If you’re arriving late to class, here’s the recap: director / producer / modern B-movie legend Lloyd Kaufman directed the original Class of Nuke ‘Em High, a flamboyantly grotesque parody of high school movies and radioactive mutant horror, in 1986. The premise: a high school in Tromaville, the most toxic city in America, is located right next to a nuclear power plant and the students gets contaminated when a dealer sells drugs irradiated from the plant. It spawned two sequels (produced and co-written but not directed by Kaufman), the last one released in 1994. Twenty years later, Kaufman revives the franchise with a new micro-budget epic so sprawling that it was split into two parts (ostensibly upon the recommendation of Quentin Tarantino, a la Kill Bill). Return to Nuke ‘Em High Volume 1 was shown at film festivals and played limited runs and special midnight screenings across the country before landing on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital platforms, which is still the primary mode of distribution for Troma’s cult movies.
In Return to Nuke ‘Em High Volume 1, the old nuclear plant and its giant cooling towers (which loomed over the old high school thanks to cheap optical effects) have been bulldozed under (that’s what passes for environmental clean-up in the Tromaverse) but a new business has sprung up in its place. As guest narrator Stan Lee explains over the opening montage of clips from the earlier trilogy, “Tromorganic Foodstuffs, Inc, was built right over the old Tromaville Nuclear Power Plant. What could go wrong?”
Return to Nuke ‘Em High, Volume 1 (Troma, Blu-ray, DVD), the first feature directed by Troma founder and spokesman Lloyd Kaufman in almost a decade, revives the mutant high school series he launched in 1986. He builds this new chapter quite literally on the ruins of the previous films, with an organic food factory resting on the bulldozed remains of the old nuclear power plant. In the words of guest narrator Stan Lee, “What could go wrong?”
This being a Troma film, you get plenty of gratuitous sex, exposed boobs, radioactive waste, mutant creatures, melting bodies, spontaneous combustion, non-stop fart gags (you can’t get out of a scene without the soundtrack slipping into flatulence), rampant bullying and a student body without the common sense not to eat the glowing green tacos in the school cafeteria. Kaufman has always had an affection for nerds, misfits, and outcast heroes but his romantic heroes this time around are two girls in love and they are easily the most well-adjusted protagonists in his canon. Lauren (Catherine Corcoran), the dizzy rich girl with a runaway pet duck, and social activist blogger Chrissy (Asta Paredes) are opposites whose antagonism quickly heats up into lust, numerous topless scenes, and a mutant rampage that just seems like a bad dream to them.
I had the opportunity to interview Lloyd Kaufman last year when he came to Seattle to participate in a Horror convention. That interview is now up at Parallax View. Best known as the face of Troma and the director of The Toxic Avenger, he’s also very active in supporting independent filmmaking and fighting the studio stranglehold on distribution and exhibition. We talk about it all…
You have a very interesting set of credits. You worked on Rocky and you were production manager on My Dinner With Andre.
Yes, I was indeed. Those movies, Rocky and Saturday Night Fever, those were my film school.
How did you move from working on those industry productions to creating the outsider studio Troma?
I was making my own movies constantly, I was always making my own damn movies and I was interested in long form, so at the one time we were trying to figure out… I did Sugar Cookies in 1970, I didn’t direct it, I made the mistake of just raising money and writing and producing, and then the distribution didn’t work out too well. And then we made a movie in Israel that’s probably the worst movie in history, called Big Gus, What’s the Fuss (1971), it’s the only movie I’m embarrassed to show and we got screwed on that one, and then Michael Herz and I decided that we had better learn distribution, and that’s when we started Troma in 1974 to both produce and distribute ourselves. Of course in those days there was just theatrical.
But while we were trying to get Troma going, I would take jobs which would help pay the rent and also I’d learn. And I think in the seventies and into the eighties, we still entertained the notion that maybe we could work with one of these companies and they could distribute our films. We made a film called Stuck On You (1983), and we’d send the 35mm print, or I’d actually hand carry it to the West Coast to bring it to Warner Bros. acquisition department, or to Paramount in hopes that maybe Paramount would pick up and distribute it, but usually I’d get to the gate and they wouldn’t have my pass and it would be 180 degrees and I’d be in my little Bar Mitzvah suit and sweating like a pig and I’d have to then run to a phone book, the cars would be backed up behind me because the studio exec forget to leave the pass, and they’d be honking and then I’d get out of line and go to a pay phone and call and then they’d tell me to park in Guam, then I’d have to carry the 35mm print ten miles to people that had absolutely no interest in distributing it. So it didn’t take too long to realize that (laughs) I’d better stick with being an auteur film director and do it ourselves.