Ed. note- I don’t know why it took me so long to see RETURN TO NUKE ‘EM HIGH VOL. 1, or why I chose to see it given my negative reaction to the rough cut I saw of RTNH VOL. 2 at Tromadance ’15. But as I’m a huge fan of the original, and I interviewed Catherine Corcoran, I felt I needed to see it and plunked down a few bucks on Youtube for the privilege, something I’ve never done. I’m glad I did, though, because it was worth the $2.99 I paid. Worth it for a Troma flick, I mean. Read on.- P.F.
“What’s going on at Nuke ‘Em High?” In real life, no one has ever asked this question. In Tromaville, it’s common. For a long time it went unanswered. But now, thanks to Hell of Famer Lloyd Kaufman, we once again have an answer, by way of RETURN TO NUKE ‘EM HIGH VOL. 1. Whether you enjoy the answer (or even care to ask the question) depends totally on whether you’re a Tromite, that avid cult of fans who worship everything Kaufman does. Lloyd has included all the Tromatic elements to appease their expectations, and in the mix he created a fairly good entry in the NUKE ‘EM HIGH franchise.
Let me put that in perspective briefly. By “fairly good,” I mean for a Troma film. VOL. 1 is not exactly lushly photographed, masterfully edited nor beautifully directed. Lloyd’s films need to be judged on the Troma scale, which is calibrated to what would be far south of the Quality Equator on the regular film scale. You’ve been forewarned…
So what exactly is going on at Nuke ‘Em High in this new installment? Back in the day, Tromaville High was the worst school in America, a nightmare with a nuclear power plant next door to it. That property now belongs to Tromorganic, a devil worshipping mega-conglomerate pushing “health foods” into the high school. When Taco Tuesday arrives, all Hell breaks loose as students start to mutate into subhumanoid creeps bent on destruction.
Set against this backdrop are new rich kid Chrissy and socially conscious blogger Lauren. Lauren is a closeted lesbian, and Chrissy’s only friend is her duck Kevin. It’s fairly obvious that Lauren is so cruel to her because she’s attracted to her. This is the weakest part of the film, as it distracts from the business with Tromorganic. The first 40 minutes are almost like two different films: a sloppy nuclear infection of a school, and a budding lesbian romance. As Chrissy and Lauren, Catherine Corcoran and Asta Paredes give brave performances. It’s a shame the script doesn’t reward them with more to do early on.
It’s only at the 40 minute mark that the film really gets going, and that’s because of the introduction of the Cretins. While singing “Amazing Grace” (an homage to TERROR FIRMER, one of Troma’s best films) in honor of a student whose head exploded, the Glee club undergoes a horrific transformation from harmless nerds to toxic creeps set to rape, plunder and pillage Tromaville. As they burst out the front door, the sexy female Cretin howls, “KICK… FUCKING… ASSSSSSS!!!!!” and that’s exactly what the movie does from this point on. They terrorize a teacher and her dog, maraud along the streets in dune buggies and monster trucks, and duck rape a main character. Yes, I said “duck rape.” Only in Tromaville.
From here, VOL. 1 sets up a confrontation between the Cretins and the dynamically weird duo of Chrissy and Lauren. There’s a major fight scene toward the end, but unfortunately there’s no real payoff. You’ll notice the VOL. 1 in the title, and it’s there for a reason. As he did with the first two TOXIC AVENGER sequels, Kaufman shot way too much footage and decided to split RETURN into two films. I’d have preferred one two-hour return, myself. Lloyd could have easily cut down all the after-school special antagonizing of the new girl in the earlier parts of this flick, and come up with a cohesive plot, rather than a meandering first half of this story.
I’ve spent this entire review talking about VOL. 1 as a movie. But how does it fare as part of the NUKE ‘EM HIGH franchise? That’s a hard question to answer, because just like JURASSIC WORLD, this flick acts as both sequel and remake. The names of our two heroines is no coincidence, as the original featured Chrissy and Warren. There’s an overweight, incompetent principal and an unsympathetic, hazardous politico running the mega-conglomerate next door. And back in the 80s, the Tromaville Honors Society transformed into the Cretins.
I wish this had been either a remake or a direct sequel, but at least it’s a much better fit than the two previous sequels; which oddly, it glazes over while including a scene with a few of the leads from them (This could really have made a nice deleted scene on the DVD, as it’s useless). So, is it a good NUKE ‘EM HIGH flick? It’s a fairly good entry.
“What’s going on at Nuke ‘Em High?” you ask yourself as you get to this last paragraph. After a long wait, Lloyd Kaufman has answered you. Whether you’re a Tromite or not answers whether you’ll like that answer.