One of the key elements to exploitation film magic is when its actors are willing to go earnestly wild. The first face we see in “The Toxic Avenger” is that of Mark Torgl as “Melvin Ferd” – and his hapless dopey victimization is our entryway to an utterly demented movie where everything is silly and grotesque in equal measure. Mr. Torgl was kind enough to answer some questions about his days with Troma and being an iconic part of a cult classic.
(Originally posted March 2013 at Cinemachine)
How did you first become interested in film?
I’ve been fascinated with films from the time I was 2 and my parents took the family to a drive in movie, and I saw the pictures in the sky. I went to NYU grad film school and Spike Lee, Ang Lee, and Jim Jarmush were classmates.
What are some of your favorite films and who are your favorite filmmakers?
I love Scorsese films, Goodfellas, Mean Streets, Raging Bull, I also love anything from Terrence Malick. Badlands may be my all time favorite. Also anything from Stanley Kubrick. Of course I could go on for a very long time, but I’ll leave it at that.
How did you start working with Troma?
While at NYU, I answered an ad from Troma that was placed on the NYU job board looking for crew for The First Turn On! I went for an interview and Lloyd Kaufman, the President of Troma asked me what I wanted to do on the film. I said I like to write, he said “Great, you can help write the script, any thing else?” I said I’d like to be the Script Supervisor, he said done. I should have said “I’d like to direct.” Of course it was all unpaid.
As script supervisor on “The First Turn-On!” how would you describe the production?
It was a bunch of kids interested in filmmaking having a lot of fun. No one got paid so everyone was just doing it for the experience.
How did you come to play Georgia Harrell’s psycho boyfriend, Dwayne?
On the day we were scheduled to shoot Dwayne’s first scene, the actor that was hired to play him was a no show. Lloyd said “Torgl, you play him.” the rest is history.
What are your memories of shooting your scenes with Georgia Harrell? Did you guys actually expose yourselves to each other in the “playing doctor” scene?
Georgia was great, really sweet and funny, we weren’t shy.
How soon after “The First Turn On!” were you approached about working on “Health Club Horror,” later to become “The Toxic Avenger”?
It was the next summer, again during school break. I got a call from Lloyd, he told me about the film they were casting. For the character of Melvin, “Pre Toxie” they had auditioned hundreds of kids. Then Lloyd said he and partner Michael Herz said “What we really need is the character Torgl played in First Turn On!” Lloyd said if I wanted the part it was mine.
What did you think when you read the script?
I thought it was really campy, I knew it would either be a huge cult film or the worst film ever made. Turns out it was both.
What are your memories of shooting the Tromaville Health Club scenes?
It was all a good time, the sheep was the most difficult part as it had lice or little varmints all over it.
How difficult was the makeup in the scenes where Melvin becomes the Toxic Avenger?
The makeup took many hours, it was pretty uncomfortable. The bathtub scene was difficult as the bathtub had no hot water. And the makeup did not come off easily. Not my favorite part of the shoot. In the catch-on-fire scene, before the stunt double took over, my arm actually caught on fire accidentally. I still have a little scar from that.
There’s a very rare “lost scene” from “Toxic Avenger” of Melvin camping by himself in the woods. Do you recall shooting it?
Yeah, as a matter of fact I wrote that scene. I was sitting by a campfire drinking beer and singing a version of “Hound Dog.”
How would you describe the production of “The Toxic Avenger”?
Troma productions are barely professional, we just did what we could to get things shot. Lloyd didn’t waste a lot of film, a lot of the scenes were one take. The cast and crew laughed through it all.
What was your reaction to the finished film, and how have you felt about it since then?
I guess at first I thought the film wasn’t very good and would just disappear after a few weeks, As it evolved and started showing up at midnight movies as a cult film it was pretty cool. I am happy that it provides such joy and enthusiasm from the fans still.
What came next after parting ways with Troma?
I have been working in Los Angeles in Post Production, making short films, writing scripts. I always kept in touch with Lloyd and would see him when he came to LA.
Were you asked to return as Melvin in “The Toxic Avenger Part II” and “Part III”?
Yes, we were negotiating and since I wasn’t paid for part one, or very little, I was trying to make a little something for myself. Also I had moved to Los Angeles and had a job at a post production house, so we never agreed to a price to bring me back. Lloyd jokes in his book “All I Need to Know About Filmmaking I Learned From The Toxic Avenger” that he should have paid me the $50 I was asking for.
How did it feel to cameo as Melvin in “Citizen Toxie” almost 20 years later?
It was fun to do it. Troma flew me out, put me up in a hotel, and gave me all the cheese I could eat. The productions had not changed in 20 years, kids were still the crew, working for no money. But they were all fans of mine so that made it really cool.
How often do you get recognized by “Toxic Avenger” fans?
Not as often as I used to but still occasionally, It’s always a surprise. I will be making my first ever personal appearance autograph signing at “Mad Monster Party” in Charlotte, North Carolina, March 22nd, 23rd and 24th. It will be interesting to see how that goes.
Sincerest thanks to Mr. Mark Torgl for this interview.