The Toxic Avenger isn’t the superhero the world wants, but it may be (once again) the superhero the world needs. For the past two decades, American movie theaters have been overtaken by an exponentially exhausting and sterile battle between Marvel and DC. But The Toxic Avenger offers an alternative, filled with humor, violence, and bad taste. As famously pitched ahead of the film’s flop of a release in 1984, “He was 98 pounds of solid nerd until he became… The Toxic Avenger, the first superhuman-hero from New Jersey.”
This fall, the franchise (which became a cult hit and once was popular enough to spawn a children’s animated show) will reawaken in two parts. Peter Dinklage will play the titular role in a reboot helmed by Macon Blair, the producer and co-star of “punk rock kids kill Nazis” thriller Green Room and director of the Netflix oddity I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore. And home video audiences will get 4K and Blu-ray restorations of all four original films. Word on the reboot is mum, but we’re finally getting a clear look at the latter.
Warning: The following clip is horrifically and comically gory. Proceed with caution!
The box set is stuffed with context that explains how the hell the 1984 bomb birthed a successful franchise and film studio. Lloyd Kaufman, co-director and one of alt cinema’s greatest pitchmen, will famously chat with anybody who will listen about how he and his studio did for Gen X what Ed Wood and Roger Corman did before them.
But there’s another reason to watch these complicated classics that’s not so academic: They’re a queasy kind of fun we don’t see as much in 2023 — for better and for worse. The first film, in particular, is so gnarly and shocking, you immediately get how it had a prosperous second life as a midnight cult classic.
The folks at Troma Entertainment shared this exclusive clip from the 4K restoration with Polygon that shows both the context and the ultra-’80s violence, opening with an intro from Kaufman before shifting to one of the most notoriously meaty kills in the history of slasher cinema.
Toxic Avenger and Troma would eventually fall out of fashion, making room for new B-movie flash phenomena. But it’s fitting that as the series steps back into daylight, its most famous acolyte has positioned himself to save the studio superhero film. James Gunn, director of the Guardians of the Galaxy films and now overseer of the DC cinematic universe, began his career as a screenwriter on Troma’s Tromeo & Juliet and had a cameo in Toxic Avenger: Part IV. His Troma influences can be seen in every phase of his career, from his script for the reboot of Dawn of the Dead to his direction of the viscera-soaked sequences of The Suicide Squad.
The Toxic Avenger reboot will premiere at Fantastic Fest on Sept. 21, and the box set will arrive just before that on Sept. 19.