THE TOXIC AVENGER. Crazy, brutal, kitschy masterpiece

Superheroes in film are neither a modern invention nor a patent held by Marvel and DC Comics together.

Jarosław Kowal

24 September 2023

THE TOXIC AVENGER Crazy, brutal, kitschy masterpiece

Proof? One of the best… I mean, worst movies in its class – The Toxic Avenger.

In 1984, Spider-Man wore a black costume; Jason Todd became Robin; She-Hulk joined the Fantastic Four; the first issues of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Transformers were released; Venom and the infamous Slipknot (who played a marginal role, to put it mildly, in the Suicide Squad movie) made their comic book debuts. In such a world, Michael Herz and Lloyd Kaufman released a crazy, brutal, kitschy masterpiece that forever changed the face of cinema… Z-grade cinema, to be precise. The Toxic Avenger.

the Toxic Avenger

The legend of Troma Studios begins right here. Before 1984, the Kaufman/Herz duo dealt with stale sex comedies, but when Hollywood took over the idea (and poured millions of dollars into it), the gentlemen redirected all their efforts into a very specific type of horror. Today, their body of work is considered canonical in the community of bad movie enthusiasts, and The Toxic Avenger can serve as instructional material. Moreover, many filmmakers began their careers with Troma. It was here that James Gunn, the director of Guardians of the Galaxy, gained experience.

The Toxic Avenger

The spirit of the era has been captured excellently. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, RoboCop, Ghostbusters, Slimer, C.H.U.D… All these titles have one thing in common – slime. In the English language, there are two terms – “ooze” and “slime” – but they refer to the same, rather random symbol of the “trash” culture of the 1980s. There is no better embodiment of this symbol than a hero whose strength and appearance were created after being immersed in slime. However, it’s essential to remember that these projects weren’t created by escapees from mental asylums. The presence of slime in pop culture didn’t come out of nowhere. Kaufman reached for it, among other reasons, due to an article about children in Rio De Janeiro who played with the discarded pollen from a nearby radioactive hospital. The creators of The Toxic Avenger talked about this and similar situations whenever possible, and, like the creators of Godzilla before them, tried to convey an ecologically conscious message as far as possible, using a less serious tone with a much greater reach than scholarly articles in specialized publications.

the Toxic Avenger

Troma Studio is known for its scenes reminiscent of gore and extremely low budgets. To give you a clear picture – the first Avengers film cost two hundred and twenty million dollars, and it didn’t spill a drop of blood. In contrast, the first The Toxic Avenger film was made for half a million dollars and delivered unforgettable scenes like running over a teenage cyclist and crushing his head (apparently made of watermelon) with a car tire. Do you think there are no bigger psychopaths than Negan? Well, then you must see two amused blondes taking pictures of the remains of their victim with Polaroids. Even more intriguing is a scene where someone’s hand is severed. In Hollywood, it would require hours of work from makeup artists, computer effects, and many other techniques. Here, we have an actor without a hand, and a mannequin’s hand is attached to him for a few scenes. Kaufman and Herz don’t give anyone a free pass – they do it to a child, an elderly lady, a woman with a height deficiency, and even a dog. It’s no accident that Lemmy Kilmister appeared in later Troma films – in the world of cinema, there’s no studio more faithful to the ideals of D.I.Y. and punk rock freedom.

the Toxic Avenger Mitch Cohen Andree Maranda

The 1980s inspirations are visible in many contemporary films (as seen recently for example in Beyond The Gates), but The Toxic Avenger is a perfect documentation of that era. In one scene, a young lady exclaims upon seeing Toxie, “You promised to take me to a David Bowie concert, and he’s not David Bowie,” and indeed, it’s challenging to find even a hint of charm in a rubber mask, ugly leggings, and intentionally poorly dubbed voice. However, for fans of this type of production, Toxie is a true Man from the Stars.