Melvin Ferd for President? Spoilers follow
There are many strange creatures lurking around down here in my dungeon. Some are harmless and just make noises, others are nefarious and threaten the safety of my guests. As you make your way through be sure to watch your step for any hidden springs or traps. But even if you spring one, you are not going to find anything as weird and unique as The Toxic Avenger.
Released in 1984 this film was a blend of a superhero origin story, a body horror film, and a romantic comedy, with some political commentary thrown in. If you are thinking to yourself that is too much for one film to contain, you are absolutely right. This movie tries to do so many things and it’s so weird that it easily achieved cult status for directors and producers, Michael Herz, and Lloyd Kaufman. This would probably best be described as a low budget B film but it really sits more around a Z film.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t watch it. From the opening we are warned that this film contains graphic violence. It absolutely delivers on that promise. I’ll site some specific examples as we go along but if you want to say one thing positive about the film makers here, it’s that they do not lie to you.
Let me give you a brief rundown of the film and along the way I will show you how this is actually a progressive film that would be right at home with the platform of any 2020 Democratic Presidential candidate.
In the opening shots and voice over we are shown New York City and told that pollution is a necessary byproduct of today’s modern society. To emphasize the point we get a close up of a filthy field with barrels of chemicals lying near the water. It’s not that far off of a description of how New York City actually was at that time.
Next we see the small, nearby town of Tromaville, the toxic chemical capital of the world. Not only do we hear that in voice over, it’s right on the sign for the town. Right off we know that toxic chemicals are about to change someone’s life forever. How do we know that? We are told in voice over.
If you are getting the impression that the film makers do not trust their audience to figure things out, that’s because they do not. The story centers around a scrawny janitor named, Melvin Ferd. He mops at the local health center and is a ninety-pound weakling similar to, Peter Parker, prior to his radioactive spider bite.
He even gets bullied by the two town bullies. Because the film makers want to make sure you know that they are villains, these bullies are named, Bozo, and Slug. The reaction these guys have to even seeing, Melvin, is to literally scream. It’s hilarious because it’s so over the top.
In order to establish that Slug, Bozo, and their girlfriends, Julie, and Wanda are seriously evil, we first hear them talk about doing hit and run driving. Then we see them late at night in their car, cans of beer and bottles of alcohol lying everywhere as, Julie, goes over the rules of the hit and run game. There’s some racist stuff thrown in that I’m not a fan of but establishes even more what horrible people these are. Julie, reminds, Bozo, that if you hit a kid with the car, it’s double points. Looking at the darkness of the scene you would have to guess it’s around midnight at this point. In one of the parts that I find weirdest and funniest, a mom tells her son, Skippy, to put on his helmet as he gets on his bike. Who lets a kid go riding at midnight? Anyway, Bozo, sees the kid and seconds later he is flattened, head squished like a Halloween pumpkin. Graphic violence delivered.
After this, one of the few jokes that hits it’s mark in this movie is made. Bozo, wants to go do it again, find a new victim. Slug, says he can’t because he has to get up early. When the other three ask him why he replies that he has to go to church. To which they all nod as if this is a perfectly reasonable excuse. For some reason it cracks me up every time.
The next day we go back to, Melvin. Julie, comes up with a plan to trick, Melvin, into an embarrassing situation. She basically convinces him that she wants to make out with him by the pool. But only after he puts on a ballerina outfit with green polka dots and a pink tutu. No one ever said, Melvin, was smart. Melvin, enters the pool area in the dark (why he couldn’t find the light switch since he works there is beyond me) and finds what he thinks is, Julie. The lights come up and we see he is fondling a sheep. Not only that, the sheep is wearing lipstick and the pool is entirely crowded with people. Not a chance, Melvin, would have avoided colliding with some of them getting over to, Julie.
In embarrassment, Melvin, jumps out of the window and lands in a barrel of toxic waste. it was conveniently placed there because the drivers of the toxic waste truck decided to stop and do some drugs. So, Melvin, landing in the waste, gets out, is covered in green sizzling goo and is screaming bloody murder. Bozo, assumes he’s faking it. No one ever said, Bozo, was smart either. A police officer tries to help but his hands burst into flames upon touching the waste. Melvin, himself catches fire but it’s so obvious that the stunt double is nowhere near Melvin’s size that it’s comical.
We get to see, Melvin, transform, again much like, Peter Parker, but, Melvin, becomes grotesque as well as muscular. He still has his mop and tutu though. For reference see the picture at the top of this post.
Melvin, basically goes into hiding in a junk yard. We get to see that there is one honest cop in Tromaville and he comes across a gang of thugs including one named, Cigar Face. These thugs beat the cop up and in case you didn’t get it, Cigar Face, takes his cigar and burns the cop’s face saying, “Now you’ll see why they call me, Cigar Face!”. Subtext does not exist in Tromaville. But before much real harm can come to the officer, Melvin, shows up and rips them apart. And I mean literally. More graphic violence delivered. Cigar Face does get away though. Toxie, (the affectionate name given to the monster) leaves mops in their faces. I don’t know where he got the mops either.
Melvin, apologizes to the cop for getting so out of control. The town however, welcomes the monster as a hero. Despite the fact that everyone saw, Melvin, land in the toxic waste, no one seems to connect the two.
The only people who seem upset about this monster are those working in the Mayor’s office. Political corruption at it’s most obvious and finest. See these bad guys are on the payroll for the Mayor and are giving him a cut of their ill gotten gains. What do they do to get this money? No idea and it’s not explained in the movie.
Next we see, Toxie, making a home for himself more or less and this scene goes on for way too long. He spruces up the junkyard as best he can., including hanging a picture of his mother that he didn’t have in the previous shot. While this is going on, the Mayor is engaged in a land development scheme that is going to put toxic waste even closer to the water, endangering the population further.
Now to really establish that bad guys are bad and that, Melvin, aka, Toxie, is good, we see him disrupt a robbery and assault at a taco restaurant. The robbers are comically dressed and even introduce themselves to the crowd. They kill one of the innocent customers and within moments, Melvin, shows up. Here is also where the romance part of the film comes in. The robbers threaten a blind woman and kill her service dog. Needless to say, Toxie, is not okay with this behavior. He seriously destroys them, putting one into the hot oil machine, one into the oven, and making a literal milkshake out of a third. At one point he even pulls an arm off wookie style.
The blind woman, Sara, is eternally grateful and since she can’t see is not afraid of the monster. The film makers are still not sure if you think, Melvin, is the good guy so they have a scientist come on and proclaim that the monster must have a drive to destroy evil people since the only people the monster has destroyed are evil. Also, just in case you didn’t get it, the scientist explains that the monster was exposed to toxic chemicals. Still no one in town seems to think this is, Melvin. Also, the scientist tells us that the monster has a basic instinct to seek out and destroy evil. This basically gives the film free licence to show a lot more graphic violence later in the film.
Sara, and, Melvin, continue to fall in love. Some really horrible blind jokes are made but in all it’s kind of weirdly sweet.
Melvin, returns to familiar territory and goes back to the health club to seek out and destroy evil. A dude’s head is smashed with a weight machine, mop shoved on top afterwards, Wanda, is roasted over hot coals and another set of street thugs is ripped apart. Even more graphic violence delivered.
Bozo, and, Slug, attempt another hit and run but are foiled because, Toxie, moves the kids out of the way. Why they were sitting in the middle of the street is beyond me. This kicks off a montage of the monster helping people around town. The public is solidly on his side.
The mayor gloats about how the monster hasn’t gotten them yet, setting us up for the final conflict. Meanwhile a few of the thugs who had gotten away (including, Cigar Face) try to kill, Melvin, but he jumps out of the way and they all kill each other in ridiculously stupid fashion. We get more scenes of, Melvin, and, Sara, falling for each other.
Julie, is still alive so, Melvin, goes to the health club to kill her. He succeeds but, Slug, and, Bozo, are still alive and ready to hit and run again. Since, Julie, is not around to bring the car around, they decide to steal a car from an old lady. In a ridiculously crazy scene, they beat the old lady and take the car. I think they put this scene in because maybe for a minute the audience might have forgotten that these are bad guys.
In sweet revenge, Melvin, kills, Slug, and tells, Bozo, that he is, Melvin, as he causes their car to crash. Bozo, dies and, Toxie, survives.
Next, Melvin, kills a seemingly innocent woman at a dry cleaners. The Mayor figures he has the monster now and can call in the National Guard. Melvin, tries to hide away with, Sara, because he thinks he has gone too far. But it turns out the little old lady was head of a slavery ring, so he’s still only killing evil people.
A search ensues but the cop who was saved by the monster is opposed to killing the monster. He and a group of other civilians agree that they have to help the monster. In the climax of the film, the cops find the monster, with help from the National Guard. The whole town (or at least as many extras as they could get for the scene) show up also. Tromaville is still on the side of the monster. Only the little guy can save, Melvin, now.
With rifles and tanks aimed at, Melvin’s, tent, the crowd steps up. They proudly proclaim that the soldiers will have to shoot them if they want to shoot the monster. For some reason, at this point, the town seems to know that the monster is, Melvin. (Well at least his mother does) The soldiers and police officers refuse to comply with destroying, Toxie.
The Mayor is still bent on destroying the monster and shoots at him several times to no effect. Toxie, literally rips his guts out in maybe the least realistic looking graphic violence of the whole film.
The crowd goes wild and we go into an eighties pop song celebration crowd scene. We can’t end the movie without another voice over though, so we are told that the next time you are in danger, maybe, just maybe, the Toxic Avenger will be there.
So, why do I think this movie is progressive at it’s core? They want to clean up the environment. The Toxic Avenger shows what the harmful results of pollution can be. They want to clean up corruption in politics. Sure, they use over the top graphic violence to do it, but isn’t cleaning up corruption half of what the candidates are saying now? Melvin, treats his blind girlfriend with compassion, courtesy and respect, so this movie respects the rights of the disabled. (Ok so maybe the blind jokes don’t but still). There are even openly gay characters in this film. They are entirely played for laughs but in 1985, when there was basically zero representation, at least it was something. And obviously since, Toxie, doesn’t try to kill them, being gay wasn’t considered evil by this film, which could be taken as a progressive stance at the time. Melvin, even believes in following the rules of the road as he ensures safe driving by getting rid of the town bullies.
So, if you are thinking that the Democratic Presidential field is a little overcrowded, and not another candidate could make it on the ticket, well, you have not yet considered, Melvin Ferd, a.k.a., The Toxic Avenger
I hope you enjoyed this review. I am absolutely not making the claim that this is a good film. In fact it’s downright bad, but it’s so weird that if you can handle it, it’s absolutely worth a watch.
A few more notes about this film. Not only did it spawn sequels, but there is a musical about it and it inspired a kid’s Saturday morning cartoon show. Also, I just found out that a reboot is being planned. I will say this though, if they try to use CGI for the gore, if they try to make the plot more coherent, and if the acting is any good at all, then a reboot will not work at all. Trust me, it’s the bad parts of this movie that make it good.
Come back next week when I will find out why Surf Nazis Must Die.