only so many times you can watch a steroid-addled twat gurn at the camera before your patience fails- this is what I mean about some sections being overextended. It also, amazingly for a Troma film, feels rushed. The run time is a lean 86 minutes, and it could possibly have done with 10 minutes more.
However, there’s just so much schlocky awesomeness in this film- Toxie’s sex scene is priceless in itself, and the violence and bad taste are enough to make Mary Whitehouse reanimate and attack a local village. When Toxie goes on his rampage, he squashes heads, stuffs an old woman in a washing machine and generally lays waste to New Jersey armed only with a mop. I can go on forever on this subject, but they throw the claret around as if they were due to run out tomorrow. It’s gory, (the crushed head has to be seen to be believed), gratuitous and comic. If the intention was to push the limits for comedic purposes, then The Toxic Avenger sets a high mark.
Overall, this is the schlock film that has everything. Gratuitous violence, gratuitous sex, and gratuitous bloodshed are all combined in a funny, irreverent masterpiece of bad cinema that’s all the better because it is as they intended it to be. The Toxic Avenger was called the “Citizen Kane of Troma productions” in the 80’s and one of the things that makes me smile about Troma is that Toxic Avenger 4 is subtitled Citizen Toxie.
Highly recommended, but with the caveat that if you can get the unrated Director’s cut (I can’t believe that exists for this film) then do so. All versions of this film are fun, but that one is a bit better.
The Toxic Avenger Part 2
“If you’re going to Japan, then there’s only one way to arrive”
How do I explain and review Toxie 2 and 3? They’re just so damned strange. They have so much in common and yet are totally separate animals. For example, they both feature Toxie v the nefarious Apocalypse Inc and were filmed back to back (or I’m assuming they were as they were both released in 1989). Before I start, though, there are two things that are worth a mention: I haven’t seen the Director’s cut of either of these films, so am reviewing the versions that I’ve seen. Secondly, it is worth noting that these films had a much, much bigger budget than the original, even if it is hard to see where they spent it.
I’m not sure, but I strongly suspect this is Troma’s first attempt at a sequel- as they clearly do not seem to have a fucking clue about the laws of sequels. There are ways to make a good sequel, and occasionally top the original, but this one is not it. I would not be surprised to find out that someone had told Kaufman what he needed to do for Toxie 2- and he followed it to the letter without really understanding what he was doing. This is bigger, louder, more gruesome, and dumber than the original without being as much fun. There are flashes of brilliance in it, but as a rule, it just does not reach the same heights as its big brother.
Since Toxic Avenger finished, the town of Tromaville has been a happy place where people dance in the streets and the local cinema only “shows excellent movies” (no prizes for guessing what). It’s a happy sparkly place because Toxie has battered every single nefarious villain in the town. He now works in a blind people’s home- a great one where they roam free and play on the roof (I’m not joking). The Evil Apocalypse Inc. turn up and blow up the blind centre, Toxie kills all their henchman and stops them turning Tromaville into a waste dump. Back at Apocalypse Inc.’s headquarters, the evil Chairman (more on him later) hatches a plan to deal with Toxie’s “Tromatons” by sending him to Japan to find his long lost father. Hilarity ensues; Toxie returns just in time and kicks some ass saving Tromaville in the process.
So, what is good about this one? While lacking the smarts of the first movie, it retains some of its sly post-modern humour. Unfortunately, it’s become far too tongue in cheek- at several points they break the fourth wall altogether, and while clever the first time, this winking at the audience soon becomes tiresome. Having said this, there are a few good jokes that arise from this device: “and even worse, there wouldn’t be a sequel” leaping to mind, or the even smarter Godzilla gag that I quoted above, or best of all the joke with the never ending stream of disposable henchmen clambering out of the Apocalypse limo.
Secondly, I think it’s actually more inventive than the first film. Toxie does lay waste to a few more villains than previously; however, he does it with much more style: Toxie plays basketball with a dwarf (literally), one henchman is crushed in a wheelchair (literally) or a Japanese thief is converted into a microphone/ transmitter that the DJ uses.
To be fair, Ron Fazio the actor that straps on the plastic padding is amusing as Toxie, playing him with a nice amount of humour. Rick Collins is in excellent moustache twirling form as the villainous Chairman.
The effects are OK. They are an improvement from the first one, but not still not great, thankfully.
Sadly, that’s about it.
There is so much of the film that’s sub par- I cannot bear Phoebe Legere as Toxie’s main squeeze. She’s shrill and annoying as fuck, without being anywhere near attractive enough to make me forget her shrillness. Moreover, she keeps her top on throughout the entire film, so there aren’t even any gratuitous tit shots to counteract her epic suckage.
The direction, however, is shoddy and desperate. As with the first film, where overextension ruined parts of it, Lloyd Kaufman fails to keep himself under control. There is a desperately unfunny car chase that seemingly lasts forever, and the time Toxie spends in Japan fluctuates between awesome and mind numbing. On the plus point, though, he does learn sumo.
This brings me to my next complaint: the depiction of the Japanese. Hell, I’m as mindlessly xenophobic as the next London resident, but this really was beyond the pale. Not because it’s particularly racist, it isn’t, but because it’s boring clichéd drivel that quickly grows unbearably shrill and tiresome. I know it is meant to be done for comic effect, but it’s just so damned forced that it’s painful- the fight in the bathhouse is a prime example of this. If it only lasted a few minutes that would be one thing, but a huge chunk of the movie is set in Japan. I wanted to roll up a newspaper, smack Troma on the nose and yell “BAD TROMA DON’T DO IT AGAIN”, because it really is like when a too-eager-to-please puppy has shat on the carpet.
Finally, Toxie has daddy issues and has to see a shrink. This is shit by definition- even if it is merely a plot device.
Again though, as this is a short film the bad aspects of it swish by quickly. It doesn’t hang around to really annoy me, and is gone fast enough to be replaced by some serious AWESOMENESS. The destruction of the blind orphanage is hilarious, as is the ensuing fight with the henchman. It is really, really funny stuff, as is the scene where his psychiatrist persuades him to go to Japan by, erm, riding his toxic rod.
There’s gratuitous nudity aplenty in Japan, including a whole bathhouse scene with naked screaming girls, and some of the fighting is top notch out there. Toxie’s growling is always amusing, and the plinky-plonky score is staggeringly dumb. However, my favourite gag in the film is that he decides to windsurf to Japan. This is hilarious.
Overall, would I recommend it? Again, it is a cautious maybe. There are laughs aplenty, but really at the end of the day this film is like an estate agent’s use of the phrase “up and coming” describing a location: sort of correct, if you really try, but at the end of the day, you will still be living in a shithole.
The Toxic Avenger 3: The Last Temptation of Toxie
“What about all those people in Reel 9 of the first movie that stood up for you?”
Now we’re talking. Set stupidity to kill, and let’s get going.
After the slight disappointment of Toxie 2, this is a pleasant surprise. To be honest, I was expecting the law of diminishing returns to kick in something savage and this to suck like a toothless junky whore on a crack pipe, but I’m pleased to say that it’s much better than the second film.
This takes place immediately after the happy ending in Toxie 2. Apocalypse Inc have slunk back to the city to lick their wounds, but Toxie isn’t enjoying his victory. He’s skint and unhappy. The evil Chairman is frustrated that he hasn’t been able to level Tromaville, so hatches a plan to buy Toxie off. Toxie turns into a yuppie, then comes to his senses and, with the help of a little bit of divine intervention, saves the day. Oh did, I mention that the Chairman is really Satan?
This should give you an idea of the epic level of dumbness in this film. It’s staggeringly, inconceivably stupid. And as a result it’s great. However, once again there are little flashes of actual quality. Rick Collins is even better as the Chairman this time out, fluctuating between oily salesman and borderline sociopath. When he eventually morphs into Satan, he’s absolutely hilarious. Fazio is OK as Toxie- reasonably amusing in parts, but not worth getting overexcited about. The effects are surprisingly competent, but, as is always the case with Troma, are obviously composed mostly of rubber.
It still retains its sense of humour. Except this time, it doesn’t feel as forced, and a few of the jokes are not only excellent references to other films, but also fit seamlessly into the film itself. The prime example is a very witty Wizard of Oz riff that I won’t spoil because I was surprised by it. Of course, other jokes fall flat on their ass, but that really is to be expected with Troma.
Again, though, there is a high level of irritation provided by blind girlfriend. She has a lengthy monologue about half way through that made me want to throw the DVD out of the window (with the added bonus that I could have decapitated a tax inspector if I’d done that), but what really kills it is that the climactic sequence of the movies seems to contain about 15 solid minutes of her shrieking.
The obligatory car chase is also wretched. I want Troma to accept that they just cannot do them, so should not do them. What is worse than that, though, it seems to have lost a little of the gleeful inventiveness that characterised the series. This is a pity, even if it does not prove terminal to enjoying the film.
Luckily, unlike in its predecessor, the awful elements of this film do not over burden the awesome sections- all of which arise from the mind-blowing stupidity of the concept. It is staggeringly dumb, so dumb it’s dumber than a sack of rocks. I would even go as far as saying that it’s dumber than Jade Goody (what? I’m meant to be nice about the moron because she’s dead now? This is the schlock vault, bad taste is necessary). Not only is it certifiably stupid, but it is also certifiably insane. It’s as mad as the March Hare, as crazy as a box of frogs), and nuts as Phil Spector. It’s loopy. For the prime example of both its stupidity and its insanity, look no further than the face off between Toxie and Satan. Satan decides that he is going to defeat Toxie in a videogame. I am not kidding. This is the Prince of Darkness and he is going to defeat our intrepid hero in a video game with five levels- each one representing a different element apart from five “that no-one ever gets to anyway”. The levels are burying Toxie in the ground, crashing a school bus, setting fire to him (he overcomes this by pissing on Satan), attempting to drown him, and then “I’m going to break your mind”(only overcome through god sending a messenger). This is bonkers, moronic, and very, very funny.
As if that is not enough, the scene with Toxie hallucinating is hilariously stupid as it involves naked dancing blue women, bible quoting and really, really shitty special effects. It is bizarre, deranged but above all else, thicker than two short planks.
Overall, would I recommend this? Yes. However, I do have to add the caveat that as funny as this one is, it still is not as good as the original. The girlfriend is just so annoying and her incessant screaming and mugging to the camera is exasperating. I’d say it is a definite step up from part 2, but not quite up to their best work.