Monday, 11 August 2014

The Toxic Avenger (1984)

First up a confession: until previewing this sparkling new 88 Films Blu-ray, I had never seen a Troma film. Critically reviled during the 1980s and 90s, and usually released in the UK in severely truncated forms, it just didn’t seem sensible to watch terrible movies with all the best bits taken out. So Troma passed me by, the delights of SERGEANT KABUKIMAN NYPD and RABID GRANNIES (although they only released that one) consigned to the file marked ‘when I have the time’.
The time would appear to be now, helped immensely by the release of the first in Troma’s flagship TOXIC AVENGER franchise uncut and with a wealth of extras. Was it worth the wait? For me I have to answer with a resounding yes. How appealing you will find it will depend very much on your sense of humour.

At a health club in Tromaville, the ‘Toxic Chemical Capital of the World’, nerdy janitor Melvin (Mark Torgl) upsets the local beefcakes and their girlfriends and a prank is plotted. Seeing as their leader Bozo’s hobbies include running children over while he swigs from a Jack Daniels bottle filled with what suspiciously looks like orange squash it’s not going to end well. A lorry loaded with open canisters of toxic waste stops outside the gym so its driver and his pal can fill their noses with cocaine. Melvin, tricked into wearing a tutu and cuddling a sheep wearing a bra, ends up falling from the building and landing in the glowing green goop. A quick bath later and Melvin metamorphoses into the titular hero.

It’s not long before Toxie is cleaning up the streets, killing bearded drug-trafficking transvestites, armed robbers who look like Lionel Richie crossed with Adam Ant, and getting a blind girlfriend with whom he sets up home at the local toxic waste dump. The local mayor, a serious contender for fattest movie character ever, is in on all the local crime rackets and wants Toxie stopped. The National Guard is called in (where the hell did Troma get all those tanks from?) and the scene is set for a showdown outside Toxie’s tent.

Cheerfully tasteless and never, ever boring, THE TOXIC AVENGER feels like what would happen if John Waters was asked to direct a super-hero film. The entire movie has a consistent, weird, almost dayglo style, with bizarre acting to match. I’m sure Troma supremo Lloyd Kaufman would be delighted to hear that the opening scenes reminded me of Beckett or Pinter in the off-kilter weirdness of the performances. Like I said above, whether or not you’ll enjoy this will depend on whether or not you find all of this funny, and I hope the stills I’ve included here will help. I can honestly say I haven’t cried with laughter so much since previewing Bob Clark’s PORKY’S. Troma may have had a bad press, and they certainly don’t make movies that could be considered ‘good’, but the makers of a lot of the hand-held direct to DVD rubbish that some companies have the nerve to release could learn a lot from this bouncy little company.

There are a load of extras, most of which seem to have been ported over from previous US releases of the film. I’m not going to go through them all here, but I would suggest you watch at least the introduction to the slightly longer Japanese cut (also on the disc and not as good quality) where the dialogue has been translated into Japanese subtitles and then translated back into extra English subtitles that are also provided. Otherwise there’s lots of Lloyd Kaufman (commentary, introductions, him living in a cardboard box), a Troma studio tour and featurettes on Toxie as well as lots more.

I have to take my hat off to Troma - they may make rubbish but it’s hugely enthusiastic rubbish and Kaufman (whom I presume must be independently wealthy as I can’t imagine anyone giving him money for this stuff) enters into the spirit of things wholeheartedly. THE TOXIC AVENGER is stupid, silly and tasteless. It’s also hilarious and rattlingly entertaining. Congratulations to the always-reliable 88 Films for bring THE TOXIC AVENGER to our shores in a fantastic Blu-ray transfer that must be the best this film has ever looked, and with all the extras you could ever want. 

88 Films are releasing Troma's THE TOXIC AVENGER on standard Blu-ray (picture at the top) steelbook (picture near the bottom) and HMV exclusive (card sleeve with new artwork - picture at the bottom) on 18th August 2014. Grab whichever version you can.

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