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From New Jersey to Hollywood: The Toxic Avenger will rise again

by Keith Barber

In the midst of the media blitz about all the current holiday movies, an important item in the Hollywood trades was almost overlooked: News that a big-screen remake of the ’80s cult classic The Toxic Avenger was going to be directed by Steve Pink, who has proven his adroitness at capturing the period in comedic fashion with his box-office hit Hot Tub Time Machine.

(Given the current financial state of MGM, which released it, Hot Tub Time Machine may be that venerable studio’s last box-office success for a while.)

“I’m thrilled to be working on this project,” Pink said in an official statement, conveyed to your reporter by the good publicity people at Troma. “The Toxic Avenger is exactly what the country — wait, that’s not big enough — what the world needs right now.”

Amen to that, brother. Although I am no great fan of sequels, remakes and reboots, The Toxic Avenger truly is a timeless concept. For those unfamiliar with that concept, Toxic Avenger is undoubtedly the best-known work produced by Troma, the proudly low-rent, no-shame studio founded more than 30 years ago by Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz.

During the 1980s and ’90s, Troma established itself as a cult-friendly brand name thanks to such gonzo masterpieces as Class of Nuke ‘Em High, Sgt. Kabukiman NYPD, Girls School Screamers, Combat Shock, Squeeze Play (one of this critic’s favorite softball movies ever made in New Jersey) and, of course, The Toxic Avenger.

Even with the economic pitfalls of the last few decades, to say nothing of the last few years, Troma has outlived and outlasted many independent studios, some far more high-profile (and less “independent”) than they. With the media-savvy Kaufman front and center, they’ve done it with unflag ging energy, unbelievable verve and, in some cases, jaw-dropping nerve. Love them or hate them, there’s nothing like a Troma movie.

During my college days, I had a VHS copy of the unrated version of Toxic Avenger, and it was watched many times by many people under many conditions in many states of mind. I don’t mind saying that my dormitory room in beautiful North Philadelphia was adorned with posters of Class of Nuke ‘Em High and Toxic Avenger — autographed by Kaufman, in fact. Such décor didn’t impress the girls too much, but it didn’t send them shrieking into the night, either.

Billed as “the first super-hero from New Jersey,” The Toxic Avenger is the story of Melvin, a helpless health-club janitor who falls into a vat of nuclear waste and is transformed into the title hero, bent on ridding the town of “Tromaville” (insert rim shot here) of its evildoers — including its own corrupt police and politicians.

High art it was not, but it spawned four sequels, a comic-book series, action figures and even a Saturday-morning cartoon. Yes, even little kids dug the Toxic Avenger. (Hey, who didn’t?) Proving the concept’s durability and versatility, the musical version of The Toxic Avenger(!) has proven to be a favorite with audiences and critics alike, having won the Outer Circle Critics’ Award for Outstanding Off-Broadway musical. That’s right, Toxie is a few steps away — literally! — from conquering the Great White Way.

Pink is also on tap to write the script with Daniel C. Mitchell. Producing the film are Akiva Goldsman (an Academy Award winner for the screenplay of A Beautiful Mind!) of Weed Road Pictures, Richard Saperstein (executive producer of the Stephen King adaptations 1408 and The Mist, as well as the upcoming remake of the Troma-backed ’80s horror favorite Mother’s Day) and Charlie Corwin (whose credits include the Oscar-nominated Half Nelson and The Squid and the Whale) of Original Media.

And, in a deserved and appropriate nod to the original film (and all that it spawned), Kaufman and Herz are serving as executive producers.

Not unlike the original film, The Toxic Avenger is being envisioned as an environmentally-conscious action/comedy. Of course, presentation is paramount. In the original film, Toxie didn’t think twice about giving the bad guys what for: He ripped their arms off, made a hot fudge sundae out of one, cooked another’s hands in a deep fryer and, taking the patented Three Stooges bit to its logical extreme, gorily poked one’s eyes out. In close-up, no less.

Obviously, it’s easy to see what made The Toxic Avenger so lovable.

As for Troma, the studio is still hell-bent on cranking out cult favorites for the next generation. It’s nice to know that some things never change. That’s something to be thankful for this season.

The official Troma website is: www.troma.com.

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