What a shitty movie. From Troma Entertainment, a production company well-versed in churning out b-movie fare (most famously the Toxic Avenger series of films and its spinoffs), Class of Nuke ‘Em High is self-aware schlock. From the opening scene to the end, the filmmakers never miss a chance to remind the viewer that what they are watching is not meant to be taken seriously. But the way they choose to draw attention to this fact, with overwrought characters and performances, only serves to make the film feel forced. It revels in cheapness, and this would be a good thing, if only they weren’t trying so hard. At every step of the film, Troma seeks to establish its brand, reveling in its ineptness at putting together something that is watchable.
The film has a strong beginning. After an opening shot purposefully evocative of Troma’s production logo, the scene shifts to the fictional town of Tromaville, New Jersey, where an accident at a nuclear power plant has leaked radioactive goo into the high school next door. A hapless student is exposed to the contaminant when he drinks from a water fountain before class, and his transformation from stereotypical 80s film nerd to smoking corpse is hilarious. But in that scene is a first glimpse of the film’s downfall. Most of the ensemble cast is present, and all exist, like the poor victim, as caricatures of the diverse collection of jocks, losers, horndogs, and punks that populate the banal visions of high school typical of so many films from the 50s to today. The problem is, there isn’t a straight man among the bunch to balance things out.
Even the two main protagonists, Warren (Gil Brenton) and Chrissy (Janelle Brady), while the closest the film gets to believable characters, are so tedious by design that it becomes impossible to root for them.
The plot is an inventive twist on anti-drug PSAs. The punks, former honor students turned homicidal maniacs by radiation, are also the school’s resident drug pushers. They get ahold of some killer weed grown on the grounds of the nuclear plant, and sell a joint to one of Warren’s friends. At a college fraternity party over the weekend, Warren and Chrissy get stoned on the atomic pot, and trouble ensues. Warren turns into a super-powered nuclear menace, but oddly, only once, while Chrissy gives birth to a mutant baby in the girls restroom at the school. The punks are later expelled from school, and vow revenge on staff and students alike. Meanwhile, the evil manager of the nuclear plant is trying to cover up the radiation leak with disastrous results, as the mutant spawned from Chrissy’s loins has taken up residence in the basement of the school.
Wow. This should be the greatest shitty movie ever made.
But it’s not. The film ends up being so weighed down by the characters that it can’t sustain its b-movie charm. Eventually drift sets in and only the most dedicated of viewers should be able to pay more than passing attention to this dog. Things pick up a bit when the monster appears — indeed, its murderous rampage is a highlight as it does away with a good deal of the awful characters — but it’s just not enough. Before this grisly ending, the film can’t decide which direction to take the plot. Most of the setup revolved around Warren continuing his poor man’s Incredible Hulk routine, but this path was abandoned almost as soon as it was established. The monster in the basement scenario had an equal amount of promise, but despite a good deal of setup time, it ended up being used solely as a means to wrap up the film.
Class of Nuke ‘Em High is one of those shitty movies that quickly attained cult status not long after its release, but that is inexplicable. It’s just bad, bad, bad. Alien: Resurrection is a better movie than Class of Nuke’ Em High.