Troma. Boy oh boy. No matter what else you might have been watching, Troma exists to remind us that quality in moviemaking can always fall further. Not content with owning one version of this "classic", I've bought two versions - the 91-minute unrated Director's Cut and the 75-minute censored UK edition. The latter is unquestionably the better film, but I found the former much more interesting. It's possible that the uncut original is better than both of them, but no way am I buying this movie three times over.
Is it enjoyable? Hell yes! It's hard not to admire Troma's shamelessness. Produced with a single-minded fixation upon the lowest possible denominator, this film is a rag-bag of juvenile nonsense (female flesh, violence, toxic waste, etc.) thrown on to the screen without the slightest trace of subtlety, taste or maturity. I can live with that. I could even learn to accept the Troma acting style, which is to pull stupid faces at the camera and mug in a manner that would shame a pre-school nativity play. Normally I hate that, but it's hard to apply your normal critical standards to a Troma film.
The soundtrack is lots of thumping fun. The women look great, especially when the director dresses them in skimpy gym outfits and then points the camera at their breasts. But even without the exploitation-cam, at least two of these actresses are seriously hot.
Tromaville is a world of ludicrous joke characters, shameless plot convenience (toxic waste truck!) and deliberate cheese. You adjust to it. You even start noticing lesser peculiarities, e.g. why do so many of Tromaville's authority figures have German accents? Why would a macho narcissist arsehole go by the name "Bozo"? Have Tromaville's criminals escaped from Arkham Asylum? And who told the fat mayor that he was allowed to act in a Troma movie?
Most of the film's gags are so lame that they become oddly compelling, but a few manage to be funny. The blind girl made me laugh, even though (or perhaps because) you know her plot function within about 0.0000000001 milliseconds of her appearance. I liked her. It's briefly upsetting when something particularly sadistic happens to her, while she even retains charm and dignity when becoming an excuse for Blind Girl Gags.
One of many, many less successful gags is the snake down the neck of the fitness instructor who's told his class to copy him exactly. In a better film this scene would be almost painful, but here it's just part of that wacky Troma tapestry... though having said that, this scene could have been funny if the instructor's writhings had actually been dying spasms 'cos the snake was poisonous.
Oh, and I must mention the slasher scene where Toxie stalks a loathsome bimbo through an abandoned basement, which (though you hate the bitch) turns the tables on the viewer and becomes outright horror. Class of Nuke 'Em High also has surprisingly successful moments of straight horror when it's not giving us dumb teen comedy, so I'm looking forward eagerly to my long-awaited DVD of Chopper Chicks in Zombietown
So much, so obvious. However my biggest surprise was that The Toxic Avenger was, in places, boring. This was a much bigger problem with the Director's Cut, a concept with which I have problems. Deleted scenes are usually deleted for a *reason*. Somehow I don't think The Toxic Avenger was ever re-edited by studio bosses looking for a mainstream blockbuster hit, so one suspects that this "Director's Cut" simply involved splicing back in material that hadn't been judged good enough to make the grade first time around. Of course "quality" and "Troma" are mutually exclusive concepts and it's hard to say definitively that the extra material is worse... but what's for sure is that it slows down the pacing. The 80-minute UK cut is brisk almost to a fault, snapping from shot to shot with editing so jerky that you'll get whiplash. If anything it's too fast. The story sags a little in the second half, but there's nothing an editor could have done about that.
The UK cut is a much better film - and a huge part of that is its squeamishness about showing Toxie's ultra-violence. You're not alienated from his actions; instead they're portrayed as relatively understandable by movie revenge flick standards. Starting mildly allows for scary escalation as Toxie gets ever further out of control, giving him a character arc that's surprisingly effective. I hate to say this, but for once snipping lots of violence has improved a movie.
Having said that, I'm now going to contradict myself wildly and explain why I loved the Director's Cut's farcically eye-popping ultra-violence.
This stuff is unbelievable! From the beginning Toxie mutilates, tortures, rips off body parts and generally goes to town on the bad guys like he'd caught them down an alley with his sister. This isn't the usual heroic revenge. This is sadism, way too extreme for us to cheer on. We laugh at it instead. Admittedly the bad guys also get to commit some pretty jaw-dropping violence (running down a child and then reversing over his head), but Toxie's violence goes way beyond the usual "they insulted his pet hamster and now they're going to PAY!!!!" level of macho bullshit. You've got extraordinarily OTT ultra-violence being played for cheap laughs in a goofy comedy. I loved it!
You see I hate Hollywood formula films, in which you can almost hear the script writing itself. This is 180 degrees from anything that a sane person could conceive. I treasure it like a baby! In fact I disliked the scene where Toxie realises he's out of control, which reads like the script suddenly realising that it's gone off the rails and vainly trying to steer back towards normality. I like being surprised by a movie, and this you'd never ever predict. The full-violence cut of Toxic Avenger is the story of an insanely sadistic monster who commits unbelievable atrocities but gets the girl and wins in the end anyway. How cool is that?
Although having said that the UK cut, by snipping the most extreme sadism, by contrast gives the subtler cruelties more weight. That was interesting.
The Toxic Avenger is godawful on so many levels, but that's part of its charm. However the scary thing is that (apart perhaps from Tromeo and Juliet
) this is apparently Troma's most successful film.