Color, 1989, 108/104/96m.
Directed by Michael Herz & Lloyd Kaufman
Starring Ron Fazio, John Altamura, Phoebe Legere, Rick Collins, Lisa Gaye, Rikya Yasuoka, Tsutomu Sekine, Shinoburyû, Jessica Dublin
Troma (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC), 88 Films (Blu-ray & DVD) (UK R0 HD/PAL) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
Considering it turned out to be Troma's most popular movie ever, there was little doubt a sequel to The Toxic Avenger would be in the works after it became a big hit on home video circa 1986. However, few could have anticipated the longevity of Troma's mascot, who became a fixture in three big-screen sequels and an animated series, not to mention a bevy of toys and comic books. The first encore for Toxie came with The Toxic Avenger II, which was lensed in Japan thanks to the huge popularity of the film in that country (with a few financial incentives to boot). Thus a story was cooked up to take him from the familiar background of Tromaville, New Jersey to foreign shores where he could fight evil in a totally new setting. The narrative devised to get him there is so nonsensical it scarcely bears repeating, but let's give it a shot...
Following the events of the first film, janitor-turned-superhero Melvin, a.k.a. the Toxic Avenger (Fazio), has turned Tromaville into a crime-free paradise and helps out at the local school for the blind along with his girlfriend, Claire (Legere). However, the nefarious corporation Apocalypse Inc. is irritated by the town's success since it interferes with their plan to plow a path of domination all the way to New York City. Their solution: since Toxie is driven to fight evil by "Tromaton" cells in his body, they'll send him off on a wild goose chase to find his missing father in Japan, leaving Tromaville helpless against their invasion. Soon Toxie is dismembering bad guys in Japan, Apocalypse Inc. is overtaking the helpless citizens of Tromaville, and the long-missing dad, Big Mac (Yasuoka), is far from what he appears. Can Toxie clean up Japan and get home in time to save it before everything turns into a toxic slime pit of corruption and greed?
The storyline here is obviously far more convoluted and confused than the prior film, which Kaufman and company try to solve by spackling the film wall to wall with Melvin's narration and copious ADR work for most of the actors. The end result is a lot more ragged and disjointed with our hero stumbling from one random set piece to the next, but thankfully the gore quotient is still plenty high with lots of heads and fingers flying (not to mention the infamous squeezing wheelchair). As for as sequels in the series go it's no match for the epic fourth one, but there's enough mayhem on hand to make it worthwhile if you see it in its blood-spattered uncut version.
The history of this film on home video is even more confusing than the first one, which came out in three distinct versions. This time we got an R-rated theatrical cut, an unrated home video cut, and an oddball extended version that didn't turn up until the Blu-ray release, which may be the intended longer Japanese version. The first DVD release in 1998 was the drastically edited MPAA-approved version, missing virtually all the gore and clocking in at 96 minutes. Despite this goof, the packaging still claimed to be a "director's cut," of course. A revisit for The Tox Box in 2002 turned out to be the much longer unrated version, thankfully, presented open matte as usual. On the other hand, the 7-disc Complete Toxic Avenger set in 2006 only had the R-rated disc again. Grrr.
Got all that? Well, things are about to get even more confusing as we hit the Blu-ray era. In late 2014, 88 Films in the UK released a Blu-ray containing an even longer version of the film containing all of the unrated material as well as some extended comic bits with Toxie in Japan. It doesn't change the tone of the film, but it's nice to have it in what appears to be the longest version possible. This transfer looks fantastic, with the features and extras filling up a big chunk of the 50GB disc; for the record, those extras are the audio commentary Kaufman recorded for The Tox Box (kicking off with an explanation of why the prior DVD turned out to be the heavily edited R-rated cut), his old video intro from the first DVD, a "Toxic Thoughts" appraisal from Fangoria's Mike Gingold, the trailer, and the unrelated "Tour of Troma" and "Scenes from the Tromaville Café" filler pieces.
In 2015, Troma issued a domestic US edition on Blu-ray (a combo pack with a DVD containing the unrated Tox Box pressing) that you'd expect to be essentially identical. Well, yes and no. The transfer appears to be from the same excellent source and looks very colorful with nice 1.78:1 framing, but... it's a standard def presentation encoded as an AVC Blu-ray file, which means the resolution is only 720x480 but still occupies 16GB of disc space. (And it's interlaced to boot.) That means it's the longest and best-looking version you can find of any of the American releases, but the UK one is still the way to go if you want it in 1080p. Audio is the usual lossy Dolby Digital stereo mix. Now, for the extras... the second Kaufman commentary is here again (as with the UK disc), and you also get "At Home with Toxie," a four-minute video puff piece with a bathrobe-clad Toxie and his "wife," Vicky, showing how they live just like ordinary folks. Lisa Gaye turns up next for a two-minute Troma interview piece seen on the previous DVDs, chatting briefly (with very dramatic arm gestures) about her role in the second and third films and the franchise's legacy. The three-minute "Toxic Avenger on Japanese TV" is untranslated but quite interesting as it shows a lot of production footage from the shoot in Japan, including a very young Kaufman with a bushy black beard behind the camera. The rest of the disc is rounded out with Kaufman's original DVD intro (a quick 41 seconds), the usual Radiation March, a two-minute video of a Troma salute by the American Cinematheque (basically lots of film clips), and trailers for all four Toxie films along with Sgt. Kabukiman NYPD, Troma's War, and the two volumes of Return to Nuke 'Em High.
Reviewed on April 26, 2015.