Toxic Shock Syndrome, or Is That a Mop Between Your Legs?
Greetings from Tromaville!
Seminal directors like Quentin Tarantino, Takashi Miike, and Peter Jackson are all fans of The Toxic Avenger and have been influenced by it. It has spawned a cinematic legacy that includes three sequels and a cartoon series. It is the only film in history that features a child getting his head crushed by a car that became a Saturday morning cartoon for kids. It has become a successful stage musical that's been running in New York for a year and will open in Toronto on Halloween. Toxie has entered the American lexicon. The New York Times uses it in editorials. Stan Lee created a Toxie Marvel comic. He's known around the world...
"LLOYD! Stop doing whippits and get to the point of your column!"
Oh, right, Clyde, the column. Unlike Squeeze Play, which was jus three basic ideas melded together (boobs + softball + women's lib = Squeeze Play), the inspiration for The Toxic Avenger came from numerous and various sources of pop culture, the mainstream media, and the underground. Every idea seemed to lead to ten more, and I remembered things that hadn't crossed my mind in years, all to throw into the stew. Here are some of the most important:
FRANKENSTEIN: Frankenstein was always my favorite of the Universal Horror monsters. Unlike Dracula he wasn't an out-and-out bad guy. You felt sorry for him. Beneath it all, you knew, he was a victim. At the end of the movie, while the villagers chased him with flaming torches, I always wished he would get away. Of all other monsters, our monster would be most like him. The difference would be: We'd let him live. The other influence of Frankenstein was that of the inclusion of the little blind girl who befriends him (simultaneously a tribute to the blind girl in Chaplin's City Lights.) There's a slight difference in that Michael and I thought we'd update the little girl into a well-endowed blond who'd wear a bikini and have rampant sex with the monster she couldn't see. That made it much better.
HAIL THE CONQUERING HERO: This Preston Sturges movie, among others, would be important in the evolution of Troma. The Toxic Avenger is the first film in which there would actually be a Tromaville, which was based in large part around the small-town ensemble in the Sturges films. In addition, the screwball nature of the comedy was all Sturges (in Lady Eve, Sturges didn't have Barbara Stanwyck's arm get ripped off and have her beaten over the head with it like in Toxic Avenger, but I'm sure if he would have though of it...) Also like Sturges, I went for mugs when casting. Unlike Sturges, I had to learn the hard way that most non-Screen Actors Guild mugs can't act.
NEW JERSEY: Though I had been born and raised in Manhattan, there was always something uniquely exotic and human about this land across the river. Distinctly noncosmopolitan, I thought of New Jersey as true America much more than I did my home city. Small-town suburban life both attracted and repulsed me. So does Tromaville, where everyone is either beautiful or hideous with no in-betweens. Also, I liked how New Jerseyites lived relatively without airs, especially in comparison to New Yorkers.
THE ENVIRONEMENTAL MOVEMENT: This was a big one. I was nauseated with what was going on around me. Pat and I drove on a trip across the U.S., and I remember seeing miles and miles of non-biodegradable McDonald's Styrofoam boxes on the side of the road. Many people believe I was jumping on the environmental bandwagon in creating Toxie, because the environment shortly thereafter became a fad. Although I was trying to exploit the health club fad, it was nowhere in my mind to do this with the environment--it wasn't a fad yet. In 1983, when we filmed, there was very little stink being made about nuclear waste or pollution, or their harm to our bodies and natural resources. I didn't see that the future would bring along such interest. Even when Toxie was released on a wide scale in '86, environmentalism was still an underground movement.
SILENT SPRING: Silent Spring was a nonfiction book, written by American biologist Rachel Carlson in 1962. It warned of how the persistent use of pesticides such as DDT could bring enormous dangers to wildlife. I read it in high school for extra credit, and it made an indelible impact.
MONDO CANE: Mondo Cane, by Gualtiero Jacopetti, was the first (and the best) of the "Mondo" films, which were documentaries (often faked) reveling in the more unusual aspects of the planet we live on. In Mondo Cane (it means "Dog's World") there were some little frogs or fish in an area where nuclear testing was going on. These frogs had mutated and taken to living in trees. I hadn't thought of this film, or this segment of the film, in years until I started working on Health Club. For some reason the frogs popped into my head while I was in the initial stages of planning the film. They are therefore direct ancestors of Melvin the mop boy who mutated into the Toxic Avenger.
PIXIE DUST: I read an article in I. F. Stone's Weekly about how South American children had been playing with what they called "pixie dust" in a city dump. The dust was irradiated waste from X-ray machines. The children had frolicking in the beautiful, shiny sparkles, and it ended up killing them. To this day, I find this chilling.
RUNNING OVER MY SISTER: When I was fourteen I used to drive the car around the property, even though I didn't have my license. I got in the car, and backed out quickly. I heard a loud thunk. I ran around the back. My four-year-old sister, Susan, was sprawled out on the ground. For a minute I thought she was dead, but then she got up and walked into the house. This may be where I first discovered my desire to run over a child with a car. ALSO: When I was about five, we had a pet dog, a little Hungarian Poolie. All it did was bark and bite and chase cars. A counselor had just dropped me off at the end of a day of day camp. As I walked toward the door, I turned and saw the Poolie attacking the car. First it was yipping, its usual nastiness, and then I heard a piercing squeal. I turned and saw it, stuck in the wheel, getting ground up, flipping over the wheel and into the space between the tires and the car. It looked like a floor rug that had been sitting in a pot of tomato sauce. It was pretty dead. I don't really know what this had to do with The Toxic Avenger, but it was awfully disgusting.
THE ROAD WARRIOR: This wonderful George Miller film had just been released. Since Michael and I had never really shot action or car chase sequences before, we studied this film to get it right. The famous Toxie-on-top-of-the-car scene was definitely informed by this work.
YOU WILL BE JUDGED ON A POINT SYSTEM: In the New York Post there was an article about some kids who had gotten arrested; they were playing a game, trying to hit people with their cars, and they got a certain amount of points for every person they hit. If you smashed your car into an old woman it was worth only 2 points, but a pregnant woman was worth 15. It was such a beautiful, touching American story--one about the triumph of humanity and love over the travails of the postindustrial would--that I knew I had to somehow incorporate it into the film.
C. WRIGHT MILLS: C. Write Mills defined the politics of Tromaville and beyond. Especially in his groundbreaking tomes White Collar (1951) and The Power Elite (1956), Mills harped on the conspiracy of the elites. These elites have effectively joined forces to cut off the common people from any sort of wealth, comfort, or power. It is these elites Toxie battles to emancipate the little people of Tromaville. The philosophies of Mills can be seen in almost all Troma movies, especially the Toxie films, the Nuke 'Em High movies, and Troma's War. Whereas Mills was concerned with the militant-industrial linkage, basic belief was that the labor, bureaucratic, and corporate elites conspired to suck dry the little people of Tromaville of their spiritual and economic life fluids. This is directly parallel to the way Warner Bros., Paramount, Universal, Columbia, and the MPAA-CARA ratings board attempt to suck dry Troma Studios.
GRANNIE KAUFMAN: She told me about C. Wright Mills, among others. (She also told me how strontium 90 is put into food and will cause men to grow breasts [as in Class of Nuke 'Em High], how Nixon was the devil, and how Mao and Castro were good for getting rid of the drug lords, whores, and effete elites).
 Meaning unusual and unforgettable faces, not receptacles for coffee.
 My wife Pat, thirty years earlier, used to dance and play in the DDT clouds sprayed in her Charlotte, North Carolina, neighborhood. In 1993 she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
The Birth of Troma
The Godfather of Gore Speaks
2 or 3 Things I Know About Toxie (2 and 3)
The Troma Acting Method