Movie Review – The Toxic Avenger (1984)

Troma Entertainment was founded by Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz in 1974 and has been known henceforth as the foremost purveyor of Z-movies – films of such low budget, standard, and taste that they don’t qualify even as B-films. And millions of horror fans have loved them for it. They have become the category standard by which all intentionally terrible movies are judged, which is a testament to their value as valid entertainment. As an eighties kid Troma movies were a rite of passage. Their overt nudity, violence, and surrealist mania was known among the playgrounds from kids whose older siblings had let them watch a beat up rental cassette. If you hadn’t seen a Troma film, you probably lied and said you had.

No Troma film was more well-known to us elementary schoolers than The Toxic Avenger (1984), an R-rated offering that oddly became even more popular with kids after it was made into an environmentalist children’s cartoon in the early 1990s called Toxic Crusaders. I can even remember the jingle that accompanied the toy line: “Toxic Crusaders – they’re gross, but they still get girls.” I think I still have some action figures somewhere. It’s similar to the unlikelihood of Rambo – a Vietnam vet who experiences violent flashbacks and who burned down a small American town – also becoming a cartoon hero in 1986. The Toxic Avenger represents the surprisingly uncommon coupling of the comic book superhero and horror. With an overflowing abundance of low-brow humor, gore and exploitation to fill it out, Toxie has since become Troma’s flagship icon.

As a kid I loved Troma films. They were beyond anything I had ever seen while still keeping to well-worn 1950s horror tropes; they were a combination of the bizarre and the comfortably familiar. They were intentionally bad movies that tried to cross into the so-bad-it’s-good realm, offering unapologetically crass entertainment. Troma movies are ones to watch when you’re in the right mood, and preferably with the right companions. The Toxic Avenger is certainly one of their films that still manages to hold viewers’ attention and even generates intentional laughs from its endearing, irresistible awfulness.

For those who don’t know, the movie tells of a skinny nerd who works as a janitor at a gym who gets harassed and pranked and ends up falling into a barrel of toxic waste – while wearing a pink tutu, of course. The radioactive chemicals result in deformities, super strength, and an unstoppable impulse to vanquish evil in all its forms. If that sounds like a plot you’d be interested in seeing on screen, even out of purely morbid curiosity, Toxie might be worth checking out for you. However, the movie is filled with cartoonish characters, terrible acting, worse dialogue, blatant stereotypes, gory but unconvincing special effects, and of course boobs. We even get hilarious dubbing. If that generates further interest, then Toxie is definitely worth checking out.

Troma movies aren’t for everyone. Most of the time, they aren’t even for me. But I’ve seen The Toxic Avenger many times over the years and I’m sure one day I’ll share it with my son so he can tell all the kids on the playground about the crazy-ass Troma film he just saw.

Grade: C-