Quantum Geek: The Toxic Avenger (May 1984)

As movie fans we are all aware of the diversities faced by big studios and independent filmmakers alike. There are great films out there, and there are great big pieces of shit that lost a lot of money; money that could have been used to battle poverty. There are also the cheap little movies that become a great success, and those that deserve nothing but to be forgotten, never to be seen again unless you still have a VHS player. Let's not get into that right now, there'll be plenty opportunities in future, trust me!

nerdgenious.com presents Quantum Geek reviewing classic movies of the last century

Then, once in a while, along comes a movie that defies all those odds, and all manner of human sensibility, a movie that not only goes on to spawn many sequels over the years, and one that somehow has a massive cultural impact. Today we review one such movie, with tongue placed firmly in face-cheek.

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Troma Entertainment Lloyd Kauffman's The Toxic Avenger

Melvin Ferd III is the weediest, most ridiculous and pathetic human being you could possibly imagine. Living in Tromaville, New Jersey, the "toxic chemical capital of the world" (also home to the most comically absurd and badly acted characters), a practical joke on the behalf of his daily tormentors sees him so badly humiliated that he dives out of a window and into a very well-placed barrel of toxic waste!

Surviving, although badly disfigured, he runs home to try to wash off the rest of the gunk when he is transformed into a "hideously deformed creature of superhuman size and strength." Going on the warpath, Melvin not only sets out to wreak revenge on his tormentors, he ends up battling crime all over Tromaville, gaining himself a [mercifully] blind girlfriend and the title of The Toxic Avenger: The First Superhero... From New Jersey.

Taking cue from some of the '80s' most ridiculously violent horror icons such as Jason Voorhees of the Friday 13th franchise, The Toxic Avenger is a literal shoestring budget superhero feature that treats crime and gory violence as slapstick comedy. It's also so badly shot that it's unintentionally hilarious. Tommy Wiseau still could have ruined it, mind you. Unapologetically, it knows it makes most low budget movies of its time look like fine art, but that's the charm of this little gem. 

Melvin Ferd the Third aka Melvin Junko aka The Toxic Avenger

It has everything you and your boyfriend/girlfriend could want in a bit of late night entertainment, after your sex life has put on some pants and called a taxi. Comedy, action, titties, originality; it actually had great concepts and the special effects are pure old-school gut busting, blood pumping, head exploding insanity. So is it really such a surprise that The Toxic Avenger has gone on to become something of a historic landmark for entertainment? Well, actually, yes! Yes, it's still very surprising!

Originally imagined by Troma Entertainment co-founder Lloyd Kaufman as a horror movie back in the mid-'70s, the resulting film went completely unrecognised upon release. It seemed that nobody got the joke, providing it was a joke. But a year later, in 1985, and after several screenings in New York, it began to pick up a dedicated following.

Chipotle armed robbery foiled by the Toxic Avenger
"Ow, shit, my arm... oh hey, the Toxic Avenger? Sure sounds fascinating!"
The idea of a hideous monster battling crime-in the same way that Voorhees, Myers and co. were dismembering horny holiday virgins-clearly appealed to New Yorkers. Well, there's no pointing fingers. To this day there are four Toxic Avenger movies in existence, with a fifth in production. There has been a kids cartoon show, retitled The Toxic Crusader, because somebody needs to test your parenting skills, otherwise where's the challenge? There have also been comic books, not to mention the musical artist/band of the same name...

Fer Chrissakes, people, Toxie even got an Off-Broadway Musical. Not one of Clint Eastwood or Robert De Niro's movies have had the full Toxie treatment. Hell, not one of Ian McKellen's movies has been that successful and he's a veteran film, television and theatre actor, gay and a knight, all at once!

Looking back at Toxie's success, at a time when many indie filmmakers were making the most out of New York and New Jersey's abandoned slums (The Bronx Warriors is another that springs to mind), The Toxic Avenger had a lot more than luck on its side. For one, Kaufman's sense of humour and total disregard for the snobbish movie authority appealed to fans, and it still does to this day.

Tromaville, home of the world's first superhero from New Jersey

Not only that, even in the words of Dredd producer Adi Shankar; fuck the authority. Rules are there to be broken, otherwise you're just going to end up as boring, unoriginal and stereotypical as those that eventually become the authority. This is guerilla filmmaking at both its best and worst, but in comparison to some other Troma fare, it's actually one of the best ever made.

You have to wonder what respected actors Patrick Kilpatrick and Marisa Tomei might have to say about co-starring in that one. I think that calls for a cheeky Tweet later on. Honestly, if you watch this movie, it's at your own discretion. If you love it, you're welcome. If you think it's the worst piece of shit you've ever seen, I'm not about to argue with a member of the human majority. Thanks again for reading and feel free to comment below. Have a song about Toxie...

Next week, we leap forward another decade to May of 1994, where you'll get to revisit some serious classics, so stay posted!

-Dan Ashley

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