“Ma, I don’t want to grow up.”
That was me in 1987. No, I wasn’t quoting the Toys “R” Us commercials.
One night, my parents were out of town — Atlantic City, no doubt — and I was left in my sister’s charge. As was usually the case, she only “babysat” me in quotes. She made sure I ate and made sure I wasn’t on fire, but beyond that, it was a you-do-your-thing situation.
If I’ve done my math right, I was eight and she was sixteen. That night, she had a few friends over. Three girls and two guys, as I recall. While I often tried to obnoxiously integrate myself into her soirees, those guys were loud and tall. One of them wore a leather jacket. I was too intimidated to get close. I’m sure my sister didn’t mind.
It was the typical teenage get-together, with them watching movies while devouring pizza. I hid out in my bedroom, which was fine by me, because my parents weren’t there and thus couldn’t stop me from running off with all of the junk food. (I have a distinct memory of eating a big bag of Ruffles chips, which I did in Classic Matt fashion: I’d put each one into my mouth sideways, and use my chipmunk teeth to break it down, ridge by ridge.)
Eventually, my curiosity got the better of me. What was all the hooting and hollering about? I tiptoed out of the bedroom and down the wood-paneled hallway, to peer into our living room.
I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.
More specifically, I couldn’t believe what THEY were seeing.
It was a scene from The Toxic Avenger, though I didn’t know that at the time. It was the sickest and most disturbing thing I’d ever seen in a movie, at least up until that point. (Even today, I’d still put it somewhere on the list.)
The scene in question is embedded below, but I’ll warn you, it’s extremely graphic and twisted, and you should NOT watch this if you’re not familiar with “harder” horror. There’s also strong racist language which I can’t cut or bleep as this isn’t my upload.
(TW: Gore, violence, racial slurs. Reprehensible in every way.)
If you’d rather settle for a description, the scene involves a quartet of racist punks (two guys and two girls) who’ve turned running people over into a “fun” little game. They target a young boy on his bike. Not satisfied with just ramming the poor kid, the driver then backs up right over his head, which explodes like a watermelon.
Then the girls leap out of the car to take Polaroids of his mutilated corpse. (Yeah, Toxic Avenger is that kind of movie.)
I don’t know what was more shocking: The scene, or the reaction from my sister’s guy friends, who laughed hysterically at it. I was too young to understand that “laughing off sick shit” was kind of a core tenet of the communal horror movie viewing experience, and that people treated moments like those similarly to how they’d treat going on a roller coaster. It sounds overblown now, but back then, it was like I’d walked in on the worst imaginable thing.
I couldn’t comprehend how someone would ever want to watch a movie like that, under any circumstances. I slunk back to my bedroom like a ghost and just sat in bed, staring at happier programs on my little television, but not really processing them. Eventually, sleep came. Not a great sleep, though.
The next morning, my parents returned home. My sister’s party wasn’t on the DL, and my mother asked how the night went. “I don’t want to grow up,” is all I can remember saying. To me, “growing up” meant that I’d have to watch movies just like the one my sister did, as if that was as natural a part of growing up as going to high school or getting a driver’s license.
Basically, I thought “growing up” meant you had to watch kids on bicycles get intentionally run over by drunk street punks.
For years — decades, actually — I wasn’t sure if I was remembering the scene correctly. There’s an alternate version of The Toxic Avenger that severely trims the gore from this scene, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I mean I had no idea it came from this movie, period, and would not realize that until I randomly happened upon a YouTube clip just a few years ago.
This may sound unbelievable, given that I’m into horror movies. The Toxic Avenger is pretty famous, after all. It makes sense, though. Just 3 or 4 years after that night with my sister, me and some friends rented The Toxic Avenger Part III for our own little party, on a complete whim. (Only now do I recognize the delicious irony in that!)
There was a super gross shot in Part III that made me swear off both spaghetti and Toxic Avenger movies forever. Even as my interest in horror movies increased, and even after I’d amassed enough horror videos and DVDs to build an igloo out of, I still stayed away from anything starring Toxie. (Except the cartoon, of course!)
I’ve frequently mentioned how I was a late bloomer with horror movies. Looking back, I can’t help but wonder if experiences like this were why. I was the youngest in the house, and on more than one occasion was exposed to creepy awfulness before I was really ready for it.
Heck, I just wrote about another experience with my sister, when I was left to fend for myself against Michael Myers. Oh, and who could forget the time my parents thought it’d be a good idea to bring their seven-year-old to see Aliens?
Those have all become weirdly cherished memories, sure, but my exploratory experiences with the genre were hilariously inelegant.
When I finally discovered that this terrible bike scene came from The Toxic Avenger, I also read about a later scene wherein one of the girls used her Polaroids of the dead kid as masturbation fodder.
Yeah, I think heading back to my bedroom to watch another Cheers rerun was the right move.