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
Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club Review – A Charming, Quirky Dark Drama
Starring Keren Mor, Yiftach Klein, Hana Laslo, Ania Bukstein
Directed by Guilhad Emilio Schenker
Reviewed out of Utopia 2017
One of the great joys I have in being a horror fan is seeing horror films from around the world. I view these films as a chance to learn about the fears, folklore, mythology, and lore of varied cultures. Films like Inugami, Frontier(s), [REC], and the like transport me across oceans and into places I might never get the chance to visit otherwise. Hence my interest in the Israeli dark drama Madam Yankeolva’s Fine Literature Club, the feature debut of director Guilhad Emilio Schenker.
The film follows Sophie (Mor), a member of a strange, female-only reading club – who believes that love is a lie – that we soon realize brings men into its midst only to have them killed. The woman who brings the most fitting man is awarded a trophy for her fine taste. When a member reaches 100 trophies, they get to enter a coveted and highly esteemed upper echelon of the reading club’s society, one that includes lavish surroundings and an almost regal lifestyle. Sophie starts the film earning her 99th trophy but her plans towards the all-important 100th trophy are thrown askew when she ends up developing feelings for her latest victim. She must now decide if the mission that has been so dear to her for so many years is something she wishes to see through or if she’s ready to take a huge risk and fall in love.
Now, if this seems like a strange story for a horror website, I don’t disagree. Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is certainly not your traditional horror film. In fact, I’d liken it far more to the more playful works of Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s The City of Lost Children than something more grotesque and violent. It’s very playful and quite charming, although there are times when the presentation feels amateurish and certain moments when things become wildly unbelievable. That being said, the film aims to be a dark fairy tale come to life, so a healthy amount of “I’m okay letting that go” will not go unappreciated.
The film is shot in such a way that it’s very soft around the edges, almost like we’re constantly in a dream. This is aided by composer Tal Yardeni’s score, which obviously takes inspiration from Danny Elfman, playfully weaving its way through each scene.
While there’s a lot to love about Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club, it’s certainly not a flawless film. As mentioned previously, there are times when it feels quite amateurish, as though no one thought to look at how a scene is being filmed and say, “People, this isn’t how things would go down. We can have fun but this just doesn’t sit right.” Additionally, the story moves very quickly. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve heard of love at first sight. But that’s not how this story plays out, so the wildly strong feelings that develop between Sophie and Yosef (Klein) seem strangely out of place.
All things being what they are, Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is a charming film that can definitely appeal to horror fans if they’re willing to stretch their boundaries to include films that have absolutely no scares or gore but imply quite a horrific situation.
Charming, quirky, but not without its faults, Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is a dark drama for fans of Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Don’t go in expecting any scares or gore. Rather, anticipate a fairy tale that might be just a bit too gruesome in tone for young children.
Beyond the Seventh Door DVD Review – No-Budget S.O.V. Canuxploitation At Its Finest!
Starring Lazar Rockwood, Bonnie Beck, Gary Freedman
Directed by B.D. Benedikt
Distributed by Severin Films/Intervision
Two people trapped within a labyrinthine complex. Booby traps. Rigged doors. Death lurking around every corner. And a mysterious voice communicating clues every step of the way via recorded tapes. No, this isn’t the latest Saw film but a Canuxploitation entry from the shot-on-video market, 1987’s Beyond the Seventh Door. Oozing ambition and bolstered by a truly bravado performance from newcomer Lazar Rockwood – a man who looks like the love child of Tommy Wiseau and Billy Drago – this no-budget Canadian shocker delivers just as many twists and turns as Lionsgate’s dead-horse franchise. The main difference being that instead of having to mutilate yours or someone else’s body, the protagonists here are forced to solve obtuse riddles in order to move on to the next room; failure means death. Intervision has been crushing it throughout 2017 – and this release may be the best yet.
Boris (Lazar Rockwood) is a career thief and recent ex-con who is trying to turn his life around when Wendy (Bonnie Beck), a former flame, comes back into his life. She now works for a rich paraplegic, Lord Breston (Gary Freedman), who lives in an actual castle just outside of town. Desperate for “one more job” and a big payday, Boris begs for a gig and Wendy delivers; the plan is for the two of them to break into the basement of Breston’s castle and steal whatever treasures he has socked away, all while her boss is busy entertaining guests at his costume party. The next night, the plan is enacted and the duo clandestinely slip into the castle’s lower level, when suddenly the door locks behind them and a tape recorder begins to play. Breston’s voice is heard, welcoming the thieves into his home and offering up a challenge: use scant clues (or sometimes, none at all) and uncover a way out of each of the six rooms linked together down here. Succeed and a briefcase of money awaits; fail and you die. Truly motivating.
Going into this film blind is my best recommendation, and so for that reason no other plot points will be revealed here. Besides, the real motivation for watching this movie is to witness the raw acting prowess of Lazar Rockwood. Glad in a denim jacket and rocking the ubiquitous ‘80s bandana headband, Rockwood has the delivery of a porno actor stammering lines between sex scenes. His accent is impenetrably thick and the range of his acting could fit within a matchbox, but dammit the man is weirdly magnetic on screen. He’s clearly throwing everything in his arsenal onto the screen with tremendous bravado. Modesty must be a scarce commodity when you have a name that would go perfectly alongside Dirk Diggler on an adult theater marquee in the ‘70s. My favorite line in the entire film is when Wendy is trying to solve the first clue, which has something to do with rings. When she’s rifling through possibilities and says, “Lord of the Rings?” Boris replies with, “Lord of the ring… who the hell is that guy?” said with equal parts confusion and annoyance. The kicker is viewers will believe that query could have come from either Boris or Lazar.
The rooms aren’t likely to impress viewers with their intricacy or set design, but each has a clever solution that is often a stretch to imagine our leads managing to solve within the allotted time. The clues provided by Lord Breston are esoteric and Boris isn’t exactly the erudite type, but working together with Wendy they are able to move ahead, often with mere seconds to spare. Evidence of past would-be thieves’ unlucky attempts are glimpsed, including one room where a body remains. NON-SPOILER: I completely expected the body to in actuality be Lord Breston, “checking up” on his unwanted guests much like John Kramer in Saw (2004), especially since you can clearly see the actor breathing, but this is not the case. Instead, the he’s-clearly-not-dead guy is played by a local eccentric, whose life is briefly chronicled in the bonus features.
Viewers will already be hooked on Beyond the Seventh Door by the time the climax arrives, but the final twists are what drive this S.O.V. thriller over the edge and into the cult territory it so richly deserves. It’s crazy to think this film went virtually unseen for years, being impossible to acquire on VHS and never receiving the proper home video release until now. Director B.D. Benedikt offers up further proof that strong ideas can be realized on any budget, and fans of films like Saw or Cube (1997) will enjoy this “store brand” version of those bigger budgeted hits.
The video quality review for every Intervision title could probably be a copy/paste job since each one is shot on video, always with a 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The quality here is comparable to a remastered VHS tape. There is a slight jerkiness to the opening but that passes quickly. Colors appear accurate and contrast is about as strong as can be. The picture is often soft which, again, is just something inherent to shooting on video. Film grain is minimized as much as possible; don’t expect a noisy mess just because this isn’t shot on film.
The English Dolby Digital 2.0 track plays with no obvious issues. Dialogue is clean and free from hissing and pops. The score is another awesomely cheesy ‘80s keyboard love-fest, with the three (!) composers – Michael Clive, Brock Fricker, and Philip Strong – getting plenty of mileage out of the main theme, which sounds like it would be the in-store demo default keyboard setting. No subtitles are included.
There is an audio commentary with writer/director B.D. Benedikt & actor Lazar Rockwood, moderated by Paul Corupe of Canuxploitation.com.
“Beyond Beyond the 7th Door features new interviews with Benedikt, Rockwood, and Corupe.
“The King of Cayenne” – Focusing on “legendary Toronto eccentric Ben Kerr”, a street performer who played the role of “dead guy in that one room”.
- Audio Commentary with Writer/Director BD Benedikt and Actor Lazar Rockwood, moderated by Paul Corupe (Canuxploitation.com)
- Beyond Beyond the 7th Door: Interviews with Writer/Director BD Benedikt, Actor Lazar Rockwood, and Canuxploitation.com’s Paul Corupe
- The King of Cayenne: An Appreciation of Legendary Toronto Eccentric Ben Kerr
Virtually lost for nearly three decades, Beyond the Seventh Door deserves a wider audience and Intervision’s DVD should bring it. The then-novel plot and sheer ambition should be enough to get most viewers hooked, but if not the Yugoslavian wonder Lazar Rockwood will handily have them glued to the screen.
The Crucifixion Review – Should’ve Left This One Nailed to the Cross
Starring Sophie Cookson, Corneliu Ulici, Ada Lupu
Directed by Xavier Gens
Claiming to be inspired by actual events, director Xavier Gens’ The Crucifixion forgoes the affecting shocks and awes, and instead beats its audience into the ground with a laundry-list of ho-hum dialogue and lesser-than-stellar instances…forget the priest, I need a friggin’ Red Bull.
A 2005 case is spotlighted, and it revolves around a psychotically damaged woman of the cloth (nun for all you laymen) who priests believed was inhabited by ol’ Satan himself. With one rogue priest in command who firmly believed that this was the work of something satanic, the nun was subject to a horrific exorcism in which she was chained to a cross and basically left to die, which ultimately resulted in the priest being stripped of his collar and rosary…how tragic. Enter an overzealous New York reporter (Cookson) who is intently focused upon traveling to Romania to get the scoop on the botched undertaking. After her arrival, the only point of view that seems to keep sticking with interviewees is that the man who sat close to the lord killed a helpless, innocent and stricken woman, that is until she meets up with another nun and a village priest – and their claims are of something much more sinister.
From there, the battle between good and evil rages…well, let me rephrase that: it doesn’t exactly “rage” – instead, it simmers but never boils. Unfortunately for those who came looking for some serious Father Karras action will more than likely be disappointed. The performances border on labored with cursory characters, and outside of some beautiful cinematography, this one failed to chew out of its five-point restraints.
I’d normally prattle on and on about this and that, just to keep my word limit at a bit of a stretch, but with this particular presentation, there just isn’t much to bore you all with (see what I just did there). Gens certainly had the right idea when constructing this film according to blueprints…but it’s like one of those pieces of Wal-Mart furniture that when you open the box, all you can find are the instructions that aren’t in your language – wing and a prayer…but we all know what prayers get you, don’t we, Father?
My advice to all who come seeking some hellacious activity – stick to The Exorcist and you’ll never be let down.
The Crucifixion is one of those films that needs the help of the man above in order to raise its faith, but I think he might have been out to lunch when this one came around.
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