By Matt Fleming and Jarrod Jones. This is the ANTI-MONITOR podcast, where the Dragon dances through the hoop of Jupiter. This week, Jarrod & Birdy complete their two-part Troma Spectacular with an analysis of ‘The Toxic Avenger’, cinema’s first radioactive-powered superhero from New Jersey. But first, the boys reflect on their fond memories of Gene Wilder, who passed away earlier this week.
As always, be wary for spoilers throughout, and please enjoy.
ANTI-MONITOR: MATT — The average filmgoer wants no more than to seek some laughs, some thrills, maybe a little romance, and a whole lot of action. By these parameters, The Toxic Avenger seems to satisfy, but not for those weak of heart or stomach. Troma Entertainment’s signature series exemplifies both their artistic goals and their business model, and the entire venture just wouldn’t exist without its low-budget, high-concept sensibilities. Also, “independent cinema” would be worse for the wear with its absence.
The Toxic Avenger took a multitude of ‘80s film tropes, shredded them to bits, and reassembled the mess into comedic gold, thus proving that a camera and a can-do attitude could produce sheer gold. Lloyd Kaufman has refined his style over time (as much as schlock cinema can be refined), but it is this whacked-out redefinition of a superhero flick that will always define his brand, and rightfully so. What the film lacks in taste, budget, and plot, it makes up for with a whole heaping helping of heart. The Toxic Avenger is one of the best movies to ever survive the ‘80s, and it sits high atop the waste heap of the VHS era.
ANTI-MONITOR: JARROD — Before you turn your nose up at the concept of “trash cinema,” you would do well to remember that the Toxic Avenger is an icon. Not just for Troma Entertainment, but for cinema as a whole. No, really.
Without its success — which spawned three sequels, a short-lived animated series, and a ding-dang Marvel comic book series — independent cinema just wouldn’t be the same. Without it, we may have been denied the careers of filmmakers James Gunn (Super) and Trey Parker (South Park, The Book of Mormon), and probably Eli Roth too (though… that may not have been such a tremendous loss). The Toxic Avenger is a watershed moment of independent cinema; it’s a film that not only declared the genesis of a new, proud voice, it laid the tracks from penniless, pathological filmmaking to mass market appeal. Guardians of the Galaxy wouldn’t be here without The Toxic Avenger. And I’m happy to report that it’s aged beautifully.
In the thirty-plus years since its release, there has grown a tremendous cult following around Troma and its flagship movie. And while blind devotion is enough to keep any property alive (see The Boondock Saints), The Toxic Avenger endures because of its comedic timing, it’s left-leaning sensibilities, and it’s startling visual language. Don’t believe me? Check out the moment where Melvin embraces his toxic future, wandering the industrialized wastelands of New Jersey, raging against an orange sunset. If the world wants a hero that could literally smash the balls off of the patriarchy, the Toxic Avenger will always be there. And that’s fucking beautiful.
CONSENSUS: There’s a reason why The Toxic Avenger is landmark piece of independent cinema — its defiance of the rules and it’s anarchic sensibilities are plainly evident in one of Troma’s very best. — 6 out of 10
Before: “‘SGT. KABUKIMAN N.Y.P.D.’ Was A B-Grade Troma Trashterpiece,” here.
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