Wednesday, 4 June 2014

The Toxic Avenger


Troma, are probably the worlds longest running film studio which no-one has heard of. I certainly hadn't until recently, or at least if I did I wasn't paying attention. The only Troma film I had seen without realising was Cannibal! The Musical - a film by South Park creator Trey Parker. It's really quite incredible that for the past forty years Troma have been consistently making and releasing films, more than happy to travel under the mainstream radar, free to produce the work they want - the way they want.
For anyone that doesn't know (like me a few weeks ago), Troma are known for making cheap and trashy exploitation films. They are famed for their use of excessive violence, gore and sex, unapologetically loving every second as they go. Their biggest breakout film was 1984's The Toxic Avenger, so I thought that would be as good a place as any to get acquainted with Troma founders; Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz's work. 

The plot follows Melvin Ferd (Mark Torgl), a mop boy working at Tromaville Health Club. Melvin is the worlds most stereotypical loser - small, ugly, skinny and slow witted. He is bullied by the gym's meat heads, who love spending their time lifting weights, fucking and carrying out hit 'n' run murders. One of the female bullies convinces Melvin she will sleep with him if he dresses in a pink tutu and he is then humiliated and taunted to the extent that he jumps out of a window and lands in a barrel of toxic waste on the back of a passing truck. 

Running back home he finds himself transforming into a radioactive mutant with super-human strength and an instinctive and uncontrollable rage towards evil and wrong doing. As the Toxic Avenger, (Mitch Cohen) Melvin takes it upon himself to rid Tromaville of crime, unwittingly uncovering a conspiracy that runs through (nearly) the entire police force and includes the mayor himself. In the process of this he falls in love with Sara, a blind girl he saves during the robbery of a fast food joint. Kicked out of his home and forced to live in a junkyard Melvin has to come to terms with his new identity and violent instincts.

I'll just put myself out there with a statement which shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone, this film is fucking ridiculous, yet somehow brilliant. I knew what I was expecting in terms of the cheap as hell b-movie gore but I wasn't sure what to expect from the sense of humour. The Toxic Avenger is a perfect satire of Hollywood super-hero movies. Something which is maybe more relevant now than when it was first made. With the flood of comic-book super hero franchises around at the moment The Toxic Avenger seems to be mocking them from the past. 

The over the top eighties styling with a lurid focus on tits and ass was taking the piss out of conventions that were becoming the identity of The Toxic Avenger's cinematic peers. There is no pretentiousness or class here, it is pure unabashed garbage. The modern equivalent to Troma would have to be The Asylum, also a studio which has a bigger name than most of the films they make. Rather than infamous low-points in cinema such as The Room or Plan 9 from Outer Space, Troma and The Asylum make shit intentionally. Films like Sharknado find comedy from the central concept and trashy quality, instead, Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz have a sense of humour that runs deeper than merely a catchy title.

This film will be unbearable for a lot of people, understandably and purposefully so. The violence is extreme but not a as disgusting as the opening credits try to make out, but that isn't for lack of trying, it seems more a symptom of its age. The acting is insane, Andree Maranda's portrayal of a blind person consists of looking confused and keeping her arms locked stiff whilst she waves them around, pointing her eyes in the wrong direction. The sound is terrible with the lip syncing way out and Melvins voice changing so often it felt like they had about four different actors playing him (that is a possibility too). All of this is done with such awareness from the film-makers its hard to know whether they are genius' or perverts. The answer is most likely both. 

The Toxic Avenger is a film made by people who don't give a fuck and it is brilliant for that very reason. Even if it is terrible. 

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