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As you may have noticed, I have decided to dedicate Movie Criticism for the Retarded as a shrine to Troma films for this Halloween season. Halloween is my favorite time of the year, so why not spend this one covering some of my favorite movies?
To begin this season's Troma Tribute, there's no better choice than 1985's THE TOXIC AVENGER. Considered the film that put the independent studio on the map, this movie is an unquestioned schlock classic. It's the quintessential Troma film, complete with plenty of gruesome violent death scenes, gratuitous nudity, and a fantastic sense of humor.
Welcome to Tromaville, which is apparently a suburb of New York City in North Jersey, but is also close enough to see the NY Skyline in the background. Tromaville is the Toxic Waste capital of the world, and they're damn proud of it. They wear it like a badge on their sleeve. Tromaville also happens to be a town full of corruption, from the punks on the street all the way up to the mayor's office.
This town full of reprehensible characters is only exemplified by Slug and Bozo, two health-club obsessed punks who get their kicks by running innocent children and minorities over in their muscle car. They hate pretty much everyone, save for their slutty girlfriends Julie and Wanda. This includes Melvin the mop boy, a 98-pound weakling who works as the club's janitor. Julie sets Melvin up to be embarassed one day, and in his attempt to flee the scene, he winds up diving into a vat of nuclear waste. As a result, the Toxic Avenger is born.
Melvin uses his new form as a tool against all of the crime and corruption in town. He arrives on the scene as a gang of thugs is brutalizing a cop that refused a bribe, and hands the lot of them an ass-whipping. He runs in to a Mexican restaurant in the midst of an armed robbery and takes care of the offenders. He creates a gruesome end for a shady drug dealer while he's working out at the health club. And of course, his initial antagonists, Slug, Bozo, Julie, and Wanda, are all disposed of in due time. And as his trademark, Toxie shoves a dirty mop into the skull of each one of his victims.
Along the way, Toxie meets a pretty blind girl named Sara. He rescues her from the thugs at the Mexican restaurant, and she is quite taken by him. She also sweeps the big guy off his feet, and they begin a fabled romance. Meanwhile, Toxie's also helping little old ladies across the street, helping people open tight jar lids, and leading children to safety. He's a gentle giant, and is growing quite an enviable reputation.
Eventually, Melvin has practically eliminated the criminal element from Tromaville. The jails are full, the streets are safe, and it looks as if there's nobody else to dispatch his breed of vigilante justice upon. Of course, there's still that pesky mayor to deal with. The mayor and his cronies are prepared to destroy Toxie before they get killed themselves. They call in the National Guard, who are only willing to capture the monster. The mayor, of course, has different plans. Will Toxie make it out alive? Well, considering there are three sequels to go, I think you know that answer.
THE TOXIC AVENGER is not too far removed from most independent horror movies of its era, but it does have one major difference: Toxie is the good guy here. He kills a lot of people, but they all deserve it. They don't pull punches here either; Toxie subjects his victims to some gruesome punishment. One robber has his hands deep-fried in the restaurant, he pokes the eyes out of one street thug, he rips the arm off of a victim and then beats him with it, and he drops a freeweight right on to the skull of one victim, leaving half of a skull intact.
Toxie also doesn't discriminate. He treats all of his victims the same way, whether they're male or female. Julie and Wanda suffer consequenses that are as severe as the ones that Slug and Bozo meet. Toxie even disposes of a seemingly-innocent little old lady, but later dialogue reveals that she had it coming to her as well.
The beauty of all this, of course, is that it's a whole lot of fun. Lloyd Kaufman and crew don't pretend for a second that this film should be taken seriously. The gore is of a completely campy nature, and is presented in some remarkably inventive methods. There are even some moments of cinematic audacity: a small child's head is driven over and explodes, and Sara's seeing-eye dog is even blown away. It all flows well, and considering how low the budget and inexperienced the cast is, it's entertaining from end to end.
Sure, there are some people out there that won't "get it". To these people I say thank you, because that just leaves more Toxie for folks like me who appreciate it. But for any self-respecting fan of independent film and splatterhouse comedy, this is the film for you. Toxie is a true American icon.
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