Troma // 1986 // 85 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker // May 28th, 2010
It rotted their bodies. It corrupted their minds. And that's the good news.
"What's going on?"
Trouble in Tromaville -- the local nuclear plant is again leaking toxic waste. Since the plant is just puking distance from the high school, this doesn't bode well for the teens of Tromaville. When smart geek Dewy drinks some contaminated water, he turns into a frothing monster.
The nuke nonsense isn't bad news for the stoners, however. The school's gang of freaks, the Cretins, has discovered that pot grown on the grounds of the plant offers an extra kick, meaning they can charge up to $20 for a single joint -- an extravagance in 1986 dollars. The Cretins used to be members of the National Honor Society, but mysteriously, have mutated into bizarre-looking, semi-deformed rebels.
Will Tromaville and its progeny survive the careless doings at the nuclear plant? Will nice kids Warren (Gilbert Brenton) and Chrissy (Janelle Brady) survive their first sexual experience, courtesy of some radiated reefer? And what's that tentacled thing hanging out in the school's boiler room?
After years of putting out sub-Z fare like Stuck on You! and Waitress!, team Troma finally hit pay dirt with a bona fide cult classic in 1984 -- The Toxic Avenger. Two years later, Class of Nuke 'Em High became the second significant Troma hit, helping pave the way for future Troma "classics" like Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D., Tromeo and Juliet, and Poultrygeist.
Nuke'Em High is a silly, gross, disjointed little movie that, like most Troma epics, works best if you check your intellect at the door. Almost self-consciously bad, it's ready-made for midnight showings on the college circuit, a handy digestif after an evening of beer bongs and shooters.
According to Troma founder (and co-writer, co-director, and co-everything else here) Lloyd Kaufman, he was inspired to make Nuke 'Em High after reading about the Shoreham nuclear plant debacle -- a plant built 60 miles out of Manhattan that was ultimately decommissioned in the wake of the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl incidents. The notion of making a nuclear-based horror movie was hardly original, and the poisonous sludge that that propels much of the film could just as easily have been the chemical sludge that set things in motion in The Toxic Avenger.
But this is a Troma film, and to consider it as a political film is like citing Jerry Lewis' Hardly Working as a scathing commentary on the late '70s economy. Class of Nuke 'Em High can't even rightfully be called a horror movie -- it's really a gross-out comedy with a sci-fi theme. Things -- and people -- ooze, bubble, and foam; characters transform into monstrous mutants and back again; a few actresses go momentarily topless; and there are more scenes of vomiting than you'd find at a middle-schooler's sleepover. It's silly, low comedy with little style and moderate invention, but possesses that no-frills, home-made Troma charm, and if you're a fan of such, then you'll have a good time here.
This is the "Unrated Director's Cut," and a DVD version was released in 1997. This new release is a Blu-ray, but I'm not sure if what's here really constitutes an upgrade.
I sometimes wonder about the wisdom of releasing a cheaply made film like this on Blu-ray, since the format tends to point out the flaws in the production. Of course, cheesy production values are part of the Troma Experience, so the marginal quality of this disc might actually be a plus for fans. It's reasonably bright, and the colors look good, but all the scratches, nicks, softness, and grain are magnified. Audio is thin and occasionally muffled, drowned out by the ever-present score, and subtitles would have been a nice addition. This would be a subpar presentation for a standard DVD, and it really doesn't work well at all as an entry into the higher-end Blu format.
The disc features two sets of extras. There are Special Features, which are specific to the film, and I believe were ported over from the DVD release: lost scenes; a short featurette about the nuclear plant model; an interview with Robert and Jennifer Prichard, who appeared in this film and The Toxic Avenger (where they met); the trailer; and the main bonus, a commentary by Kaufman, which is quite entertaining. We also get "Tromatic Extras," which are either delightfully wacky or tediously tacky, depending on your taste and tolerance. These consist of mainly brief bits, like a topless "Tromette" and some faux public service announcements, as well as a meandering, shot-on-video piece with Kaufman that looks like it was taken from a Public Access Cable program in the '80s.
If you think Troma films are edgy, off-beat fun, you'll likely want to scoop this one up. If you already own the earlier release, I don't know that this version brings anything new to the table. As far as Blu-rays go, this disc, like the film itself, is pretty bottom-basement.
I'd love to sentence the good folks at Troma to a little hard labor -- like, maybe laboring a bit to create better Blu-ray releases with up-to-date supplements and some technical work to justify them.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame (1080p)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 85 Minutes
Release Year: 1986
MPAA Rating: Unrated