I loved Class of Nuke 'Em High when I was 14 and the film's target audience. Now I'm 28 and the film has softened, but I still appreciate everything this film pulls off. Troma has become the longest running independent film company off the reputation of making films that shock as much as entertain. But the key to their survival is their keen ability to leave you thinking. Thats why I still love this weird little 80s movie.
Class of Nuke 'Em High is one of the highest films in Troma's canon of B-movies. Made for much less than the breakout hit The Toxic Avenger, Nuke 'Em High makes up for its budget with more energy, inventiveness and offensiveness. The Troma style is cemented and perfected here: Horny punk teen scifi gore comedy... with heart.
What I love about Troma is the perfect connection they have to their audience. They make trashy films for trashy kids and trashy kids at heart. And sneaking in great sociopolitical and ecological commentary with fart jokes is their industry masterstroke. They elevate themselves from their relegated job of making C-grade spoofs of B-movies. There is usually sharp criticism and antagonism to the best and worst coming out of Hollywood. They declare that bad budgets don't necessarily mean bad movies. Its their mission statement to be bad but not as bad as you expect.
Nuke 'Em High is tamer than I remember, probably because fashion, comedy, sex and horror have gone so much further since the film's 1986 release. But no film has combined those elements better. Nuke 'Em High shouts out the work of Federico Fellini and thats a good hint at what producers Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz were trying to impart on their American teen audience. That same chaos, excess and artistic irreverence.
But the film is still transgressive as ever. There is usage of tainted drugs, transgender teens, teenage pregnancies, violent muggings of elderly women and teens shooting up a high school 15 years before all became American epidemics. Its all played for laughs because the film is keenly aware that teenagers aren't shocked at these things. But the filmmakers are really asking "is it funny?".
Troma entertains the most cynical and immature parts of us, but remembers to reflect our reality where these things are not just cartoons but moral dilemmas that need serious attention. These absurd plots are happening to these characters and could happen to you and me. Troma's biggest fans and defenders know that its not just a gimmick when Troma calls their cinematic brand "Movies of the Future". Thats why they are great relics from our past and greater thinkpieces for our present.
Something interesting about the film is its kinetic energy and ever changing tone. The film was started as a horror film by Richard W. Haines (Splatter University) before the producers took over and added more camp comedy, teen sex and a strange post-apocalyptic air. Any given second you could be watching a horror film, a slapstick comedy, a teen date movie, a softcore rock video or a film about the dangers of chemical waste. Perfect for today's ADD culture. The film remains light and fun even when heads are being torn off. While never going off the rails plotwise or becoming boring or forced. Truly this is a carefully and deliberately crafted piece of work, even if it chooses to appear chaotic and juvenile.
Troma has given us the likes of James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy), Eli Roth and Trey Parker (South Park). The Troma style has infected pop culture from the bottom to the top. One can only hope to see more lavish, focused and polished Hollywood films cut from the same cloth as Class of Nuke 'Em High. But they certainly lack the grit, gusto and authenticity of the original. Troma proves that filmmakers become ahead of their time when they are so outside of the system that they must think outside of the box. Only then that they are allowed to see the future.