Class of Nuke’Em High (1986)

Title

Directed by Richard Haines and Michael Herz

Tagline: “It rotted their bodies. It corrupted their minds. And that’s the good news.”

Run Time: 85 minutes


xDon’t get me wrong: I love Troma films. I’ll never forget those late nights as a high-school student sitting up and watching The Toxic Avenger, Redneck Zombies, and Plutonium Baby…and those are just the ones I can remember! (Forgive me for not recalling more titles…this was all an surprisingly long time ago…<sigh>)

For those of you who haven’t dared to delve deep into the shady netherworlds of "shock exploitation" film, Troma Entertainment was a grass-roots production company established by a pair of East Coast independent directors and producers: Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz. Beginning with sleazy sex-comedies and parodies, they moved on to cheesy sci-fi / black comedy, reaching their financial and popular apex with their 1985 release of The Toxic Avenger, featuring the titular mutant janitor, avenger, and all around great guy, Toxy: "New Jersey’s First Superhero". (Toxy and his ever-present radioactive mop quickly became an integral part of Troma Entertainment’s official business logo.)

For various reasons…ok, I’ll say it: not enough people liked their movies, Troma Entertainment eventually fell out of the Hollywood community and was forced to limit itself to Direct-To-VHS/DVD releases. (BTW: Be sure to check out Tromeo and Juliet for a truly twisted parody of…do I really have to say it?)

One thing to keep in mind while watching a Troma film is never take it too seriously. Troma is unapologetic in its low-budget production values, cheesy acting, and questionable plots. In fact, these three qualities quickly became Troma hallmarks and have provided years of delightful viewing for those of us whose brains are hopelessly hard-wired to enjoy these types of things.

So with no further ado, let’s jump into our feature film, and one of my personal favorites since it features a psychotic punk-rocker motorcycle gang, nuclear-waste leakage, some sort of slimy mutant terrorizing the school’s basement, and a whole heapin’ helping of classic Troma cheese.

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Open at an office building, complete with a small sign attached to a window proclaiming it to be "Tromaville Nuclear Utility." The spacious building grounds are crowded with a scurrying army of extras clad in breathing filters and protective clothing. (I always find it humorous when half the guys are decked out in completely self-contained DECON 4 suits and the other half simply appear to be wearing motorcycle helmets and canvas jackets.)

xAnyway, some sort of pipe carrying green, radioactive goo happens to rupture and our plot is off and running. As the plant’s highly disciplined staff starts screaming and running around like maniacs, the rotund Plant Director calls the Governor to reassure him that everything is completely safe and that the plant will remain open.

Cut immediately to Tromaville high school which is conveniently located about 200 yards from the nuclear reactor.

I hope you can see where all this is headed…

Sure enough, there’s a bunch of green goop bubbling up from ground beside one of the school walls. Just how radioactive waste from the plant managed to ooze up outside the school’s entrance is unclear at this point, but really, does it matter? Hell, this is a Troma film, so anything goes.

Ok, where were we?…oh yes. Typical of any 1980’s movie high school, chaos reigns in the hallways between classes. (Good lord, do I get nostalgic seeing the way we dressed back then…terribly embarrassed, yes, but man, those were fun times.) The school Nerdy Guy, Dewey, takes a drink of water from the fountain and quickly spits it out in disgust when he notices that the water is green. (Again…the town’s drinking supply is linked to the nuclear plant’s radioactive waste system? Troma…I love you guys!)

Inside one of the class rooms, the camera pans across an extremely cheesed-up punk rock gang: The Cretins. You see, the Cretins were formerly the school’s Honor Society until the nuclear plant moved next door to the school and they became Bad People. Don’t you just hate when that happens?

x

The school principal comes over the speaker to announce a nuclear emergency test which requires all the students to stand against the classroom’s blackboardl…how that would help is anybody’s guess. During the drill, Dewey, showing classic symptoms of radiation poisoning, spews green slime, chokes a couple of people, and finally throws himself out the window where he crashes to the pavement below and melts into a pool of blood and slime.

Yup, that’s your typical case of radiation poisoning alright.

x

Dewey’s unfortunate, soggy death forces the Plant Director to deny any connection between the reactor and the event. He does however try to pin the blame on the fact that Dewey owned a pair of microwave ovens! (I got a good chuckle out of that. I remember my fascination the time my dad brought home our first microwave oven…what a mysterious device!)

Rumors abound in the halls of Tromaville High as to the true cause of Dewey’s slushy meltdown. Our hero, Warren, and his 80’s-cute sweetheart, Chrissy, are convinced that the nuclear plant is behind not only Dewey’s demise, but a recent spate of odd happenings: people losing their hair, breaking out in sores, etc., you know, things that people wouldn’t ever notice until now.

x

As luck would have it, The Cretins stroll down the hallways beating people up and extorting money from geeks. It’s all part of the characterization, folks.

x

Anyhoo, after raising a little High School hell, including destroying the school’s bake sale (!), the Cretins head over to the nuclear plant to buy some dope from one of the workers. Nobody seems to mind that the dope is being grown on-site in the radioactive waste dump area!

x

Hair Guy, in a moment of lucidity, suggests that they call it "Atomic High" and sell it to the other students for twice the usual price. Gonzo, grunting, gives his tacit assent.

Beer break.

OK, Gonzo and Hair Guy manage to sell a joint to one of Warren’s friends, Eddie, by employing the ‘Buy It Or Die’ sales pitch. Eddie decides to take the radioactive spliff to a party that evening in order to ply the girls with drugs and try to get laid. At the party one of the local bimbos cajoles Warren and Chrissy into taking a drag off the joint. Being radioactive marijuana, Chrissy becomes super horny (for want of a better word), tears off Warren’s clothes, and makes love to him in one of the upstairs rooms, because, you know, that’s what marijuana always leads to.

After returning home and going to bed, Warren falls asleep and begins mutating. Now if this is due to the fact that he took a drag off the joint or that he had sex with somebody who took a drag, I’m not really sure; the biochemical principles behind what is causing this transformation are rather opaque.

Oh wait. Warren wasn’t mutating only in body, he also managed to get an erection that literally reached to the bedroom ceiling.

Boy, talk about movie scenes that I really didn’t need to see.

No, wait a minute. It was all a dream. Hoooo-boy.

The next day Warren isn’t feeling so hot. He leaves school early and returns home only to notice that all the electrical appliances turn on as he walks by; yet again, another typical symptom of radiation poisoning. Getting weaker and weaker as he climbs the stairs, Warren just manages to stumble into his room before collapsing to the floor…

Cut to see Spike and Hair Guy gleefully engaged in mugging an old woman. As they split the loot in a dark alley, we see Mutant Warren shambling towards them.

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I’ll spare you the gory details and simply sum up the resultant fisticuffs by stating that Warren kills a pair of Cretins including a

coup de grâce comprised of shoving the full length of his arm down Hair Guy’s throat. Spike somehow manages to evade death and is merely knocked unconscious, because, you know, he needs to be killed by a monster at the end of the film.

Meanwhile, Warren awakens back in his bedroom in normal form, so how that works is anybody’s guess.

Ooookay.

Chrissy isn’t doing so hot either. Severe stomach pains during cheerleader practice force her to flee to the restroom where she barfs up some sort of green monster into the toilet.

x

And this scene is as charming as you might think.

The unlucky lass is whisked off to the hospital where they declare that she’s had a miscarriage. (Huh?).

Meanwhile, the, er…Monster (what else can it be called?) makes it way through the school’s sewer system before wriggling out of a leaky pipe in the basement and falling into a barrel of radioactive goop. (I’m not sure how that got in the school’s basement, but there’s no way I’m re-winding the film to see what happened.)

The next day, Warren is back at school no worse for the wear. One of his idiot buddies shows him the new laser that the science department has recently purchased. Their hi jinks are quickly brought to an end when the science teacher snatches it from his hands. Switching it off he notes that if the laser were to hit the radioactive isotopes in the lab the whole building will be blown up. Naturally, this raises the question as to just why in the hell the laser and the isotopes are in the same room then?!…but this issue is never addressed. With this plot point ever-so-deftly delivered, the movie charges onwards to its now very apparent conclusion.

Despite Hair Guy’s recent death, the Cretins are back to business as usual in school dealing drugs and terrorizing the other students. After the Cretin’s day of rampage, the Principal permanently expels the lot of them. "We’ll be back!" they threaten. And boy, I can’t wait.

Meanwhile, the school has been declared a contaminated area, resulting in the closing of the school’s East wing. (And the school’s other wings are OK?) Eager to keep this latest disaster under wraps, the nuclear Plant Director orders that the school be cleaned in the evenings after all the students have gone home. Nope, you wouldn’t want to interrupt the education of Tromaville High School’s students.

Speaking of Tromaville’s most promising inhabitants, the Cretins discover that they now have no drug clientele since they’ve been kicked out of school. Grumbling about their loss of revenue, some of the Cretins decide to overthrow Spike and take charge. Spike quickly squashes the beginnings of this nascent

coup d’état by promising the Cretin rank and file a sweet revenge upon Principal Wesley and Tromaville High.

Spike’s vaguely conceived plans are set in motion by first having an S&M lesbian (don’t ask) kidnap Chrissy, affix a dog collar to her neck, and drag her down into the basement where she and Spike plan on using her as bait to lure Warren to his doom. (Did you get all that?) Unfortunately, unbeknownst to all, the little green monster is now thriving in the radioactive waste and has grown considerable larger and aggressive.

While Spike deals with Chrissy, Gonzo and some other Cretins are assigned the task of forcing Principal Wesley to activate the "emergency evacuation alarm." Wesley at first refuses to disclose the location of the activation button, but after the Cretins mow down his secretary with an M-16, he realizes that the Cretins do indeed mean business and sounds the evacuation alarm.

With the students evacuated, Gonzo and the others mount their motorcycles and begin their vengeful destruction of the school by riding through the empty hallways destroying everything in their path. Their wave of wanton destruction, consisting mainly of throwing books on the out the windows and spray painting such witticisms as "KILL SCHOOL", is charmingly tame in comparison to what we would expect to see in our modern times.

In the meantime, Warren realizes that Spike and S&M Girl are holding Chrissy captive in the basement. Without a second to lose, our hero (who hasn’t mutated since that first, and only, scene, hmmm…special effects budget ran out?) charges through the crowd, into the ravaged school, and down into the murky basement in order to rescue his sweetheart.

Sure enough, Warren discovers Spike and SMG holding Chrissy at knife point; Spike quickly pulls a gun and takes Warren prisoner as well. (Warren, you idiot, what did you think was going to happen?) In another moment of inspiration, Spike decides to force Warren to watch them mutilate Chrissy in a rather distasteful manner. Fortunately, the monster chooses this moment to rise from the muck, kill SMG with a punch through her head, and drive Spike away, thus giving Warren and Chrissy a chance to escape back upstairs. (I will note that the monster is fairly well done and actually has a creepy, well-articulated face.)

The next 5 minutes or so are pretty much what you’d expect in a schlock flick like this: the monster goes around killing the various Cretins in all manners of slightly gory ways, i.e., tentacles through the head, ripping heads off, ripping faces off, and so on. Ok, maybe more than ‘slightly’ gory, but the effects are done in such a cheesy fashion that you can’t help but smile. (Or is it just me smiling?…scary.)

Coming to the final showdown, Spike, injured by the monster, traps Warren and Chrissy yet again; this time in the science lab. Oh wow! Isn’t that where the laser is?! I hope they don’t shine it on anything radioactive like was mentioned earlier!

Oh gee, let’s see. the monster kills Spike by shooting a bunch of spikes into him. Irony! Warren and Chrissy barely escape the creature’s slimy clutches after shining the laser on it which makes it roar or gurgle or something. Having been struck by the beam of the Deus Ex Machina Laser, the monster turns into a bunch of weird colors and explodes, or something, God only knows at this point.

For some reason, oh, I guess just so he can get killed, the nuclear Plant Director has also entered the school "to see what’s going on." (!) Boy, if that’s not a tidy way to tie up a plot line than I don’t know what is.

Anyhoo, the school explodes (interject stock footage of an abandoned building being demolished!) while everybody stands and watches from the parking lot a full 50 feet away from the nuclear detonation.

"Tromaville High School will be temporarily closed for remodeling," a voice over a loud speaker announces to the delight of the displaced student body. Hoo hoo. (Wait a minute…a loud speaker? The school was just demolished!)

Zoom into a pile of rubble to see the little monster crawling out from the debris, which is strange because I thought the monster was

a) Huge

b) Blown up

But, never mind…

Cut to closing theme song, and yes, somebody actually wrote a "Nuke ‘Em High" theme song, which is pretty damned impressive if you ask me:

Ahhh what’s going on

At Nuuuuuuuuke ‘Em High?

A what’s going on

At Nuuuuuuuuke ‘Em High?

Nuuuuuuuuuuuuuuke ‘Em High!

Nuuuuuuuuuuuuuuke ‘Em High!

OK, fine. I guess it wasn’t that impressive after all.

The End

Dennis Grisbeck (July 2008)

Afterthoughts

This movie captures the essence of a Troma film: cheese, tastelessness, gore, and violence, yet all filmed in a fairly restrained manner. It’s a fun, and reasonably innocent, 82 minute romp that requires zero-brain power to watch. Give it a shot, although it might not be everybody’s cup of tea…a little Troma can go a long way. Just don’t expect more than Troma promises and you should be just fine.

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