Cinophile – The Toxic Avenger

3 min read

When you watch a lot of movies, particularly bad ones, you eventually develop a stigma – a type of affliction that is impossible to remedy. Once you recommend a movie, your better half will look at you suspiciously, demand more information, threaten to kill you if it’s a repeat viewing of For Y’ur Height Only and ultimately refuse to watch your choice anyway. This is why you never show Troma films to your loved ones. Except for one.

Intended to become a horror, The Toxic Avenger instead turned into a campy parody of superheroes. It also became incredibly notorious for its extreme violence, which looks very low-budget today. Infamous scenes included a man’s head crushed by a weight machine and a robber’s arm being ripped off.

Bad movies can be defined into two camps. There are the true abortions: dull, dreary and boring affairs that manage to even squander what little talent its ensemble can muster. On the other are works of genius: films that are so bad, they become instant classics. A few stumble upon this by accident, but there are those which do it intentionally. The king of bad cinema, Troma, has arguably raised the scene to an artform. And The Toxic Avenger is its crown jewel.

The original idea for the movie came to be after Lloyd Kaufman worked as the pre-production supervisor on Rocky. He wanted to make a movie in a health club, which subsequently became a horror. This would set the theme for Troma’s future films – previously it focused on sleazy sex comedies.

Melvin is the cliche of the typical nerdy dweeb: skinny, unkempt, unattractive and constantly being tortured by the muscleheads and hot bods who frequent the gym he works at. All that changes when Melvin ends up in a vat of radioactive goop, turning him into a monster with incredible strength, an unswerving instinct to punish evil and a voice that can swoon any hot, blind girl off her guiding stick. It is convenient then that the town of Tromaville is corrupt, crime-riddled and just begging for a hero to save it – violently.

The Toxic Avenger contained several car sequences, partly because some of the bad guys were hit-n-run serial killers. This inspired a particularly notorious scene where a boy’s head is driven over. The scene is cut from most versions of the film: despite being made out of a melon filled with syrup and tomato sauce, it proved to be very graphic.

The Toxic Avenger has it all: over the top acting, nudity, exploding heads, toxic goop, avenging, guts, shotguns, weaponised mops, tutus, deep fried bad guys, sheep kissing, death by milkshake… the list just goes on and on. This would turn out to be Troma’s longest-lasting contribution to pop culture: Toxie became a bit of a celeb in the Eighties, the movie birthed several sequels and even today plans for a remake are being thrown around studio corridors. In the end it did the impossible: a Troma film you could show to almost anyone and they would enjoy it. No, it doesn’t scrub away that stigma – people still question your movie choices. But at least they’ll understand when you tense your muscles and start saying: “They’re stressin’ me, Slug! They’re stressing me!!”



Cinophile is a weekly feature showcasing films that are strange, brilliant, bizarre and explains why we love the movies.

Last Updated: December 2, 2013


A total movie glutton, nothing is too bad or too obscure to watch, unless it's something like The Human Centipede. If you enjoyed that, there is something wrong with you. But bless you anyway - even video nasties need love...

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