Class of Nuke 'Em High Review
Having carved out their unique brand of trashy but strangely watchable eighties horror with little low grade gems such as the silly The Toxic Avenger, the Troma team moved on to create Class of Nuke ‘Em High, a ridiculous merger of cheap eighties high school comedy and garishly colourful splatter which would only have been acceptable during the era which this movie inhabits. The movie was thus entitled as an attempt to fool the careless (or daydreaming) video rental library browser into thinking that the video was in fact Class of 1984, but even the most shallow analysis would make it clear that the two films are unrelated.
I recall casting my eyes over the lurid charms of my local video shop in the mid eighties, when we would try (sometimes successfully, sometimes spectacularly unsuccessfully) to hire out videos which were beyond our pay grade, if you consider salary to be our tender age, and the paymaster to be our learned friends at the BBFC. At that time, I was obsessed with sniffing out the most frightening/gory (either would do) horror product possible, and seeing the frankly ridiculous cover image of …Nuke ‘Em High made me pay it only the most token of glances.
In retrospect, it’s something of a shame, because …Nuke ‘Em High, ridiculous though it is, does have something of a self-aware trashiness which is mildly appealing to the seasoned horror veteran. Viewers of the Saw and Hostel generation are unlikely to have the back catalogue awareness or even patience to find enjoyment in this gutter product, but the inventiveness, resourcefulness, and comedic eye of the Troma team is difficult to ignore. Lloyd Kaufman, the beating heart of Troma over the years, shared directorial duties (under the pseudonym Samuel Weil) with Richard W. Haines, and the film crew managed to craft a comic book story which is as creative as it is preposterous.
It’s this creativeness and resourcefulness which elevates the Troma product from repulsive junk to entertaining self-aware trash. It’s not just the creativity that goes into the visuals, though that is something to be lauded; the power station behind the school, for example, is generated through a delightfully simple (and cheap) matting effect, but it’s also the down to Earth approach of the entire crew, who were all prepared to turn their hand to a number of roles (including acting) to ensure the film delivered in the best possible way according to the tight and low budget.
What’s perhaps most surprising, though, about this fantastically grubby Troma tale, is that if you take anything more than a cursory glance at the crude visuals and dire plot, you can actually see some - albeit relatively perfunctory – analysis of social themes and issues. The nefarious gang who terrorise Nuke ‘Em High, for example – the Cretins – are a collection of incongruously coloured and intentionally androgynous misfits, parading their unashamedly ambiguous sexuality with brazen and confrontational glee. Kaufman had the idea of presenting this ambiguity after seeing gender divisions blurring in the eighties, and he combined this imagery with the punk movements he saw in Amsterdam and rest of Europe.
Another surprising theme was the inclusion of drug culture. Of course, the inclusion of a drug theme is not a surprise per se, and it was certainly viewed with a simplistic eye by the number of countries who decided to censor the film because of its supposedly liberal attitude to drug abuse, but even a simple analysis of the plot demonstrates that the filmmakers are hinting at the negative impact of drug abuse.
So, what of the plot? Do most viewers really care? The story depicts a high school couple, the attractive Chrissy (Janelle Brady) and Warren (Gil Brenton), a clean living couple who do their best to avoid the hedonistic behavior of their friends and the unpleasant activities of The Cretins, the school gang of delinquents and misfits who deliver random unpleasantness upon the lives of their schoolmates. After smoking a joint that has been procured from the black market at the local nuclear power plant (another theme tapping into the fears and concerns of the eighties audience, and a theme which continues to resonate today, especially given the recent nuclear disaster), the two of them suffer some fairly horrendous side effects (including an hilarious mammary gland growth which afflicts Warren, again hinting at the gender fluidity which Kaufman was keen to showcase), and fairly soon a tidal wave of colourful splatter is unleashed.
What’s especially intriguing to ponder is that for all of the gore, splatter, nudity, and other confrontational material, Class of Nuke ‘Em High, like much of the Troma output, is surprisingly conventional, when analysed objectively. Rather like any mainstream filmic output, the movie actually plays rather stoically by the rules. The story depicts two main characters who are unrealistically clean; they are in love with one another, monogamous, morally upright, and reject any efforts to be dragged into the purile behavior of their peers. Conversely, there’s an evil in the film, represented by the Cretins, a gang of lowlifes and hoodlums who have no shred of goodness within, no possibility of redemption. The projection of black and white could not be any clearer.
It’s perhaps for this reason that we can garner some affection for …Nuke ‘Em High. For all of the mindless splatter, childish humour, and crude plots, we can identify right from wrong, we can root for our heroes, and unlike the brutal horror of today, we can be reassured of a positive outcome on the side of the morally right. Yes the effects look dated by today’s standards, the acting leaves something to be desired, and the storyline is intentionally juvenile. Yet even today, Class of Nuke ‘Em High contains sufficient inventiveness, wit, humour, and energy to make a viewing – for retro-horror fans, at least – a worthwhile exercise.
Class of Nuke ‘Em High is a trashy low budget horror flick from the mid eighties, and as such your expectations should not be set at an especially high level. For all of that, Arrow have established themselves as surprisingly capable when entrusted with transfers of some quite challenging material, and the consistency of their transfers has improved with subsequent releases. The company release the grimy Troma classic on an all region Blu-ray combi with the obligatory airbrushed cover and similarly garish artwork on the menu system.
Despite the tawdriness of the cover and menu art, the actual transfer is rather good given the age and quality of the material. The consistent nature of the colours and light suggests that the transfer is from a single, quality source, and the transfer is true to the original movie with the native aspect ratio of 1.85:1 being presented here. The resolution used is 1080p, so the movie looks as sharp as it is ever likely to without oodles of extra processing, and the people behind the transfer have sensibly allowed the material to breathe, with a natural level of grain allowing the film to stay true to its chronological origins. There is some evidence of flecks and minor damage to the film apparent from time to time, but nothing that spoils the overall presentation.
English subtitles can be toggled on and off, and the subtitles are decent enough, and include other elements such as the song lyrics during the introductory sequence.
The film’s murky soundtrack is delivered here using LPCM 2.0 stereo, and the soundtrack is consistent and clear throughout. The film probably punches somewhat above its weight in terms of the sound, as the soundtrack is clean and clear throughout, with no issues surrounding dialogue, and the levels never sounding unnatural or in need of restraint.
Like any movie of this age and budget, you should anticipate some limitations, and here these surround the tonal range. The bass delivery is not especially deep nor punchy, and the treble isn’t especially bright or clear either; lots of middle is strongly apparent, though it never feels overbearing.
The musical accompaniment is also decent enough, in terms of delivery at least, and Iron Maiden fans may be interested to note that former Maiden drummer Clive Burr had some input into the music, and if you’re not familiar with the life of Clive and the charity he has put his name to, I would strongly suggest that you do some reading up on it.
The extras provision here is a mishmash of old and new – but mainly old.
Most enjoyable of all is the Audio Commentary with Lloyd Kaufman, whose dry wit and laid back tone produces a fitting contrast for the silly shenanigans taking place on screen. He grants us an insight into some of the techniques used to create the scenes in the movie, and the Troma crew’s spirit is particularly in evidence as we learn how most crew members adapted to multiple roles, including in many cases actual parts in the film itself.
I don’t believe the commentary to be new for this release, especially as Kaufman mentions ‘this DVD’ on a number of occasions. Kaufman handles the commentary duties alone, but this doesn’t impact upon the quality of the commentary, and this is a worthwhile addition to the film itself.
A grainy and garishly coloured Interview with Robert and Jennifer Prichard lasts for five minutes, and the two – who met via their work with Troma and later married – recount various stories surrounding the filming. Look out for Jennifer Prichard in the film, who has a much smaller role than Robert, but is especially well cast as the innocent German teacher.
Making the Powerplant lasts for a paltry 40 seconds, and whilst an engaging enough 40 seconds, it barely seems worth including this piece in the collection. The segment appears to have been lifted from a longer documentary on the film, and the quality is something akin to a worn VHS video.
A Troma Studios Tour lasts for nine minutes, and is a typically tongue in cheek and bawdy piece, with Kaufman playing a reporter who is introducing the audience to the Troma Studios. Expect nine minutes of mind-numbing entertainment.
A Troma Public Service Announcement depicts Lemmy (of Motorhead fame) delivering a fake public service announcement championing the rights of hermaphrodites. Unfortunately I found this piece just too vacuous to be entertaining, and can’t recommend it. The quality of the visuals here isn’t particularly good once again.
Aroma Du Troma is a two minute flash of some of Troma’s most notable visuals, and a Troma Studios Trailer Reel is a decent enough 14 minutes during which we are treated to murky treats such as The Toxic Avenger, Class of Nuke ‘Em High, and some …Nuke ‘Em High sequels, which are hilarious and quite possibly better than the films themselves.
Following the commentary, a Q & A with Lloyd Kaufman piece is the highlight here, running for a healthy 25 minutes. Kaufman is an on-stage guest at a UK film festival, and responds to questions from the audience and the guys running the show. He answers the questions with remarkably dry wit and proves an excellent guest. Most significantly, when Kaufman does stray into serious answers, he is still impressively engaging, and this, along with the commentary, means that Arrow have provided sufficient counterbalance for the other extras, which have something of a ‘scraped together’ feel.
A Deleted Scenes section running for seven minutes proves watchable enough, and rounds up what is an inconsistent but welcomed set of extras.
With juvenile humour and silly gore forming the staple of Lloyd Kaufman’s early entry to the horror scene, you shouldn’t enter a viewing with any lofty expectations. Then again, there’s lots of fun to be had if you enjoy this particular brand of eighties horror, and with Arrow’s careful presentation, the film has probably never looked better. With a selection of mainly recycled but interesting enough extras, this release of Class of Nuke ‘Em High is a worthy investment for Troma fans, but probably won’t find much traction elsewhere.