Troma Entertainment and Lloyd Kaufman have been on my radar for many years, but I have always been apprehensive about exploring their vast selection of horror and b-movie schlock (a derogatory denouncement of something’s worth that Lloyd Kaufman and company have embraced as a badge of honor). I have always had a soft spot for Full Moon Features and Charles Band (a small company that specializes in similar content), but I sometimes have to wonder whether I would have the same level of enthusiasm toward Full Moon Features if it wasn’t for that nostalgia and that childhood connective tissue that was built. Either that, or maybe I am about to discover a new brand of horror and offbeat entertainment.
I hope so. If not, I don’t have a lot of justification for reviewing a small cult horror film from 1986 that even most horror enthusiasts are, at best, only vaguely aware of. The creators of South Park, Matt Stone and Trey Parker once said that no one knows how to make movies and make no money doing it better than Lloyd Kaufman.
Class of Nuke ‘Em High (otherwise titled Atomic High School) is a science-fiction horror comedy film directed by Richard W. Haines and Lloyd Kaufman who was credited under the pseudonym “Samuel Weil”.
As you might infer from the title, Class of Nuke ‘Em High is set at the Tromaville high school as an accident at a nearby nuclear plant disrupts students and their day to day lives. The film has a diverse cast of characters and is presented with a tongue-and-cheek and goofy approach. The characters are overstated and zany, and the situations they are met with are exaggerated and over-the-top in nature. This isn’t something I hadn’t expected by any stretch, but is something that might be pertinent in answering whether or not you might enjoy this film.
Something I have always enjoyed with Full Moon Features at its best is the light-heart and sentimentalism. It is something that doesn’t feel like it should apply, but Class of Nuke ‘Em High plays out a lot like a warped sitcom. The characters and their personalities feel like they stepped out of an episode of Saved by the Bell or Family Matters, but they are met with gratuitous violence and nudity almost before the sentimental music has a chance to pan out.
Although the film does have some other subplots and characters, a lot of the screen-time and development is spent on two characters in-particular. Warren and Chrissy are romantically involved and are the most likable characters of the film. They are shy and more modest with their sexuality whereas the rest of the characters, especially the men, are down to do it anytime anywhere. The spillage at the nuclear power plant sends honored school students into crazed degenerates, donning piercing and over-the-top ensembles like something out of a Mad Max film. As they begin peddling a toxic-laced weed to students, the eccentricities only worsen.
Is it a metaphor or spoof over propaganda or stereotypes against marijuana? I have no idea, and either way, it isn’t that type of film. The story-line feels like it flies by the seat of its pant, which pays to its charm and detriment. Who doesn’t enjoy seeing leather-clad students speeding through hallways on motorcycles? Regardless, it does all amount to a lack of structural discipline and overall cohesion.
Again, that looseness might very well be its strongest appeal, but if I play it fair and honest, this film has a short run-time of eighty-three minutes and can’t escape feeling like it could have been shorter and tighter if they would have kept it closer to the one-hour mark, feature length be damned.
The central conflict is superfluous and feels more like an afterthought and an excuse for the absurdity that is happening on the screen. 1986 might have been the same year that Cronenberg‘s The Fly brought us one of the best creature features ever made, but Class of Nuke ‘Em High definitely plays for surrealist charm and laughs before suspense and horror. I hadn’t ever doubted that, and I believe I went into this film understanding that, but I can’t help but feel a better film could have been on the horizon had they built it as a high school setting film with a creature antagonist like the slimy character that appears in the latter portion.
I believe Class of Nuke ‘Em High is best viewed as an animation brought to the big screen. The comic-book inspiration is obvious and its ridiculous characters that feel out-of-place in the real world would have fit right in with an Adult Swim cartoon. The acting is passable and the characters were also competent. It is difficult to gauge in-terms of standard delivery and execution because of how sentimental and ridiculous everyone is, which is, in itself, likely the point.
I found some enjoyment in the audacity of the film, and the music and special-effects offered a tonal stability that shows promise for later films in the series.
I feel that the outlandishness in the later half might be what most viewers might gravitate toward for this feature, but I was more invested in the early-going before everything went balls to the wall.
The final rating will land where I believe it has to land, but, also, I am calling this at least a middling success in-terms of the curved scoring I have in my head for films like it. I can’t recommend it to casual moviegoers or the average horror fan, but if you want to embark on this journey through Tromaville with me, I don’t think it is a bad place to start.