1986’s Class of Nuke ‘Em High is generally considered one of the better efforts from the low budget gurus at Troma Entertainment, ranking alongside such cult classics as The Toxic Avenger, Tromeo and Juliet, Terror Firmer and Poultrygeist. The film spawned sequels in 1991 and 1994. A decade later, class is back in session for Return to Nuke ‘Em High Volume 1. Like most of the best Troma titles, it’s directed by the company’s president, Lloyd Kaufman.
The film’s opening scene sets the tone: a young couple are having sex when a small creature covered in green, radioactive goo drips on them. After being anally penetrated by the being, the man ejaculates blood all over the hapless girl, who proceeds to melt into a pile of gory sludge and bones. Yes, Return to Nuke ‘Em High is classic Troma, replete with over-the-top gore, gratuitous nudity and lowbrow humor.
To the wrong audience, the film – like most of Troma’s output – could be considered obscenely offensive. It would be easy to write the movie off as misogynistic, racist, homophobic and insulting to just about every denomination of viewer. But loyal Troma fans know it’s all in good fun. Silly as it may be, the film is not afraid to provide social commentary, touching on such topical issues as violence in schools and the treatment of the LGBT community, among others.
You don’t have to be familiar with the original film to enjoy this one. It begins with an introduction by the legendary Stan Lee, who recaps the events of the first movie (and, to a lesser extent, its sequels) with a highlight reel. Return to Nuke ‘Em High has call backs to the original, but as a whole it feels more like a reboot than a sequel. In many ways, it’s superior to the original. Importantly, Ethan and The Coup’s catchy theme song is back in action.
Following the events of the original film, the nuclear power plant located next to Tromaville High School has been demolished. In its place now stands Tromorganic Foodstuffs Inc. Chrissy (Asta Paredes) is a rogue blogger who attempts to expose the company and her high school for its use of their contaminated products – but no one is reading her blog. After eating tainted tacos, members of the school’s glee club are turned into The Cretins, a gang of mutated punks hellbent on terrorizing the citizens of Tromaville. Lauren (Catherine Corcoran), a new girl in town with an inexplicable pet duck, gets off on the wrong foot with Chrissy, but the two eventually become friends and lovers who must team up to take down The Cretins.
As the title suggests, Return to Nuke ‘Em High Volume 1 is the first of a two-part saga, similar to what was done with Kill Bill. (In fact, Quentin Tarantino was reportedly the one who suggested Kaufman make a two-parter.) Unfortunately, Volume 1’s ending is too abrupt. It could have concluded earlier with less loose ends or went a bit further for a more engaging set-up, but as it stands the ending is unsatisfying. The plot is unfocused – I suspect the two volumes could have been stripped down into a single, cohesive feature – but the added runtime leaves more room for more slapstick gore that viewers love.
Kudos to Paredes and Corcoran, who are put through the ringer without ever faltering. Both are relative unknowns, but their performances show promise for films that don’t necessarily involve giant genitalia and lengthy lesbian scenes. In addition to Lee, the film features fun, if superfluous, cameos by Motorhead frontman Lemmy Kilmister (as the president!), 30 Rock comedian Judah Friedlander, Crank co-director Mark Neveldine, scream queen Debbie Rochon, Oddities stars Mike Zohn and Evan Michelson, and Kaufman himself.
It’s still funny to see a Troma film on Blu-ray; a far cry from the grainy VHS tapes on which the company originally gained popularity. Return to Nuke ‘Em High – shot on a top-of-the-line Alexa camera – proudly displays high production values for a Troma film (made even more apparent when compared to the famed car crash from Sgt. Kabukiman, NYPD, which is, of course, included). With the exception of a couple of brief bits of unfortunate CGI, the effects are lovingly practical.
The disc includes featurettes about casting, pre-production and special effects, all of which give invaluable insight on the making of an independent film. There are also a pair of audio commentaries – one with Kaufman, co-writer Travis Campbell and producers; another with various actors. Rounding out the special features are a Kaufman montage, a music video and the trailer for Volume 2, which looks like it will be on par. It’s a nice edition – even packaged in a neat green case rather than the standard blue – but it was, interestingly, released by Anchor Bay rather than Troma themselves, who are known for packing discs with tons of special features.
Oozing with blood, slime, laughs and private parts, Return to Nuke ‘Em High Volume 1 is a delightfully disgusting reminder of why we love Troma. Although its conclusion is anticlimactic (albeit intentionally so), it left me eager for Volume 2. The sequel is due out later this year, for which I will gladly re-enroll in Nuke ‘Em High.