Back in 1984, indie distributor Troma Films finally put their money where their foul mouth was and switched from producing sex comedies to forging their own path with the outstandingly filthy superhero epic The Toxic Avenger. The film, loaded with extreme gore, vast amounts of nudity and a scene where someone shotguns a guide dog to death, was the perfect calling card for the outrageous experiences studio heads Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz seemed determined to bring to fans of alternative entertainment. The film became an underground sensation and their next enterprise plopped out the pipe a few years later; but sustaining such a bizarre balance of genuine wit with childishly sordid gutter humour isn’t easy without the film becoming a toxic pile of unwatchable shite.
Now, there’s more than a few people that think Troma’s output is a toxic pile of unwatchable shite regardless (and in some cases, they’re not too far off) but with Class Of Nuke ‘Em High, lovers of tasteless trash were about to be taken to school…
Prepare yourself to enrole at Tromaville High School, a.k.a. Nuke ‘Em High, a place of “higher learning” than usually means it’s students are getting unbelievably stoned. However, weird things are starting to happen around the grounds; the honor society somehow becoming a violent street gang known as the Cretins is strange enough – one member carries an animal bone and has a mouth guard that dangles from a gargantuan nose ring – but when a nerd completely freaks out and melts into a pile of green goo, suspicion starts to fall on the nuclear power plant that sits a mere quarter of a mile away that has all the health and safety standards of the one from The Simpsons.
While all this is going on, Warren and Chrissy, a couple of virginal sweethearts who would rather goes to a Fellini festival than hang out at a raucous bikini party, turn up to a raucous bikini and unwittingly smoke marijuana that been soaked in toxic waste which leaves them uninhibited enough to pop their collective cherries but also has freakish side effects. Warren hallucinates (hopefully) that he mutates into a pulsating forehead creature with an erection the size of John Holmes (the actual man, not his legendary member), while Chrissy miscarries a screeching tadpole creature that escapes into a barrel of radioactive sludge stored in the school’s basement (because fuck logic). Warren’s beef with the Cretins (the ones responsible for selling the weed dubbed an Atomic High) soon becomes deadly and the rampaging group hold the school hostage with his sweetheart as bait but no one is aware that Chrissy’s tadpole baby has matured into spikey, green monster with a penchant for punching holes through skulls and poking out eyes with it’s pointy tentacles (you gotta raise ’em right). Can the adorable couple literally make it out of high school alive where the curriculum dictates that the 3 R’s stand for readin’, writin’ and radiation?
While the perverted righteousness of The Toxic Avenger is rightfully considered Troma’s finest hour, I’ve always felt that Class Of Nuke ‘Em High gets unfairly poor grade in comparison. Keeping very much the same energy as it’s lumpy-headed forebearer, Nuke ‘Em High is a (slightly) more polished affair with more focused jokes and suprisingly solid effects that still embraces the blue-collar absurdity that made Toxie’s inaugural appearance so appealing. It boasts a lot of the same villainous cast members in similar roles with the glorious bulk of R.L. Ryan giving Mr Burns tips on how to flim-flam his way out of a public relations disaster (he winning blames the opening nerd meltdown on the fact that he owned two microwave ovens) and Robert Pritchard and Gary Schneider’s flamboyant thugs wreaking more havoc on the unsuspecting public with brutal, alka seltzer assisted granny-bashing is high on their agenda.
But sitting snugly among the bouncing boobies and spraying brain matter, Nuke ‘Em (again, like Toxic Avenger) contains a suprisingly sweet centre thanks to the genuinely endearing leads which also gives the film it’s amusing tone of that of an utterly demented after school special. Putting these poor “kids” (neither seem a day under 24) through the moral wringer, the movie cheekily riffs on pre-pubescent sins and has tremendous fun punishing it’s main characters. Being hideously literal with the finger wagging, cautionary tales of over controlling parents, when the Warren smokes weed he becomes a violent, crazed monster and when they have sex before marriage, Chrissy instantly balloons into pregnancy that very night with the claim “you can’t get pregnant the first time” ringing in her ears with her eventually “miscarrying” her “baby” by spitting it up into a toilet bowl where it summarily gets flushed.
The “performances” are so broad they could be seen from Mars and the backgrounds contain the kind of over the top, slack jawed, bug-eyed reactions the studio is notorious for, but I have to admit, the thirteen year old me (yep, thirteen) found the wholesome charms of Chrissy actress Jannelle Brady extraordinarily endearing and the dialled up line readings reinforce the goofy humour substantially.
Loaded with moments of idiotic humour and violence so unsubtle they make the Three Stooges look like fucking Frasier, Class Of Nuke ‘Em high is an acquired taste (an obvious caveat I feel I still have to add to every Troma film I’ve ever reviewed) but if you’re ready for a crotch stomping, body melting experience then Troma head honcho Lloyd Kaufman (along with co-director Richard W. Haines) has your back with dumb jokes, unnecessary nudity, cheesy gore and a hold-nothing-back mentality that proudly displays it’s lack of class despite it’s on the nose title.
School’s out… out of it’s fucking gourd, that is.