The Toxic Avenger established Troma’s self-made trademark of going against the mainstream grain, so much so that their next project would push the boundaries of taste even further, whilst still pushing that all-important social/political angle. Class of Nuke ‘em High was Troma’s follow-up project to The Toxic Avenger and could well be considered the definitive Troma film, in some ways more than The Toxic Avenger itself. With a plot involving a meltdown at a nuclear power plant that contaminates some nearby marijuana plants and a gang of local High School punks selling it on to everybody they can – you can already see where it’s going – the scene is set for a multitude of crazy goings-on that would have many mainstream movie fans wishing they’d opted for something a little more… ahem… mature, shall we say? But this isn’t a film for mainstream movie fans – this is one for the hardcore.
And by hardcore that means those of you who aren’t bothered by radioactive mutants, melting skin, green slime oozing from every orifice, heads being punched right through and faces being ripped off; not the sort of people who say “Oh, I like horror films. I saw The Woman in Black. Have you seen the latest Twilight?” You know the sort. Not for them, although it would be amusing to show it to them and see their reactions.
But that’s another thing for another day. Class of Nuke ‘em High was one of those films that every video shop in the country had back in the 80’s, languishing in its big box with a marvellous image on the back depicting an unfortunate gang member who gets his eye popped out, so chances are that many of you will have at some point seen its wonderfully fluorescent video sleeve. Continuing to give their product a modern makeover but with an eye for respecting the heritage, Arrow Films have included the original poster artwork on the reversible sleeve of the new Blu-ray/DVD package, with the other side sporting an exclusive new artwork that certainly fits in with the trashy feel of the film. There are also plenty of extras to sink your teeth into, if you so desire. The usual up-to-date commentaries and interviews are there but there’s also a tour of the Troma studios with Lloyd Kaufman plus, bizarrely, a public service message from Lemmy of Motörhead and the creators of South Park.
But if Class of Nuke ‘em High epitomises Troma with its low budget production values, gratuitous nudity, OTT gore and comic violence then what do the other titles being re-released bring to the table? Well, writer/director Buddy Giovinazzo’s Combat Shock brings something a little more brutal and disturbing. Following the life of a Vietnam vet suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder trying to keep afloat in post-war America, Combat Shock is a slow-burning drama that forgoes the gross-out factor of other Troma titles in favour of a tense and depressing atmosphere that concludes with a shocking ending that will stay in the mind long after the film has ended.
Starring Buddy’s brother Rick as Frankie Dunlan, the down-on-his-luck former soldier whose mind is beginning to unravel, Combat Shock brings a new meaning to the word ‘gritty’ as we follow Frankie going about his day-to-day life in the urban slums of New York. He has a pregnant wife and a deformed baby – possibly due to the chemicals that Frankie was subjected to in Vietnam – whom he is unable to support due to his long-term unemployment, he suffers from vivid flashbacks, his own father thinks he died in the war and won’t take his desperate phone calls seriously and generally life is a bitch for the man. Does he overcome his troubles and end the film a hero reborn out of his desperate struggle for sanity? Or does his life take a turn for the worse and go even lower than it was at the beginning of the film?
Well, it is a Troma film so the ending won’t be a total surprise, but it is an ending that has plenty of weight and still manages to be as unsettling nearly thirty years later and after several viewings. In reality, this is a Troma film in name only as the company funded and distributed the film, enabling them to recut Buddy Giovinazzo’s original print, but the overall style is very much that of the director. The new release from Arrow Films contains both the theatrical Troma cut and Buddy’s original version – entitled American Nightmare – plus a whole smorgasbord of extras including five short films from director Buddy Giovinazzo, snippets of Buddy and Troma head honcho Lloyd Kaufman at a Troma related festival in Berlin, an interview with star Rick Giovinazzo – incidentally, his role in Combat Shock is his only movie acting credit although his musical credentials mean he has been involved with dozens of film scores and soundtracks – as well as a documentary entitled Post-Traumatic: An American Nightmare that discusses the film’s legacy with such noteworthy fans as William Lustig (Maniac/Maniac Cop), Scott Spiegel (Hostel: Part III) and Richard Stanley (Dust Devil/Hardware).
Despite Troma not being directly involved with the production of Combat Shock, Lloyd Kaufman is just as enthusiastic about it as he is about his own creations. “Buddy’s amazing and Combat Shock is great. It took fifteen years to break even but now it has a huge audience because of word-of-mouth” before adding “We don’t have the £150, 000, 000 that Batman can spend on promoting itself.”