In 1984, New Jersey spewed up its greatest superhero – a melted, nerdy numbskull in a tutu who mangles street thugs with a radioactive mop. Slapped together with scotch tape and a prayer, Michael Herz and Lloyd Kaufman’s The Toxic Avenger may be the greatest guerrilla film ever made, a low-budget poke in the eye to Hollywood conventions of taste, propriety and narrative coherence that spawned a fistful of absurd sequels, a stage ‘musikill’, and a Saturday morning kids’ cartoon (remake rumours also persist).
Troma Entertainment was just another low-rent film distributor before laying down the splatter-com blueprint with this pioneering piece of punk-spirited splatstick. Melvin (Mark Torgl) is a skinny zero who toils away as a janitor at the Tromaville Health Club, where he is tormented by the club’s resident gang of bullies. One day, after being led on by a spandex-clad gym-bunny, Melvin walks into a prank gone wrong.
After jumping out of a window and landing in a barrel of toxic sludge, Melvin wanders home and wakes up to find that his face has melted off, that he’s got the body of a (badly burned) beefcake, and that he is impervious to pain. He uses his new-found powers to take on Tromaville’s drug kingpin Cigar Face (Dan Snow), rescue a gorgeous blind girl (Andree Maranda) and exact ridiculously bloody revenge on the d-bags who turned him into a monster.
The paper-thin plot is besides the point. What The Toxic Avenger is really about is mayhem. Like a Bugs Bunny cartoon on bath salts, it careens through one jaw-flooring scene of tongue-in-cheek ultraviolence after another. It’s a whiplash ride through the goofiest Grand Guignol of all time. A car full of creeps back over a kid on a bicycle. A man is beaten to death with his own arm. And so on. Amazingly, no matter how far TTA goes, it’s always funny, and Melvin’s impossible love affair is surprisingly heartfelt. The whole film is rickety, threadbare and ramshackle, but that only adds to its charm.
A true underground classic, The Toxic Avenger is probably best seen in a crowded cinema full of drunken gorehounds. Still, this remastered Blu-ray offers several stay-at-home inducements, including the slightly longer Japanese cut, material from the Toxic Crusaders toon and a tour of Troma Studios. Plus two anniversary intros from co-director Kaufman, suggesting there’ll be many more happy returns for this cultiest of cult movies.
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