Thursday, August 29, 2013

Class of Nuke 'Em High (1986): High School and Nuclear Waste

Class of Nuke 'Em High (1986)
dir: Lloyd Kaufman

"One day they're a bunch of clean cut preppies, and the next they're a bunch of violent, perverted cretins!" - Class of Nuke 'em High

Class of Nuke 'Em High isn't the first film to talk about punk rock, high school, and youth.  It is the first to wrap it in nuclear fears.

OK, as you probably know, this is a Troma film, and one of its early classics.  It's a comic book posing as a movie that is basically an excuse for grotesque special effects and rampant sex, drugs, and violence.  It's whole message is an ironic The Kids Are All Right., even as it poses the kids as mutated cretins from another planet.  Sure, these may be morphing balls of hormones one doesn't even recognize as their own, but they're a-OK.  Class of Nuke 'em High is actually a little headier than it lets on, and it is kind of a sly subversive take on the high school gross out film that had been set up by Porky's and would later be refreshed by American Pie.

Just to put this movie into a time/culture context, Hollywood was going through a High School glut.  1985 brought us The Breakfast Club, Back to the Future, Just One of the Guys, Mischief, and Secret Admirer.  1986 brought us Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Lucas, Hoosiers, and Pretty in Pink. I think it's telling that not one of these featured mutation, punks, or rampant and random violence. Things had changed a lot since the 1982 films of Porky'sFast Times at Ridgemont High, and The Last American Virgin.  The closer is the ass tape humiliation story you only hear about in The Breakfast Club.

The era of the punk was in the process of morphing from its early 80s incarnation of hardcore into its late 80s of provoking extremism on its way to the 90s ska and pop punk.  GG Allin was just starting up, with his performances of extreme offensiveness, anti-authoritarianism, and extreme offensiveness.  It is no mere coincidence that Troma movies reflected this underground current of grand guignol mixed with a fuck you attitude towards everything.

Class of Nuke 'Em High concerns a high school in Tromaville, the setting for all early Troma classics, that is situated near an unsafe nuclear power plant.  The nuclear power plant has started leaking waste and some of the student members - most notably the honor society - consume it or touch it, and turn into a local gang of waster youth punks, goths, and new wavers called The Cretins.

Semi-outcasts Warren, Eddie and Chrissy (Warren's girlfriend) go partying, and smoke some nuclear waste tainted weed from The Cretins.  Chrissy gets preggers with a monster that she orally miscarries by throwing up the mutated spermy into a school toilet, which gets flushed into the system.  Meanwhile, Warren gets super strength and starts killing people.  Eventually, the spermy turns into a monster, and it all leads to the destruction of the high school.

Intriguing to Class of Nuke 'Em High, but not unique, is the acknowledgement of of a clique system, but without setting up a caste system of "cool."  Everybody makes everybody else's life hell. Warren is a goody-two-shoes footballer.  Eddie is a weird arty dropout (sort of a stoner cross between Ducky and Heather's Veronica).  Chrissy is a cheerleader.  The Cretins were once the honor students. They pick on everybody, including old ladies on the street. In the '80s, high school was presented more as 1000 cuts of pain, rather than people who ruled the school.  Even in Fast Times, everybody was still rather cordial to each other, even if they weren't in each others' cliques.

These 80s cliques more closely resembles the way I remember high school.  We were all cliques of fucked up groups, but no one group dominated the school.  My high school experience was definitely closer to this representation than that of Heathers, Jawbreaker, or G,B.F. which all had high schools with "ruling cliques." Or, maybe I just ignored the "rulers."  Maybe I just dismissed my the caste system.

In addition to this look at the caste systems, Class of Nuke 'Em High is an exaggerated look at the fears adults have toward high school students. When parents were just starting to get over their fear of punks (which had already been starting to implode), and getting back to their worry about drugs and bullying, Class of Nuke 'Em High ridicules these fears by heightening them to ridiculous levels.  Kids are going to rebel, but at least they're not like these cartoon caricatures, right?  *nudge nudge*

At the same time, it also is a sort of proto-Buffy the Vampire Slayer in which all of the fears are made supernatural, by way of nuclear contamination.  Sure, it doesn't tackle any serious issues in any serious ways, but there is something to be said for the in your faceness of the sperm vomit posing as warning against teen pregnancy and drugs.  It has its cake and eats it too by monsterizing a normal concern while also satirizing through extremity.

In any case, Class of Nuke 'Em High is a silly movie from our friends at Troma.  It's one of Troma's original greats, when it seemed to have nothing but entertaining on its mind, but actually had something to say underneath it all.  Required viewing.

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