There’s some filmmakers working on the fringe of movies today that I would throw myself on barbed wire if it meant it would protect their freedoms to continue making films the way they want – however, that doesn’t necessarily mean I like everything they make. Take Lloyd Kaufman, the mad professor who’s been the face of New York based independent studio, Troma, for decades now, who, with partner, publicity-shy Michael Herz, have peddled their particular brand of randy, gore-comedies (plus numerous horror low budget titles released under their banner) despite bigger studios trying to quash their spirit. While they’ve knocked it out of the park in the past with genuine trash classics such as The Toxic Avenger and Class Of Nuke ‘Em High, other titles sometimes get drowned in Troma’s desire to be as cartoonishly crass as humanly possible, while others nestle oddly between the two. Behold the belated return to Nuke ‘Em High.
After being brought up to speed on Nuke ‘Em High continuity by none other than Stan Lee himself (blatantly shot during a convention), we return to the oft-rebuilt high school as it now lurks in the shadow of crooked organic food corporation Tromographic Foodstuffs Inc. (It’s pointed out that criticising nuclear power is no longer in vogue). Much like the Tromaville Nuclear Power Plant from decades earlier, the health and safety standards aren’t exactly up to code and toxic run off is causing random student to violently melt on the premises but the powers that be frantically try to cover things up by claiming it was merely diabetes.
Meanwhile, blogger Chrissy is trying to expose the devious union between Principal Westly and deranged CEO Lee Harvey Herzkauf, but finds her attention strangely drawn to naive new student Lauren who is finding it hard to settle in and finds solace in her beloved pet duck Kevin.
Matters get exponentially worse when, after the latest meltdown occurs during Taco Tuesday, the glee club mutates into a dystopian punk gang called the Cretins and starts inflicting violent acts on the local community like stuffing Kevin down Lauren’s throat in an unprovoked act of “duck rape”. After Chrissy manages to free Kevin from Lauren’s esophagus, their relationship takes it up a notch when they act on their feelings and become a couple, but due to Tromaville’s regressive attitude Lauren wants to keep their lesbianism on the down low claiming that Tromavillians think that LGBT stands for lynch, grope, bully and torture. However, further mutations turn the couple into a literal power couple who unknowingly use their eyebrow raising abilities to wage war on the growing army of Cretins.
I was actually in the crowd of a Troma triple bill attended by Kaufman himself when he first announced that Troma would be rebooting the Class Of Nuke ‘Em High for a whole new generation and I have to admit, I was in two minds about the news. I’m a huge fan of the original (which was screened that very night) but the sequels turned out to be bland and distinctly unfunny. On top of that, Troma projects since then had been weirdly diverse, tackling everything from zombie chickens (Poultrygeist), meta-movies about low budet filmmaking (Terror Firmer) and even William Shakespeare (Tromeo And Juliet), a trip to Nuke ‘Em High just seemed like a backwards step.
Upon first viewing, my initial feelings seemed justified. After all, Return To Nuke ‘Em High Volume 1 is only the first half of an absurdly epic reboot that doesn’t exactly end, but literally stops without any build up or any real cliffhanger – worse yet despite Volume 1 being released in 2013, we had to wait a staggering four years for the second half to be released and was an utter pig to track down for a viewing (as of writing, I still haven’t seen it yet). This noticable and frustrating lack of payoff ends up making Return Of Nuke ‘Em High seem less focused than your usual Troma experience (and that’s fucking saying something) and it just felt like a waste of everybody’s time.
Had I finally outgrown Troma? Did the constant, unsubtle parade of silly jokes, clumsy social commentary, archaic gore effects and acres of gratuitous tit shots having no effect on me meant I’d moved on from this kind of adolescent drivel?
Thankfully no. A recent second viewing of Kaufman’s stupidly ambitious, vaudeville-style, shit-fest proved that he thankfully hasn’t lost his touch yet and while the movie will be utter bilge to Troma non-believers, it still provides the ridiculous, no-budget, no-taste thrills you can only get from a trio to Tromaville.
The plot is, annoyingly, the exactl plot of the original with tons of unnecessary extra bits added on to create a sprawling tale (literally, because it seems high as a fucking kite) that leaves no rock unturned. With so much time on his hands thanks to its two film structure, Kaufman insists of filling us in on everything; giving us a glimpse of the Cretins before the mutation, devoting an entire subplot to Kevin The Wonder Duck and setting up one of Chrissy and Lauren’s friends turning on them in order to join the Cretins with no intention of paying any of this off until the second volume made it’s belated bow.
Yep, Voulme 1 can sure be annoying, but yet there’s always been something oddly sweet about Kaufman’s daffy talents; after all, this is a man who has been making films for nearly forty years and yet still shoots his features like a drugged up, first year film student, gleefully disinterested in tone, plot progression or character arcs when there’s a good fart joke or nudie scene to be had. But what other 76 year old working in film would be childish enough to stage a joke where a the shadow of a number four is cast on a wall in a literal attempt at “foreshadowing”.
However, like all true Troma epics, Return To Nuke ‘Em High takes random and scattershot cracks at numerous aspects such as school shootings, handicap inaccessibity (wheelchair bound Cretin Donatello can’t negotiate the school stairs) and gay representation and you can’t fault Uncle Lloyd’s intentions, even if you’re repulsed by his methods. I mean, it’s not everyday you witness a film where the two female leads gain superpowers that gives one a penis the size and girth of a fire hydrant (that she naturally clubs people with) and the other pregnant with the ability to spray victims with acidic breast milk.
As flawed as most other Troma ventures, it’s still well worth a view to those partial to the studio’s lunatic charms and I’m sure it will play even better once I finally get round to finding Volume 2 and actually getting a payoff to all the boob-obsessed craziness.
While all the gore, masterbating (both male and female) and screeching punk tracks may not be for everyone, that’s the whole point o was making earlier. While there’s people like Kaufman around doing things differently, the world can only be a better place – even if it contains a moment where a cock monster eats a human heart.