Friday, May 13, 2011

The Toxic Avenger (1984)

I've still not quite come to terms with Troma Films. Oh, I enjoy the fact that they make gooey, gorey, rabble rousing films of a singular outrageousness. But, usually, the movies are not very good. There's something about the usual Troma movie that reminds me of an unfunny Uncle trying to get you to pull his finger at a family reunion; it's hard to really hate anyone who's trying so hard and harmlessly to be liked, but you can only enjoy their company on a very limited basis. Usually, one Troma movie per year is about enough for me.

All of this explains why it took me so long to actually watch The Toxic Avenger, which is probably Troma's best movie, a compliment akin to "prettiest girl in the leper colony". And it's actually a very entertaining movie. You can see why they spun it off into three sequels, a cartoon series and action figures. I mean, in addition to the fact that Troma is shameless in their attempts to turn a buck. It's a silly little movie because of, and not in spite of, its head-crushing and scenes of kids being run over by cars.

As you likely know, the movie is about a nerdy janitor named Melvin (Mark Torgl) who gets pranked horribly by the beautiful people at the gym where he works and ends up diving into a barrel of toxic waste; fortunately, the toxic chemicals give him super powers instead of cancer and he turns into a hulking, lumpy latex faced mutant (Mitch Cohen) with the strength to easily kill all the bad people in the city of Tromaville, New Jersey. Luckily for him, there are plenty of criminals in the city, including the aforementioned bullies, who also revel in driving over pedestrians, a Mayor (played by Pat Ryan Jr. of Street Trash fame- now it feels a bit wrong laughing at the jokes about his immense weight since it's probably what killed him at age 44) selling out the town to polluting businessmen, plenty of robbers in leotards and face paint (no idea how that was supposed to be intimidating- are they going to commit aerobicide?), and a dude with a beard in drag. Melvin also falls in love with a sexy blind girl (Andree Maranda) and they live together in the dump.

As you can imagine, the movie is shameless in throwing bad jokes at you. Many of these jokes are groaners along the lines of an early visual gag in which an overweight woman does aerobics while eating a submarine sandwich. But, like the Naked Gun movies, there are so many jokes that one of them will eventually work. Admittedly, the majority of the jokes here would have been rejected by the Zucker brothers as too dumb.

So why does the movie work? I think there's just something winning in the film's ability to go over the line in about twenty different directions at once. The makeup effects, by Jennifer Aspinal who also worked wonders on Street Trash, are low budget miracles, the stunt work is pretty impressive, there are some impressive crowd scenes, and plenty of heads get mashed real good. Overall, you have to hand it to Troma- they made a film for an estimated $475,000 that looks like they spent $490,000.

Finally, for a movie about a toxc waste mutant who kills people, it's a surprisingly good natured film that seems to say that even a chronic loser can fall in love and become a hero- he just has to get poisoned by toxic waste. I'm glad that this one was the Troma movie I watched this year.

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