A.J.’s Big ’80s Horrorthon #31: “The Toxic Avenger” (1984)

by A.J. Hakari


For a lad of eight still traumatized by the Wicked Witch’s flying monkeys, stumbling on The Toxic Avenger was a real boot in the berries. I totally blame the flick’s “Captain Planet”-esque cartoon spinoff, whose cheap action figures entertained me enough to seek out where it all started. Twenty minutes of crushed craniums and third-degree burns sent me whimpering for my Disney tapes, kick-starting an aversion to all things Troma-borne that sort of continues to this day. Fortunately, I’m able to withstand more of The Toxic Avenger‘s graphic gore these days, but putting up with the shrill counter-culture superhero movie it’s stuck as is another story.

In humble Tromaville, U.S.A., an unlikely defender of the innocent is about to rise. 98-pound weakling Melvin (Mark Torgl) has spent his entire life being pushed around and stepped on, especially by roided-up bullies at the health club where he mops up. But a swan dive out a window and into a vat of radioactive goop ends up transforming him into the Toxic Avenger, a towering monster with a natural instinct for giving bad guys their just desserts (in the most extremely violent ways possible). Now Melvin is powerful enough to clean up his town one scumbag at a time and even land himself a girlfriend (Andree Maranda), while Tromaville’s corrupt city council works overtime to stamp out the disfigured do-gooder once and for all.

Long story short, The Toxic Avenger ain’t my thing. The overacting, the immature jokes, the ultra-phony ultraviolence — just knowing that this is the tip of the iceberg as far as Troma’s catalogue is concerned makes me fifty shades of queasy. But that’s not to say there’s no value to The Toxic Avenger period, or that I don’t get why it’s a cult film that actually deserves the label for once. It wears its underground roots on its sleeve, positioning butt-ugly societal reject Melvin as the hero against the entitled psychos and lowlife bureaucrats who serve as our main villains. This really is a comic book movie for grown-ups, in the sense that you get both a plucky, can-do spirit and insanely violent ends for the baddies. Gouged eyes, torn limbs, deep-fried hands, disembowelment…if you can think of it, this movie delivers it (and with a modest price tag, to boot).

The Toxic Avenger was a godsend for Troma, putting the production house on the map and ushering in a new wave of cheap-o exploitation movies that wouldn’t have it any other way. Toxie has his fans and will keep them for a long time, so I don’t think he’ll shed any tears over not quite winning me over. Though The Toxic Avenger wasn’t as bad as I built it up to be for myself, it’s still just another title to check off the “Movies A.J.’s Friends Bug Him to Watch” list.