Directed by Lloyd Kaufman
Distributed by Troma / Anchor Bay
Troma Entertainment, the B-movie camp house founded by Lloyd Kaufman (the one man who may be cheaper than notoriously frugal producer Roger Corman), has spent the better part of 40 (!) years pumping out gloriously gory, undeniably entertaining sleaze. It is truly amazing the studio has survived so long considering their one and only “major” hit has been The Toxic Avenger (1985), the film that spawned a cultural icon of sorts. Throughout the years they’ve managed to churn out a few more minor cult classics – with Tromeo & Juliet (1996) being one of their best – all done on a shoestring budget using a multitude of inventive resources. Say what you will about the quality of Kaufman’s films (and he’d likely agree), but ingenuity has never been in short supply at Troma. The decision to revisit one of their more successful franchises – Class of Nuke ‘Em High (1986) and its forgettable sequels – had been in the works for a number of years. Sometime around 1996, the studio announced Class of Nuke ‘Em High IV: Battle of the Bikini Subhumanoids was forthcoming, but years of finance issues and Lloyd knows what else forced the project into turnaround more than a handful of times. Finally, in 2012 Kaufman decided to helm the picture himself, secured a modicum of funding through Kickstarter, and production was finally underway on this series sequel. Return to Nuke ‘Em High: Volume 1 (2013) is replete with all the hallmarks of a Troma production, including (but certainly not limited to) gross-out gags, severed penises, melting faces, boobs, more boobs, sadistic violence, overt sexuality, and the ever-present car flip first seen in Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D. (1990) that has been inserted into nearly every Troma film thereafter. If you’ve always had a perverse appreciation for what Kaufman & co. produce, this is your kind of movie. If you’ve never liked a single film of theirs but hope a new production might change your tune, it won’t. This is pure trash through and through. Pure, glorious trash.
Return to Nuke ‘Em High: Volume 1 opens with a recap of the first film’s events via a voiceover from none other than Stan Lee (it looks like they shot his scene at a convention when he had some downtime). The nuclear power plant located near the high school has been demolished; in its place is a new venture, the Tromorganic Foodstuffs Conglomerate, which produces all of the “taco fillings” for the school cafeteria. Despite complaints that the food may be hazardous, owner Lee Harvey Herzkauf (Lloyd Kaufman) insists they use quality, natural ingredients. Who cares if the stuff looks radioactive? Back on campus, new girl Lauren (Catherine Corcoran) is trying her best to fit in but Chrissy (Asta Paredes) isn’t making it easy on her. She doesn’t hate her, though; she’s got the hots for her big time. The food served on campus might be toxic sludge in a taco shell, but that doesn’t stop anyone from eating it, nor does it stop Principal Westly (Babette Bombshell, doing a stellar Nixon impersonation) from espousing the benefits of eating such healthy, organic foodstuffs. During Taco Tuesday, everyone is munching down on Tromorganic’s taco filling until the school glee club members have a violent reaction, turning them into The Cretins, mutated misfits with a penchant for violence and theatrics. They wreak havoc on the town, laying waste to homes and people with extreme prejudice. The only people who can stop them are the newly-mutated duo of Lauren and Chrissy, who managed to infect each other via a lengthy, steamy lesbian encounter. They’re like a demented Dr. Jekyll and Hyde, turning into acid-lactating, massive phallus-swinging crime crusaders by night. Volume 1 of this epic two-parter ends just as Lauren provides a reenactment of the famous shower scene from “Carrie” (1976), leaving viewers with a denouement that isn’t exactly a cliffhanger.
Every Troma film is different, yet every Troma film is the same. The plot of any of their films is merely a skeletal structure upon which an absurd number of in-jokes, references, and attacks on political correctness are hung. Kaufman has no qualms with skewering any and every pop culture fixture from the last couple of years with ripe satire that often hits the mark. Say what you will about the quality of their films, but more often than not the humor is wry and witty. The rapid fire presentation constantly keeps the viewer’s attention shifting, allowing for little time to ruminate on one gag before the next is underway. This is trademark Kaufman, operating within his wheelhouse and turning out one of the most ribald films in Troma history. Did it need to be split into two films? Who cares? Kaufman is king of making the best worst movies in cinema right now; why not give viewers two doses of schlock?
A large part of what makes Troma’s film so damn watchable is the infectious energy of his cast. As the bonus features reveal, casting this film wasn’t the easiest. They also reveal that Troma auditions are chock full of the same nudity we see in their films, so, you know, if anyone from Troma is reading this and you need an extra set of eyes to help out… Asta Paredes does a great job as the sexually-repressed Chrissy, and it doesn’t hurt she’s extremely easy on the eyes. Even the characters that are written as patently annoying still possess some intangible charm. Kaufman pulls double duty as director and actor, playing the part of Lee Harvey Herzkauf by channeling Mel Brooks. He’s a modern day Gov. Le Petomane. But, really, the best bit of casting has to be God himself, Lemmy, as the President. If someone told me he was saying whatever the hell he wanted to – because he’s Lemmy – it wouldn’t be hard to believe. His nonsensical lines are subtitled for the Lemmy impaired, and also just because he has a damn thick accent.
There’s a lot of fun, catchy music here, too. The film’s main theme is almost as hard to get out of your head as Rape Door’s ridiculously catchy “Last Song”, quite possibly the most memorable suicide song since Johnny Mandel’s “Suicide is Painless”. Outside of the source music, composer Kurt Dirt’s synth-y cues sell this as a lost film from the ‘80s perfectly. Troma might be operating in the present – making “Films of the Future” – but their aesthetics are firmly rooted in the past, much to the delight of those who still revel in ‘80s cheese. Return to Nuke ‘Em High: Volume 1 is delightfully tacky and horrifically humorous, traits that the forthcoming sequel should no doubt possess, too.
Has trash ever looked so good? Return to Nuke ‘Em High: Volume 1 sports a sharp, colorful 1.78:1 1080p image that belies its low-budget roots. Anything shot in daylight looks fantastic, with crisp, defined edges and a robust color palette with natural skin tones and excellent saturation. Once the picture veers into night time, the image is less stable. Black levels are generally solid, though they can get a bit hazy, too. Shadow detail remains strong. Grain appears infrequently, occasionally looking like noise. This is probably the best a Troma picture has ever looked, so any imperfections should be summarily dismissed. Surprisingly, the only option is a lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track. It’s amazingly robust, however, featuring solid separation work and a good weight to the effects and music. There are a number of catchy tunes that pump through the front speakers with raw power. The actual score has a vintage digital quality to it, with plenty of keyboard work that shows influence from synth masters like Alan Howarth. The sound effects are most likely to repulse most listeners, with every bodily function represented in hyperbolic glory. Even something as simple as eating becomes incredibly nauseating when coupled with Troma’s revolting stockpile of sounds. Even the joyous act of watching two women make sweet love is mitigated by a never-ending chorus of slurping/sucking sounds. Subtitles are included in English SDH and Spanish.
Troma has been very good to their home video buyers, typically packing as much material as possible onto each of their releases. Return to Nuke ‘Em High: Volume 1 is no exception. First up, an audio commentary with actors Zac Amico, Clay von Carlowitz, Catherine Corcoran, Stuart Kiczek, and Asta Paredes. This is the fun track; the rowdy buddy-buddy track where all the actors recall the rigors of working on a low-budget film and how insanely fun it all was. It’s loose, engaging, and a great listen if you enjoyed the film and want to hear what it’s like being a cog in Troma’s great wheel. The second audio commentary features writer/producer/director Lloyd Kaufman, producer Justin A. Marshall, executive producer Matt Manjourides, associate producer Regina Katz, and writer Travis Campbell. As you can probably infer from the title of each participant, this is the more technical track, covering all the arduous behind-the-scenes work that goes into making a Troma movie. Kaufman and crew are a candid bunch, dispensing with pleasantries and digging into the grime. This is a great contrast to the first track.
“Casting Conundrum” is a featurette wherein Lloyd Kaufman explains the process by which all actors must audition for a Troma film, which was a little different this time around because they had numerous casting calls posted on social media sites. This video also makes it very clear that if you audition for Troma, and you are a female, you will more than likely be getting naked. “Pre-production Hell with Mein-Kauf(man)” is a great warts-and-all piece. You want to know how tough it is to make a film on very limited cash and equally-limited resources? Kaufman spells it all out here, though it’s usually his overall demeanor and attitude that sell the situation. No wonder this movie took so long to get made; a lot can go wrong even when you’re doing it right. “Special (Ed) Effects” takes a look at the film’s many practical effects gags, all of which are thoroughly tested before being on-camera because the production cannot afford to lose any time. And if you’re the poor soul who screws something up, Lloyd will most certainly let you know. “Cell-U-Lloyd Kaufman: 40 Years of Tromatising the World” may sound grand, but this is just the super titles for Troma’s movies as set to the music of Motorhead. A music video for Architects of Fear – Edison Device is included. Finally, a teaser trailer (with very little new footage) for Return to Nuke ‘Em High: Volume 2 (2014) rounds out the extras.
3 1/2 out of 5
4 out of 5
IAMX’s Alive in New Light Review – A Dark, Hypnotic, and Stunning Musical Endeavor
Recording eight albums is an achievement no matter the artist, group, or band. This is especially true for Chris Corner’s IAMX, his solo project after the trip hop group Sneaker Pimps, which has enchanted listeners since 2004’s Kiss + Swallow with its dark electronic aesthetic. There’s something fascinating about the music Corner puts out as IAMX. Perhaps it’s the underlying melancholy that seems to pervade the music, almost certainly a result of the musician’s battle with depression and chronic insomnia [Source]. Perhaps it’s the unexpected melodies that reveal themselves with each new measure. Whatever it is, IAMX’s music is a constant delight.
On Alive in New Light, Corner reveals that his eighth album was a product he created as a way of “…breaking free from demons that have long plagued him,” per an official press release. Strangely enough, this uplifting attitude may easily be overlooked but repeat listens unveil a sense of hope and wonder that are simply breathtaking. The title track echoes with almost angelic choir pads that positively shine as Corner exultingly cries in a shimmering falsetto, “I’m alive in new light!” This comes after the Depeche Mode-esque “Stardust”, which offers the first collaboration with Kat Von D, whose pure voice is a beautiful addition to the pulsating track.
The third track, “Break The Chains”, has an opening that immediately called to mind Birds of Tokyo’s “Discoloured”, which is meant as a compliment. It’s followed by the Nine Inch Nails influenced “Body Politics”, which meshes Corner’s crooning vocals with a 90’s industrial backdrop. “Exit” has an almost sinister progression lurking in the background that builds to an aggressive, in-your-face third act. The cinematic Middle Eastern flairs of “Stalker” mutate effortlessly into a heartbeat pulse that features back-and-forth vocals between Corner and Von D. The haunted circus vibe that permeates through “Big Man” is mirrored by its playful gothic aura, ghostly “oohs” and “aahs” sprinkled carefully here and there.
While the album has been a delight up to this point, it’s the final two tracks that took my breath away and left me stunned. “Mile Deep Hollow” builds layer after layer while Corner passionately cries out, “So thank you/you need to know/that you dragged me out/of a mile deep hollow/and I love you/you brought me home/because you dragged me out/of a mile deep hollow.” The way the song’s melodies back these wonderfully uplifting lyrics feels grand and epic, as though a journey is coming to an end, which is where “The Power and the Glory” comes in. Far more subdued, it’s a beautiful song that feels almost like a religious experience, a hymn of a soul that is desperate to claw its way to salvation and escape a life of pain and darkness.
What makes Alive in New Light so wonderful is how much there is to experience. I got the album and listened to it no less than five times in a row without pause. I simply couldn’t turn it off because each return revealed something new in the music. Corner also makes fantastic use of Von D’s vocals, carefully placing them so as to make them a treat and not a commonplace certainty.
While some may be disappointed that there are only nine tracks, each of the songs is carefully and meticulously crafted to be as powerful and meaningful as possible. It really is a stunning accomplishment and I’m nothing short of blown away by how masterfully Alive in New Light plays out.
IAMX’s Alive in New Light is a triumph of music. Full of beauty and confidence, it doesn’t forget the foundation that fans have come to know and love for over a decade but instead embraces that comfortable darkness with open arms. Corner states that this album was a way to break free from his demons. It certainly feels like he’s made peace with them.
The Hatred Review – A History Lesson Dug Up From The Depths Of Hell
Starring Zelda Adams, Lulu Adams, John Law
Directed by John Law
I don’t know about the scholastic interests the masses had (or have) that read all of the killer nuggets that get cranked out on this site, but when I was an academic turd, one of my true passions was history, and it was one of the only subjects that managed to hold my interest, and when the opportunity arose to check out John Law’s ultra-nightmarish feature, The Hatred – I was ready to crack the books once again.
The setting is the Blackfoot Territory in the late 1800s, and the pains of a lengthy conflict have taken their toll on the remaining soldiers as food has become scarce, and the film picks up with soldiers on the march in the brutal cold and snow covered mountainside. In tow is a P.O.W. (Law), and the decision is made by the soldiers to execute him in earnest instead of having to shorten their rations by feeding him, so he is then hung (pretty harshly done), and left to rot as the uniformed men trudge along. A short time later the group encounters a small family on the fringes of the territory, and when the demands for food are rebuked, the slaughter is on and the only survivor is a young girl (Adams) who prays to an oblivious god that she can one day reap the seeds of revenge upon those who’ve murdered her family. We all know that there are usually two sides to any story, and when the good ear isn’t listening, the evil one turns its direction towards those who need it most, and that’s when the Devil obliges.
The answer to the young girl’s prayers comes in the resurrection of the prisoner that was hung a short time ago, and he has been dubbed “Vengeance” – together their goal will be achieved by harshly dishing out some retribution, and the way it’s presented is drawn-out, almost like you’re strapped into the front-row pew of a hellfire-cathedral and force-fed the sermon of an evil voice from the South side of the tracks. It’s vicious and beautiful all at once, Law’s direction gives this visually-striking presentation all the bells and whistles to please even the harshest of critics (hell, you’re reading the words of one right now). The performances, while a bit stoic in nature, still convey that overall perception of a wrong that demands to be righted, no matter how morally mishandled it might be. Overall, I can absolutely recommend The Hatred for not only those wanting a period-piece with ferocious-artistry, but for others who continue to pray with no response, and are curious to see what the other side can offer.
The Hatred is a visually-appealing look into the eyes of animus, and all of the beauty of returning the harm to those who have awarded it to others.
Before We Vanish Review – A Quirky and Original Take on Alien Invasions
Starring Masami Nagasawa, Ryûhei Matsuda, Hiroki Hasegawa
Written by Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa
During the J-horror rampage of the late 90’s and early 2000’s, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Kairo (aka Pulse). A dark, depressing, and morose tale of ghosts that use the internet to spread across the world, the film’s almost suffocatingly gloomy atmosphere pervaded across every frame of the film. Because of my love of this film, I was eager to see the director’s upcoming movie Sanpo Suru Shinryakusha (aka Before We Vanish), which follows three aliens who recently arrived on Earth and are preparing to bring about an alien invasion that will wipe humanity from the face of the planet. Imagine my surprise when the film turned out to be barely a horror title but was instead a quirky and surreal dramedy that tugged at my heartstrings.
Admittedly, I was thrown completely for a loop as the film begins with a scene that feels perfectly at home in a horror film. Akira (Tsunematsu), a teenage girl, goes home and we enter moments later to blood splashed on the walls and floor and bodies strewn about. However, the disturbing visuals are spun around as the young girl walks down a highway, her clothes and face streaked with blood, Yusuke Hayashi’s music taking on a lighthearted, almost jaunty attitude. From there, we learn of the other two aliens (yes, she’s an alien and it’s not a secret or a twist, so no spoilers there): Amano (Takasugi), who is a young man that convinces a sleazy reporter, Sakurai (Hasegawa), of his true form and tasks Sakurai with being his guide, and Shinji (Matsuda), the estranged husband of Narumi (Nagasawa).
What sets these aliens, and their mission, apart from other invasion thrillers is their means of gathering information. They’re not interested in meeting leaders nor do they capture people for nefarious experimentations. Rather, they steal “concepts” from the minds of people, such as “family”, “possession”, or “pest”. Once these concepts are taken, the victim no longer has that value in their mind, freed from its constraints.
While this may seem like a form of brainwashing, Kurosawa instead plays with the idea that maybe knowing too much is what holds us back from true happiness. A man obsessed with staking claim to his family home learns to see the world outside of its walls when “possession” is no longer a part of his life. A touchy boss enters a state of child-like glee after “work” has been taken. That being said, there are other victims who are left as little more than husks.
Overly long at 130 minutes, the film does take its time showing the differences between the aliens and their individual behaviors. Amano and Akira are casually ruthless, willing to do whatever it takes to send a beacon to begin the alien invasion, no matter how many must die along the way, while Shinji is the curious and almost open-minded one, whose personal journey finds him at one point asking a priest to envision and describe “love”, a concept that is so individualistic and personal that it can’t be taken, much less fathomed, by this alien being. While many of these scenes are necessary, they could have easily been edited down to shave 10-15 minutes, making the film flow a bit more smoothly.
While the film begins on a dark note, there is a scene in the third act that is so pure and moving that tears immediately filled my eyes and I choked up a little. It’s a moment of both sacrifice and understanding, one that brings a recurring thread in the story full circle.
With every passing minute, Before We Vanish makes it clear that it’s much more horror-adjacent than horror. An alien invasion thriller with ultimate stakes, it will certainly have appeal to genre fans. That being said, those who go in expecting action, violence, and terror will certainly be disappointed. But those whose mind is a bit more open to a wider range of possibilities will find a delightful story that attempts to find out what it means to be human, even if we have to learn the lesson from an alien.
Before We Vanish is a beautiful, wonderful tale that explores what it means to be human when faced with the threat of extinction.
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