In my debut piece, I wrote about why the Magnificent Seven series is so perfectly suited for continuous remakes. While I have no interest in becoming the "remake guy," I couldn't help but react similarly given this news: An adaptation of the 1984 sub-underground classic The Toxic Avenger is in the works. With a script from Mike Arnold and Chris Poole (of Archer fame), Conrad Vernon will leave behind the Sausage Party to direct fresh high jinx in Tromaville. I say this with no hyperbole, but the Toxic Avenger is one my earliest discernible memories. As the child of a single, overworked mother, I saw this film far too early, and it burned its way into my heart. In many ways, I covet it more than Batman and zombie flicks, and I had a dream not a month ago that someone would remake this beast of a film.
Since it's not me behind the camera, I'd like to offer some advice to Vernon and co. Here's how you should remake The Toxic Avenger if you don't want me and other Avenger acolytes to throw you from a second story window into flaming ooze.
1. Go Mainstream, Just Not Too Mainstream
The appeal of The Toxic Avenger is that, even by Troma's standards, it's fairly redonkulous. There's savage beatings by a toxic monster, mega overt racists, low-key bestiality, extreme bullying, hardcore pimps, straight-up child abuse, modified seppuku, gangsters with a castration fetish, and interspecies lovemaking. It wasn't ever meant to have mainstream appeal; this was a film for the awkward losers who wanted sex and blood and they wanted it real weird-like.
That kind of film wouldn't float in the modern movie-sphere, even in the day and age of of self-funded weirdos tossing footage onto YouTube by the country mile. But it's less about what Toxie does with his hands and to whom, and more so the spirit. Don't be afraid to get weird, to gear the humor less to the frat bros of the world and more to the kids in the proverbial back of the class. That was me when I was younger, and this movie gave me a lot of solace. I would hate for the filmmakers to miss out on providing that outlet by thinking they have to make everyone happy. Those dweebs and outcasts whose hearts you do touch will love you for giving them a channel to express some less-than-savory feelings about bullies and other ne'er do wells. Plus, I doubt that most people are going to get uber hyped about this movie, and that's an advantage you want to use to excite the cult fanbase.
2. You'll Never Be All That Weird
On the flip side, going mainstream is the only direction that creators really can go. Not just for the reasons above, although our culture certainly has grown out of (or loss touch with) the creative energies needed to make this genuinely bonkers film. It's more so that the Troma Entertainment had a very specific identity, and they wanted things to feel weird and uneven in most of their films.
Watch just about any other Troma property (I suggest Redneck Zombies) and you'll see that no one's aesthetic is as deeply coo-coo as dudes like Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz. They almost wanted to scare some viewers away with the ultraviolence and sexual absurdity. The remake crew is no doubt operating under a semi-major studio, and they'd no doubt find themselves working at YouTube Red if they thought they could touch a lot of the core material.
To some extent, a mainstream Toxic Avenger could work. Cutting out some of the more extreme elements (like Toxie ripping a dude apart with his sludge-covered hands) doesn't mean this story is any less weird. It's about finding ways to pay tribute wherever possible, and preserving the inherent sense of quirkiness and underdog charm. Just don't change the pink tutu.
3. Keep It Brainy, Yo
When the film series was translated into the 1990 cartoon Toxic Crusaders, the creators decided to amp up the inherent themes of environmental protection. That makes sense given shows like Captain Planet were also helping to raise awareness and instill a sense of eco-consciousness in brats everywhere. That's not to say that the film didn't touch on those same ideas, but did so in a way that was fun and interesting.
To me, Toxic Avenger had always taken a punk rock approach to advocacy. It didn't bash you over the head with the message (Too busy doing that to characters), but it clearly had something to say. If you didn't pick up on that, then you're the dummy. And what was that message? Well, it's more than just the Earth is in danger and needs our help. It's just that if terrible bullies want to keep messing with the natural order, and relying on industries that require the creation of radioactive waste, then something is going to happen. And that something is a mutated monster who rips your arm off and puts you in a sleeper hold with it.
It's sort of like another '90s movie, Fern Gully, in that awful people are basically consumed by the personification of their greed and gluttony. This is a message that should persist in the remake, especially given the continued interest in global warming. To ignore the subtlety of the message is to strip the film of its real power.
4. Give Me A Damn Hero
There might be an argument for abandoning the environmental angle. I'm not exactly in favor of that, but given the vast swells of data that have emerged in the last decade, it makes sense for some artists to avoid corrupting these issues with gore and dick jokes. Beyond the environmental message, the original film delves deep into the ideas of bullying and the corruption of power. From Mayor Belgoody to the dudes at the local taco shop, just about everyone is a jerk in Tromaville. If you're not a dickhead then you're under the boot of one.
Toxie, then, is a huge shot in the mutated arm, and a way to give people back some hope and societal power. Every person he grievously maimed was to rip out cancerous tumors from the heart of his beloved hometown. He didn't do it for fame or glory or the girl (which he still got), but cause it was the right thing to do. There's a clear-cut sense of morality through the film — bad guys wear leather studded belts or short-shorts and the good guys look like a lump of melted wax. They all have their roles to play, and the film is an effective exploration of ethics and heroism (again, without bonking you on the head with a mop handle of overt messaging). Movies nowadays deal with gritty heroes and a sense of duality (the cinematic Batman comes to mind). This film needs to have clear winners and losers when it comes to such trappings.
5. Watch How You Cast This Bad Boy
There are basically no big-name actors in almost any of the Toxie films. Unless, of course, you count Marisa Tomei, who appeared as "Locker Room Girl" in the director's cut. Sure, that's because Troma probably had like $40 to pay actors, but it works. This approach only lets them pick mostly average folks, and that really feeds into the film's thematic vibe and general aesthetic.
Marvin (played by Mark Torgl) is so sad and pathetic looking that even I want to beat him with a couple of textbooks. Meanwhile, the "cool kids" of Bozo (Gary Schneider) and Julie (Cindy Manion) exemplify everything right and wrong with '80s movie actors. The former is a beefcake minus the sex appeal — the kind of cheesy goon you were born to loathe. The latter, meanwhile, was attractive in a really approachable way, and that's an essential balance for the era.
When you're casting for the remake, folks, I don't want to see Michael Cera as Marvin or Dave Franco as Slug. You might not be able to land them, but that's beside the point: They're too perfect looking, and I can't disconnect myself from their past work. I want some nobody I can either hate or pity to really drive home the grit and dirt that the cast needs to genuinely succeed in this most bizarre tale. I would, though, happily accept DJ Qualls as Marvin cause that's about as perfect casting as has ever existed.
6. Try To Pick And Choose
As mentioned above, there is no way the original and the remake could ever be, like, some sort of Funny Games shot-for-shot remake. Here's just one fight scene to help prove my point:
Unless you'd like to get an NC17 rating or run in 45 theaters for a total of 1.5 days, I don't see a lot of that brawl going down. If you want to stay faithful to movie, it's just as possible, and it's all about what you decide to show. Avoid the questionable acts of violence and give us something else. Go as extreme as you can within the new film's context, so long as you recognize the sheer absurdity of it all.
Some stuff may even be adaptable because of how it enhances the inherent value or meaning, like the famous bathtub transformation scene. As a moment seared into the deepest part of my cortex, I remember how just raw and physical it was, from the wailing and the contortions to the bubbling flesh. A new version won't be the same to my tiny little psyche, but this is a perfect moment to get a little sick and twisted and pay homage to the original. It's a way to help separate this film and still give the people a dash of sugary sweet nostalgia.
7. Make Me Feel Bad
As much as my nerd soul loves this film, it makes me feel bad to watch. Not because it's the first time I saw a man kiss a sheep (and certainly not the last), but for just about every event in the entire 79-minute run-time (and I mean every moment) I hated to see Marvin suffer. Yet, it felt good to see that little dweeb get a good thrashing.
Same goes for the death of every gang-banger. The moments where Toxie gets to be happy, the bit-by-bit disassembling of the town's coolest residents, and even the ending that makes me feel both hopeful and really worried. It's not the lame, goofy flick so many imagine; it's a really irksome and disturbing film on some profound level.
As much as it delights and entertains, I can't ever escape that sense of discomfort I feel upon viewing this movie. Again, that might be the film getting to me at a young and impressionable age, but there's something intoxicating about the experience. I enjoy it as the film climbs into my mouth and rubs dirt on every molar and incisor. It doesn't happen with every film, and because of that it has stuck with me like a true sense memory. The remake squad should aim for this kind of dynamic — to honor that sense of exploration by pushing people's buttons and leaving them feeling feeling like an exposed nerve.
What was your favorite moment from the original The Toxic Avenger?