The Toxic Avenger Collection
directed by Lloyd Kaufman
starring Peter Dinklage
by Carl F. Gauze
I have in hand a massive collection of Toxic Avenger material: a reissue of the four Toxic Avenger films along with commentary tracks, interviews, special features, and just about as much Toxic trivia as anyone would risk knowing. That equals eight high-quality UHD discs in a fancy sleeve storage case. It’s more Toxic Avenger material than any one fan could want. I’m eyeballing this as maybe 12 hours of material, maybe more. I thought about breaking this up into several commentaries, but I’ve chosen to swallow this whole elephant in one go.
I went into this project having never sat through an entire Toxic Avenger movie, although I am familiar with other Kaufman classics, like Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D. And if you are still with me here, you may already know the material. If not, it’s a goofy, campy story of a young man, harassed by the cool kids and then thrown to the radioactive movie gods. He emerges distorted but with powerful strength and a winning personality. Multiple commentary tracks, “making of” features, and so forth fill the discs. You could spend most of a week watching all of this. I rank it as “Costco sized popcorn” long. You may enter this as a Toxic Avenger virgin, but you will exit fully Toxicized.
If you are new to Kaufman or this set of goofy exploitation epics, let me introduce the Toxic basics. Winston Gooze (Peter Dinklage) began as a nerdy kid working cleanup in a health club as a maintenance guy. He’s surrounded by the Jersey Shore types: amazing and amazingly loud women in skimpy bikinis and even louder lunkhead goomba guys out to torture the weak and deflower the already deflowered. Winston mops the floors and ticks off the guys; they torture him and leave him to die in what might be the famous Gowanus Canal. There, the assortment of toxic gunk turns normally passive Winston into the grotesque but lovable Toxic Avenger. Toxie (as his friends call him) wanders the town writing wrongs, helping little old ladies cross streets, and being kind to animals. Eventually the town government catches on, and they can’t have mysterious deformed people going around and doing Good Deeds. This is JERSEY, dammit! Now the chase is on, ending in a big climatic shootout. Advisory: No bullets were injured in the making of this film. That’s all the plot you need for his or the next three movies.
The film basically steals every horror movie trope possible: the scary but lovable Frankenstein monster, the evil jerks sent to wreak poetic justice, the corrupt cops running the town for their own benefit, lovable local elderly women, and the homeless bum. The pacing and look of the film are somewhere between low budget 1950s Hollywood and Ed Wood b-roll leftover from another shoot. There’s an early John Waters sensibility that works so well, with weird and cheaply available talent that will work for free AND bring their own costumes. Kaufman is joined by actors and assistants for the multiple commentary tracks. It’s entertaining and a good introduction to shooting cheap, shooting guerrilla, and making just enough money to keep doing what you love.
While I can’t say I loved all four films in the series (the plots tend to all run together), I did enjoy the collection, particularly the commentary tracks. They provide a wealth of gags you missed, actors you should identify, tons of backstage gossip, and low budget ethos.
The holidays are looming, you need to get yourself something you really want to see, and I recommend this as the gift that keeps on giving. Here’s my parting shot: Kevin Bacon is in this movie somewhere. If that doesn’t make it a classic, I didn’t know what will.