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