Tag Archives: Superhero

CAPSULE: SUPER (2010)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Ellen Page, Kevin Bacon, Liv Tyler, Nathan Fillion

PLOT: A schlub of a fry cook (Wilson) takes drastic action after his wife (Tyler) leaves him for

her drug dealer (Bacon), deciding to become a superhero called “The Crimson Bolt” to win her back. Teaming up with a lively comic store clerk (Page), he experiences the pain and very real violence that isn’t detailed in the comic books he reads.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s yet another “regular guy becomes a superhero” story, equally mixing dark humor and gritty drama while throwing in some comic book action segments. It stands out for its more realistic portrayal of the premise and unexpectedly unsettling moments, but never exceeds “offbeat” on the Weird-o-meter.

COMMENTS: At its core, Super offers nothing new. After a life-changing event, a “normal” loser realizes how easily he can dress up in a funny costume and run around at night surprising “bad guys” with a blunt weapon. Wearing a mask and taking out his frustration with his own bad luck in life makes him feel powerful and gives him a new perspective, etc, but he also learns that being a fake superhero has real-life consequences. It’s only the bleakly comic tone set against hyper-realistic violence that makes the film stand out from an over-slicked, stylized effort like Kick-Ass.

Attempting to balance kooky jokes and drug-fueled shootouts, writer/director James Gunn capriciously changes moods from scene to scene. One moment Rainn Wilson is delivering delightfully deadpan narration, and the next he’s unleashing a crazed fury indicative of a truly unsettled mind.  One moment Ellen Page is excitedly extolling the fun of superhero-dom, and the next she’s purposefully crushing someone’s legs with a car.  Kevin Bacon cracks wise over a strange breakfast of scrambled eggs, and later encourages his seriously drugged-up girlfriend to give herself over to a horny drug lord.  There is a constant tugging at the audience’s emotions and affections, and honestly, my nerves.  I was more often uncomfortable or just turned off by the proceedings, especially when the unnecessary religious angle was added followed by a stupid attempt to give Page and Wilson a romance.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t find Super very funny at times, primarily a result of the talented cast.  Wilson has his share of cute, quirky moments, while Nathan Fillion’s all-too-short appearance as a Christian TV superhero is gleefully hammy. Bacon impressed me with an unexpectedly entertaining performance. It’s really Page who stands out though, infusing comic nerd Libby (aka “Boltie”) with as much bubbly enthusiasm as she does unhinged sadism.  Boltie’s more outspoken and petty than the Crimson Bolt, and just as easily incited to violence, serving as whatever the opposite of a “conscience” would be.

Super never finds its footing, resulting in an uneven attempt at a realistic superhero movie, though I’m sure Gunn was aiming for a unique and more in-depth exploration of the concept. It’s primarily a comedy, but the heavy doses of drugs, violence, and relationship drama make for a confusing watch.  Some of the action sequences are exciting, but more often than not they feel out of place.  It’s watchable for the cast (especially the ever-likable Page), but doesn’t excel in any other area, except perhaps for a very cool animated opening credits sequence.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“In the end, this diffuse and off-balance film—one that weirdly combines cardboard characters and emotional urgency, high conceptualism and visceral rawness—does come together, albeit in a strange, and strangely fitting, way.”—Nathan Heller, Slate.com (contemporaneous)

SATURDAY SHORT: ITALIAN SPIDERMAN TRAILER (2008)

Since extended to feature length through ten mini-episodes broadcast on YouTube, the “Italian Spiderman” trailer was originally shot as a film school project by Dario Russo. If you’re one of the few who hasn’t experienced the “actione,” “velocita” and “romanza” of “Italian Spiderman” yet, get ready for a treat.

SUPERMAN AND THE MOLE MEN (1951)

I suppose I was in the vast minority in 1978 when I still preferred as Superman, and especially as Clark Kent, as opposed to Christopher Reeve.

One could argue this was, perhaps, merely nostalgia since I grew up watching repeats of the Adventures of Superman every Saturday as a young child, but it was more than that.

The Superman I recalled pre-1978 was derived from film noir, rather than science fiction, although there was always latent and simplistic sci-fi elements. The art deco Fleischer cartoons were a resplendent example of this. Superman/Kent might tackle a local mad scientist or robots run amok, but he still had to predominantly deal with diamond stealing gangsters, a feisty Lois Lane, and a cigar chomping news editor boss. In the classic Superman comics he did occasionally have a colorful villain, such as the impish prankster whose name no one can pronounce, Braniac, and Bizarro, but he was not blessed with Batman’s rogue gallery of nemeses, and usually was content battling wits with the dull Lex Luthor.

Still from Superman and the Mole Men (1951)Since the Richard Donner film, the Superman character has completely forsaken its golden age and radio origins, and Superman is a pimply faced superboy, not long past puberty.  George Reeves’ Superman was already pushing forty when he made his debut.  Reeves remained in the monkey suit (as he called it) until his death at forty five. Reeves personified the classic age Superman in that he was every adolescent boy’s idea of a super father figure.  Sure, he wore a padded suit, clearly “flew” on a glass table and ducked when bad guys threw their emptied Continue reading SUPERMAN AND THE MOLE MEN (1951)

BATMAN RETURNS (1992): A SUPERHERO BURLESQUE

In 1992 some damn silly, so-called Christian organization threw a bullying hissy fit at McDonalds for its Happy Meal deal tie-in with Tim Burton‘s Batman Returns. McDonalds, true to form, prematurely withdrew its merchandising. Rumor has it that McDonalds issued a stern warning to Warner Brothers not to tap Burton for the next Batman film. For whatever reason, Warner Brothers caved into the golden arch and, consequently, put its franchise into a decade long grave with the unwise hiring of director Joel Schumacher.

Only the fundamentalist mindset can associate Big Macs with a certain brand of morality. Looking at Batman Returns (1992), one wonders what the Christian organization was bitching about. The Bible is all throughout the film and, actually the good book itself has far more sex and violence than Batman, Tim Burton, Warner Brothers and McDonalds combined.

Regardless, Batman Returns remains the greatest cinematic comic book movie to date and one of Tim Burton’s most uniquely accomplished films. Admittedly, I am not a fan of comic book movies, even if I did read comics some when I was kid, but then most kids I knew did. I was in the minority in preferring DC to Marvel, and I guess I am sort of looking forward to the new Green Lantern movie, mainly because the Green Lantern/Green Arrow comic was a favorite when I was a wee lad in the 1960s and 1970s. That was a comic that was delightfully of its time, a bit like Star Trek in espousing an ultra-liberal message with all the subtlety of a pair of brass knuckles. Even though Green Lantern himself was a bit too righteous and bland, I liked that he was obsessed with the color green and was rendered impotent by the color yellow. There was something surreal in that, and I find the insistence of realism in comics to be a huge oxymoron. Perhaps that’s why the dark surrealism of Batman Returns did not bother me like it did mainstream audiences, comic book geeks, and militant pseudo-Christian organizations.

Still from Batman Returns (1992)Even though I will acknowledge that Christopher Nolan‘s Dark Knight (2008) was well crafted, it would not have worked without Ledger’s performance holding it together. Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne, however, pales compared to ‘s much more intense, internalized, subtle and complex Wayne. Finally, Nolan’s film feels like it has one subplot too many. Comparatively, Tim Burton’s Batman Returns is a Continue reading BATMAN RETURNS (1992): A SUPERHERO BURLESQUE

CAPSULE: THE ADVENTURES OF SHARKBOY AND LAVAGIRL IN 3-D (2005)

DIRECTED BY: Robert Rodriguez

FEATURING: George Lopez, Cayden Boyd, Taylor Lautner, Taylor Dooley

PLOT:  Dreamy young Max invents the imaginary superheroes Sharkboy and Lavagirl from

Still from The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3D (2005)

Planet Drool to brighten his dull existence; when his dream journal is stolen by a schoolyard bully, Planet Drool is taken over by tyrants and his imaginary friends whisk him away to his disintegrating dream world to set things right.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  The childishly imaginative The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3D shows all the evidence of having been taken out of the hands of the original scenarist, 7 year old Racer Max Rodriguez, and script-doctored to fit into a kiddie film format that would be more comfortable for adults.  The tale heads off in weird directions, obliterating the line between fantasy and reality as it meanders down a stream-of-consciousness style from superheroes to roller coasters to electrical plug villains to omniscient floating head robots.  It’s a near-perfect exhibition of the hyperactive schizophrenia of a typical seven-year old.  So far, so good; but then, someone—my money is on director Robert Rodriguez—imposed a standard three-act structure on the story, smoothed out the non-sequiturs, and tossed in a moral about realizing your dreams to placate stern, rational adults.  Had they stuck to Racer’s original vision, Sharkboy and Lavagirl, as the first script actually written by a seven year old, might have turned out as one of the weirdest movies ever made.

COMMENTS:  Sharks are not weird.  Pomegranates are weird.  I base this conclusion on the fact that the Armenian director Sergei Parajanov once chose to make a weird movie about pomegranates, but no one has ever made a weird movie about sharks.  Sharks are b-movie heavies, excuses for bad special effects and senseless gratuitous violence.  They serve the same cinematic purpose as other non-weird bad guy archetypes like giant spiders, psychotic killers in hockey-masks, and Paris Hilton.

Mega-sharks, on the other hand, may be weird, but I thought of them too late.

Robert Rodriguez, who alternates making weirdish adult cult movies like Grindhouse and Sin City with wacky children’s movies like the Spy Kids series, loves sharks, a love affair that began when Steven Spielberg’s Jaws premiered on his 7th birthday.  For recreation, he goes scuba diving in shark-infested waters in a steel cage.  He’s passed down his obsession with sharks to his son Racer, who, between the ages of six and seven, made up the character of Sharkboy in stories he told to amuse himself.  In an attempt to recapture the spirit of youth and create a movie that would appeal to directly to kids with as little adult intervention as possible, the elder Rodriguez took Racer’s ideas, dialogue and plot sketches (as verbatim as he could while still making a reasonably coherent movie), cast professional talent in the key roles, and directed his son’s daydreams in front state of the art green-screen special effects as The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl.
Sharkathalon!
I say this to explain why a weird movie website is covering a semi-weird, shark-lite, non-horror movie for the b-movie roundtable SHARKATHALON!, “week-long tribute to everything that has to do with sharks and horror films” scheduled to coincide with the 35th anniversary of the release of Jaws.  Fans of the toothy marine predators looking for tales of blood in the water, prepare for something completely different.

With those flimsy justifications out of the way, let’s jump into Racer’s kiddie shark pool, where the chum floating in the water isn’t chunks off a great white’s latest victim, but shreds of childhood dreams.

First off, forget 3-D.  Part of the reason this film was originally panned is because the 3-D effects, which came along at the very tail end of the red-blue glasses era and just before the contemporary polarized glasses became standard, just didn’t measure up.  The DVD comes with red-blue glasses and offers viewers the chance to torture themselves with them should they so wish, but most will be happy to stick to the standard flat-viewing experience.

The adventures begin with Sharkboy’s origin story: son of a marine biologist, separated from his father and lost in a CGI sea after a storm, adopted by talking sharks; naturally, his exposure to the sharky lifestyle results in him growing gills, fangs and fins.  Lavagirl, the affirmative-action superheroine added to tap into the lucrative girl market, doesn’t get an origin story; she Continue reading CAPSULE: THE ADVENTURES OF SHARKBOY AND LAVAGIRL IN 3-D (2005)

READER RECOMMENDATION: BIG MAN JAPAN [DAI NIHONJIN] (2007)

Reader review by Rob Steele [AKA Mofo Rising]

DIRECTED BY: Hitoshi Matsumoto

FEATURING: Hitoshi Matsumoto

PLOT: Not-so-lovable loser transforms into significantly larger loser to battle some of the

Still from Big Man Japan (2007)

weirdest monsters to ever threaten Japan.

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: On a purely visual level, Big Man Japan has a bizarre aesthetic that nobody else would rightly consider.  Beyond that, the film’s humor is often so subtle that you don’t realize what strange territory you’ve stumbled into until it ends up battling it out on the screen in its underwear.  This film is just weird.

COMMENTS: Did you ever watch Mike Myers defend the male nudity in Austin Powers by claiming that the naked male form has been a comedic stereotype in British humor for years, but you still got the sense that he just enjoyed running around naked?  Well, Japanese comedian Hitoshi Matsumoto has taken Myer’s original intent and literally writ it large for the big screen.  Prepare yourself for a loving CGI rendition of the male form, with every stray hair delineated and a paunch that could kill.

Matsumoto doesn’t stop there.  His film, Big Man Japan, is as loving a tribute to pure loser-dom as you could hope to film.  His character is the none-too-bright heir to monster fighters in an alternate-reality Japan where giant monsters attack on a regular basis.  Unfortunately, while his monster-battlin’ grandfather was considered a hero, he is now a national joke, fighting inexplicably ridiculous monsters for increasingly little ratings.  (His show now only airs in the wee hours of the morning.)  As if being a national joke was not enough, our current Big Man manages to fail every time he is called up to bat.

Big Man Japan is a slow burn of a film.  If you are familiar with celebration of wrong-headed intentions Christopher Guest has been putting out for years, you should be comfortable here.  The majority or the film focuses on interviews with our loser as he is subtly confronted with his abject shame in society. Luckily for us, every twenty minutes or so, he must fight against a bizarre menagerie of monsters in CGI battles that are, to say the very least, uncomfortable.

This is an odd film.  But before you throw it out, stick around for the ending.  I’m not going to give it away here, and I’m not even sure I could if I tried.  Suffice to say, I laughed like a maniac, probably to the consternation of all my friends.

Big Man Japan is nothing else other than Big Man Japan.  Before you venture in, I recommend you watch the preview.  If it looks at all interesting to you (you’re a small crowd), watch it.  You may be unpleasantly surprised.  Or the opposite.  No real way to predict your fate with this film.  Suffice to say, don’t expect to get out unscathed.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Part character study, part media satire and, by its finale, altogether bizarre, ‘Big Man Japan’ plays a bit like a quieter, weirder version of ‘Hancock’… the most impressive special effect here is Mr. Matsumoto’s hilariously restrained performance, a tour de force of comedic concision in a movie bloated by increasingly surreal developments.”–Nathan Lee, The New York Times (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: CITIZEN TOXIE: THE TOXIC AVENGER 4 (2000)

DIRECTED BY: Lloyd Kaufman

FEATURING: David Mattey, voice of Clyde Lewis, Heidi Sjursen, Paul Kyrmse

PLOT: An explosion inexplicably causes the Toxic Avenger to switch dimensions with his

Still from Citizen Toxie: Toxic Avenger 4 (2000)

evil Bizarro-world opposite, the Noxious Offender.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: None of the other Toxic Avenger movies made the List, so the fourth installment would have to do something different to break the pattern.  Unfortunately, it follows the same path as the previous entries, showing no ambition other than to out-gross its predecessors.  Fans of the series will want to watch to see more of the same; the rest of us will continue to marvel at how Troma continues to make unfettered anarchy seem so dreadfully formulaic.

COMMENTS:  There’s little point to debating the merits of a Toxic Avenger film: you either admire Lloyd Kaufman’s dedication to offensive insanity, or you find it  juvenile and annoying.  You either “get it,” or you like it.  What can you say about a movie that begins with a gang of automatic-weapon toting teenagers clad in diapers (the “diaper mafia,” a reference to the disaffected teens of the “Trenchcoat Mafia” who committed the Columbine Massacre slayings) taking a class of “retards” hostage—on “Take a Mexican to Lunch” day, no less?  It ain’t Jonathan Swift; there’s only the feeblest and most obvious satirical point to the reference.  More to the point, it ain’t Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker, although the gag-a-minute pacing is an attempt to mimic the style of the Airplane! auteurs.  It’s the kind of thing the Zuker-Abrahams-Zucker would come up with if they spent six months sniffing paint while working on the script.  The problem is that Kaufman and his co-writers spend a lot more time and energy trying to think up ways to be offensive than they do trying to be funny.  A lot of the gags—like superheros named “Master-Bater” and “The Vibrator”— are the kind of things that are screamingly funny if  you’ve never actually heard a dirty joke before, but when they appear halfway through Citizen Toxie, you can’t possibly avail yourself of that defense.  We’re supposed to be amused on a meta-level, thinking about how “funny” it is that Kaufman would trot out lame joke after lame joke seemingly aimed at twelve year-old boys but wrapped up in a movie filled with “adult” content.  But of course, bad taste fans don’t want to hear the grumblings of a highbrow spoilsport; they want the list of anarchic atrocities documented in Citizen Toxie.  A brief survey: farting; retards shooting up heroin; a cow superhero with squirting udders; a blind woman seduced/raped by lesbian art student; a morbidly obese particle physicist turned gay prostitute; a topless interpreter for the deaf; a human slaughterhouse; the Retarded Revenger and his sidekick, a severed head; a Citizen Kane parody; God as a foul-mouthed drunken dwarf; testicles ripped off and presented to the victim; a pump-up monster- faced penis; and about 100 jokes leftover from 1961, when Jerry Lewis rejected them as too corny.  On the other hand, I did admire the originality of the scene with the twin fetuses battling to the death in the womb.  And, in a movie with this many jokes, some funny lines have to land, to wit: “heroes don’t double amputate police chiefs and hurl 12-year olds into brick walls!” and “this film is respectfully dedicated to all those who have lost their lives facing down their own evil doppelgängers.” Still, the overwhelming take home message from this film is that Ron Jeremy needs to fire his agent for landing him roles that are beneath his dignity.

Besides Jeremy, who appears as the mayor of Tromaville, other offbeat celebrities who lent their talent to the film included Hugh Hefner, Al Goldstein, and Lemmy from Motorhead—who used their real names—along with Marvel comics magnate Stan Lee (who provides narration under the pseudonym “Peter Parker”), washed-up former child actor Corey Feldman (under the pseudonym Kinky Finkelstein),  identical twin stand-up comics Jason and Randy Sklar (under the pseudonyms Foofy and Skippy Applebaum), and the Howard Stern Show’s “Hank the Angry Drunken Dwarf” (who is a living pseudonym).

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…imagine the zaniness of Mad magazine folded into the satire of ‘South Park’ with the grotesquery exponentially multiplied into free-for-all farce.”–Stephen Holden, The New York Times (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: THE TOXIC AVENGER PART III: THE LAST TEMPTATION OF TOXIE (1989)

DIRECTED BY: Michael Herz, Lloyd Kaufman

FEATURING: John Altamura, Phoebe Legere, Rick Collins, Ron Fazio

PLOT:  Apocalypse Inc. and their literally diabolic CEO dupe New Jersey superhero Toxie into working for them as a spokesman/executive so he can earn money for an operation to restore his fiancée’s sight.

Still from Toxic Avenger 3: The Last Temptation of Toxie

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  For the same reasons that The Toxic Avenger, Part II won’t make it.  The Last Temptation of Toxie is actually a bit weirder than the previous sequel; unfortunately, it’s also quite a bit worse.

COMMENTS:  There are two huge problems with this third installment in this mediocre series.  The first is that there is way too much plot: Toxie doesn’t kick ass from start to finish.  Instead, having completely rid the town of Tromaville of evil in the first two movies, he’s put himself out of work and has to find odd jobs to make ends meet.  He worries about financing a sight-restoring operation for Claire, hires on with Apocalypse, betrays his core values and becomes a soulless corporate suit… and it takes forever for the mutated avenger to find his moral compass again and get back to tearing off transvestite punk gangsters’ limbs.  This leads to the even more devastating second problem: the reason the movie seems so interminable is that, with no action sequences for most of the way, Temptation is forced to rely on it’s sense of humor to keep the audience from tuning out.  Although Toxic Avenger movies always get off a memorable one-liner or two (there’s a quotable and unexpected shot here at the Chevy Nova), the series isn’t capable of sustaining long stretches of comedy without resorting to gory sight gags.  Desperate to manufacture yuks, the producers resort to a “comic” trick they also used in Class of Nuke ‘Em High 3: they insert cartoon sound effects to accompany mundane actions (there’s a sound effect when Claire scratches her head, Toxie points his finger and we hear a bullet ricochet, etc).  The script also makes multiple self-aware references, e.g. “I’ll mop up Tromaville and make room for The Toxic Avenger 4!,” that suggest the writers were running out of gags fast.  All of this is a shame, because the two “temptation” fantasy sequences in Part III are actually well done, with nice budget art direction and memorable costuming: the dog-faced demon and the dancing girl in lurid blue body paint are suitably cheap demonic denizens of a bargain-basement Hell.  There’s also a nice transformation scene where the devil pops out of an executive, which is effective rather than campy, and a live action video game finale that’s just crazy enough to work.  It’s too bad that these few promising sequences are wrapped up in a uninvolving plot with lame humor substituting for the missing action. Also of note to some (you know who you are!) is the fact that this is the only Toxic Avenger entry without abundant nudity. It seems that, even though Phoebe Legere was signed for the back-to-back sequels, the contract with her breasts expired sometime between Part II and Part III, making this third entry a shockingly hooter-lite affair.

The Toxic Avenger Parts 2 & 3 were filmed back to back in 1989 with the same cast; there was enough extra footage from Part 2 that the studio decided to cobble together a third Avenger film from the leftovers.  Last Temptation is so badly conceived that it suggests that, even though Troma specializes in low budget guerrilla filmmaking, they can’t just go out into left field and wing it.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“… this one doesn’t make any sense either. I loved it!–Joe Bob Briggs, Joe Bob Goes to the Drive-In (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: THE TOXIC AVENGER, PART II (1989)

DIRECTED BY: Michael Herz, Lloyd Kaufman

FEATURING: John Altamura, Phoebe Legere, Rick Collins, Ron Fazio

PLOT:  Evil corporation Apocalypse, Inc., wanting to turn Tromaville into a toxic waste

Still from The Toxic Avenger, Part II (1989)

dump, lures the mutant superhero Toxie away to Japan to search for his father.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Films churned out by Troma Studios are low-budget affairs heavy on sex, violence and absurd comedy; they are weird compared to typical Hollywood fare, but they’re all similar compared to each other.  With the above-average effort Tromeo and Juliet representing the studio on the List of 366, it’s unlikely that any other Troma films will make it.

COMMENTS:  I am a contrarian.  I believe that The Toxic Avenger, Part II is actually a slightly better film than the original The Toxic Avenger.  The reason is the shift in tone from malicious teen revenge fantasy/comedy to pure comic spoof.   This sequel purges much of the mean-spiritedness from the original–such as the scenes where the audience is expected to identify with the Avenger as he stalks and kills half-naked girls from the upper crust of teen society–while still retaining it’s politically incorrect edge.  The original over-impressed viewers in 1984 due to its novelty and outrageousness, but viewed retrospectively, this sequel is just as bizarre and humorous (which is to say, very bizarre and mildly humorous).  The centerpiece fight scene comes early on, with Toxie dispatching and dismembering a seemingly endless variety of bizarrely costumed goons–a dog boy, a transvestite, a midget, and a number of rejected Village People characters–to the tune of “It Don’t Mean a Thing if it Ain’t Got that Swing.”   The scene is more extended and over-the-top than the restaurant holdup sequence in the original Avenger, and should satisfy fans of absurdist violence.  Once Toxie reaches Tokyo, he meets even more strange characters, including briefcase carrying, mohawk-wearing Japanese businessmen, and fights ninja duels with ridiculous props, including “throwing starfish” and a swordfish-like creature with a functioning chainsaw in place of the horn.  The jokes are aggressively lowbrow, but every now and then the Troma writers throw in something clever to remind you they’re not as stupid as some of the shamelessly lame slapstick gags might suggest–there’s a sly insertion of a David Mamet “quote” that’s laugh-out-loud funny.

The producers shot more footage for this sequel than they could use, so the assembled cast quickly finished off a second sequel, The Toxic Avenger Part III: The Last Temptation of Toxie and released it the same year.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“What happens when you take a movie that’s good stupid fun and take out the good fun?  Usually, you get a sequel…  Other Troma Inc., films, including the original ‘Avenger’ and ‘Class of Nuke ‘Em High,’ worked partly because there was a silly, surreal energy coursing through them. This sequel seems less inspired than calculated.”–Richard Harrington, The Washington Post (Toxic Avenger 2, contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: THE TOXIC AVENGER (1984)

DIRECTED BY: Lloyd Kaufman & Michael Herz

FEATURING: Mitchell Cohen

PLOT:  A nerdy teen janitor is tormented by his serial killer peers until he accidentally

Promotional card for The Toxic Avenger (1984) under it's working title, Health Club

falls into a vat of toxic waste and emerges as a mop-wielding, avenging mutant superhero.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: When a movie about a mutant janitor who fights transvestite thugs and, to add insult to injury, presses his wet mop into their heads after he disembowels them can’t find a place on a list of weird movies, you know you’re searching for a very refined brand of weirdness indeed.

COMMENTSThe Toxic Avenger has just enough craziness going on to make it watchable, but it’s not nearly the classic its cult reputation might suggest. Although an absurd thread runs throughout to keep it sporadically interesting, its sniper-like focus on chesty chicks and cheesy kills keeps it squarely locked in on its target audience of males under 25. Others will find the goofy spoofery seldom funny and often offensive (for example, the hit and run killing of young boys and racial minorities for sport). There are few laugh-out-loud moments for grown-ups, although a scene in the middle of a crime-fighting montage where superhero Toxie helps a housewife with a stubborn jar lid does elicit a chuckle. The centerpiece hostage scene at a restaurant tells you all you need to know: a gang of robbers wearing performance art greasepaint burst in, shoot a blind girl’s seeing-eye dog, and prepare to sodomize her when Toxie arrives. Our hero fights a battle against a gangster with ninja skills who grabs a samurai sword off the wall (of a Mexican restaurant?), and in the end the mutant dweeb gruesomely and painfully dispatches them with a milkshake machine and a deep fryer. It’s a fantasy of nerd revenge against the upper crust of high school society, as Toxie dismembers obnoxious jocks (a justified act, since like all popular people, his tormentors are inhuman monsters who like to mow down kids in their cars and masturbate to the gory Polaroids afterward). The movie invites us to identify with and cheer for Toxie as, Michael Meyers-like, he stalks and kills half-naked girls (who are, of course, evil, and deserve to be dispatched for the good of Tromaville). Ultimately, this Columbine-esque wish fulfillment, where the beleaguered kid not only kills his bullies but becomes a beloved celebrity and gets the girl, creates a subtext that’s far more offensive than any of child killings or the pre-teen white slavery ring Kaufman and Herz try to shock us with.

The Toxic Avenger‘s blend of horror-movie gore, gross-out offensiveness, proudly lowbrow comedy, and absurd touches struck a nerve in the 1980s, when it bypassed the normal movie distribution channels to become one of the first cult videocassette hits. It was so successful that Troma studios has been remaking this same film, under a variety of titles, for the last 25 years.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Like Airplane! for the antisocial set, or a Grimms fairytale gone horribly, horribly wrong, this weird-ass peek into the past proves that some high concepts are indeed eternal.”–Bill Gibron, DVD Talk (21st Anniversary DVD)