It's been so long since I saw a new in-house Troma film that I was sure I had missed a few. But no. The resurgence in quality that began with 1997's Tromeo & Juliet has simply quieted down since the release of 2006's Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead. Now, seven years later, Lloyd Kaufman is back with the first of a new pair of Class of Nuke 'Em High films.
After a fun recap of the first Nuke 'Em High series courtesy of a typically excited Stan Lee, Return to Class of Nuke 'Em High: Volume 1 jumps right into Troma's trademark world of sex, nudity, slime, mutant penises, sodomy, and melting tits. Unfortunately, this eye-catching opening scene also represents Return to Nuke 'Em High's peak as far as sex and gore goes. And as far as everything else goes too. This film is awful.
It would be great to someday have a beer-fueled philosophical debate about whose fault this is: Mine or Troma's. These films are defined by their cheap gore and eagerness to display tons of sex and nudity, but let's not fuck around here: They are made for audiences to whom pubes are still a glorious new adventure. If you are still in that sweet spot age-wise, it's kind of your duty to see as many Lloyd Kaufman films as possible. But as a 32 year old, I may have finally outgrown the joke.
Or this film could just be really bad. I'm actually leaning toward this latter possibility as I still love most of the stupid shit I loved when I was 15, and yet had the hardest time sitting through this one. There's just something missing from a lot of the jokes here. It's not that Kaufman operates at a sub-immature level - he always has. It's that most of gags seem so lazy. There's a part where a character runs around with a duck stuck in her mouth trying to get rid of it like Batman with that bomb in the 1960s film. It's kind of goofy but it just keeps going and going, way longer than it did in Batman and with way fewer actual jokes. Earlier the same character (the very pretty Catherine Corcoran) gets out of bed and Kaufman throws in a huge fart sound effect. Nothing we know of made her fart, and the actress doesn't actually act like she's farting. It's just a nonsensical fart thrown in there solely for its own sake. Okay, now I'm starting to think it's funny.
But still, there are tons of other random decisions that just don't add up and comedy bits that don't pay off. For instance, this film's group of Cretins are slightly transformed Glee Club members. Often when they attack we have to hear them do an a cappella barbershop quartet song first. Stuff like "Sweet Adeline." This happens about four times, and each takes a lot longer than you'd want for a joke that doesn't really work in the first place. On top of that, their attacks are infrequent and lame.
The story doesn't really matter, but it involves nuclear food poisoning this time. Instead of a school built right next to a nuclear power plant, we have a mass production "organic" foodstuffs supplier. The infection happens while the kids are eating tainted guacamole, with all the nasty visuals and sound effects that implies. The spreading infection also takes two lesbians, but in slightly more complicated ways. I don't know exactly what this means because this film isn't fucking around when it says "Part 1." Despite not making much sense from beginning to end, Return to Nuke 'Em High: Part 1 leaves us on a cliff hanger. Apparently the film has been split into two parts at Quentin Tarantino's suggestion. While you can see how such an idea would be economically attractive to Kaufman, what worked for Kill Bill isn't likely to work for every overly-long film that gets made. Sometimes (almost every time) editing is a good thing.
Kaufman grinds his political ax about gross and greedy corporations just as much here as he did in Poultrygeist, although now he seems to have problems with President Obama, as well (there's a weird dig at Obamacare among some other jabs - the actual President in the film is of course played by Lemmy from Motorhead). You have to admire the enthusiasm behind Kaufman's anger, and his acting turn as the guy in charge of the heinous food company is easily the best thing about the film. (It's the best thing about any of his films - the guy's a comic madman, and he's a good 99% of why I love Terror Firmer so much.) I could listen to Kaufman rant all day. Sadly, we only get a couple scenes with him. But they're gold! Sheer gold!
As a director, though, Kaufman feels a little tired and maybe even out of touch. The lesbian storyline in particular feels like a misguided effort to shock with what has largely become socially acceptable. The gags, gore, and nudity just don't land or stand out. On top of that, his soundtrack choices are atrocious. Scenes are inexplicably filled with constantly rotating mis-matched song cuts, as if Lloyd Kaufman had been given free demos from every garage band in America and felt compelled to use them all in the same film. His ability to somehow constantly reclaim that special Troma 1980s aesthetic regardless of production decade is commendable, though. And many of the practical effects are great.
Going off the strength of Troma's last bunch of in-house feature films, I had high hopes for Return to Nuke 'Em High: Part 1, almost all of which were let down. Maybe it'll be like The Deathly Hallows, where the first film is all set up and Part 2 gets to have all the badassery. We'll just have to wait and see. But I'm kind of not looking forward to it.
Return to Nuke 'Em High: Part 1 is an official selection of the 2013 Fantasia International Film Festival.