Color, 1984, 82/87m.
Directed by Michael Herz & Lloyd Kaufman
Starring Andree Maranda, Mitch Cohen, Jennifer Babtist, Cindy Manion, Robert Prichard, Mark Torgl, Pat Ryan
Troma (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC), 88 Films (Blu-ray & DVD) (UK R0 HD/PAL) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
The film that launched a thousand drive-in bad taste comedies, The Toxic Avengers is the Rosetta Stone for understanding the crude, oddball aesthetic of Troma Entertainment, the exploitation studio behind three decades of unlikely cult favorites ranging from Class of Nuke 'Em High to Poultrygeist. However, The Toxic Avenger remains their most popular hit, a major VHS and DVD favorite since the mid-'80s that spawned three official sequels, a cartoon series (The Toxic Crusaders), a stage musical, several songs, and a comic book series. This is also the project that really cemented the idea of "Tromaville," a ridiculous New Jersey town filled with loud, depraved people whose lives often devolve into a slimy, nasty mess at one point or another; not surprisingly, almost all of the official Troma releases have also taken place there.
In this case the story revolves around Tromaville's local gym where the vicious, bubble-headed jocks and bimbos get their kicks by picking on nerdy Melvin (Torgl), the bespectacled mop boy. However, one of their pranks (involving a tutu and livestock, which must be seen to be believed) goes spectacularly awry and sends Melvin splashing into toxic waste. After the steaming mess formerly known as Melvin retreats into the wilderness, he transforms into the malformed Toxic Avenger (now played by Cohen), a muscular mutant with revenge on his mind. During a lunchtime attack at a fast food joint, he saves the day and makes a gory mess out of some robbers who have just shot the seeing-eye dog of top-heavy blind girl Sara (Maranda), who becomes his girlfriend. Soon the improbable superhero is a folk hero as he cleans up the streets, much to the annoyance of the corrupt, obese mayor (Ryan). How far can Toxie go to save the citizens of Tromaville?
By this point it's safe to say anyone reading this has already encountered The Toxic Avenger in one form or another over the years. Its initial release in both unrated andR-rated tape versions from Vestron had '80s gorehounds seeking out the former version to bask in such highlights as a baddie's face turned into an impromptu "milkshake," a pretty spectacular (by Troma standards) violent car chase, and Toxie's climactic "gutsy" gesture to the local government, along with plenty of torn limbs and other outrageous nastiness. The fact that it's all played extremely over the top kept the film from getting into too much trouble with censors; everything basically boils down to a sick joke complete with terrible overacting and one-dimensional characters. Of course, in this case that's not a bad thing at all if you know what you're getting into.
The R-rated version of The Toxic Avenger essentially disappeared from circulation years ago, with the unrated one popping up as a "director's cut" from Troma in its initial full frame (open matte) DVD version during the format's infancy in 1998. A matted laserdisc version also appeared and became something of a collector's item, later surfacing in 2005 on DVD as a 21st Anniversary Edition. The standard version also appeared in the seven-disc Complete Toxic Avenger set and the more worthwhile Tox Box (which is still the only place you can get the complete version of Part II, for some reason). The "Tromatic" extras on these are similar though not identical, with Lloyd Kaufman offering the usual hyperactive intros (which vary from one disc to another) along with director commentaries (which, again, vary depending on the DVD), samples of the cartoon series, "Mopboy Secrets" (random bits of commentary by Torgl), comedy sketches, and various amateur homages.
What's most interesting is that each version contains a sampling of "deleted scenes," which were actually notorious back in the '80s since they were included as part of the longer, elusive 91-minute version released on Japanese VHS, complete with a different introduction featuring two Troma babes introducing a Q&A with the directors (complete with Japanese subtitles). That extended cut became something of a gray market favorite, but it wasn't until the end of 2012 that it finally made an appearance in America on DVD. Promoted as The Toxic Avenger: The Japanese Cut, the DVD retains the dupey-looking intro in squished widescreen (along with hilarious subtitles translating the Japanese ones back into broken English) and marked the film's first 16x9 appearance, for what that's worth. (It really looks fine either way.) The quality here is best described as above average VHS; it's pretty soft and dated but definitely watchable and way better than the distorted bootleg copies. Keep your expectations in check though. The four extra minutes are back in place, including lots of additional dialogue and a different, extended fate for two female characters in the third act. Does it make a huge difference? No, not really, but Toxie fans should be delighted to finally have this sought-after variation finally available on legit video. Otherwise the extras are more modest than the shorter unrated DVD; you get trailers for all four films in the series, a slide show of production stills, the usual Radiation March, a random bit of nonsense called "Why is Lloyd Kaufman living in a refrigerator box?," and bonus trailers for Father's Day, The Taint, Mr. Bricks, Class of Nuke 'Em High, and Tromeo and Juliet. Be warned, anyone prone to seizures should also avoid looking at the menu screens for more than a few seconds!
Next we get to the 2014 revisit courtesy of a Blu-ray/DVD combo from Troma, which fares about as well as their other HD transfers: a huge jump in detail and film texture, much more accurate and vivid colors, a completely untouched transfer from the negative complete with minor specks and debris, and lossy Dolby Digital audio, which in this case isn't catastrophic given the nature of the original sound mix. It's the standard unrated 82-minute cut, of course, and comes with the older Kaufman audio commentary and a new commentary featuring villain actors Robert Prichard, Gary Schneider and Dan Snow, moderated by Troma's P.R. manager. Apart from some silent gaps here and there it's a pretty lively track as they swap stories about the cast members, point out the economical methods of shooting the driving scenes, and not particularly missing filming in Jersey City.
Then you get a four-minute slideshow of production photos, the obligatory HD intro by Kaufman, a "40 Years of Troma" featurette, and perhaps the nuttiest extra to ever grace this film, a new hammy six-minute video with a very enthusiastic Torgl showing off various original props from the film (the mop, the tutu, etc.) courtesy of Troma girls he keeps calling "Julie." Nowhere else can you hear someone say an old used mop "smells like Marisa Tomei." Jennifer Baptist, who plays the nasty Wanda, chimes in with a new 18-minute featurette talking about her various Troma films and her memories of the biz, not to mention her love of horror films. Her daughter also pops by, and as it turns out, her entire parentage has a certain connection to this film. Older interviews with Prichard (two and a half minutes), Cohen (eight minutes), Dan "Cigar Face" Snow (four and a half minutes), and co-director/Troma honcho Michael Herz (15 minutes) should be familiar to fans and are presented here in all their original lo-fi glory. Trailers for the four Toxie films and Return to Nuke 'Em High round out the disc, which should make fans pretty darn happy. Not surprisingly, 88 Films also issued this on Blu-ray and DVD in the U.K. hot on the heels of this release (with the three sequels making their HD debuts later there as well); that edition is missing all of the new special features, but it retains the main feature (unrated version) with LPCM audio and the extended Japanese cut in SD as a bonus (with that goofy overseas intro). Kaufman's past DVD intros are there, too, along with a batch of tangential Troma extras. Either way, it's nice to see Toxie looking better than ever.
Updated review on August 15, 2012.