Friday, September 30, 2011

REVIEW: The Toxic Avenger (1984)

Directors: Michael Herz, Lloyd Kaufman
Starring: Mitch Cohen, Mark Torgl

A classic shlock flick from the early 80s that is pretty much about as cartoony and over the top you can get. The hero runs around in a burnt tutu and has a deformed head, and yet he is absolutely charming, relatable and personable. For all its eccentricities and idealism the movie provides a very realistic view of how people ignore the little guys just because they’re not as good looking or if they don’t fit in for whatever reason. The Toxic Avenger was created because a bunch of rich, overzealous bigots humiliated and scorned some poor kid, who had done nothing to them at all. And he hits bottom, and after that he rises back up and starts taking vengeance for those who can’t defend themselves. And even then he is tormented with burdens of grief, because he’s a good person, and even in the ridiculous ways he kills people, he feels bad about it afterwards. That’s really charming, and adds a depth to this that modern movies attempting this style don’t seem to have.

He befriends a blind girl who can’t see his disfigured face and thus has no problem at all loving him unconditionally. It’s a trope that’s been done before and since, but it works for the story, and provides some simple, sweet romance to balance out the terrible gore. I’m not sure the depiction of blind people is entirely PC, but hey, this is a movie where a deformed man in a tutu shoves robbers’ heads into deep-fat fryers, so I guess I can’t complain…

The bad guys have no such remorse. They’re cartoon caricatures of cartoon caricatures, the absolute worst people you can imagine multiplied by 50. They ride around and hit little kids on the street for no reason! They’re set up to be the most despicable people you can imagine, so you feel good when the Toxic Avenger kills them. It works.

Oh, and there’s also the mayor, who is fat, evil, corrupt and loves massages. He starts a hate-campaign against the Avenger because he killed off a few of his goons. It almost works, but the Avenger rips his guts out in front of the crowd, so…yay? I don’t know, this is my only caveat with the movie. The Toxic Avenger is obviously opposed to the mayor’s hate-crusade and even has some supporters. But he RIPS OUT THE MAYOR’S GUTS in front of the crowd! Wouldn’t that, I don’t know, raise some suspicion or something? I think so! But I’m probably thinking about it too much.

This movie works because it’s funny, fresh, vibrant and enjoyable, and even with some graceful social commentary beneath, too! It’s a delightful romp that will captivate and entertain anyone willing to set aside their serious-faces for an hour and a half of vicious, violent gore and wacky comedy. A really entertaining flick. Go see it.