Double Dare Review Double Feature.
The Toxic Avenger and Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead Team Troma Two-Pack.
Team Troma is known for being schlocky and provocative. Are these two features mutant muscle or just piles of radioactive sludge?
As penance for assigning Erik a 5 hour snoozefest of historical proportions with Cleopatra, I was tasked with watching not just one, but two Team Troma films. Team Troma, led by Lloyd Kaufman, made their name with the silliest, raunchiest and goriest B-Movie films to find a mainstream audience. They dabbled with titillating horror films before finding their first big hit, The Toxic Avenger. The film went to Cannes, and was promptly ignored. Fans, intrigued by the unabashed camp on display, powered it from one screen in NYC to a nationwide phenomena. Toxie became a screen legend, going on to star in numerous feature films (my favorite being part four, Citizen Toxie.)
Troma, not content to be a one mutant pony, continued to pump out a pipeline of toxic waste themed films, most notably Class of Nuke ‘Em High and Surf Nazis Must Die. The films have a nugget of social satire and political protest, surrounded by blood, guts, nudity and blatant stereotyping. One of their most recent films is Poultrygeist, a chicken-zombie musical. Yup. A musical about a fast food chicken joint built on a Native American burial ground. Despite Erik assuring me that The Toxic Avenger was pretty decent, I decided to clean my plate and dive into Poultrygeist first.
Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead (2007)
Arby and Wendy are two teens in love, but Wendy is soon to leave for college. Arby has the talent to get into college, but refuses to take responsibility. The two have one last make out session in a secluded Native American burial ground, but are interrupted by the spirits of the dead…and an axe wielding pervert who just wants to wank to their dry humping.
A year later, the pair are reunited when Arby comes to see the newest American Chicken Bunker restaurant that has been built on the old cemetery, and Wendy comes to protest it. While away, she has become a lesbian and activist, while Arby is still just a loser. They fight and Arby decides to flip her the golden fried bird by working at ACB. When the spirits of angry natives invade the frozen chicken, they have to team up to survive a night of angry chicken zombies.
Arby and Wendy are pretty talented vocally, which really helps the musical aspect of this film not immediately suck. It ends up sucking, as the other “talent” is nowhere near as good at singing, and the songs become more inflammatory and crude. But the first few numbers are pretty OK. Reminded me a bit of Little Shop of Horrors with Rick Moranis and Ellen Greene.
The film establishes a running gag of everyone being named after fast food places (Arby, Wendy, Denny, Paco Bell, etc.) So, that’s kind of funny. The meta jokes about fast food are the film’s obvious strength.
The action is not entirely horrible, and once the zombie buck-buck-pocalypse begins, you get a ten minute segment where the chicken zombies kill their victims in some pretty inventive ways. The gore is decidedly B-Movie, but it makes up for quality with quantity, and the sheer raving lunacy of the kills.
Anything else good? Nope, so lets move on to the bad.
This movie is offensive in a sophomoric way. Not college sophomore, high school sophomore. Everyone, literally everyone, is a stereotype. Drunk bestiality loving redneck? Check. Butch feminazi trying to convert hetero girls? Check. Racist southerner named after General Lee? Check. A burka wearing employee who ends up saving the day with a suicide vest? Check. I think we got all of the offensive stereotypes, call it a day.
It’s hard to get upset over the lazy and easy stereotypes because they are so obvious and obviously goofed on. Yes, they’re putrid…but they’re supposed to be. That’s one of the movie’s angles. Everyone is one dimensional in order to ridicule themselves. It’s not South Park levels of meta-stereotyping, but its giving a wink and nod that it knows better, and is just shitting around.
The crude sexuality of the piece is just lazy. If you see a girl, you’re probably going to see her tits. If you see a fat guy, you are definitely going to see his bare ass. It’s too easy. If the film had done the late-night B-Movie flirting with unrequited horniness, it would have been a lot more effective.
The Take Out
This is a movie that knows better, but is just slumming it for notoriety. The characters pretty much literally wink and nod when they are being gross, but it never pays off. There’s nothing cutting or incisive about it. It feels lazy. There could have been a movie here that riffed on all of the tropes of standard B-Movie zombie flicks, but this film would rather take the easy way out and give you the bawdy jokes, bloody visuals, and rampant crudity. It’s a pathetic farce compared to Troma’s crown jewel, The Toxic Avenger.
The Toxic Avenger (1986)
Meet Melvin, a dim-witted but earnest weakling who mops the floors at Tromaville’s best fitness club. He runs afoul of a group of gorgeous assholes (who happen to be a team of hit-and-run thrill killers.) These narcissists hatch a scheme to embarrass Melvin, and it works too well. Melvin flees the prank so fast he flies out a window and lands into a vat of toxic waste being transported by two coked-up municipal workers. Rather than die on the spot, he runs home and transforms into Toxie, a super powered mutant with bulging muscles. With an innate instinct to fight crime, he becomes Tromaville’s hero…The Toxic Avenger.
The Toxic Avenger is well paced. It has a consistent plot with very little flab distracting from the premise of a lovable loser becoming a hero. The music is solid. The actors actually are pretty decent. The action is better than decent. There is a robbery that Toxie foils that turns into a three-on-one kung fu fight. It is a totally solid kung fu fight…and then Toxie kills the perps by frying them, broiling them, and making a hot fudge sundae out of them. In that five minutes, The Toxic Avenger is a better fast food spoof than the entirety of Poultrygeist.
There’s not a lot to dislike about this movie. The thrill kill club is obviously over-acting, but it works since they’re a very recognizable riff on the ultimate 80’s villains: good looking rich white guys. The film never loses sight of its campy nature, but it also doesn’t waste your time winking and nodding at the camera. It’s in the same league as a ton of campy classics. I’d say if you liked Sam Raimi‘s Evil Dead 2, you’re going to find something to like about The Toxic Avenger.
The Take Away
The Toxic Avenger is a campy, schlocky, sleazy good time. The story is an obvious riff on the super-hero origin story, and also has some fun with the Frankenstein’s monster conceit. Unlike Poultrygeist, it is deliberate about which jokes to take too far. The story and the characters are bizarre, but not repellant. Toxie himself looks like a bogglin welded to Mr. Clean, but he speaks with a regal and cultured voice (which is not his original voice at all.) The killer car gang are riffs on every entitled prick from the 80’s, from the douche bags in Caddyshack, to the the preppies in Revenge of the Nerds. The Toxic Avenger is not only a parody of the 1980’s geeks vs. gods genre, it is the logical conclusion of those films. If Seymour Krelborn can get the girl and save the world, Toxie doesn’t seem like such a stretch.
The Final Verdict.
The Toxic Avenger mops the floor with Poultrygeist. Toxie is a love letter to B-Movie trash that doesn’t take itself too seriously, but takes its love of the genre deadly serious. Poultrygeist is just too stupid and puerile to be any fun. It has decent aspects, but it always goes for the lazy joke and relies on stereotypes to the point where you feel like you’ve seen it all before you’re halfway through the first scene. If you want to see why Team Troma made such a name for themselves, skip the newer stuff and check out The Toxic Avenger.
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