Netflix Horror Spotlight brings you Wicked Horror’s top picks for what to watch on Netflix, whether it’s the latest indie darling, a classic masterpiece or a silly slasher that deserves a bit more attention. In this edition, Joey Keogh rediscovers the Troma teen sex comedy/gross-out horror Class Of Nuke ‘Em High.
Nowadays, Troma is best known for its loveable lump of a mascot, the inimitable Toxie, of The Toxic Avenger fame. However, what many fans don’t realise is when the studio first started out horror movies weren’t really the main focus of its output. Rather, co-founders Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz were more interested in the teen sex comedies that would later gain traction with the release of eighties classic Porky’s, Fast Times At Ridgemount High and, later, American Pie. As per usual, of course, Troma were way ahead of the curve, with their 1979 baseball comedy Squeeze Play boasting many of the features that would make these movies so popular over the following years.
Class Of Nuke ‘Em High is an interesting example, then, because it marries two of Troma’s most valued concepts together, expertly fusing horror and comedy to create a hybrid that is still loaded with the madcap spirit for which the studio is known and loved. It was also one of their most marketable offerings, with Kaufman noting, in his 1998 semi-autobiography All I Need To Know About Filmmaking I Learned From The Toxic Avenger, that the US video rights were snapped up after a studio executive saw just twenty minutes of the film. Nuke ‘Em later went on to be their biggest hit on the home viewing market for years to come.As Troma flicks go, Class Of Nuke ‘Em High is one of the most accessible. Although it’s gory as hell at times, the premise is straightforward enough and the comedy is, for the most part, pretty broad. Much like The Toxic Avenger, the angle for the film (high school students go a bit loopy after ingesting drugs grown too close to a neighboring nuclear power plant) was borne of real, widespread fear about the dangers of radiation. It even screened for the first time at Cannes, where there was considerable panic over the effects of Chernobyl at the time. Class Of Nuke ‘Em High might not be the most realistic film, by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s rooted in reality.
A few familiar faces return here, as is customary with Troma, including the rotten mayor of Tromaville (who proclaims that nuclear power is “clean, safe, and efficient”) and the great Robert Prichard, who played horrid bully Slug in Toxie and takes on much the same character again, only this time he’s rocking the most ridiculous, hair metal-style wig imaginable. He’s the leader of a crew of lethal punks known as The Cretins – kind of like the T-Birds, if they were actually threatening – who are so bad they beat up old ladies. Apparently, they used to be members of the Honor Society, which puts an interesting spin on the typical high school setup even if it seems utterly implausible.
To its credit, Class Of Nuke ‘Em High presents a high school environment that feels quite normal, with a cast of characters that rely on the usual tropes while simultaneously disassembling them. There’s affecting, widespread bullying, a stoner duo who exist solely to provide laughs for their fellow students and, by extension, us and of course, the golden couple at the heart of it all, who may just ruin everything by finally sleeping together. The premise is familiar, but the execution is pure Troma madness with a constant, synth-heavy score, to soundtrack every key moment, hilarious throwaway lines that make little to no sense and more green goo and mouth-foaming than even Toxie could provide.
Shot and scripted by Richard W. Haines, with assistance from Lloyd Kaufman (here using his pseudonym, Samuel Weil), Class Of Nuke ‘Em High is one of the better-looking, more traditionally-paced Troma flicks. The threat is established, the villains are introduced and the story progresses accordingly. Naturally, it all goes a bit mad once drugs are ingested and bellies (and pants) start swelling, but it all makes a weird amount of sense. As always, the practical SFX are terrific, but the scope is bigger and the stunts are staged better, particularly considering the massive explosion at the end capitalized on a building in Jersey that was being demolished anyway (and looks nothing like the school itself) and still looks totally awesome.
As is, again, customary for Troma movies the performances are interesting, but the dialogue is snappy and the characters, whether good or bad, are likeable and entertaining enough to hold focus when there isn’t anything too crazy going down. Given this is the studio that gifted us with some of the ooziest, gooiest special effects shots in film history, the gore boasted by Class Of Nuke ‘Em High is especially impressive. The blood, when it flows, is sickeningly orangey-red, a face-melting and an eye-gouging are spectacularly sick and the toxic creatures that crawl up from a tub of nuclear waste (and run riot in a toilet) make modern, computer-generated incarnations, such as those featured in schlockfest Piranha 3D, look about as rubbish and unconvincing as they are.
This is easily one of the most accessible and visually impressive Troma movies. It boasts some of the coolest SFX you’re ever likely to see (a monster punches through a girl’s skull at one point), that are still being referenced today, in shows like Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil, which utilised a penis monster to hilarious effect (Hello, Todd), and that will probably never be equalled thanks to our modern reliance on CGI. Considering what came after it, the flick holds up really well, was way ahead of its time, is funny as hell and, considering a fourth sequel has been slated for release for ages, now is the best time to revisit the original. Get on Netflix and spend some time with the Class Of Nuke ‘Em High now.