Netflix Horror Spotlight brings you Wicked Horror’s top picks for what to watch on Netflix, whether it’s the latest indie darling, a classic masterpiece or a silly slasher that deserves a little bit more attention. In this edition, Joey Keogh oozes green goo all over Troma cult classic The Toxic Avenger.
The Toxic Avenger is the definition of a cult classic; loopy, mucky, loaded with gruesome SFX and beloved by horror fans all over the world, it’s the epitome of everything that makes Troma Entertainment (the little independent film studio that could, now a whopping 41 years in business) so wonderful. The man/beast affectionately known as Toxie is the so-called Mickey Mouse of Troma, according to co-founder and filmmaker Lloyd Kaufman (uncle Lloyd to fans), and, frankly, it’s easy to see why as this is arguably their most enduring and popular feature to date.
The flick began life as a straight slasher movie, entitled Health Club Horror, that was dreamed up after Troma co-founder Michael Herz spotted a blasphemous headline in Variety proclaiming the death of the horror movie. Being the quick thinking, opportunistic entrepreneurs that they were, and indeed still are after nearly half a century in business together, Herz and Kaufman decided to prove the journalist in question wrong the best way they knew how. However, after beginning work on the film, Kaufman soon realised a horror-comedy would be more up his alley and thus Toxie was born.Kicking off with a possibly playful warning, stating the following feature contains “scenes of extreme violence” and a dead-serious prologue about the dangers of pollution, what’s immediately notable about the film is that it is eighties as hell, but in a completely amazing way. There’s a near-constant stream of pop hits throbbing along to accompany virtually every moment–in particular the classic Sandy Farina hit “Body Talk” (don’t think about it, it’s guaranteed to get stuck in your head)–while a couple of meat-heads are seen exchanging a cigarette mid-sit up, not to mention the, at times, whacky costume choices.
As with most Troma films, The Toxic Avenger is insanely over the top, from the soundtrack to the gore to the performances, but the script is smart and the editing tight. Everything has been turned up to eleven, but what’s surprising about the flick, considering how nasty it is in parts (the points system for hit and runs is particularly hideous) is just how much heart it has. At its core, it’s a story about a nerd who turns into a super-antihero, and who subsequently finds romance with a sweet, blind girl. Further to this, when the Tromaville powers that be turn on him, the townspeople rally to protect their do-gooder monster hero.
Kaufman has cited many influences for Toxie, including the most famous of all fantasy creatures, Frankenstein’s Monster. The film itself inspired three sequels, along with a Saturday morning cartoon TV show called The Toxic Crusaders. This, combined with its current status as a cult favourite, makes it arguably the most popular, and well-known, Troma film of all time. Kaufman perhaps put it best when he described The Toxic Avenger as “a live action cartoon”, suggesting its unlikely success story was down to the fact it was unlike anything audiences had ever seen before, but that this is neither a positive or negative.
The enduring likeability of Toxie, if not its sequels, which vary in quality, is down to the expert concentrations of both horror and comedy. Even by today’s CGI-soaked standards, the SFX on display here (all of which are practical thanks to the work of some incredibly talented artists, including Jennifer Aspinall, who was responsible for the monster’s look), particularly Toxie’s transformation sequences, are still very strong. An incident involving the smushing of a child’s head, which has since become quite infamous, somehow looks better with each year that passes, thanks to how delightfully rubbish it is.
Film fans–in particular, horror aficionados–can relate to Toxie’s struggle, because we’re a bit on the freaky, outsider end of the spectrum as well, and it would take an incredibly hard-hearted person not to feel a sense of joy when the Tromaville townsfolk rally around him to oppose the evil mayor, who’s out for his blood. We’re so used to seeing the bad guys prevail that the ending to The Toxic Avenger actually seems revolutionary, even by today’s standards. Although it isn’t conventional, it’s relatable and honest in a way that even the biggest budget couldn’t replicate, not to mention the fact it’s still very, very funny.
Troma enthusiasts and newbies alike should check out The Toxic Avenger. This is the kind of film that begs for repeat viewings, just to catch all of the little in-jokes hidden amongst everything else. Perfect for parties, or a boring Saturday night in, it’s lurking on Netflix with a load of other great Troma titles that are equally worth a watch. The definition of a cult classic, from an independent film studio that proves you don’t have to sell out to make great, genre-changing movies, Toxie’s appeal is enduring and probably everlasting. Spend a night with him on Netflix right now, and visit the rest of his buddies while you’re at it.
Catch The Toxic Avenger on Netflix now.