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  • Writer's pictureGabe Powers

The Toxic Avenger 4K UHD Review


Troma Entertainment

Blu-ray Release: October 24, 2023 (as part of the Toxic Avenger Collection)

Video: 1.85:1/2160p (HDR10)/Color

Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0

Subtitles: English

Run Time: 82:10

Directors: Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz


Note: This Blu-ray is currently only available as part of Troma’s Toxic Avenger Collection, a four movie, eight disc set that includes The Toxic Avenger, The Toxic Avengers: Part II, The Toxic Avenger Part III: The Last Temptation of Toxie, and Citizen Toxie: The Toxic Avenger Part IV.


As of now, I am only covering the first film, because there are problems with the other three 4K UHDs in the collection. We are still a couple of weeks out from release and Troma has already set up a replacement program, so I will finish the other three reviews in time.

Tromaville, New Jersey has a monstrous new hero! The Toxic Avenger is born when meek mop boy Melvin (Mark Torg) falls into a vat of toxic waste after being relentlessly bullied by the jerks in the health club where he works. Now, Toxie is here to serve and protect the people of Tromaville from evildoers out to destroy him and the town! (From Troma’s official synopsis)



As the consecrated icon that started the Troma Empire, the face of the company, and the lead of the studio’s most prolific franchise – including four films, a children’s cartoon (The Toxic Crusaders [1991]), a video game based on that cartoon, a musical, and now a studio-backed reboot – it’s easy to take the Toxic Avenger for granted. He’s been a part of our everyday lives for almost 40 years and, given that omnipresence, it's easy to overlook the genuine brilliance of a low-budget, hard-R-rated superhero spoof. He’s not the first ultra-violent superhero, but he’s one of the first to make it to live action, beating Sam Raimi’s Darkman (1990), Paul Verhoven’s Robocop (1987), and Mark Goldblatt’s The Punisher (1987) to the big screen. You’d have to look to European comic adaptations of the ‘60s and ‘70s sexploitation cinema to find something close to The Toxic Avengers’ brand of lurid comedy.


The movie that started it all (assuming that you aren’t counting the early sex comedies that helped establish Troma Studios during the ‘70s) is still a unique, loveable, and plucky piece of independent filmmaking. Directors and Troma heads Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz understood their limitations, saw a hole in the market they could conceivable fill, and went to work on a transgressive little comedy that, despite its vulgarity, thin budget, and thorough lack of mainstream appeal, actually fits alongside other early ‘80s horror and comedy releases. Compared to the DTV trash that Troma manufactured in the years that followed, The Toxic Avenger is a genuinely theater-worthy experience, complete with competent cinematography, thoughtful production design, likable, albeit campily affected performances, and even a collection of impressive stunts. Kaufman and Joe Ritter’s screenplay has roughly a three-act structure, a clear concept, and a clear target for its spoof and satire. I know this all sounds like a very low bar to clear, but it’s really worth noting that this is a (comparatively) cinematic-looking movie and that tapping into the public’s familiarity with superhero origin stories shows uncanny foresight.



As a comedy, The Toxic Avenger is subversive by both 1984 and 2023 standards, but its brand offensive content has a quaint quality that mostly keeps it from stepping over the edge into mean-spirited territory. Like naughty little boys, Kaufman, Herz, and Ritter are pushing buttons for the sake of attention and they don’t really care if they elicit a shamed guffaw or a stern scolding. Similar to a good Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker joint, even if only a fourth of its jokes land, there are so many of them that the good-to-bad ratio outperforms most regular comedies. The bigger issue is how often the film confuses being loud and obnoxious with being funny, which ties back into the filmmakers being naughty little boys. It helps the ratio that so much of the humor is based in absurd, gross-out delights and that Toxie’s many, many murders are creatively conceived and capably executed. Make-up artists Jennifer Aspinall, Ralph Cordero, and Tom Lauten deserve a lion’s share of the credit in this regard for their special effects, which surpass a lot of the gore gags seen from early ‘80s studio-released slashers.



Video

Troma loves to squeeze Toxie for every dime he’s worth. The first movie alone was released on VHS, Beta, Laserdisc, DVD, and Blu-ray, multiple times in multiple countries. The catch to all of this easy availability is that none of the Toxic Avenger movies have ever looked very good on home-video. Two out of three DVD versions of the original trilogy weren’t even anamorphically enhanced or presented in the correct aspect ratio. The first HD versions were taken from rough prints, but were at least presented in 1.85:1. These new 2023 restorations, all four of which have been used for both the full 2160p UHD and 1080p BD copies of each film, were taken from 4K scans of the original camera negatives. The upgrade is substantial and very nearly the best we could ever expect from these roughly made and not well-maintained films. I’ve read that Vinegar Syndrome was responsible for these remasters, but that Troma kept release rights. I don’t really know how to verify this, but it makes sense, given the quality of the transfers and the fact that VS just announced 4K releases of previously Troma-owned films Mother’s Day (1981), Blood Sucking Freaks (1976), and Rabid Grannies (1988).


I’ve included screencaps from the Blu-ray versions of each film, which illustrate many of the remaster’s upgrades over previous HD transfers, just minus the added value of 2160p and HDR enhancements. This first movie is still a bit scratchy, it has its share of print damage artifacts (especially between reels) and there are a few blurry shots that I believe are inherent in the original material, but there aren’t any notable signs of unnecessary digital clean-up, DNR, or over-sharpening issues. It’s all very natural, including soft and consistent grain, clean details, and nice textures. Colors are bright without appearing overblown, they are punched-up by the HDR enhancement, and, perhaps most importantly, the extremely dark night shots are just clear enough to discern in 4K, whereas they were essentially visual mud on previous tapes and discs.


Audio

Each film is also presented in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo sound. This marks another upgrade over previous Blu-rays, which, like most Troma releases, only featured lossy Dolby Digital tracks. The mix is dated and has an uncanny quality, due to extensive ADR and foley work, but I assure you, this is what it was meant to sound like. Levels are well balanced and there isn’t any distortion or hiss at high volume. I had never noticed before that the background music is basically non-stop throughout the film. No one is credited as composer, I guess because there were so many contributors, from pop songs, like Sandy Farina’s “Body Talk,” to synth compositions by Delmar Brown and Christopher Burke, to a main theme by Mark Hoffman & Dean Summers, and Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain.”



Extras

Disc 1 (4K UHD)

  • Commentary by co-director Lloyd Kaufman – This original 1998 DVD commentary is a relatively serious, on-topic, and informative track from the notoriously silly Kaufman (don’t worry, he still makes plenty of jokes). Subject matter includes the larger story of Troma, the evolution of The Toxic Avenger and Troma horror/comedy in general, the work of the cast & crew, and making the best of the small budget.

  • Commentary by actors Gary Schneider, Robert Prichard, and Dan Snow, moderated by a member of the Troma Team (Kaufman) – I remembered this 2014 commentary being a party track, but it’s actually pretty well-focused and brimming with fun behind-the-scenes anecdotes.

  • Introduction by director Lloyd Kaufman (1:35, HD)


Disc 2 (Blu-ray)

  • Commentary by co-director Lloyd Kaufman

  • Commentary by actors Gary Schneider, Robert Prichard, and Dan Snow, moderated by a member of the Troma Team (Kaufman)

  • Introduction by director Lloyd Kaufman (4:22, HD)

  • Archival 2014 Blu-ray interviews:

    • Actress Jennifer Babtist (18:39, HD) – Babtist chats about rehearsals, her co-stars, the nude/sex/masturbation scenes wearing her out emotionally, Kaufman and Herz’ directing style, appearing in Class of Nuke ‘em High (1986), and marrying on-screen boyfriend Robert Prichard (the latter part of the interview is with their kid, I think her name is Sky?).

    • Actor Robert Prichard (2:37, SD) – Babtist’s ex-husband is apparently being interviewed in a foyer with no working lights and talks briefly about the making of a couple of scenes.

    • Actor Mitch Cohen (8:41, SD) – The original Toxie looks back on the casting process, donning the make-up, and having a good time murdering people in new, creative ways.

    • Actor Dan Snow (4:38, SD) – Snow quickly recalls reappearing as Cigar Face in Troma movies between gigs as a touring theater actor.

    • Co-director/producer Michael Herz (15:23, SD) – Herz sarcastically discusses his career, the founding of Troma, and his long relationship with Kaufman (who acts as interviewer here). I think this may be the only on-screen interview with Herz available anywhere.

  • Mark Torgl's Special Video (6:18, HD) – Another holdover from the 2014 disc, this is a pseudo-intro to the Blu-ray with the actor and Last Drive-In co-host Diana Prince (aka: Darcy the Mail Girl).

  • 40 Years of Troma montage (2:03, SD) – For the record, we’re approaching 50 years of Troma now.

  • Behind-the-scenes and in-production slideshow

  • Troma trailer reel – The Toxic Avenger, The Toxic Avenger Part II, The Toxic Avenger Part III: The Last Temptation of Toxie, Citizen Toxie: The Toxic Avenger IV, Return to Nuke 'em High



The images on this page are taken from the included Blu-ray copy – NOT the 4K UHD – and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.


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