The Toxic Avenger (1984) dir. Lloyd Kaufman & Michael Herz



Much like Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall, The Toxic Avenger wasn’t the first Troma film, but it might as well be. Founded in 1974 by motormouthed impresario Lloyd Kaufman and mostly-silent partner Michael Herz, the studio spent its first decade cranking out softcore comedies like Waitress! and The First Turn On!! (punctuation theirs). But things came into focus when Kaufman, inspired by an editorial about the death of the horror film, hashed out a story about a tutu-wearing monster hero who cleans up the streets of New Jersey. The rest, of course, is history: The Toxic Avenger was a colossal hit in the then-nascent home video market, and its mix of gross-out humor, proudly threadbare production values, and broad liberal satire charted the studio’s course for the next three decades and counting.

Rewatching The Toxic Avenger, what’s perhaps most surprising is its… well, innocence doesn’t seem like the right word for a movie in which a gang of dog-murdering rapists are torn limb from limb, but in a world of increasingly cynical shock humor, Toxie’s debut outing has a refreshing positivity to it. The enthusiasm of its creators is palpable, and is only amplified by its miniscule budget and untrained cast. The whole production feels like the film some buddies might make with some beers over a weekend, and Troma’s populist aesthetic encourages viewers to do just that. That call hasn’t gone unheeded, either: Guardians of the Galaxy’s James Gunn and South Park’s Trey Parker both cut their teeth on Troma productions, and the studio has been cited as an influence by the likes of Peter Jackson and Quentin Tarantino.

Which is why, as I mentioned in this month’s Compass, Kaufman is such an inspired choice for the inaugural Coolidge @fter Midnite Award. In a horror section filled with daunting tapes covered in stern warning labels, Troma’s output was distinctly accessible, with its colorful box art and addictively silly titles. That accessibility was also literal: Troma videos were ubiquitous in even the smallest town’s video stores. To untold thousands of budding suburban cinephiles, Toxie and his pals served as the first steps down a path of deep cinematic weirdness — up to and including midnight movies. This is, of course, in addition to the fact that Kaufman is one of the most consistently entertaining filmmaking personalities this side of John Waters, and never disappoints at live appearances. So godspeed, Lloyd. We love the monster hero.

The Toxic Avenger
dir. Lloyd Kaufman & Michael Herz
82 min.

Part of the ongoing series: The Coolidge @fter Midnite Honors Lloyd Kaufman
Lloyd Kaufman in person!!

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