Ed. note—It would be irresponsible for me not to note that the version I saw of RTNH2 was a rough cut. It was missing some music, polished digital and practical effects and ADR, among other things. The plot may change, certain characters and dialogue may be expanded or deleted altogether. So keep that in mind as you read this review. I’m critiquing on what I saw, which was not a final product.— P.F.
The original CLASS OF NUKE ‘EM HIGH is my favorite Troma film. Though less glorified than, say, THE TOXIC AVENGER or SGT. KABUKIMAN NYPD, I get a certain joy of watching the students of Tromaville High School mutate into punks, give birth to monsters and create chaos in a school setting. Part of it may be that I taught high school English for a decade or so, but I think it goes beyond that. The first NUKE ‘EM HIGH has a little more polish than much of Troma’s films, and the central couple are a likable pair well worth rooting for. When I heard Hell of Fame inductee Lloyd Kaufman was bringing the Aroma du Troma back to Tromaville High I was excited, but I had some reservations. Unfortunately, RETURN TO NUKE ‘EM HIGH turns out to be a disappointment. Though I’m sure Kaufman’s loyal Tromites will love every second of the finished product, the rough cut I saw left me longing for the first film.
A little background from both a few decades and a few years back shed some light on RTNH2. After the wild success of the first NUKE ‘EM HIGH, Troma produced two sequels in the 1990s. Lloyd didn’t direct either of them and you can tell, as the tone of the two is far from that of the first. For a long time after, Tromaville High School was without faculty or students. Lloyd pressed on with a Toxie film back in 2000, and three or four years ago, news hit all the horror blogs that he would make a fifth Toxie flick. He’d even hired a writer, and the film forged on… to nowhere. Out of nowhere, Troma’s focus had shifted and the new project was not another adventure of our mutated monster hero, but a new NUKE ‘EM HIGH.
I never got around to seeing RETURN TO NUKE ‘EM HIGH VOLUME 1. But reviews of it are mostly positive. People who know Troma hail it as another success in social commentary and nutzoid gross out aesthetic. As for me, I was just curious to see what this long awaited return to, well, Nuke ‘Em High would bring. That institution deserves much better than VOLUME 2.
Lloyd’s always been a satirist, but for the most part he’s shunned outright parody. Not here. The flick starts off with a straight send up of the opening shower scene of Brain De Palma’s CARRIE. Sure, it’s got a Tromatic twist, but still. As young, newfound lesbian Lauren gets pelted with tampons, she gives birth to a human-duck hybrid. As I missed VOL. 1 I had no idea who the father of this mutantoid baby was. But fortunately, the film provides me a quick recap. It turns out Lauren was duck raped by her pet water fowl Kevin. Don’t worry if you forget this fact, though. Lauren will remind you at least 3 more times.
From there, the plot erupts into a whole bunch of splinters. The principal threatens to out Lauren and her new girlfriend, militant social activist blogger Chrissy, as lesbians on Troma’s morning show. As the couple initially tries to avoid that, the film reveals its villain, Lee Harvey Herzkauf. He owns Tromorganic, the megacomglomerate that fed the students tainted tacos on Taco Tuesday and caused the Glee Club to mutate into Cretins. He’s got nefarious plans for the students that will provide him with eternal youth. Meanwhile, a decent character turns to evil and joins the Cretins, which are intent on stealing Lauren’s newborn, as the father Kevin the Duck falls into a vat of toxic sludge and anthropomorphizes into a duck-man sort of thing.
And therein lies the main problem of RTNH2. All these plot threads fling the flick all over the place, and don’t provide much in the way of coherence. The film needs another edit or four, because as it stands, it’s more like a series of gags than an actual film. Nobody’s ever confused Lloyd with Shakespeare when it comes to generating complexity of plot (oh wait, maybe they have!), but this flick is a mess.
It also cribs too much from other Troma films. I expected it to borrow from the NUKE ‘EM HIGH series, but Lloyd’s rehashing much of the social commentary that he’s done better elsewhere. The whole plot of his previous film POULTRYGEIST was an attack on our country’s food system, and it boasted a lesbian subplot. The Glee Club songs even seem like a holdover, as POULTRYGEIST was part musical. Hell, Lloyd even did taco lunches in CITIZEN TOXIE. There’s also a conversation between two characters in the end credits discussing whether it’s a sequel/remake/reboot/reimagining, which basically explains why it’s so much like the first NUKE ‘EM HIGH, down to the Cretins.
Lloyd’s also taken a foray into digital effects. Not surprisingly they look like digital effects on a Troma budget. Again, I saw a rough cut, so there’s room for improvement. I wish, though, that Kaufman had stuck to his guns and done strictly old school practical effects. Although the practical effects look like Troma practical effects, so maybe it’s not such a bad idea to take a step or two technologically forward.
Despite all these disappointments, as a longstanding Tromavillean I found much of the Tromatic experience to enjoy. There’s lots of lesbianism. Head crushing. Acting far below the Quality Equator. Gallons and gallons of blood and ooze. Cheesy looking decapitations. The Troma aesthetic and sheer balls in your face attitude. All of Lloyd’s acting troupe are here: Lemmy, Ron Jeremy, Stan Lee, DE’s Queen of Queens Debbie Rochon, Lloyd’s crappy performance as Herzkauf, and a cameo by Fangoria’s Mike Gingold, as well as a bunch of people you’d only know if you were a Troma fan. And for good measure, the Kabukiman car flip. The best of all was the return of the original NUKE ‘EM HIGH theme song over part of the end credits. All these brought the joys of Troma to my soul. And there’s even a few seconds of edgy and brilliant DE Hell of Famer Will Keenan, circa TROMEO & JULIET! What’s not to love about anything in this paragraph?
And Lloyd Kaufman killed God. As only Lloyd Kaufman could.
A few years back, when I had just written DEADTENTION with X Chris as a potential fourth NUKE ‘EM HIGH flick, I was all over Troma. As a Lunch with Lloyd winner, I took great joy in picking Lloyd’s brain and his wallet as we went to a real restaurant and didn’t eat cheese sandwiches. Had RTNH2 come out then, maybe I’d have been more forgiving, or maybe I just would have found it a better flick. As for the rest of the Troma Army, I have no doubt they’ll love it. Lloyd’s gone and done it again, and his rabid fanbase will be pleased. If only the were well served, as they were with the original CLASS OF NUKE ‘EM HIGH. I’ll be off to pull out my DVD of that one now.