A ‘classic’ slice of Troma’s unique take on the straight to video schlock-fest that typified a certain sort of 1980s movie making, it may not be so bad it’s good, but it’s so ridiculous its fun if you let it take you for a ride.
The phrase ‘its so bad is good’ is one that I will freely admit to pedaling in the past to refer to many films, from the straight to DVD actioners of Steven Seagal and Jean-Claude Van Damme to films like this little treasure from Troma (the company behind The Toxic Avenger and Surf Nazis Must Die, amongst other ‘classics’).
Upon re-watching Class of Nuke ‘Em High tonight I have realized that the aforementioned phrase is rather meaningless as this film is undeniably ‘so bad its bad’ (although not as bad as much of Troma’s other output) but somehow that doesn’t stop it being enjoyable in the same way a slightly creaky and naff fairground can be. Possibly part of this is ironic enjoyment, but certainly it treads a fine between irony and genuine appreciation of something, though maybe its to do with being a genre movie fan.
To set the scene we are in Tromaville, New Jersey and something is rotten with the state of their nuclear power plant, which happens to be built conveniently next to a school. So the inevitable happens and all hell breaks loose and within the first 10 minutes of the movie we are treated to some of the major tropes of the exploitation horror movie; nudity, gang warfare, mutants, (sort of) zombies and grisly deaths.
As the film goes on it does slow down a bit in the middle, which is fairly impressive in an 85 minute movie, but expected really in something from Troma, but for the most part keeps up the action, or at least the “what the hell was that?” moments, enough to keep up interest.
Across the film it becomes obvious that the makers of this film know what they are making is awful, which, while not forgiving its awfulness, is probably where the sense of enjoyment comes from as we are all in on the joke and the lead characters discussing going to a Fellini marathon and paraphrasing Shakespeare hints at this.
As the film carries on the plot does become a mess (as expected) as the story of the lead couple and the Cretins gang become too independent of each other, but it all comes together in the end and we are treated to a genuinely well done toxic waste monster, which is all the more impressive knowing that the complete suit was never finished. So what we get are flashes of the beast in close up which has a similar effect to how we see the monster in Alien, which helps makes it more impressive than the sum of its parts (though I can’t quite believe I just compared Alien and a Troma movie).
In the end if you’re not a fan of schlocky, silly horror movies, you aren’t going to like this one, but if you can appreciate the strange appeal of a bad b-movie, this is certainly one that is worth checking out and a very good entry point to the world of Troma.
Also this is apparently something of a spoof on the (relatively) well reviewed Class of 1984 which may explain something of the better than usual quality for Troma as it was riffing directly on something that already existed – though I have so far only seen the trailer to Class of 1984 so I may be wrong…
Blu-Ray special features
The new release of the movie from Arrow Video comes with a few decent little extras on the disc too.
There’s an entertaining interview with a couple of the cast members (recorded in the early 90s for a video release by the looks of it), though it does focus as much on their recollections of making The Toxic Avenger as much as Nuke ‘Em High, but that’s not really a bad thing and does a good job of showing how much Troma really was a DIY outfit – something like the punk of movies.
Also there are a couple of little skits in classic Troma style, one of which, starring Lemmy (from Motorhead) and South Park creators Matt Parker and Trey Stone, defies explanation, and the other is a tour of Troma Studios featuring amongst other things a look into the executive washroom (including Kabukiman getting caught out) and talk of the companies stocks, shares and nail polish issues.
But, the highlight of the special features is a half hour Q&A with Troma head honcho Lloyd Kaufman recorded at the Prince Charles Cinema in London which gives a great insight into the world of Troma and how they make movies as well as their attitude to file sharing and other issues effecting movie making today.