Hidden Netflix Gems – The Toxic Avenger

Hidden Netflix Gems is a new feature designed to help readers answer that burning question, “What should I watch tonight?” It will be updated every Saturday before the sun goes down.

If you’ve never heard of Troma Entertainment, there is no better place to start than their 1984 masterpiece, The Toxic Avenger. Though at first glance, this may seem like a terrible movie, it is actually that rarest of all “so bad it’s good” movies: the kind that is simultaneously self-aware and very sincere. Sure, it’s filled with cheesy puns and one-liners, and the performances are uniformly over-the-top and cartoonish, but that’s all part of director Lloyd Kaufman‘s unique, immediately recognizable style. Kaufman may be a trash filmmaker, but he has embraced sleaze so fully that he almost transcends it. He is truly the greatest trash auteur since Roger Corman; in fact, he’s greater, because his films are even trashier than Corman’s ever were.

The Toxic Avenger takes place, as all canon Troma films do, in the fictional town of Tromaville, New Jersey, “the toxic waste dumping capital of the world.” Melvin Ferd (Mark Torgl) is a scrawny, awkward nerd who works as a janitor at a local health club, where he is perpetually tormented by a quartet of bullies. Bozo (Gary Schneider) and Slug (Robert Prichard) are a couple of meat-head juvenile delinquents who spend their free time either working out or going on vehicular homicide sprees with their equally unredeemable girlfriends, Wanda (Jennifer Babtist) and Julie (Cindy Manion). Early on in the film, we see them run over an innocent boy on a bicycle (D.J. Calvitto) in an obscenely graphic shot gloriously preserved on Netflix in the original unrated version. When Wanda later pleasures herself to a photo of the messy murder, it’s almost as if the film is commenting on the exact kind of repugnant titillation it so gleefully provides.

At any rate, a prank the gang plays on Melvin goes horribly awry and ends with him falling through a window and landing in a barrel of toxic waste, transforming him into a “hideously deformed creature of superhuman size and strength.” Played by Mitchell Cohen and voiced by Kenneth Kessler, the Toxic Avenger fights not only the bullies responsible for his transformation, but also the rampant corruption found everywhere in Tromaville, leading right up to its evil boss, Mayor Peter Belgoody (Pat Ryan, Jr.). Along the way, he rescues and falls in love with a beautiful blind woman named Sara (Andree Maranda), who loves him for who he is and not what he looks like.

The Toxic Avenger is a wonderful blend of superhero and monster movies, with comedy at the forefront. It’s raunchy, violent comedy, and certainly not for everyone, but it strikes a unique cultural chord as a film that doesn’t take itself too seriously, but also presents an unusually smart and intriguing worldview. Its environmental and political concerns are blatant, but no one could seriously accuse a movie this silly of being preachy. I highly recommend this film to anyone with a taste for “bad” movies, with a caveat that its first two sequels are genuinely not very good. Luckily, Citizen Tonie: The Toxic Avenger IV brings the franchise back to its peak form, and is considered “the real sequel.”

  

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It’s your extremely abbreviated end of the week movie news dump

I’ve got just a little less than an hour to write this up tonight, but let’s see how much we can get through.

* RIP Jill Clayburgh. I’ll have more in remembrance of this very fine actress tomorrow. She passed on from chronic lymphocytic leukemia, an illness she’d been dealing with for more than 20 years.

* This makes me feel a bit old since I remember him before he was President of the United States in “The West Wing” and even before he was a very bad possible future U.S. President in “The Dead Zone,” Martin Sheen will be Peter Parker’s oh-so-doomed old Uncle Ben in the Marc Webb “Spiderman” reboot. Making me feel even a bit older, Sally Field is looking like a likelihood as Aunt May, who was always drawn by artists like Steve Ditko and John Romita as if she were about 99 years old. Of course, these days we mainly see her selling hawking Boniva for bone health, so I guess should just adjust to the new reality that Sister Bertrille (aka “The Flying Nun”)/Sybil/Norma Rae isn’t a baby anymore. And I really do like her. I really do.

* The very interesting, talented, and occasionally irritating (when he writes op-eds about with premises about the impact of movie violence I disagree with) Mike White has been offered the gauntlet of “Pride and Prejudice with Zombies” recently dropped by the equally interesting but more experienced David O. Russell. White is best known as a writer and actor. His most fiscally successful screenplay — in which he also acted — was the terrific “School of Rock.” In quirkier times, he starred in and wrote 2000’s “Chuck and Buck” as well as “The Good Girl.” This will be his second directorial outing, the first being…I don’t remember the name and you don’t either. It’s a bold and interesting choice, I will say that.

* A lot of people thought his “Hot Tub Time Machine” was kind of toxic (others thought it funny; I thought it not seen by me…I’ll get to it someday), so I guess it makes sense that Steve Pink’s next project will apparently be a remake of “The Toxic Avenger.” Gross-out franchise, here he comes.

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* Boy, that Lars von Trier is so f*cking suave.

* AFM, the American Film Market, has been going all week. It’s an event where lots of smaller films find distribution and foreign deals are made. Deadline has some interesting deals today. “The Giant Mechanical Man” might sound like one quirky rom-com too many, but any film with Jenna Fischer and Topher Grace in the lead has my attention. Starting up also is the AFI Film Festival, which I’ll be checking out some over the weekend and there may be some quickie off-the-cuff impressions of the movies there coming from there.

* And finally, I’ve been guilty of ignoring the MGM bankruptcy this week, and I’m writing this directly across the street from the Sony lot, the home of Leo the Lion in his prime and for many years past that. Anyhow, the Wall Street Journal summarizes the situation numerically. Reminding us that, adjusted for inflation, “Gone With the Wind has made $1.6 billion. On the other hand, the studio only had one movie in the top 50 this year. What was it? The aforementioned “Hot Tub Time Machine.”

  

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