The first time I publicly wore a tutu wasn’t in a ballet class. It wasn’t at a Cosplay event or in the streets. It was at Mad Monster Party a Cosplay Horror convention in Charlotte, NC. Initially, all that was on my mind was, “Ok, take a deep breath. Lets see what happens if I wear this!” It was a turning point. An evolution of purpose. A defining moment for me and what has become an image I am genuinely comfortable with presenting. Mostly because so many others aren't.
My connection to TOXIC TUTU goes all the way back to the 1980’s when I interviewed for a job as cameraman for a film then called, “Health Club Horror”. I was twenty-five years old. Just out of film school.
I didn’t get the job, because I couldn’t afford to work for free. A note I missed in the small print of the posting TROMA Entertainment put up on our student job board outside of the NYU equipment room.
TROMA is among the longest lasting independent production companies in the world. They come with the highly regarded industry reputation that no one gets paid to work on their movies. Their decades old slogan currently reads, “40 Years of Disrupting Media”, which pretty much achieves what it declares.
A few weeks earlier my best friend Mark Torgl, from NYU landed a bit part in "The First Turn On" which ultimately lead to the starring role in the Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz movie “Health Club Horror”, which eventually became the cult-classic film, “The Toxic Avenger”.
Lets skip ahead thirty plus years, to now. Here’s how I became involved in a feature film that pays homage to the infamous TROMA cult-classic.
Mark Torgl called me in September 2012 to tell me he received a call from convention organizers to appear as their guest celebrity, and that their convention would attract 15,000 convention goers in one weekend, many who would be his fans. I offered to join him and said, “I’ll bring my camera. I'll document the weekend. Lets have some fun!”
Four years later, "An Almost True Story: TOXIC TUTU" is a legit FAN film based on little known production details that took place on the set of “The Toxic Avenger”. See our first review also included on our website.
Thirty years after starring as the original Melvin the “Mop Boy” in the cult-classic, horror comedy THE TOXIC AVENGER, Mark Torgl unexpectedly resurfaces at a horror convention where he is abducted.
A madcap series of events unfold linking Torgl to rumors of a toxic substances used on the set of the infamous film and ultimately to the reason he has been gone for so long.
“An Almost True Story: TOXIC TUTU” is a FAN film that pays homage to the original cult-classic horror, comedy THE TOXIC AVENGER released by TROMA Entertainment in 1984. TOXIC TUTU is a one-of-a-kind, self-proclaimed “mockumystery” that reveals what "really" occurred on the set of that infamous film.
The plot that emerges in TOXIC TUTU is tied to the plight of conflicted sisters who are desperate to get their hands on Torgl, and a “toxic substance” their father presumably introduced to the TROMA set in 1984.
Torgl, inadvertently linked to the toxic substance, engages in a chaotic pursuit to get to the source - an oasis located somewhere in the marshlands of New Jersey. He escapes a heated rivalry between the desperate siblings who hold him captive, and manages to get to the source first.
Once there, he encounters an unfathomable fate that leaves TROMA fans with their "Mop Boy's" oozy remains and only heavenly traces of Melvin's infamous creator, Lloyd Kaufman. Both revered by their fan-dumb and now thought to be gone forever.
• • • • •
As a filmmaker, I eagerly set out to document Mark’s return to his fans and the convention shenanigans that I imagined would take place behind the scenes.
Mark's plight shifted the focus of my interest and his tutu became a red herring tied to a deviant conspiracy of resolute evildoers who want to seize a mysterious toxic oasis Mark knows about, and bootleg its powerful contaminants for profits. Meanwhile, adversaries are determined to destroy the toxic substances the oasis produces.
I presumed we would be in for a wild weekend of fun and would have some home movies to laugh about and reminisce over in years to come. Then the idea of bridging fact and fiction using Mark’s first ever public appearance as convention background research, combined with authentic stories fans were sharing with us about Mark’s absence and what he meant to them, and the seed of an idea linked to a fictional toxic oasis and a substance it produced that TROMA used on the set of the original film, literally became my obsession.
Along with the excitement we are now receiving from the fan base Mark has reinvigorated over the last four years of convention appearances, a new friendship with TROMA has taken shape.
The real news, though, is that when I started this project - interviewing fans of Melvin before and after meeting their hero in the flesh, I learned their plight wasn’t much different than Melvin’s.
They suffered as pre-teens and teens who were actually bullied regularly. And that the retreat they found in having this ninety-eight pound weakling to represent them, who transformed into a super-human hero, was something that gave them hope and a purpose to live. Their words. Not mine.
Now, if you are a fan of THE TOXIC AVENGER (WARNING: the film is not for the weak of heart), you know that this film is as much a political satire about the environment as it is a love story.
The transition of this meek, nerdy janitor character who mops up floors in a health spa all day long in Tromaville, New Jersey, and who is considered freakish and repulsive by the antagonists, and then turns into a hulk-like monster who gets even with everyone in Tromaville who has done him and others harm, is a natural underdog story almost everyone can identify with.
And because it was gory and offensive, produced at a time when Mortal Combat creators were barely out of high school, it was too violent to get a theatrical release. So, it went to video distribution and helped birth a revolution in home video rentals and sales.
Soon enough, word got out and Vincent Canby wrote a rave review. The theatrical release found a fan base of young minds who identified with the violence and the Melvin character. Melvin became their hero. A symbol of retribution that kept this and many future generations of kids riveted to the screen as they watched revenge unfold before their eyes.
Until I made TOXIC TUTU I had only seen “The Toxic Avenger” twice. And only up to the point where Sarah (the blind woman) is getting raped in a "taco Bell?". Nothing else appealed to me enough about the film to want to watch it through. My best friend’s scenes ended twenty-two minutes in and I couldn’t handle the violence.
But as I heard story after story from fans who claimed how Melvin’s very existence saved their lives, literally, I figured it was time for me to sit through this classic. I did, and the experience that followed was transformative.
What I came to understand giving “The Toxic Avenger” a chance was how fans could come to love this “monster”. He was beastly and threatening. He was ungainly large and deformed. And by most standards, too gross and ugly to go near.
When I closed my eyes to listen I started to have the same love for the monster that Sarah the beautiful blind girl does, who eventually falls in love with “Toxie” after he saves her from the harassment of another group of sexually malevolent bullies. Sarah feels only “Toxie’s” heart. An understated critical point made way ahead of its time.
Throughout “The Toxic Avenger”, the monster is wearing a scorched and tattered remnant of the pink tutu that the Melvin character wore while being pranked by bullies before his transformation. This provides a unique character contradiction. It also gives rise to the significance of the tutu in our film and as a symbol of our anti bullying coalition explained concisely on another page of this website.
Low and behold, TOXIC TUTU has generated the interest of an eager group of fans and advocates over the last four years who are poised to wear the tutu on their college campuses. They want to help us enlist the support of other campus organizations like student social action groups, fraternities and sororities to spread the word.
We hope that screenings of our movie on college campuses will help us launch our anti bullying coalition. Once students hear how wearing a tutu can represent a positive message and lead to dialogues that may not have otherwise taken place, we think they will join in.
There is nothing preachy or academic about TOXIC TUTU. The film is intended for pure entertainment. But our anti bullying coalition proposes simple, human interaction that takes the willingness among individuals to recognize the value of each other’s place in any interaction and how simple communication tools, if practiced, can turn around the ill-fated relationship culture that pervades today. Yes, we can provide those tools and a mechanism for delivery in high schools and colleges.
The digital revolution has completely changed human interaction for adults (my age) who are mistrusted by youth and clueless about how to help. So, I believe the trust we’ve lost has to be rebuilt by listening empathically to our youth.
I want to rebuild that trust. First, by taking responsibility for what my contribution was to the intergenerational disconnect. And second, by reinforcing the idea that every artist has an obligation to be socially responsible if they are creating art for public consumption.
If you want to learn more about our film or our Anti Bullying Coalition please read everything on this website, and if you want more information reach out to Joe Nardelli at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or invite us to your campus for a screening and a talk-back.
TOXIC TUTU Feature Film will premier in London, Ontario on May 6th at SHOCK STOCK one of Canada's finest Horror and Film Festival Conventions.
Joe Nardelli is a writer, director and cinematographer of fiction and non-fiction films. An Almost True Story: TOXIC TUTU is his feature film debut.
He is single and lives in an oasis off the Hudson River in the far West Village of New York City.