Welcome to Gut the Punks! A monthly dissection of genre film with some loose connection to punk rock music and culture. Prom Season continues here at Nightmare On Film Street. And while the Class of 2020 had to celebrate a sad, no-contact prom at home, maybe it’s for the best, because they won’t have to deal with the fallout from a night of teenage romance, like say, an unplanned pregnancy and the responsibilities that come with it. One way to stay safe and practice birth control is to instead watch the exciting conclusion of Troma’s 21st century reboot Return To Return To Nuke ‘Em High AKA Vol. 2.
When we last left our heroines, Chrissy (Asta Paredes) and Lauren (Catherine Corcoran) agreed to keep their lesbian love a secret from the rest of Tromaville High School. Meanwhile, the army of Cretins continues to grow, as more people ingest the toxic tacos supplied by the evil Tromorganic Foodstuffs corporation. The film picks up where Return To Nuke ‘Em High Volume 1 ended, in a parody of the shower scene from Carrie. Lauren is bleeding green all over the locker room floor, as busty nude cheerleaders chant “Plug it up!” But Lauren’s problem can’t be solved by throwing a tampon at it. Lauren sprays the cheerleaders with a fountain of toxic ooze from between her legs, melting off their skin and limbs. Her massive baby bump returns and Lauren gives birth to a mutant human-duck hybrid— conceived when her contaminated pet duck Kevin was shoved down her throat. Ah, the miracles of nuclear waste.
Chrissy has her own fires to put out as well. Fat loser Zack (Zac Amico), seeking acceptance from the Cretins, took a cellphone video of Chrissy and Lauren making out and handed it over to the inflated Richard Nixon rip-off Principal Westly (Babette Bombshell), who threatens to leak it to morning talkshow Talking Tromaville if Chrissy doesn’t take down her environmentalist blog.
“These are the scenes where Troma films truly shine: the gory massacres, where each kill is more creative and messy than the last.”
But fighting Tromorganic proves to be more important, as their tacos are shipped all around the world, causing everyone to puke up green bile and turn into mutant punks. Last Podcast On the Left’s Henry Zebrowski and Impractical Jokers’ James Murray feature as news anchors, in a report that is eerily similar to coverage we’ve heard in the past couple months concerning the pandemic; the World Health Organization declares a global emergency, and there are calls to shut down the borders. Reporters utter such lines like “Everybody was warned, but nobody wanted to do anything until it was in their own backyard,” and “We will now repeat these images ad nauseam to increase viewership through fear-mongering.” And of course, conspiracy theories are soon to follow.
To add to all this chaos, it’s revealed that the president of Tromorganic, Lee Harvey Herzkauf (director Lloyd Kaufman) is actually Warren from the original Class Of Nuke ‘Em High, as well as Chrissy’s long-lost father (the timeline doesn’t make sense, but then again, very little makes sense in this movie). After being exposed to nuclear waste all those years ago, Herzkauf relies on a pseudoscience to stave off the effects of mutation: huffing the farts of caged students through an oxygen mask like Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet. But when his supply runs low, Herzkauf transforms into a hideous monster (or as Herzkauf describes it, “a sloppily-designed $2000 monster that can’t even close its mouth”) and runs rampant in Tromaville High School.
These are the scenes where Troma films truly shine: the gory massacres, where each kill is more creative and messy than the last. The Herzkauf Monster rips out intestines and explodes heads with its laser eyes, while death metal blasts in the background. At the same time, the Cretins have kidnapped Lauren and her baby, holding them hostage in a classroom. But she is saved by Kevin, who, through the magic of nuclear waste, has developed the body of a wrestler with the head of Howard the Duck. Kevin beats the Cretins to a pulp and then faces off in a final mutant battle with the Herzkauf Monster.
More easter eggs and more Troma fan service can be found throughout this second part. Mark Torgl, who played Melvin in the Toxic Avenger, cameos as the school janitor. Two of Troma’s most iconic and expensive car stunts (from Tromeo and Juliet and Troma’s War) are shoe-horned into the madness. Kaufman crams in as much meta-humor as possible; he squeezes in a director’s commentary during a pivotal scene. And during the climax of the film, we zoom out into the editing room, where one of the producers chews out Kaufman for going overboard with the sex jokes. There is definitely a lot more nudity in this part, and way too many close-ups of Zac Amico’s Prince Albert piercing. There’s also an unfortunate amount of rape jokes, which don’t play well at all, especially with emergence of the #MeToo movement the same year as the movie’s release.
“So is Lloyd Kaufman a trailblazer for trashy cinema? Or is he just a dirty old man […]? Well, why not both?”
Despite his passing two years before the release of Return To Return To Nuke ‘Em High AKA Volume 2, we’re treated to more scenes of President Lemmy. Though it’s not necessarily the last time we’ll see his likeness in cinema, since it was recently announced that there’s a Lemmy biopic in the works, to be director by Greg Olliver, who also directed the 2010 documentary on the late Motörhead frontman. Lemmy leaves us with some parting wisdom after the credits, which the current administration could probably use: “Presidents don’t get angry, they get diplomatic.”
There’s a small moment in the first part of Return To Nuke ‘Em High where the phrase “What kind of god?” is uttered. One of our beloved NOFS editors Jon recently told me that he frequently repeats that quote over the smallest inconveniences, like stubbing his toe. And I think I might make a habit of doing the same. The second part doubles down on that phrase, and every character cries out “What kind of god?!” at least once. Well, we finally get to see what kind of god is in charge of the Tromaverse: a bong-toking Ron Jeremy (though equating the pornstar to divinity will not age well, as he has recently been charged with several counts of sexual assault). Mercifully, he’s immediately incinerated by a laser gun, and everyone cheers.
I know that the critical bar for Troma films is set fairly low, but I question the decision to split Return To Nuke ‘Em High into two parts. A large part of Volume Two is made up of footage from previous films. Had Troma just trimmed the fat from both volumes, they could have settled on a single feature at a comfortable hour and 45 minutes. So much of the post-production money funded through Kickstarter went into an unnecessary amount of cheap-looking computer graphics. I didn’t really need to see the Herzkauf Monster farting swastikas or Kaufman’s face superimposed onto footage of the original Class of Nuke ‘Em High. I always prefer to see more gooey practical effects.
The soundtrack is as diverse as ever. We finally get to hear a song by Motörhead, “Shoot Out All Your Lights” off their final studio album Black Magic. The death metal massacre music I mentioned above is courtesy of Serial Butcher, with their song “Blunt Force Lobotomy.” There’s dark Tarantino-esque rock n’ roll from Prom Queen, demonic horrorbilly from Psycho Charger, and funky instrumental rock-fusion by Tauk. I was also surprised to hear the opening of “Go To Hell” by UK punks Sick On The Bus, a song I haven’t listened to since high school. All these songs and more will be added to the Gut The Punks Spotify Playlist.
So is Lloyd Kaufman a trailblazer for trashy cinema? Or is he just a dirty old man whose humor hasn’t evolved beyond a high school boys’ locker room? Well, why not both? Sure, not every joke lands well, but to make fantastic and memorable movies for more than 45 years for a fraction of a Hollywood budget, and inspiring generations of filmmakers to make their own movies in their backyards, I’d say that’s pretty punk rock. It’s punk as hell!