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Toxic Avenger

Fantastic Fest Film Review: ‘Toxic Avenger’ (2023): Six Toxic Degrees of Kevin Bacon, Peter Dinklage and Elijah Wood

Opening night at Austin’s world-famous Fantastic Fest spotlighted The Toxic Avenger, a reimagining of the 1984 cult classic.

Fantastic Fest ran September 21–28, at Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar in Austin, Texas. The largest genre film festival in the U.S., Fantastic Fest specializes in horror, fantasy, sci-fi, action and unusual films from all around the world.

The Toxic Avenger operated on several cinematic and film-nerd levels, resulting in an exciting and entertaining experience. Story, cast, and cleverness all added to alternate feelings of caring and chuckling as the film progressed.

The Story

The story revolves around Winston, a janitor played by Peter Dinklage (Tyrion Lannister in Game of Thrones). He’s a widower and a father with a son who doesn’t respect him. As the story evolves, he discovers a medical issue that further complicates his life.

Toxic Avenger
Peter Dinklage as Winston, who turns into the Toxic Avenger

The corporation Winston works for creates chemicals marketed as aids to people’s health, but which are polluting the environment surrounding its facilities. The corporate president, Bob Garbinger, played by Kevin Bacon (Animal House, Mystic River), is full-on Bond villain. He has a mafia-like partner, and bullies his little brother/hitman, Fritz, played by Elijah Wood (Lord of the Rings).

Taylour Paige (Hit the Floor) plays a reporter investigating the corporation’s corrupt practices. Both the reporter and Winston’s son, played by Jacob Tremblay (Room), become targets of the corporations assassination squad.

The turning point happens when Winston falls into a toxic liquid refuse pit. Rather than killing him, the liquid transforms him, and he emerges, incredibly ugly, but with superpowers. He becomes the Toxic Avenger.

War with the corporation ensues.

Calling All Nerds

The film provides film buffs with many opportunities to enjoy easter eggs and references to other films in the genre. In both the original and the new version, the protagonist carries a mop which becomes a deadly weapon when it falls into toxic chemicals with Winston.

Toxic Avenger
Kevin Bacon as the bad guy polluting the world and killing his enemies

The original film, known for being future Oscar winner Marisa Tomei’s second film appearance as an extra, was produced by Troma Entertainment and written and directed by Lloyd Kaufman. Kaufman attended the Fantastic Fest premiere and helped create the new film.

The film had references to Troma, such as a city limits sign that says “Welcome to Tromaville” and other variations on the name. A grocery story in the film is named after Lloyd Kaufman’s wife. The tongue-in-cheek aspect to the production adds more fun. Names of locations are over the top—for instance, a park named “Big Scary Forrest.”

Bloody Perfect

Blood and gore? Yes, that’s what Troma Entertainment is known for.

Toxic Avenger
Director Macon Blair, left, who created Toxic Avenger 2023, and Lloyd Kaufman who created the 1984 version (Photo by author)

During the discussion after the film, its director Macon Blair was asked about working with Kevin Bacon. He explained that Bacon was concerned about overdoing it and asked a couple of times whether he should tone down his portrayal of Garbinger. Blair said that he assured Bacon that he was doing great and encouraged him to give it all he had. The result is memorable and fits with Troma’s slogan of “50 Years of Disrupting Media.”

The makeup on Elijah Wood as Garbinger’s brother was so great that despite having seen all the Lord of the Rings films multiple times, I didn’t recognize Wood. His makeup kept making me think of Marty Feldman’s Igor in Young Frankenstein.

Toxic Avenger
Elijah Wood played an evil henchman

The craziness of The Toxic Avenger made it the perfect opening-night film for Fantastic Fest. For the latest Fantastic Fest developments, visit its website and follow the fest on Instagram, Facebook, and X/Twitter.

About Leo Sopicki

Writer, photographer, graphic artist and technologist. I focus my creative efforts on celebrating the American virtues of self-reliance, individual initiative, volunteerism, tolerance and a healthy suspicion of power and authority.

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