Return To Nuke 'Em High Volume 1 (2013)

MARCH 23, 2014


Overall, my biggest complaint about Return To Nuke 'Em High Volume 1 is hinted at in the title - this is very much a volume 1 in that it just sort of stops at one point, without any real climax to tide us over until volume 2 comes along. Kill Bill definitely works better as one unit (and no, simply watching volume 1 and 2 back to back isn't the same - there's a small but key difference in "The Whole Bloody Affair" that makes the whole thing work so much better), but it had that big showdown at the restaurant, and the inciting action for volume 2. This has a weird sequence with some action, but hardly counts as a showdown, and then the movie just sort of hangs out with itself for another 15 minutes before the titles roll. Maybe if we had a firm release date for Vol. 2 (which is in post) it'd be less of a bummer, but leaving us in limbo is mean-spirited!

Because otherwise, this is actually a pretty delightful romp that lives up to other modern Troma productions and, in my opinion, easily tops the original Nuke 'Em High, which is one of my least favorites. I'm no expert on their stuff, mind you - I've only seen about half of their films (I don't count the ones they picked up; only the ones Lloyd directed himself or at least had a heavy hand in production), but of those this seems to be the most consistently entertaining and on point in quite a while. The benefit of splitting it up is that it would have been 2.5 hours or so, which sounds ridiculous but in reality isn't too farfetched an idea: Terror Firmer is 2 hours, and I feel I walk away from nearly all of their films saying that they were too long. This clocks in at a perfect 85 minutes, enough time to let the story (such as it is) breathe a bit, but without lagging all that much or going off on pointless tangents.

I truly enjoyed how it updated the scenario and more or less stayed in continuity with the original film (which we are given a brief recap of early on, earning a huge laugh by skipping over the sequels), even if it's sort of a remake. The school has been rebuilt and the power plant is gone, with a food conglomerate (Tromorganic) taking its place and offering healthy alternative food that is seemingly just made out of the leftover toxic waste. It doesn't take long for the student body to start turning into mutants; after a few isolated incidents (including a terrific sex scene gone awry, with melting bodies and such) the Glee Club is turned in its entirety into Cretins, and the usual sort of awkwardly paced but gloriously insane Tromatic carnage begins. It's been a long time since Kaufman helmed a feature himself (I believe Poultrygeist was the last one), and as I've said before - the movies he makes for the company are almost always infinitely better than the ones they pick up or that he merely produces (Cannibal: The Musical being a rare exception), so you know you're in good hands.

The humor is also on point; there are some truly tasteless jokes about Sandusky and the Colorado movie shooting, but as with South Park, pulling punches in some areas just make the other jokes more offensive in a way. I was laughing pretty often, particularly at the "so idiotic it's brilliant" bit where a bit of foreshadowing is followed by the shadow of a number 4 on a wall. I also particularly enjoyed the pair of teachers who are inexplicably arguing about Justin Beiber, pause to look at a burning student running down the hall, and then continue their argument. As always, you have to be in the right mood for it, but some of their films don't even work when you ARE in such a state, so when they nail it, it's worth noting.

It's also, I think, Lloyd's first digital film, and I'm happy to say it actually looks better than a few big budget digital films I've seen (Kaufman > Mann), not to mention offers more vivid colors than usual - all the better for any scene involving dismemberment or puke. The plot may be gibberish (and incomplete), but any scene taken on its own has every dollar of its meager budget on screen, qualifying it as a success. The only drawback: I was kind of sad to see that the shitty Troma logo has been retired in favor of a new high def one - why did they splurge when it was part of the charm? But fear not - even if it matches worse than usual, we still get to see the Kabukiman car flip, and everything else about the film lives up to Troma tradition (Lemmy pops up, male nudity is as common as female, Toxie makes an appearance...). It's a fine mix of old and new, and since digital is cheaper/faster (not better!), it proves to be a good fit for the brand.

I say that because as always, the extra features aren't exactly congratulatory - most of them focus on things that went wrong, Lloyd getting annoyed at one crew person or another, etc. There are three such pieces, and while they skip over the film's actual production (presumably being saved for Volume 2), it's almost amazing they got that far considering how many issues arose with figuring out effects, casting (poor Asta Paredes, the star of the film, is seen having to test chemistry with about a dozen actors. Translation: making out with a lot of random dudes), and having to use an old morgue as the film's production office. The two commentaries (one with the cast, the other with Lloyd and select crew) back up these issues with even more stories, thought it's not in an angry or bitter way - everyone seemingly knows what they signed up for and are proud of the finished result. In short, the tracks are fun and useful; there's no better way to learn about filmmaking than being a PA, and these tracks can give a glimpse of what you can expect if you wish to join the Troma team on their next production (if they ever came to Los Angeles, I'd probably do it). A quick teaser for Volume 2, a music video and a highlight reel of Lloyd's other films round things out - it's not as jam-packed as other Troma releases, but again I assume they're saving some of the meatier behind the scenes stuff for Volume 2.

Hopefully the 2nd installment comes sooner than later; not only am I legit excited about seeing it, but I suspect it'd be easier to sell audiences on this one if they knew when they'd get the rest of the story (The Hobbit made more money than it deserved, but I wonder if it'd have done as well if audiences weren't told in advance when parts 2 and 3 would be arriving). It's the first time they've attempted something akin to a serialized narrative (previous Troma sequels, such as Toxic Avenger 2, can't even decide if they're direct followups or parodies), and I'd love to see it pay off - maybe it can get Anchor Bay or someone to back an Avengers-style teamup with all the Troma heroes in one film (instead of quick cameos), offering a true celebration of the past 30+ years of their specific brand of demented horror comedy. With Lloyd pushing 70, I fear he'll retire without ever getting to make a true Troma epic, with a crew of passionate fans that have also had the benefit of 10-15 years' worth of DVD/Blu-ray special editions to prepare them for the less than stellar working conditions that have led to underwhelming productions in the past. I think it'd be glorious.

What say you?


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