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  • Writer's picturePopEntertainment

Return to Nuke 'Em High, Vol. 1 (A Movie Review)

Updated: May 9, 2023


Starring Asta Paredes, Catherine Corcoran, Zac Amico, Vito Trigo, Clay von Carlowitz, Mike Baez, Tara E. Miller, Stan Lee. Judah Friedlander. Lloyd Kaufman, Lemmy Kilmister, Debbie Rochon and Babette Bombshell.

Screenplay by Travis Campbell and Lloyd Kaufman.

Directed by Lloyd Kaufman.

Distributed by Troma Entertainment. 85 minutes. Not Rated.

While it takes no particular work or talent to make a bad movie, it is quite difficult to make a good bad movie. And it is even that much harder to make an intentionally bad good bad movie.

Just ask Roger Corman, undoubtedly the greatest name in B-movie making, creator of American International Pictures and maker of the dozens of low-budget cheesy films throughout the 50s, 60s and 70s. His body of work includes such eccentric titles as The Raven, Little Shop of Horrors, Swamp Women, Death Race 2000 and The Terror. But even his most beloved films got marginal reviews at best, and the great majority of his dozens of films were widely considered to be junk.

Then back in the 70s, some filmmakers tried to make a couple of winkingly bad films called Attack of the Killer Tomatoes (and its sequel Return of the Killer Tomatoes, which did include an early bit part by George Clooney). Unfortunately, it became obvious quickly that just because the filmmakers knew that they were making was bad, that did not automatically give it ironic distance. Sometimes bad is just bad, no matter how tongue-in-cheekily it was offered up.

In the 80s, a low-brow indie studio called Troma decided to specialize in smirkily bad flicks, complete with lots of violence, nudity, nuclear waste, mutants and teen angst. And while it is debatable whether or not they have uncovered the sweet spot where cheesiness becomes sublime, Troma came as close as any company has to getting a reputation for creating quality trash.

Basically straight-to-video cheapies like The Toxic Avenger and Class of Nuke 'Em High gained minor cult followings. But as the video world exploded and more and more cheesy indie films crowded the lower reaches of the video racks, Troma sort of faded away. They have made four films since the mid-'90s, the most recent the 2010 horror Father's Day, a companion piece to an older Troma title, Mother's Day.

But Troma mastermind Lloyd Kaufman (yes, I realize that is a contradiction of terms) has recently decided to go back to Troma's roots. A remake of Toxic Avenger (rated PG-13!) is in the works, and this sequel revisits the studio's Nuke 'Em High franchise. In fact, apparently Kaufman was talked into turning it into a two-part film, sort of like Kill Bill, by that movie's creator, Quentin Tarantino.

Maybe Lloyd should have stuck with one movie. In fact, maybe one is too much.

I mean, you have to appreciate a movie that is so eccentric that its cast includes Marvel Comics' founder Stan Lee, Motorhead leader Lemmy, 30 Rock oddball Judah Friedlander and the wonderfully named large-transvestite actor Babette Bombshell. I just wish the script was close to as clever and imaginative as its casting choices.

It does touch on all of Troma's pet obsessions. Pus is important. Mutants are too. Outsiders are always welcome. Senseless violence rules the day. Boobs are vital.

All of these touchstones are hit upon in Return to Nuke 'Em High. But this film also has something that no Troma product ever really had previously. It takes itself kind of seriously, as a piece of... well, art... Lloyd Kaufman has been reading his press clippings and suddenly decided that his film work is not just supposed to be well-intentioned trash, it is actually something of artistic merit.

And perhaps in some ways that is even true. There are low arts as well as high arts and each has their own completely valid place in the world. Pop art is just as important as the old masters in its own way. However, pop art has to understand its station. Andy Warhol and the creators of Superman understood that. Even Lloyd Kaufman did in creating his empire. But it looks like he has forgotten and started to take himself and his movie way too seriously.

The film, and the audience, suffer the consequences. Return to Nuke 'Em High feels like someone trying to figure out how to make a Troma film that just doesn't quite understand what makes them good, or even popular. It's a shame that Kaufman has forgotten what he originally brought to the table.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2014 All rights reserved. Posted: March 9, 2014.


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