The brainchild of one time Troma editor Richard W. Haines, Class Of Nuke 'Em High was originally going to be directed by him as well, though when the fledgling filmmaker found himself in too deep, head honcho Lloyd Kaufman came on board to help out. As such, the film has Kaufman's stamp all over it, meaning that those who appreciate the sense of humor and style of filmmaking that made The Toxic Avenger the classic that it is should find much to love about this film.
Set, like most of Kaufman's films, in Tromaville the film begins when a leak from the nearby nuclear power plant infects the water supply of Tromaville High School. As the waste infects the area, strange things start to happen, beginning with the transformation of a previously meek, nerdy student into a slathering maniac who eventually jumps out the window of his classroom to his death. The local gang of toughs, The Cretins, manage to get their hands on some weed grown on the contaminated land and sell it to some of the students, most notably a wholesome couple named Chrissy and Warren, who smoke some of the dope at a party. Once they're high, the previously prudish pair get naked and go at it like rabbits but the next day start to feel the after effects of the contaminated dope.
Warren finds himself growing angrier and basically 'hulking out' when he loses his temper while Chrissy gives birth to some sort of mutant monster bug that works its way into the school's plumbing and grows larger and larger in the basement. As the Cretins try to take control of the school, Chrissy and Warren figure something is obviously amiss, but who'll be able to stop the Cretins?
As crass and ridiculous as you'd expect from Troma, Class Of Nuke 'Em High is firmly entrenched in the decade in which it was made and absolutely reeks of the eighties but is still a pretty damn entertaining film. Kaufman's penchant for gore and excess is on full speed here with some fairly impressive special effects sequences holding up rather well even by today's standards (the first face melting being a prime example). While not every set piece works perfectly - the monster effects are obviously pretty low budget - even the ones that aren't completely successful are at least creative and interesting to look at. Troma's love of gratuitous sex and violence adds to the film's screwy vibe, as do the big eighties hairstyles and fashions not to mention the skewed version of the Cretins' 'punk' look and style.
The film was fairly topical for its day, playing off of the nuclear paranoia that was fairly prominent in the eighties and off of toxic waste fears thanks to incidents that the one that took place in the 'Love Canal' neighborhood in Niagara Falls, New York in the late seventies. While it may seem reactionary now, events like the current BP oil spill serve to remind us that having a fear of the chemical industry or the nuclear industry maybe isn't all that unhealthy after all. Of course, Kaufman and his crew play it for laughs rather than trying to make any sort of serious social commentary with the film, but the satire is definitely there and sometimes it's used fairly cleverly.
But let's not read too much into this - Class Of Nuke 'Em High isn't a film to be taken too seriously, but rather enjoyed for what it is and that's a crass, gory, trashy fun-filled eighty five minutes of Troma style high jinks. It plays off of different clichés and stereotypes really well and provides plenty of low-brow laughs and splattery set pieces.
Troma's 1080p AVC encoded 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen high definition transfer of Class Of Nuke 'Em High is surprisingly impressive. While the image quality here won't wow you the way something like Avatar might, for an older, low budget production it looks quite good, particularly when compared to the muddy looking fullframe DVD that was released years back. Colors are massively improved over that prior release and look much more natural and vibrant - you'll notice this right away when that sickly green slime oozes out of a character's body. There's a fair bit of grain and some minor print damage is noticeable but it doesn't really take away from the experience much, and let's face it, you wouldn't want to see a movie like this DVNR'd to death anyway. There aren't any compression artifacts worth noting and the disc is quite well authored. The source material obviously wasn't in perfect condition but there's a significant increase in clarity, quality and detail from previous versions of the film and this transfer is strong enough that fans will want to consider upgrading for this reason alone.
Unfortunately, the only audio option available for the movie is a standard definition English language 48 kHz 224 kbps Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track. No lossless option has been provided, and there are no alternate language dubs or subtitles options available. The quality and clarity of the mix is fine, but it's a pretty basic affair. There isn't a whole lot of channel separation to note but dialogue is easy enough to follow and understand and while the mix is a bit low (meaning you'll have to turn up the volume a little bit higher than you may be used to), once you compensate for that you won't experience any major issues. This isn't a fancy mix by any stretch but it gets the job done.
The best of the extras on this release is a commentary from Lloyd Kaufman who co-directed the film with Richard W. Haines, a man who Kaufman isn't really afraid of talking about on this track. He talks about what Haines did and didn't do on this project and about some of the difficulties that he had trying to get the movie made with him. Kaufman also points out different shooting locations, gives some welcome biographical information on many of the people who worked on the film, talks about the effects work and some of the movie's themes and ideas and generally just gives an enjoyable and well rounded talk about the history of the film. Kaufman's sense of humor might rub some the wrong way as he doesn't always take the movie seriously, but then again, why should he?
Troma has also dug up some deleted scenes, seven in total, presented here in full frame and taken from what looks to have been a video master, albeit one that's in fairly good shape and perfectly watchable. There's nothing here that changes the movie all that much but it's nice to see the content included. Class Of Nuke 'Em High Sweethearts is a five minute piece with Jennifer and Robert Prichard who worked on the film. They met while auditioning for and shooting The Toxic Avenger and wound up working on this film as well. The Man Who Made The Nuclear Power Plant is an interview with the camera man but it's very brief and doesn't go into much detail about much of anything.
Rounding out the extras is the film's original theatrical trailer, a Vintage Troma clip that is basically a fifteen minute interview with Kaufman shot in a creepy dark office, a PSA, and a Troma T&A bit (a two minute piece where a cute 'Tromette' takes her top off for us) as well as some cool animated menus, and chapter selection.
High definition audio track notwithstanding, Troma has done a pretty impressive job bringing the eighties classic that is Class Of Nuke 'Em High to Blu-ray. The transfer is a solid one and the extras are both plentiful and interesting. The movie itself holds up well as a goofy, gory slice of low budget goodness and this release comes recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.