Saturday, 14 September 2013

THE TOXIC AVENGER (1984)

Troma means a lot of different things to a lot of people. To some, the studio is nothing but a purveyor of cheap, nonsensical films full of bad special effects and gratuitous boobs. Well, actually that's not that far from the truth, but there's more to Troma than just that. I think.

I've been reading Troma mainman Lloyd Kaufman's books MAKE YOUR OWN DAMN MOVIE and EVERYTHING I NEED TO KNOW ABOUT FILMMAKING I LEARNED FROM THE TOXIC AVENGER, both of which are hilariously entertaining and well worth a purchase.

The latter charts the inception and subsequent rise (well, they did rise a bit) of the world's longest running independent movie company and is told in Lloyd's inimitable style, i.e. endless jokes about masturbation, boobs, farting, urinating and countless other bodily functions. They're great books, and made me want to revisit the film that started them on the road to semi-stardom. THE TOXIC AVENGER.

This film wasn't the first from Kaufman and co (Look up Squeeze Play, The First Turn on and others. Just avoid Big Gus, What's the Fuss?), but it was the first to feature their signature character, the lovable mutated maniac, Toxie. THE TOXIC AVENGER follows the misfortunes of Melvin, a much-harangued geek who ends up jumping out of a window to avoid being bullied any more.

He lands in a vat of toxic waste and is soon transformed into THE TOXIC AVENGER, a huge, deformed and muscular hero who brutally murders bad guys and can sense evil lurking nearby. He sets about righting wrongs, with gory, ridiculous and hilariously cheesy results. The film showcased the anarchic spirit that Troma became known for, as well as their cheap special effects and (some may say obsessive) fondness for the female form. It's that spirit, that gung-ho attitude, which helps suspend disbelief throughout this beautifully demented film.

The production values are about as low as it gets, but that didn't stop Kaufman and his merry gang of assorted lunatics from delivering a film which is in a class (and indeed genre) all of its own. Mix horror, comedy, a bit of sci-fi, a lot of slapstick and plenty of dirty jokes, then pour it directly into the brain of someone having a surreal fever dream, and you'll be close to what the film is like. Toxie is lovable, even when he's squashing skulls or tearing people to pieces. He's very clearly the good guy, but his methods would sometimes suggest otherwise.

The film is a hell of a lot of fun, as are the sequels, but none of them match the lunacy and feel of this first one. At times inept, it is nevertheless a testament to the genius of Kaufman and Troma that this cheap and tacky genre comedy still remains much loved – and much watched – today.