Sunday, January 1, 2012

Revenge of Netflix-a-thon (#1) Lloyd Kaufman/Michael Herz's THE TOXIC AVENGER

(note: Yes, it is kind of pathetic that, as of living twenty-seven going on twenty-eight years on this planet, I've never seen Lloyd Kaufman's epic of trashy goof-ball-ness.  I'm pretty familiar with Troma, if not an avid buff then seen a few of the 'classics' - Cannibal! The Musical, The First Turn On, Class of Nuke 'em High, Killer Kondom - and yet somehow I just didn't get around to it, either through not being at the right place at the right time with friends, or, frankly, finding something else to watch when I had the DVD 2-disc director's cut right in front of me.  Now, with the Revenga of Netflix-a-thon, it was time I figured to give Toxie a chance... and this is when he was just called 'Melvin')

Fuckin aye he's from Jersey!  The garden state - where more smokestacks are grown than anything else!

Poor Melvin.  He just wanted to get by and work in that Tromaville Health Center, and he could never, ever seem to catch a break.  His appearance as an uber-nerd who couldn't get into the Revenge of the Nerds dorm probably didn't help things, but people in this Tromaville can't seem to get along.  At all.  That's putting it lightly - it's a crime-riddled and infested city where most people are corrupt (cops and the Big Fat Mayor included), and so it trickles down into places like the Health Center.  But one day Melvin is pushed just a wee bit too far by an attractive girl who leads him into an intensely cruel prank including everyone at the spa - and is pushed also into a big barrel of un-identifiable radioactive toxic waste.  Go home and wash it off?  Fat chance - he's now... something else.  But one thing he is for sure is PISSED!

Look at that punim!
The Toxic Avenger is one of the definitive horror-comedies of its time, or at least that's how it would be hyped up by the carnival-barker extraordinaire Lloyd Kaufman (the Walt Disney of the studio really - Michael Herz, oddly enough, isn't usually on those DVD's, whereas Lloyd comes on like your wacky Jewish uncle who may or may not have molested your cousin years ago... but I digress ;))  It certainly goes for the most excesses in terms of characterization and gore, and all on a budget that might have made Sam Raimi's head spin (he is still the king of the 80's horror comedy by the way, no contest) - there's the asshole jocks and bimbos in the health center, but there's also Bozo (the scenery-scarfing cartoon of a man Gary Schneider), who with his drunken buddies have a system of points for who they run over, with children as extra targets. 

Holding up the script, Bozo thought 'I CAN DOOO THHIIIISSS!!"
 And, to be sure as a real go-for-broke horror comedy with the lowest common denominator in mind (and damn fuckin proud of it you gotta problem?), things like, say, a child on a bike getting run over by Bozo and the thugs gets the utmost treatment as far as special fx make-up goes (using a melon filled with color dye and other goodies of course).  It's no surprise then that the 'Monster' mask that is revealed is just damn cool as an abhorrent freak-of-nature, like Superman from The Goonies with a couple of chromosomes missing in the face.  It's a shame then that, as one of the movie's real flaws (not counting, say, flaws in the writing which if I wanted to be a dick critic I could do but I'll try not to), is with the mask in the early scenes.  

After 'Toxie' is created, he goes fighting against two sets of criminals, one shaking down a cop on the streets at night, and then during the day as some gnarly dudes rob a fast food restaurant and proceed to kill/rape a few of the people therein.  But in these big fight scenes (and the body count is impressive), Toxie's face is nowhere to be seen (!)  All of the coverage is shot of him from behind or from the neck down as he pummels and kills and squashes heads and chops off arms and other things involving deep friers and sundae mixers.  I wish I could admit that it was clever of Kaufman and Herz to try and shoot around the fact that they, I assume, didn't have the full mask on set for those days, but it just comes off awkward not being able to have full-on fight scenes.  It isn't until about forty minutes into the film we finally get to see that big mug of his (and then in another scene later in the film, as he talks to his love-of-his-life Sara the blind girl it seemed to happen again, with only one shot of a mask put in there).  

Then again there *are* shots like this, which are just too epic to try and contemplate.
 But that, looking back, was the only true disappointment in the movie (that and maybe a little over-reliance on crappy early 80's synth rock in the health club - the classical music selections are much more inspired), and it didn't detract from the enjoyment of the rest of the narrative.  Kaufman and Herz do a wonderful job of creating their own icon while lampooning everything that goes with it.  Toxie is a hero, though he definitely kills a lot of people - including, at one hilarious-for-all-the-wrong-reasons moment, a four-foot tall old lady in a laundromat - and seems to have an innate ability to track down precisely those people that have been evil and wicked and kick their asses.  To be fair though, in Tromaville, one doesn't have to go far to find them.  Most memorable for me is when he finally tracks down Bozo and his pals, gets on their car, and then proceeds to make mayhem as he drives maniacally through town (explosions, lots of useless property damage, and more explosions also ensue).  

The comedy is just ridiculous, pure and simple, and you'll either go for it or you won't.  I mostly did, between the practical slapstick of the kills and other gags, and some of those throwaway one-liners are great (Sara: "Why Melvin you're beautiful. You're a beautiful person. You're so muscular. It's been two years since I've touched a man!")  I have to wonder if there is a slight frame of mind to be in, almost like a party atmosphere, where the wacky aesthetic would hit it off best, as opposed to all alone in the middle of the night on New Year's Eve.  But the jokes just keep flying, and the tackiness of some of the costumes, ALL of the over-the-top acting basically (and that what-the-fuck voice change with Toxie from when he is on camera and when he's not), and the gore.  There is no top in this universe, or if there is Herz and Kaufman just say 'FUCK YOU!' and laugh at it while throwing rocks and fire-crackers at it. 

And already consumer whores (and how!)
 Toxie's rise to hero isn't exactly a John Campbell-esque example, but it gets the job done.  The original Toxic Avenger is still a rude, crude, and almost magnificent B-movie that usually benefits from its low-budget schlock as the directors find creative ways of pulling off big set pieces and stunts.  

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