Ah, Troma. I love Troma. It’s swami, Lloyd Kaufman, has made a career as a filmmaker against all reasonable odds – tiny budgets, a general lack of acting talent, the absence of mainstream support – yet he is successful and kindly regarded in the genre community. Indeed much of Troma’s success comes from the goodwill and loyalty of its fans who, drawn to its indie sensibility, look expectantly for each release. It’s no real surprise that Kaufman makes bad films but the best of his output – The Toxic Avenger, The Class Of Nuke ‘Em High, Sgt Kabukiman – are knowingly and lovingly bad, terrible in an eminently likeable way. His output has been greatly reduced in recent years but both Terror Firmer in 1998 and Poultrygeist in 2006 were solid offerings; as the generation who grew up with Troma movies progressed into writing about them, they became much more positively reviewed too. Now comes ‘Return To Nuke ‘Em High Pt.1’, Kaufman’s first feature film in almost seven years, a sequel / reboot of the Nuke ‘Em High franchise.
As is typical with Troma films the plot is essentially very simple. In this iteration of the Nuke ‘Em High story Tromaville High students once again fall foul of a horrific mutagen, this time taken from the Tromorganic Foodstuffs factory built on the site of the old nuclear power station and sold via the school canteen. Environmental blogger Chrissy gets wind of the scam and braves mutant gangs, missing ducks, hallucinogenic dreams, and a burgeoning lesbian relationship in order to get her story to the world.
Like most of Kaufman’s films it centres on characters and builds its weirdness around them. In this case we have two leading ladies; rich new girl Lauren, played for laughs by Catherine Corcoran, and sassy and spunky Chrissy, played by the glorious Asta Paredes. Both women are excellent and, in Paredes especially, Kaufman has found actresses with real star potential. They are convincing, funny and suitably tough when the story calls for it, and a love scene between the two is approached with surprising commitment. The supporting cast are the usual Troma mix of unconvincing volunteers, celebrity cameos, and Troma alumni that one would expect; as one would also expect they cover the full range from hokey amateur to fun cheese and back again. This all adds to the sense of fun though; the ribald, off-colour Troma humour that fans love is present and correct here, with everything from the physical abuse of the handicapped to mutant duck rape amusingly realised onscreen.
Kaufman is an old hand at working with miniscule budgets and, once again, he really stretches a dollar to its limit here. The film is stacked with special effects, from people on fire, to dissolving bodies, to dick-snake-monsters, and sensibly these are all practical latex effects. They are, by Troma standards, actually very good; however I suspect that anyone unfamiliar with their previous work will likely be unimpressed. There is some use of CG here although thankfully this is very limited and used only to compliment the effects already physically created. The make-up effects, of which there are many, are also very well done, especially for the film’s antagonists The Cretins, and fans will enjoy the nods to their iteration in the original trilogy here. The overall improvement in production standards extends to the soundtrack too which includes some decent, dare I say professional, tunes to accompany the action; the sound effects come from the standard Troma comedy bag as usual, with frequent farts, boings and gratuitous sexual noises cropping up unnecessarily. The film was shot on digital rather than film – real progress for Kaufman who has always maintained his love for using 35mm – and it looks great.
So stellar performances from the leads, great special effects, and big technical improvements; surely it’s awesome right? Well, yes and no. Kaufman is clearly an astute businessman but I fear that his drive to maximise profit has severely impacted on his film. This is the first part of the story, with Part 2 to follow this year, and herein lies the problem; there are huge plot holes, narrative strands that lead nowhere and a complete lack of logic to the whole thing. Kaufman himself knows where the story is headed and maybe all of these criticisms will be answered when the next chapter is released but, and there is no escaping this, Part One does not stand alone as a movie. It makes little sense and, even for a Troma production, that is a real problem. It is also very short, about eighty minutes, and there’s no cliff-hanger ending; we are just presented with a card saying ‘to be continued’.
When the second part is released Troma will no doubt publish a version of Return To Nuke ‘Em High as one movie. Ultimately that’s how it should be seen. This is not a movie that is designed as two parts; it is clearly one movie chopped into two in order to maximise profits. I can’t be angry with Lloyd Kaufman for doing this, he’s been working on mega-low budgets for nearly forty years now, but I am disappointed. There is no doubt in my mind that, if Part Two follows a similar pattern, the complete version of Return To Nuke ‘Em High will be Troma’s, and Kaufman’s, best film; it’s funny, gory, silly, anarchic micro-budget fun at its absolute, gleeful best. For fans of low-budget splattery sleaze it will doubtless be one of the year’s highlights. If there is any justice in the movie business, it should also be the springboard to bigger, more mainstream roles for its two leads; Paredes in particular is one of the most appealing screen women I’ve seen in years. With Troma movies you’ve always gotten more than you’ve paid for. Until now. Return To Nuke ‘Em High is clearly designed to be seen as one movie; my advice is to wait until it is available as such.
3/5 (if you must watch it as a standalone)
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Categories: 00's horror