Class of Nuke ‘Em High (1986)

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The original remit for this site was the “Poundland DVD Review”, where we’d get super-cheap DVDs from the aforementioned shop and review them. Well, this morning I walked past my workplace’s “leave your old books here, leave a donation to charity if you take one” shelf, and some astonishingly kind soul had left three Troma DVDs! One pound later, and they were mine. Our worlds come together.

 

If you’re about my age, and read this site, then you’ll know Troma. They were unavoidable in the 80s and 90s in non-mainstream cinema circles, both making their own deranged films and buying in films from all over the world, repackaging them with grossly misleading titles. This is one of their in-house productions, and is one of their two or three most famous films (along with “The Toxic Avenger” and “Sgt. Kabukiman NYPD”). So chances are people a great deal smarter and better at writing than me have had a crack at reviewing this, but here goes anyway.

 

Tromaville is the setting for a lot of Troma’s films, which appears to be just across the way from Manhattan (the camera pans across the New York skyline, passing the World Trade Centre, before stopping on Tromaville). The nuclear power plant is handily right next door to the school, and…that ought to tell you the majority of the plot right there, only Troma decide to spin things in a different way. The plant is leaking radioactive waste all over the place, but it’s really only there to be the thing that upsets the equilibrium and gets the story moving.

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By the time the film starts, two of the main events have already happened – the Honor Society (all the smart kids, I think?) have transformed overnight into the Cretins, a violent street gang. There’s a guy who dresses like a preppie, apart from black eye make up and breasts; a variety of hideously made up and dressed folks; and one, who’s in blackface (only his face), with two rings through his nose, an almost permanent mouthguard and who carries a large bone around with him. Offensive? Given that’s what the gang was trying to achieve, I’ll say yes in the context of the film, no to the viewer. Also, the film is gleefully offensive as often as possible, so it would be weird to single that out.

 

The other “event” is the growing of marijuana in the grounds of the power plant. It grows mysteriously quickly, for some reason, and it brings in the other main group of cast members, the normal high school kids. This is one of the reasons the film succeeds – it blends in a grotesque, gore filled horror with a “normal” high school sex comedy, at times bouncing them off each other, at times leaving them separate, like two entirely different films that happen to be taking place at the same time. When the clean-cut young couple smoke a nuclear joint, things start going a little odd for them…

 

The thing that’s both surprising and refreshing about this film, nearly 30 years on, is how over the top it is. The jokes come thick and fast, and are almost deliberately stupid and cheesy, like they’re paying lip service to the teen raunch comedy tropes before blowing them up with mutant babies and tons of gore. A lot of criticism at the time focused on them making light of a serious subject – nuclear waste – which must have delighted Troma, as it’s not like the film was on the side of the unregulated nuclear power industry. Some people just aren’t ready for Troma, I guess.

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This film feels like “Repo Man” in a weird way, like it has that energy and “punk” attitude to it – this might just be me projecting, as both films feature actual punks, but I think not. It just doesn’t let up. Also like that film, it’s got a surprisingly high budget compared to what similar movies made today would get. There’s “Tromaville High School” props all over the place, and several crowd scenes. When was the last time you saw a low-budget horror movie with a crowd scene?

 

I hope this review has persuaded a few of you older fans to revisit this great film, and a few younger fans to check it out. As I linked to a while ago, a few journalists are comparing Troma to The Asylum, and they couldn’t be more wrong. While Troma may not always make good films, they’re at least trying – to offend, to shock, to make people laugh. The Asylum was created to sell out, making rotten films for cheap cable channels, and even starting a sub-company to make religious themed films for fundamentalist Christians who can’t tolerate normal entertainment. Could you imagine Troma doing anything like that? Their most recent publicity says “30 years of reel independence”, and while it’s unlikely to last past creator Lloyd Kaufman, long may it continue.

 

Rating: thumbs up

 

PS -Review site The Horror Addiction did a brilliant and insightful review of this, years ago, so if you’re in the mood for actual insight and so on, definitely read them.

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