Troma Entertainment will most likely be a recognizable name if you enjoy any type of illicit pleasure in the film. Their gratuitous content, loaded with gross aspects of gore and violence, never failed to excite the audience, and we have seen some of the best B-movies thanks to this production firm throughout the years.
As a result, it came as a nice surprise when they arrived with their own brand of superheroes. In the midst of Batman, Spider-Man, and other well-known superheroes, this one was like nothing anyone had ever seen before!
In many ways, The Toxic Avenger was the ideal superhero story. It was funny to watch a geek morph into a hideously disfigured powerful monster after being exposed to hazardous waste, and Troma confirmed their usual style of filmmaking with this film.
The original one, which was released in 1984, spawned a profitable franchise that included three sequels. Today, though, we will focus on some of the lesser-known aspects of the franchise that even the most ardent fans are unaware of. This film will teach you everything about the behind-the-scenes fun that led to the creation of this cult-classic B-movie franchise!
Troma Entertainment announced its presence
It is a tale of struggle and determination, as Lloyd Kaufman worked himself weary with several projects throughout the 70s. Some saw him as an actor, while he had management-based pre-production roles in others. It was during this time that he set up a production house called 15th Street Films in New York alongside Oliver Stone.
However, his partner soon left the project and it became a thing of the past. Later, Kaufman teamed up with Michael Herz, and they formed Troma Entertainment. They went in with zero expectations, but 1979 hit Squeeze Play, and their subsequent work in The Final Countdown got them some attention. The Toxic Avenger was a plunge taken in the right direction by the team.
It is reported that they read in a magazine that horror was dead, and thus decided to prove it wrong through their movie. This is when they added horror elements to the film, and The Toxic Avenger became a benchmark they set for themselves. Troma went on to deliver various other films of such type, but The Toxic Avenger will always be remembered as the pioneering device!
The infamous head-crushing scene
Lloyd Kaufman had a traumatic memory of an accident, where he hit his younger sister while backing a car out of the garage. Thankfully, there wasn’t any serious injury, but the incident left a deep impact on him. The head-crushing scene, which is probably one of the most iconic moments of the movie, was influenced by this incident, and they found a very creative way to film this violent-looking sequence.
A watermelon was used for the purpose and it was injected with red food dye and corn syrup. It was then fitted with a wig and placed onto a dummy. The process was certainly a cheap way of getting things done, but it did not compromise the shock value of the scene because it ended up having the desired impact. The stories of such innovation to substitute for high-end special effects are indeed very inspiring and they simply go on to show that even low-budget flicks can get the job done with a little out-of-the-box thinking.
Three actors played the titular role in the original film
It took the combined efforts of three people to perfect the character of The Toxic Avenger. The weak, geeky fellow that you see at the beginning is played by Mark Torgl, who did a mightily fine job slipping into the character. His appearance was that of a perfectly stereotypical geek, and his acting skills were rather impressive for B-movie standards.
After the transformation, Mitch Cohen played the role of The Toxic Avenger under all the layers of makeup. He was a rather muscular fellow, and it boded well for the superhero character who was towering over everyone and looked intimidating. Kenneth Kessler was the voice actor for the Toxic Avenger, and his voiceover added the much-needed personality to the funky and weird superhero!
It took Mitch Cohen over four hours to get himself ready
It is understandably quite a difficult job if you have to slip into a costume that has multiple layers. The makeup effects weren’t extravagant, but they were pretty accurate and the number of innovations required ensured that it was a time-consuming affair. Mitch Cohen was the one who played the role behind all the costumes and makeup, and it apparently took over four hours every day for him to be ready for the shoot.
Besides, there were other side-effects of the Toxic Avenger costume. It often got unbearably hot inside, and to make matters worse, drinking fluids was quite a difficult task. He had to drink with a straw, and the makers came up with a technique for him to be able to keep himself hydrated inside the suit.
Mark Torgl had struggles of his own
He did not have to go through extensive makeup or take the burden of an uncomfortable suit, but Mark Torgl also had a couple of tough moments during filming. In one of the scenes, he accidentally caught fire and the crew stepped in to douse the flame as quickly as possible. It happened from the flaming hands of the police officer, and the fire actually dropped on him, which can be seen in an overhead shot.
The actor escaped unhurt, but he was quite traumatized by the thought of how badly things could have ended! Later, in the scene where the Toxic Avenger falls into the toxic waste and is completely drenched, Mark Torgl had to soak himself in a bathtub. The problem was that the water was ice cold, and the numerous efforts to try and warm it failed. Eventually, to avoid further delays, the actor decided to bear the discomfort and walked into the tub to get the job done. Talk about blowing hot and cold – Mark Torgl did it all!
Rumors ran wild about a stunt driver who almost died
Well, what’s a nice entertaining B-movie without some juicy rumors and controversies clouding the release! As for The Toxic Avenger, the rumor mills ran overtime and brought out some outrageous news. It was reported that for the scene that involved a car tumbling down a hill, a stuntman was used, and he almost lost his life during the filming process.
Later, such rumors have been refuted by the makers themselves, and they revealed that no one was there inside the car while shooting for the scene. It was made to accelerate down the hill with pressure on the gas pedal, and the rumors turned out to be completely baseless. The news, however, had created quite a ruckus, with people pointing fingers at the standards of security on the sets.
The one-armed robber
What is the easiest way to make a scene where an arm is being ripped off look believable? Well, the answer might be unexpected, but rather a simple one! You just need to find a one-armed guy for the scene! The makers of The Toxic Avenger did just that and it worked like magic! If you observe the scene carefully, you will notice that the right arm is hardly moved throughout the sequence.
The guy who played the role actually had only one arm, and the right prosthetic arm was never really used. It was then ripped off and the scene looks shockingly real due to the smart thinking! We are just glad that no one pulled at the wrong arm here!
The inspiration behind the movie – Rocky!
Now, this might sound weird, especially if you consider how different the storylines are. While they might bear no resemblance, it is true that Rocky inspired the creation of The Toxic Avenger in a way. Llyod Kaufman was working on the movie when he actually came up with the idea to create such a film. Troma was already in the plans, and this proved to be the endeavor that changed their lives permanently!
Is it Marisa Tomei that we see?
It is tough to imagine the Oscar-winning actress that we all know and love in a blink-and-you-miss kind of a role in a Troma movie! But as it turns out, Marisa Tomei was indeed a part of the film although there are many who seem to disagree. If you look closely at the towel-clad lady in the locker room for the brief few seconds of her appearance, you will realize that it was actually the veteran actress way before her golden days. It seems like our very own Aunt May had to struggle her way to reach where she is today, and Marisa Tomei is another inspiring story of hard work paying the dividends eventually.
All about the seeing-eye dog!
It was probably one of the least-loved moments in the movie, for the sheer suddenness of the incident. The seeing-eye dog that was shown to be shot sparked quite an outrage, and it gathered the most number of complaints that Troma ever received from the fans.
In real life, however, the dog considered for the role was extremely well trained. It was a treat to work with the dog on the sets and this dog could glide across the floor on command! For the scene, spaghetti covered with gray paint was used to portray the guts splattered, and the dog perfectly obeyed the commands as trained. Clearly, the seeing-eye dog was a valuable addition to the dedicated and talented members of the cast – mine won’t even obey the command to sit!
The mutated superhero was not officially Toxic Avenger
In the movie, you see Melvin turn into a mutated monster with a strong appetite for crime-fighting. He becomes the Toxic Avenger, and has gruesome deaths reserved for the wrongdoers! However, the name was never really attributed to him officially. While the film was being made, no decision was taken on the naming of the character, and you can even see kids in the movie wearing t-shirts saying “I love the monster hero”, with no mention of the Toxic Avenger.
In fact, the working title of the movie was Health Club, and even today, you can find lobby cards with this name on their website. We have to say that the name worked out perfectly because it gives a clear indication of what you should expect in this film!
Toxic Crusaders – the animated version
It is tough to imagine a gratuitous film like The Toxic Avenger having an animated version for kids. However, in 1991, a show called Toxic Crusaders was aired, and it was loosely based on the cinematic narrative. Toxie, the lead character from the movies, is seen leading a team of misfit superheroes to fight pollution.
During the time, certain environmentally considerate cartoons made their presence felt, and Toxic Crusaders was on the same lines as Captain Planet and the Planeteers or Swamp Thing. It was obviously a lot tamer than the movies, but there were still some adult-oriented jokes that courted some controversy. Overall, it was a fun cartoon to watch, and the thirteen episodes can be enjoyed by the fans of the movie franchise.
The Reboot starring Peter Dinklage
You have watched him and admired his work as Tyrion Lannister in Game of Thrones. Now, Peter Dinklage is all set to woo the fans with his presence in The Toxic Avenger reboot, where he will be starring as Toxie himself! This upcoming superhero comedy is being directed by Macon Blair, and it is slated to be the contemporary reimagining of the 1984 classic.
Llyod Kaufman and Michael Herz continue to be the producers, and Peter Dinklage in the titular role is drawing quite some attention from the fans. It remains to be seen whether or not they simply take over from the original plot, where a weakling janitor is bullied all the time until he falls into a pit of toxic waste and turns into a deformed, monstrous superhero. The movie is supposed to release sometime this year, and we cannot wait for another addition to this unique franchise.
Our final words
There come a few movies every once in a while, which are beyond the usual critic’s reviews and analysis. The Toxic Avenger was one such effort that really doesn’t deserve to be judged for technicalities or compared to some other big-budget efforts. It is precisely what it looks like upfront – a cheaply made guilty pleasure that doesn’t have a single dull moment. If you are willing to accept the film for what it is, the movie and the following sequels will promise to be an engaging watch. In case you are willing to exercise your critical thinking abilities, there are always Oscar-worthy timeless classics to nurture your mind – leave the entertainment for us fans!