When I was about 12 or 13 I made a discovery that I would wager a lot of young men have made over the last few decades. I picked up The Toxic Avenger on some store shelf, and immediately became “Tromatized.” After watching everything that a 12 year old me had ever wanted to see in a film realized (horrible toxic mutation, breasts, and a realistic head-crushing) I was transformed into a young devotee of the world’s oldest “fiercely independent” movie studio: Troma.
When I say devotee, I mean it. I tracked down every Troma VHS and DVD that I could get my hands on. Every movie was introduced, with flair, righteous fervor and pompacity by Troma’s co-founder and spokesman Lloyd Kaufman. Kaufman became my teenage mind’s correlate to Che Guevara: an independent artist put down by “the man” and fighting for the rights of the truly outre artists.
Under the Troma-spell I changed my AOL screen-name to Tromafan127, ordered t-shirts and three-ring binders from their website, and sought out their Hell’s Kitchen studio headquarters to take pictures in front of.
I memorized the lines to all the Troma film’s of note (Tromeo & Juliet being my favorite), idolized their stars and converted friends. And then something happened: I wanted to breakup with Troma.
Maybe “Uncle Lloyd,” their fearless leader, had taken one too many pot-shots at mainstream movies that I also liked, or maybe I just felt that my cinematic explorations needed to “mature,” but either way I grew distant from Troma.
I went to college, I looked at all the hipsters, anti-intellectuals and pretentious “film people” (I would not classify all of them as such, but definitely some) that populated my classes and began to doubt myself: if this was the modern-day film intelligentsia, then maybe Kaufman was right. I took a few classes that I loved, made friends with some professors that really understood the power of cinema, and then I got a miraculous email: Lloyd Kaufman, creator of The Toxic Avenger was coming to campus for a screening and Q&A.
It all came flooding back. I could not wait to see the film I loved, presented by the man I spent so many of my formative years idolizing. The event surpassed even my loaded expectations. In front of Boston Universities “cinematheque” Kaufman gave advice to students on how to “break the hymen of Hollywood,” how to keep their souls in business and the importance of vegetable dye and bromoseltzer in filmmaking.
Most importantly he talked about a filmmakers need to utilize self promotion if true independence is to be maintained and to defend their own intellectual property rights in the face of the digital age. It was a revelation: Lloyd Kaufman was exactly the kind of battered hero that I had seen him as as a thirteen year old. Furthermore, he was offending the “delicate sensibilities” of every self-righteous jerk in the room.
The night was a triumph. I stayed after the show, bought a Tromeo & Juliet deluxe DVD (Lloyd was also the first cinematheque attendee to bring DVDs to sell) and got to talk with the man a little while. What I discovered that night was that the Kaufman presented on the introductions to Troma’s DVDs is a different person from the real Kaufman, but not by much. He’s a man who cares about the future of the small empire that he helped build, and is not entirely trusting of the young people that he is poised to leave it to in the future. He’s a man of good old fashion work ethic and chutzpah. He’s a charismatic mix of P.T Barnum, Bergman and Karl Marx.
Enough trips down memory lane: how about a review?
Class of Nuke’em High (1986) is one of the early high benchmarks in Troma films. An insane melding of Class of 1984 (1982) and radioactive mutants, Nuke’em plays like a John Hughs film directed by Herschel Gordon Lewis and Satan.
The plot concerns Tromaville high school, a school that’s undergone some changes thanks to its close proximity to an ineptly run nuclear powerplant. The school’s honor society has been transformed into a band of punks called the cretans and it’s up to young lovers Chrissy and Warren to stop them.
Nuke’em High is one of my favorite Troma films and also one of the most accessible. It includes everything that makes a Troma film perfect for party-watching and many of the Tromatic hallmarks (the “Troma meltdowns,” Tromettes, and an overarching heavy-handed ecological message) that establish it in Troma canon.
It’s a film that is most definitely worth seeing at least once, and now with this very nice Bluray disc, it’s also nice looking. The ravages of time have taken their toll on the film, but the print still suprises with bright colors and at times acute detail. The film and transfer aren’t going to win any awards, but they’re above serviceable. The only problem I had was that the disc does not seem as stacked with extras as it could have been. The commentary by co-director Kaufman is excellent, but it’s a hold over from the DVD release. There are a few amusing bits, and some great trailers to whet your appetite, but I remember Troma DVDs for their ridiculous abundance of features. This is easily forgiven though when you consider the quality of the film and the modest price point of the disc (14 bucks on amazon!).
So whether you are a veteran or a Troma neophyte, I highly suggest you pick up this disc….and remember: Toxie loves you.