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The Toxic Avenger is Campy, Sadistic Fun

The Toxic Avenger follows the exploits of Melvin, a bumbling health club janitor, of diminished mental capacity. When he crosses a group of deranged and psychotic club patrons, Melvin gets what he has coming to him – a bath in radioactive chemical waste. The toxic chemicals turn Melvin in to a super powered mutant, with an unstoppable urge to fight crime…by killing people. Melvin uses his newfound abilities to reap sweet revenge on the nasty sons of bitches that led to his transformation into…The Toxic Avenger.

The Toxic Avenger is co-written by Lloyd Kaufman and Joe Ritter. It is co-directed by Lloyd Kaufman (Terror Firmer) and Michael Herz (Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D.). The film’s script is ahead of its time in its level of genius. As a result, the film hasn’t really been given its due until recently. The film has always had a cult fan base but not until recent years has it been adored as widely as it is now. Lloyd Kaufman has always said that Troma is ahead of its time and I have to agree.

The Toxic Avenger is incredibly inventive. It was groundbreaking at the time of its release and it continues to inspire modern cinema. This film has all of the trademarks of a Troma Studios release: Excessive violence, gore, nudity, and a generous helping of camp

The concept of a horror/superhero film hybrid is a good one. It’s not a melding that we’ve seen very often but it works perfectly. I’m always amused that the main protagonist is a wisp of a man and of diminished mental capacity before being dumped into toxic waste and becomes intelligent and muscular afterwards. It sends the entirely satirical message that being submerged in toxic waste will improve your life. Troma films usually have an underlying message and this film is no exception. While Troma titles are almost always satirical, they are not all as witty or unbelievably brilliant as The Toxic Avenger. The unfortunate thing is that like a lot of Troma Studios films, Lloyd Kaufman rarely gets the recognition he deserves. He is a creative genius and boasts an impressive resume but he rarely ever gets mainstream media recognition for his staggering accomplishments.

Kaufman and Herz prove to be a dynamic directorial duo. They inspire performances out of their cast that are bitingly satirical and in turn, hilarious. The psychotic, roid-raging, health club patrons that aid in Melvin’s transformation to The Toxic Avenger are so convincing as soulless idiots that the viewer can’t quite decide whether to love or hate them and typically winds up somewhere in the middle. Their car game, that consists of running over and killing pedestrians – with extra points granted for children – is horrible but simultaneously hilarious.

This is a movie that I like more every time I see it. I saw it for the first time ages ago and I was slightly put off by just how shocking it is. I’ve seen it countless times since then and I like it better every time I watch it. The initial shock value held me back from fully appreciating The Toxic Avenger the first time I watched it but upon my second viewing, I fell in love with it because I could enjoy the film without being the least bit surprised by its somewhat unconventional subject matter.

The gore is over the top and it appears early and often. There are plenty of great death scenes that end with Toxie sticking a mop in the mouth of his victim. The effects are cheesy but are meant to be so. The whole concept of the film is lampooning a variety of different things and making its audience laugh. So it shouldn’t bother anyone that the FX are not ultra realistic in appearance because that is by design.

The level of nudity should be pleasing to anyone looking for a little T and A as there is plenty of that  throughout the film’s 87-minute runtime.

The two-disc 21st Anniversary Edition is probably the best DVD version of the film released to date. It offers the widescreen presentation of the film (which is unusual for Troma as they typically shoot everything in full frame), interviews, unseen footage, and more. It even provides a rare on camera interview with notoriously reclusive Troma co-founder Michael Herz. If you have somehow managed to overlook The Toxic Avenger, do yourself a favor and check it out now. As of this posting, The Toxic Avenger and its sequels are available to stream on Netflix.


Director(s): Lloyd Kaufman, Michael Herz
Writer(s): Lloyd Kaufman, Joe Ritter
Stars: Mitch Cohen, Mark Torgl
Year: 1984
Studio/ Production Co: Troma
Language: English
Length: 87 Minutes
Sub-Genre: Superhero Horror Film

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Written by Tyler Doupé
Tyler Doupe' is the managing editor at Wicked Horror. He has previously penned for Fangoria Mag, Rue Morgue Mag, FEARnet, Fandango, ConTV, Ranker, Shock Till You Drop, ChillerTV, ComingSoon, and more. He lives with his husband, his dog, and cat hat(s).
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