Directors: Michael Herz and Lloyd Kaufman

Fifteen years after their first DVD release of THE TOXIC AVENGER, Troma have brought it back to DVD finally in its longest version and for the first time in anamorphic widescreen.

Ninety-pound weakling Melvin Junko (Mark Torgl) is the mop boy at Tromaville’s local gym; he’s also the whipping boy of body-building bullies Bozo (Gary Schneider, CLASS OF NUKE ‘EM HIGH) and Slug (Robert Prichard, ALIEN SPACE AVENGER). With the help of bimbettes Julie (Cindy Manion, PREPPIES) and Wanda (Jennifer Babtist, HEAD GAMES), they play a prank on Melvin that winds up with the nerd in a tutu in front of the laughing hordes. Things go horribly wrong when Melvin plunges out a window into a handy vat of toxic waste (after all, Tromaville is the number one toxic dumping ground of the country). The resulting hideous disfigurement doesn’t faze the bullies, even when Melvin suddenly bursts into flames and runs off screaming (then again, Bozo, Slug, Julie and Wanda are behind a spree of pedestrian hit-and-runs for points and kicks). Despite the singing, Melvin doesn’t look that worse for wear until he starts mutating into a seven-foot muscle-bound monster (Mitch Cohen, CLERKS) with an insatiable need to tear bad guys limb-from-limb (literally) and pound them into mulch. The Toxic Avenger’s calling card of a mop smashed into the face of his victims soon has the town’s corrupt authorities (including corpulent mayor Belgoody [Pat Ryan, STREET TRASH]) shaking in their boots and mounting a smear campaign against the monster that is becoming the local hero and actually making Tromaville a nice place to live; however, Toxie has just as many appreciative supporters – including blind love interest Sara [Andree Maranda] and incorruptible Irish cop O’Clancy [Dick Martinsen, THE BELIEVERS]) – as he does enemies (and that includes the National Guard).

Having seen a handful of the more horror-oriented Troma product while growing up in the 1990s, I had become very familiar with THE TOXIC AVENGER without having ever actually seen it (or having any interest in doing so); so Troma’s new DVD is a first time viewing for me. While the film is as bad as I always thought it would be, it turns out that it doesn’t have to be good to be entertaining. Directors – and Troma frontmen – Michael Herz and Lloyd Kaufman throw verisimilitude out the window from the start and rely on the relentless over-the-top silliness and frequent action set-pieces with outrageous (if never actually convincing) gore to keep the audience amused (and it works). Although initially rated R for its theatrical release and released in home video formats mainly in stronger unrated cuts, THE TOXIC AVENGER might not have lost some of its freshness in the wake of the glut of Troma’s own subsequent productions as well as the more mainstream trend towards gross-out humor (the film’s effects artist Jennifer Aspinall – who worked on other 1980s DTV favorites like SPOOKIES and PSYCHOS IN LOVE – subsequently provided even more grisly and graphic gore for similar comic effect on a regular basis for the eight year run of Fox’s now-defunct sketch show MADTV).

The flagship title of Troma, THE TOXIC AVENGER has been on DVD since 1997 in its director’s cut version which ran approximately 81 minutes (Vestron released R and unrated versions on tape and laserdisc), including a 21st anniversary two-disc edition in 2005 and a couple series boxed set releases. An extended version appeared in Europe and Japan with a 91-minute running time. The additional scenes from this version have been available as a supplement on the various DVD editions, but this new release marks the first time the extended version has been available legitimately stateside; but one would hardly call it a definitive version since the previous unmated and non-anamorphic letterboxed DVDs of the 81- minute cut were typically stacked with Troma extras including an audio commentary with Kaufman, interviews (with cast, crew, and fans), retrospective documentaries, music videos, and trailers. “The Japanese Cut” lacks a commentary or much in the way of contextual extras, but it does feature an anamorphic 1.78:1 transfer (apparently a first for the title); however, definition is rather poor like a 16:9 bump-up of an older master. The Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track is clean but hardly dynamic.

The feature is preceded by an introduction (4:54) featuring Kaufman and Herz that accompanied the Japanese version (here it is a separate video track rather than being grafted onto the feature, although it is stretched to 16:9). The Japanese distributors had to add Japanese subtitles to the introduction; and it’s a good thing they added them so far up on the screen so that Kaufman and company could go back and provide us with a literal English translation of the Japanese translation right below them. The main extras are trailers for all four TOXIC AVENGER films as well as a still gallery. Under “Tromatic Extras” you’ll find more trailers for non-TOXIE Troma releases including FATHER’S DAY, THE TAINT, THE CLASS OF NUKE ‘EM HIGH, MR. BRICKS, and TROMEO AND JULIET. Also included on that sub-menu is The National Dance Institute’s “The Radiation March” (0:54) – which has appeared on the previous releases as well as several other Troma titles – and “Why is Lloyd Kaufman living in a refrigerator box?” (2:22) which is a promo for the website and the availability of various Troma titles through Comcast. Compared to other Troma discs which are usually glutted with mostly useless extras, THE TOXIC AVENGER: THE JAPANESE CUT’s package feels pretty thin; but TOXIE fans will very likely find this an essential purchase (even though the deleted scenes have been available elsewhere and they probably already own the earlier editions), while newbies are served as well by this longer cut as they probably would be by any of the other unrated versions. (Eric Cotenas)