(1989) Directed by Michael Herz and Lloyd Kaufman; Written by: Gay Partington Terry and Lloyd Kaufman; Starring: Ron Fazio, John Altamura, Phoebe Legere and Rick Collins; Available on DVD and Netflix Streaming.
“At first I found it hard to believe that my father was Japanese, and that I was part-Japanese. But that would explain why I've always had these strange, non-American urges to work very hard, save money, and live without credit cards.” – The Toxic Avenger
This review is part of the month-long celebration of Troma Pictures, the Troma Challenge, hosted by The Vern’s Video Vortex, and presided over by the great and powerful Vern. After I requested to participate, and an undisclosed sum of money was exchanged,* he agreed to let me contribute to this ode to all things Troma. After flip-flopping about which movie I wanted to cover, I decided to focus on one of Troma’s underground icons.
* Okay, I lied about the money part.
One thing Troma movies aren’t especially known for is quality. They’re done quickly and on the cheap, and while not good by any stretch of the imagination, they’re strangely enticing. Lloyd Kaufman and Troma Pictures built an entire empire on this niche market of purposely schlocky, but entertaining flicks. It’s no wonder that the eponymous star of the Toxic Avenger movies eventually became Troma’s mascot, embodying Kaufman’s pro-independent, anti-big industry, anti-establishment message.
Shot back to back with the third film in the series, The Toxic Avenger Part II was co-directed by Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz. Kaufman concentrated on the technical shots, while Herz handled action scenes. The original finished results were six (!) hours long, but were eventually cut down to a more manageable length of two roughly 90-minute movies. In order to receive an ‘R’ rating from the MPAA, Lloyd agreed to omit several scenes laden with sex and gore, much to the consternation of fans of the original. The unrated director’s cut (available on later DVD pressings) remedied many of these gripes.
The story concerns the evil head of New York-based Apocalypse Inc. (Rick Collins) as he schemes to take over the peaceful New Jersey town of Tromaville, home of the Toxic Avenger* (or “Toxie”), mutant champion of underdogs everywhere. After the home for the blind where Toxie and his sight/fashion-challenged girlfriend Claire (Phoebe Legere) work is destroyed by the malevolent CEO’s henchmen, Toxie goes on an evil-stomping rampage. Of course, this is merely an excuse to showcase random bits of gore-infused mayhem, not that there’s anything wrong with that. It becomes apparent to Apocalypse Inc.’s chairman that the only way to have Tromaville in his clutches is to get rid of its defender. He seizes the opportunity when Toxie is tricked into embarking on a red herring trip to Japan to find his long-lost father.
* Fun fact: Toxie himself was played by three individuals: Ron Fazio, John Altamura and Pericles Lewnes (for the stunts).
While Toxie’s whole experience in Japan is a dubious plot point, it’s also what makes Part II a unique entry in the series. Kaufman and Herz relied on a Japanese crew to shoot the footage* in Japan. Expect a parade of requisite karate-inspired gags (replete with fish nunchucks and starfish shuriken), a spoof of kaiju movies, public baths** (since this is a Troma film, after all, you can guess where this is going), and weird street food. In one amusing gag, Toxie chases a bad guy to a taiyaki stand, where his nose is molded into a fish shape.
* Fun fact: According to Kaufman, The Toxic Avenger Part II was known in Japan as Akuma Doku Doku Monster, or Crazy Devil Monster.
** Fun fact #2: Kaufman points out in his DVD commentary how he and the crew created a minor international incident when they filmed in the bathhouse. The owners were not impressed when food was dumped into one of the tubs, and their normally immaculate place of business was made filthy.
The Toxic Avenger Part II is not highly regarded by Troma fans, but let’s face it, the first film wasn’t exactly Criterion material either. Both movies are stupid, sophomoric, misogynistic, and perpetuate offensive stereotypes, which is simply de rigueur for Troma. Watching The Toxic Avenger Part II won’t be a life-transforming event, nor will it transform the world, but it’s full of unexpected little nuggets, if you care to let it in. Amidst the gross-out gags and middle school humor, there are some bits of sly social commentary along the way. While it’s not the sequel many were expecting, it’s a worthy successor to The Toxic Avenger.